Dragon by Dragon – September 1981 (53)

Glory be – I finally have enough time this weekend to do another Dragon by Dragon, this one on issue #53 from September 1981.

The first thing I noticed about this issue was the cover. This was not an issue I had as a young nerd, but the cover painting by Clyde Cauldwell, which makes it seem very familiar.

I started playing D&D in 1984, introduced by a friend, Josh Tooley, in 6th grade. He watched his older brother play with some friends, and so with a hand-drawn map on notebook paper, a d6 and a vague recollection of what went on, he ran me through a dungeon during recess. I was hooked, and convinced my parents to get me the game – in this case Moldvay Basic purchased at Toys ‘r’ Us – for Christmas. Good times.

So, let’s see what TSR had to offer 35 years ago.

One of the best things about these magazines in the old days were the advertisements. All these games – and God knew what they were – with all this art. It was all so new to me when I was a kid. Take this ad from I.C.E.

I never had any of their games, but I always admired the art in the adverts – and can you have a cooler name for a company than Iron Crown Enterprises?

Jake Jaquet’s editorial this issue was just the tip of the iceberg …

“There is a bit of a new trend in gaming that I find a bit disturbing, and perhaps it should be food for thought for all of us. I refer to the recent interest in so-called “live” games, especially of the “assassin” or “killer” varieties.”

I remember back in 7th grade some kids running T.A.G. – The Assassinatiom Game. All who participated had to draw the name of another player and kill them – which meant pointing at them and saying “bang”. The victim would then hand his slip over to his assassin, and so it would go until the game was over. Alas, but 2nd period it was all over – a couple morons tried to assassinate their victims in class, and the administration called the game off. I suppose now we would have all been expelled.

Enough of this memory lane stuff, let’s get on to the offerings:

“Why Isn’t This Monk Smiling?” by Philip Meyers brings up the shortcomings of the monk class, and tries to improve on it. The point is actually well made – the idea of suffering through many very weak levels to be powerful at high levels may appear balanced, but it doesn’t work well in practice. To fix things, Philip introduces a new level advancement chart, plays with the rate at which the monk improves its abilities, and adds some new special abilities, some of them psychic. He also makes it easier for the monk to hit those higher levels, without always having to fight another monk.

The monk isn’t out of the fire yet. Steven D. Howard writes in “Defining and Realigning the Monk” a few questions and answers about the monk, mostly to cover why they can’t do some things (answer – I guess it wouldn’t be lawful) and how to once again handle the whole limited number of monks over 7th level. This issue’s Sage Advice keeps the hits coming, with more discussion of the good old monk.

Dude – I had those. Still have some of them, as a matter of fact. Love that packaging, and I always dug that logo.

Next up is Andrew Dewar’s “The Oracle”. This character class always seems like a obvious choice for gaming, but because it deals with the future (which turns out, it is not possible to predict), pulling it off is always tough, both in terms of the abilities, and making it a playable class. Of course, the oracle here is an “NPC class”, meaning not meant for players, but we all played them anyways.

The oracle can cast divination spells, and can use some other divination abilities. It must have an Int and Wis of 14 or higher. Oracles can be human, elf or half-elf. Advancing beyond 11th level requires the oracle to challenge a higher level oracle to a game of riddles (which makes no sense if this is an NPC class … and there is actually half a page spent discussing advancing in level over 11th level).

The innate abilities are various forms of divination – rhabdomancy, arithomancy, etc. – which the class has a percentage chance of using successfully at different levels.

Lewis Pulsipher has a nice introduction to heraldry in “Understanding Armory”. It’s a great primer for those interested in the subject.

Roger E. Moore has the lowdown on “Some Universal Rules – Making Your Own Campaign – and Making It Work”, which covers exactly what he says. He gives a step-by-step on how he designed an original campaign world, based on nothing but his imagination. He also gives a nice set of ways from getting from one universe to another:

1. Cross-universal caves – always go from one world to another.
2. Teleport chains – a length chain of a weird metal that, when surrounding a group and the ends joined pops them into another world.
3. Rings or amulets – like the fabled Ring of Gaxx
4. Rooms and corridors at the bottom of a dungeon
5. Cursed scrolls
6. Angry wizard with a new spell
7. Wish
8. Magical items causing etherealness
9. Psionic probability travel
10. Magic spells (astral spell, plane shift)
11. Mutational planar travel (i.e. Gamma World)
12. Artifacts
13. Advanced technology
14. Acts of the gods

He also notes Dorothy’s ruby slippers

Judith Sampson has a really interesting article called “Adventuring With Shaky Hands”, in which she describes playing the game with choreo-athetoid cerebral palsy. Worth a read.

