RPGs that time forgot... Dragon #116

Dragon Magazine #116, December 1986
Tag Line: Monthly adventure role-playing aid
Makers: TSR Inc.

What is it?
Trotted out because it's the first RPG magazine I ever bought, Dragon was pretty much a house organ for TSR's games, mostly AD&D, but it might include material for other companies' games. Features covered on the cover: The High Seas (and a 3-D sailing ship); Wild animals; Doctor Who? (all six!)

Neat Stuff
-The photo cover. I'm not surprised I had to get this despite some rather dull-sounding articles (wild animals? wow).
-Good variety: Articles for Elfquest, Traveller and Doctor Who in addition to the usual TSR products.
-Keeping it statless. There are a number of articles that can fit any campaign (admittedly skewed towards fantasy and historical genres). The Ecology of the Minotaur, that article on wild animals, a historical dissertation on communications through history (with actual scholarly references no less), all of it very much "for any RPG".
-That 3-D ship model was pretty keen I seem to remember, though it's long been lost.
-A feature called The Dragon's Bestiary that printed readers' concepts for monsters. It must've been especially cool to see your ideas illustrated by actual artists.
The art throughout is better than a lot of stand-alone RPGs out there, though sometimes culled from other sources (like Gustave Doré prints... I'm not complaining).

Bad Stuff
-The stuff hasn't aged well. A lot of the material was written for games that have gone through other editions or gone out-of-print altogether, or how about that article on computer RPGs like Bard's Tale? I certainly don't find the comic strips funny anymore, if I ever did.
-At the time, I certainly found the scholarly articles (including the gigantic "High Seas" with its many charts and hex grids) dreadfully boring. The one on communications has more dates than your average GURPS sourcebook.
-I'm pretty sure the stats for the 6 first Doctors are already in the FASA RPG.

"Killer Jugglers? ...What next month? Mimes of the Marvel Universe?" "We did Black Bolt two months ago."

How I've used it
I know I've used material from Dragons over the years, but maybe not this one. I was all of 15 when I read it and deep into dungeon delving. I didn't understand how to stage outdoor adventures until much later. Certainly, the sea theme was lost on me, and none of my players ever expressed a desire to play Aquatic Elves. Never used the Death-Throws in a supers game either.

In conclusion
Call me crazy, but old school RPG magazines were much more interesting than the house organs and hype machines we have now. I understand why a company would put out a dedicated magazine that focused exclusively on its products (makes business sense) or on a single game (a kind of supplement for your favorite game), but I loved Dragon, Challenge and White Wolf because of their sheer variety. In their pages, you'd see what else was out there. Even an ad like this one for Villains&Vigilantes would send my mind spinning.
Stats as marketing! Old school indeed. There's also a large color insert for Warhammer with sample pages. It's the kind of thing that would make us throw even more crap into our hodgepodge home-made campaigns. This issue was also directly responsible for my procuring FASA's Doctor Who RPG and Marvel Super-Heroes, and indirectly responsible for my 100+ game collection. Damn you, TSR!!!


FoldedSoup said...

I had that very same issue, too. In fact, I may still have it somewhere in the bowels of some basement chest somewhere.

I used to love that magazine, back in the day ... and wouldn't mind re-reading old issues again sometime. To this day, whenever I read a Phil Foglio comic, I still think of him as "that funny Dragon comic strip guy."

Siskoid said...

I did that too until his body of work included too many DC humor comics and GURPS sourcebook illustrations.


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