Monday, April 6, 2015

Dragon Magazine - Memory Lane

Dragon #70, February 1983
Now that we are playing some Dungeons & Dragons again after all these years, I was checking out some old D&D stuff on eBay, and ended up buying several good-sized cheap lots of Dragon magazines from the era of my adolescent days. When I got back from the short-circuited Shenandoah trip, I had a large and very heavy box containing almost every issue between #s 67-135 waiting for me (I did say large lots...all from the same seller). These issues are from late 1982 through July 1988, which would be basically high school and college.

This stuff certainly brings back memories, as I routinely bought or subscribed to this magazine through much of the very late 1970's and early 1980's (I sold all these magazines on eBay maybe 10 or 12 years ago...). In the few issues I have thumbed through thus far, I have already re-read some things I distinctly remember from back then. The issues numbered higher than about #100 don't look very familiar, so these are probably from after we stopped playing (and we all would have been in college so that makes sense).

Based on a very limited sample size of issue-flipping, some initial observations come to mind...

It is an interesting journey back into roll playing game history, as many of the authors of the articles in the early '80s issues are the "royalty" of Golden Age AD&D (some of whom are now dead): Gary Gygax, Ed Greenwood, Len Lakofka, Kim Mohan, Roger Moore, Lewis Pulsipher, etc.

The game, already in the early 1980's, was well on the road towards becoming the ridiculously over-complicated over-detailed monstrosity that it apparently became after we stopped playing back in the old days. The relatively new 5th edition we are playing now is very much a step backwards from the level of complexity and micro-detail that I am seeing even in 1982 and 1983 issues. For example, the issue I just set down (#70 - February 1983) has a article on NPC (non player character) smiths, and how many "smith" experience points they need for each level (there are 12 levels), and which levels can craft or repair which items, and so on and so on and so on. For 3 full small-print pages. I'm not quite sure why anyone would want to bog down in a level of detail regarding a smith other than "can I buy X, Y, or Z item from him, or can he fix this item?", but to each his own.

Some of the material holds up well conceptually, and can still be used as inspiration or food for thought to someone playing now.

A lot of the material is space-filling junk that I find of no interest other than as a historical footnote or as a vehicle for taking a trip down memory lane and recapturing a little piece of lost youth. In hindsight, some looks like little more than contributing editors banging out a few contractually required articles in order to cash a paycheck, or others simply filling the page count of the magazine, but I guess that is being cynical. Probably true though...

There is incessant dialogue about, warnings on, and clarifications regarding what is put forth in the magazine "for your consideration, Gentle Readers" (a phrase they seem to love) versus what is "official." The short version of which is stated bluntly and repeatedly: anything Gary Gygax says is directly from the mouth of god and therefore official; anything else is not. This is interesting in hindsight knowing that at a point in the not-too-distant future, Gygax, the primary creator of D&D/AD&D and its real driving force, would be ousted from TSR and there would be many years of acrimony following that. In the early '80s, we are still very much circled around the feet of the master, and are being told to worship accordingly. Blasphemers beware.

The advertisements for the then-current products (and their prices!) are as much of a walk down memory lane as anything.

Some of the artwork is pretty cheesy and cartoonish, but some is very good.

All told, this is looking like it will be an entertaining minor expense, costing less than half the sticker price of the magazines when they were new 30 years ago. And I'm sure a few ideas culled from here will make it into our gaming sessions.

Overall, there is more junk in here than not, but interesting nonetheless.

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