In “Larger than Life”, David Nalle covers “The Bogatyrs of Old Kiev”. Here are a few highlights:

Prince Vladimir I, The Saint, is a LG 13th level fighter in +5 chainmail with a +3/+4 broad sword. Ilya Muromets is  a LG 20th level fighter – a Cossack with long blond hair – with a mace that scores 2d10 damage.

He also has stats for Baba Yaga, though I don’t know how they compare to the later version in the famous Dancing Hut adventure.

Speaking of adventures, this issue has “The Garden of Nefaron” by Howard de Wied. This adventure won first place in the Advanced Division IDDC II, so it has that going for it, which is nice. This puppy includes some wilderness and a dungeon, and is meant for a large group of relatively high level characters. It also includes some nice Jim Holloway art, one of my faves.

The dungeon has a ki-rin as its caretaker, there are corridors and rooms filled with magic mists, illusions and a really great map (with Dyson-esque cross-hatching).


#53 also has some Top Secret material by Merle M. Rasmussen, with scads of spy equipment.

The Dragon’s Bestiary covers Argas (by James Hopkins II), lawful good reptilian humanoids that gain powers from devouring magic, Oculons (by Roger E. Moore), which are enchanted monsters created by magic-users as guardians (and which look super cool) and Narra (by Jeff Goetz), which are lawful human-headed bulls.

Len Lakofka has some extensive info on doors in his Tiny Hut and Matt Thomas does some work on the AD&D disease rules in “Give Disease a Fighting Chance”.

If you like triffids, you’ll like “The Way of the Triffids” by Mark Nuiver. Let’s do a triffid in Blood & Treasure stats:


Type: Small to Large
Size: Plant
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 7
Attack: Stinger (10′/1d3 + poison)
Move: 10′
Save: 14
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral (N) with evil tendencies
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 600/7

They can hide in foliage with 94% chance of success, and they attack with a stinger. The stinger requires two saves vs. poison. If the first is saved, it means instant death. If the second is failed it means blindness and 2d4 additional points of damage.

For the Traveller fans, Dennis Matheson presents “Merchants Deserve More, Too”, which covers character creation for merchants.

Another great ad. I’d dig one of these shirts.

Besides reviews and such, that’s it for September 1981 … except for the comics.Here’s a dandy from Will McLean …

And though no Wormy this month, here’s one of the nifty D&D comics by Willingham …

Khellek shouldn’t be confused with Kellek

“That’s the pepper – right down the middle!”

Or Kelek, Evil Sorcerer

Apparently a popular name among magic-users.

Have fun, guys and gals!

Monks and Swashbucklers

This post will finish my posting of the hybrid “fighting-man” classes I was using in my last game, and it involves the oft-maligned monk. Now, I grant you that the monks as presented by Gygax lo those many years ago do not fit into a medieval milieu. On the one hand, I want to say – who cares? I run my games for fun, not verisimilitude. On the other hands, lots of folks do want their games to make sense and stick to a sort of “reality”. For those folks, allow me to suggest that the monk is still a usable class. The trick is to ignore the name and the “fluff” and just look at the game stats. What you have is a non-armored combatant who is quick and generally hard to kill. In other words, a very acceptable way to emulate a swashbuckler or two-fisted pulp adventurer. Heck, I’ve even used the class to stat out Popeye (don’t ask). So, before you relegate the monk (or any other class) to the dustbin, think about how you can adapt the flavor to the mechanics.

The following content is Open Game Content.

The Monk Sub-Class
The monk is a sub-class of fighting-man. Monks train themselves in the unarmed martial arts, including wrestling. They develop lightning fast reflexes and iron wills. Most monks are trained in special monasteries, but some simply apprentice themselves to a fighting master. Different masters and monasteries use different techniques, and they (and their students) are often quite competitive.

  • Prime Attributes: Strength & Constitution, 13+ (+5% experience)
  • Hit Dice: 1d12/level (Gains 5 hp/level after 10th.)
  • Armor/Shield Permitted: None.
  • Weapons Permitted: Any.

A monk’s unarmed attack inflict 1d4 points of damage at level 1, 1d6 points of damage at level 2, 1d8 points of damage at level 5 and 1d10 points of damage at level 9.

