The Strategic Review

By Keith Senkowski
On January 12, 2014

The Strategic Review was first published in 1975 when roleplaying was really just another form of wargaming. As a lifetime game and lover of history I thought I would take a walk through time to look at the state of gaming through the lens of The Dragon.

This of course meant diving first into The Strategic Review, a magazine, prior to this effort, I knew very little about. There are lots of interesting bits to be found and the following are the highlights.

Volume 1, Issue 1

I think the Mind Flayer found in this issue may be the first appearance in print of the beast. However I found this solo dungeon adventure for Dungeons & Dragons much, much more interesting bit of history.

Following this gem, there are two full tables for random room generation. The interesting part though is in the text presented here. Basically a GM/DM-less game, I like to imagine people anxiously waiting for encounter envelopes from people across the country so they can add some spice to their solo game.

Volume 1, Issue 2

This tidbit is pretty interesting as it is a sort of FAQ section for the space between the publishing of Dungeons & Dragons and Greyhawk (which in case you didn’t know was the first suplement). It turns out that their idea of an FAQ and mine are very different things. What we see here is really an explanation of stuff people found to be vague or inccorect.

What I really love is how vague the explanations are at points. Clearly they are still writing for an audience in the know, which makes m super curious to see if/when they make the transition to a more broad target.

These three items in particular stand out to me:

  • In the combat example the Orcs don’t go for the kill, the hero gets a ton of attacks, and they still haven’t figured out how to use morale consistently.
  • In the experience seciton you can see the authors working out, but not quite defining, a challenged based XP economy for things like groupings of monsters.
  • This might be the best short description of Vancian magic I have ever seen.

Volume 1, Issue 3

Oh the gossipy pissy bullshit clearly has been in gaming since the beginning. This issue opens with a scathing editorial by Gary Gygax where he slams a review of Dungeons & Dragons by Arnold Hendrick. Since Boing Boing’s site redesign the original link to the original Hendrick article had disappeared, so I only assumed it was a nasty review.

Thank god for the Wayback Machine. Hendrick’s review is pretty straight forward and honest and there is nothing in there entirely wrong considering the nature of game text at the time. Garry just lost his shit and references stuff that I didn’t find in the review (the specifics about Hendrick’s experience with Dungeons & Dragons). Back in the day was there a flurry of letters and phone calls on rotary phones about this article?