The Dragon in Review, Year One

By Keith Senkowski
On January 20, 2014

When TSR moved on from The Strategic Review to The Dragon for the most part is was just a title change. It took some time for the writing and layout to improve. However, in these early years we get to see some interesting firsts, such as the Creature Features and the Remorhaz.

Issue One, June 1976

When I started this project, I was only aware of these early issues of The Dragonvia their covers, many of which are iconic. As I moved through the issues of The Strategic Review I some how got it in my head that the layout and writing would improve when TSR split the magazine in two. I was so wrong.

This snippet here is a great example of OMG WHAT WERE THEY THINKING BACK THEN. There is a logic to it, certainly. However, the mechanics outlined… I mean if I was the editor of a brand new magazine and this came across my desk, I’d run out and ask why everyone is messing with me.

Go home Dragon Magazine, you’re drunk!

Issue Two, August 1976

This isn’t particularly compelling, but it is the first appearance of the Creature Featurescolumn, which is notable for a few reasons. It has a striking Erol Otus illustration that sets a nice tone and precludes the need for too much descriptive text. It is also the first attempt I have seen in the magazine up to this point of actual layout.

The primitive critter focused layout in this page reminds me why I love the Peterson Bestiary for Torchbearer. It is free and really illustrates what can be done for page layout and monster manuals. I only wish all those old binder monster manuals were laid out like the Peterson Bestiary. I would have kept them.

What I wouldn’t give for a 4 color edition of the Monster Manual illustrated by Erol Otus.

Issue Three, October 1976

Oh boy, this issue is something. The title of this article in full is Notes on Women and Magic – Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D. When editorial saw that the response should have been:

Instead we get the following gems of advice:

  • Women fighters are clearly behind men in all cases. Don’t tell Gina Carano.
  • Women have Beauty instead of Charisma… because the Maid of Orleans I guess bewitched and seduced the men into fighting the English.
  • Apparently only evil female clerics use their charms granted by their high Beauty score. Lawful and Neutral clerics for some reason get their Charisma back?
  • I have no words for the joke in the saving throws section. No words.
  • So woman cap out at 14 for strength according to this article. I don’t recall seeing this much variation with weapons based on strength for “fighting men.” Can anyone clear that up?

Misogyny has been a problem in gaming from the beginning, but this issue from the past really brings it to light.

The crazy that is Issue Three doesn’t end with the misogyny. We get a healthy dose of paranoia regarding Xerox. It seems like every generation of American has lived through some form of this “destroying an industry”.

The Out on a Limb section appears to be the precursor to the Sage Advice column, with folks writing in and the folks at Dragon responding, or other folks in the world responding (proto-forums). I found this response to a request to Xerox (remember those) tables for distribution fascinating. The initial question specified that he wanted to sell the tables at cost to cover expenses (how expensive was Xeroxing in 76?) and this is the reply he got.

This is fascinating (despite my personal issues with copyright) to me as it shows the sort of early struggles of publishers against new technologies. It also illustrates how inexperienced they were at communicating with their audience. I am really curious to see if their language use in communication like this changes over time.

The reference to the Judges Guild I assume means they had a license from TSR to reprint the various tables as the add for said organization focused on reference sheets.

You can go to hell Scott!

Issue Four, December 1976

Issue number 4 of The Dragon is dedicated entirely to the Empire of the Petal Throne(EPT), which I have to admit, has always been a gaming Chimera to me. I recall my first GenCon (and in some ways the best GenCon) when I was 14. I was wandering around after a game and met some really nice older guys who chatted with me about DnD. However, they started talking about EPT and I got lost fast.

Ever since that moment EPT has been this thing I have tried to understand, but could never find enough information about (or information that was understandable) to really grab hold. So when I saw this issue I got excited… That was not a good thing.

This stuff is just plain confusing. It assumes a level of knowledge that I imagine most people don’t have, about a made up thing. The cover is beautiful, and that chart has evocative names, but it is all meaningless to the uninitiated. And the Editor of Dragon knew this and still published this issue (note to self, read Editor’s note first next time).

I don’t know what the crap this is, but I know I love it.

Issue Five, March 1977

This article in issue five is really interesting for a couple of reasons. First there is no author. It was submitted to The Dragon 15 months prior to publication anonymously. Secondly, it might be the most well thought out bit of game mechanics I have seen yet in the magazine. Finally is has some artwork that looks like someone at the last minute tried to cover up the witch’s nipples, which is just weird.

The first in a long line of Witchcraft articles in the magazine.

Honestly, looking at these mechanics, it is almost like a character from Apocalypse World with all the powers and how they are described. They are meant to be NPC’s (good and bad), but they have their own interesting system for their powers, their own weapons, lairs, and other interesting items. Whomever wrote this really thought it through, D&D rules be damned.

Issue Six, April 1977

Morale was always something we (my gaming group) didn’t understand or appreciate in our early days of D&D playing. Eventually we ended up using it (particularly in my long solo game with my brother). Now someone else can correct me if I am wrong, but this looks like the first time an attempt to add morale rules to the game was made. The rules we used in the Rules Cyclopedia(still my favorite D&D book, just edging out the Thieves Handbook from 2E) were different than this but I wonder how the development process went to get to that point.

Morale in D&D has always seemed to be the least appreciated rule.

One thing I find really interesting is that Morale rules have always flown in the face of player agency. You essentially lose control of your character’s actions on an intangible whim of the dice if you will. The lose of agency is interestingly enough often an argument against rules that utilize dice to resolve agency based conflicts (like debates). I wonder if that is one of the reasons you tend not to hear about people using the morale rules in the various editions.