At level 6, a monk can make a second unarmed strike each round. The secondary strike’s damage begins at 1d4 and improves to 1d6 at level 9.

Monks improve their unarmored AC by +1 at levels 2, 5, 8 and 12.

A monk’s movement improves by +1 at each level. A monk carrying a medium or heavy load loses this extra speed.

A level 1 monk can use a stunning attack once per round, and no more than once per level per day. The monk must declare its use before making an attack roll. A missed attack roll ruins the attempt, and counts towards the monk’s limitation. A foe successfully struck by the monk is forced to make a saving throw. Those struck by a stunning attack always take normal unarmed attack damage, but a failed saving throw results in the foe being stunned and unable to act for 1d4 combat rounds.

At level 2, monks gain the ability to deflect arrows and other non-magical missiles. The monk must have at least one hand empty to use this ability. When a character would normally be hit by a ranged weapon, the character may make a saving throw. If the saving throw succeeds, the monk deflects the weapon and suffers no damage. This can be done once a round at levels 2-6, and twice at levels 7-11 and three times at 12th level. The monk must be aware of the attack to use this ability. An attempt to deflect a weapon counts as the monk’s primary unarmed attack. If a monk is high enough level to have a secondary unarmed attack, the monk may still make the secondary attack. This ability cannot be used against siege weapon ammunition.

At level 3, a monk’s unarmed attack can deal damage to creatures only harmed by +1 magic weapons. A level 5 monk can damage creatures only harmed by +2 or better magic weapons. A level 8 monk can damage creatures only harmed by +3 or better magic weapons, and level 12 monks can damage creatures only harmed by +4 or better magic weapons.

At level 4, a falling monk takes damage as if a fall were 20 feet shorter than it actually is, but must be within 10 feet of a vertical surface that he or she can use to slow the decent.

At level 6, a monk can feign death for a number of turns equal to the character’s level.

At level 7, a monk’s naturally healing increases to 2 hp per day.

At level 12, the monk gains the fabled quivering palm attack. The monk can use this attack once per week. The attack must be announced before an attack roll is made. The monk must be of higher level than the target. If the monk strikes successfully and the target takes damage from the monk’s unarmed attack, the quivering palm succeeds. Thereafter, the monk can choose to try to slay the victim at any later time within 1 round per level of the monk. The monk merely wills the target to die, and the victim makes a constitution saving throw to avoid this fate.

This attack has no effect on undead or creatures that can only be struck by magical weapons, unless the monk is able to inflict damage on such a creature.

The Swashbuckler: If you don’t think that a kung-fu-style monk fits into your campaign, you can rebrand the class as a swashbuckler. In this case, the monk’s “unarmed attacks” are instead made with long sword (rapier) and dagger, and only with these two weapons. The stunning attack can represent a dizzying flourish of arms or a pommel guard to the head. The quivering palm can be renamed “the lunge”, representing that moment when the swashbuckler stabs his foe, who then staggers about for a moment before expiring with a look of disbelief in his eyes.

Level Experience Hit Dice Attack Save Title
1 0 1 +0 16 Postulant
2 1,750 2 +1 15 Novice
3 4,000 3 +2 14 Brother
4 8,500 4 +3 13 Cenobite
5 20,000 5 +4 12 Mendicant
6 40,000 6 +5 11 Monk
7 80,000 7 +6 10 Canon
8 160,000 8 +7 9 Prior
9 325,000 9 +8 8 Abbott
10 550,000 10 +9 7 Abbott
11 750,000 +5 hp
+10 6 Abbott
12 1,250,000 +10 hp
+11 5 Abbott

S&W Format

Hit Dice: 1d6+3 per level, +3 hit points per level after level 9

Level Experience Hit Dice Attack Save Title
1 0 1 +0 14 Postulate
2 2,900 2 +0 13 Novice
3 5,800 3 +1 12 Brother
4 11,600 4 +2 11 Cenobite
5 23,200 5 +2 10 Mendicant
6 45,000 6 +3 9 Monk
7 90,000 7 +4 8 Canon
8 180,000 8 +5 7 Prior
9 360,000 9 +6 6 Abbot
10 480,000 +3 hp
+7 5 Abbot
11 600,000 +6 hp
+7 4 Abbot
12 720,000 +9 hp
+8 3 Abbot

Art by Alison Acton