Reading the Dragon: Strategic Review V1N5

These are getting long enough, and deep enough into the origins of the game, that I’ll do just one per post for the rest.

  • The Strategic Review V1N5 (Dec 1975): 16-page newsletter/almost magazine.
    • Cover: Trippy piece by Greg Bell. I see a series of three magic-users, each summoning the next, rising from smoke.
    • News/”In the Cauldron” by Tim Kask:

      “We know that it’s late, but you wouldn’t believe me if I listed all the problems we had with it. Suffice it to say that I have been blooded, as an editor, by BLACKMOOR.”

      Many more woes of a small publisher, start of the DUNGEON Hobby Shop, catalog, and products which are mostly obscure now: EPT boardgame, Fight in the Skies (Dawn Patrol), Little Big Horn, Lankhmar (as I recall, a good but not great boardgame, despite my love for Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser), Classic Warfare minis rules. And then biographies of Gary Gygax, Brian Blume, Rob Kuntz, Theron Kuntz, and Tim Kask. Gary’s background as an insurance salesman always seems especially relevant to his style of gaming.
    • Sturmgeshutz And Sorcery Or How Effective Is A Panzerfaust Against A Troll, Heinz?: The infamous Tractics/D&D fight of Nazis vs EHP (Evil High Priest, a classic acronym now mostly forgotten). Stats for the modern weapons are quite weak until you get to the armored car, 2 half-tracks, and squad weapons.
      • A Panzerfaust does 8-80 dmg (avg. 44), and an OD&D Troll is HD 6+3 (avg. 24 HP, 30 HP in Holmes), so one hit will bring it to -20, but it will be back in the fight in 9 turns with 7 HP. But the Nazis only have 3 single-shot Pzfsts, and there’s 4 Trolls.
      • There’s an incomprehensible “Adjustment of Hits due to Armor” table.
      • The Unarmed Combat Special table is quite interesting. How did they make something this generally useful and then never reprint it again?!
      Score Effect*
      1-5 None
      6-10 Stun opponent, attack first next round
      11-15 Disarm opponent and attack first next turn — if no weapon in opponent’s grasp do 1-6 points damage
      16-19 As above plus 1-6 points damage inflicted
      20 Opponent knocked senseless if not AC 2 or less and above 7th level (adjust upwards for higher AC’s, i.e., AC 3 and above 8th level, AC 4 and above 9th, etc.) — takes 1-8 points damage in any event

      *Roll for each soldier, regulars have 1 in 6 who can engage in this form of combat, veterans have 3 in 6, elite adds 1 in 6.

    • Dave Sutherland art of “Attack of the Stirges”. Good sketch of horrible critters.

    • Mapping the Dungeons: Hoilday specials! For $2, get D&D Books 1-2, for $4, get D&D Books 1-2 + pullouts, in a box! An interesting “promo”, since the DM would still need a full $10 box with Book 3 to run anything. Announcing DM seminar at GenCon IX.

      “This issue seems to be heavily laden with items requiring your response. But, what other company goes to such pains to find out what YOU want? Anyway, we are looking for direction concerning D&D. We have received a number of suggestions concerning supplements (not all of them Good/Lawful), so we decided to ‘poll the players’. What do you want to see in the upcoming supplements? We have been kicking around the idea of a readers/players supplement, composed of material submitted to us.”

      That’s a generous attitude TSR rapidly lost and even aggressively attacked throughout the ’80s and ’90s, though lately Wizards of the Hasbro has been trying to open up with the 5E playtests and various surveys, they’re just not institutionally capable of doing much about it.
    • Mighty Magic Miscellany: Robe of Scintillating Color, Prayer Beads: Uncredited, but ended up in the AD&D DMG, both changed significantly for the worse. The robe’s description explicitly endorses the Holmes interpretation of a 10-second combat round, and 100-second combat turn, and it’s a mind-killer against high-Int Magic-Users:

      “When it is used in a non-combat situation, where turns are longer (remember, one turn contains 10 melee rounds), there is a 20% base chance of becoming hypnotized, with an additional 5% per turn increase. Any magic user that becomes hypnotized by the robe who has an intelligence of 17 or 18 has a 10% or 20% chance, respectively, of going permanently insane.”

      Prayer Beads is a set of reasonably valuable gems that randomly helps or hinders summoning a god, not necessarily yours or a friendly one! The AD&D Necklace of Prayer Beads is all positive effects, and the necklace gets taken away if you summon your god. Lame, Gary! Let the players summon Cthulhu if they want or roll badly, it’s fun!
    • Battle of the Nile Refought, by Dave Arneson: Don’t Give Up the Ship scenario, wherein righteous French republicans give the English monarchist dogs a good thrashing, contra historical version. Sadly lacks a detailed map or initial layout, so it’d be hard to run directly. Again, Napoleonics are so very forgotten these days, when it was one of the best wargaming periods.
    • First ad of the issue: Diplomacy World magazine.
    • The Armory: Modern Weapons Data for TRACTICS, by Mike Reese: Tank stats for Sheridan, Leopard (5 variations). “SHERIDAN does not carry nuclear weapons.” — WTF joke. Does not address the infamously shitty main gun of the Sheridan which would misfire, and then the unspent ammo would explode inside, killing a number of our troops in Vietnam. OOPS. Leopard’s quality German engineering, and just gets better over time.
    • Gallery of Gunfighters: Ben Thompson. Murderous sonofabitch murderhobo of the Old West. Oddly, there’s never been a movie of him, and only a few TV show appearances.

      “He was, in this author’s opinion, one of four most dangerous gunfighters who ever lived. He had killed at least eight men and probably as many as sixteen (although some report up to thirty-two killings), only to die in an ambush.”
    • What Is The National Wargame Convention?: In which Gary beefs with AH (The Avalon Hill Game Company®) about Origins convention vs. GenCon. Just get pistols and resolve this shit man-to-man, don’t bitch at the readers.
    • Creature Features:
      • Rakshasha (f. Rakshasi):

        “Known first in India, these evil spirits encased in flesh are spreading. They are fond of a diet of human meat, and as masters of illusion they can easily gain this end.”

        Ridiculously OP magic & physical defenses, but they’re only 7 HD so they won’t face real high-level PCs, and there’s a one-shot kill trick, rewarding any player who memorizes the monsters.

        I love the mythical Rakshasa, and the one from Kolchak the Night Stalker which inspired this monster listing, and the very powerful but not one-trick demons in Supplment IV, but these one-trick monsters are bullshit.
      • Slithering Tracker: How to assassinate your players if they sleep in a dungeon, for dick DMs.
      • Trapper: Also how to assassinate your players if they stay in a group, for dick DMs.
    • Second ad of the issue: Taurus Ltd has an unclear image of ocean and a wall of text in a tiny box apparently selling Raiders of the North, a WWII naval wargame.
    • Comic: Hideously ugly. “What do you mean, my fireball only did six points of damage?!”. This guy shoulda packed a Panzerfaust.
    • TSR Hobbies catalog. Notably:
      • Multi-sided Dice Sets — Each Set contains one 20-, 12-, 8-, 6-, and 4-sided die: $3 ($13.33 today)
      • Percentile Dice Sets — Two 20-sided dice: $2 ($8.89 today) — 10-sided dice weren’t available yet.
      • Professional FOOTBALL $11
      • Major League BASEBALL $12
      • Auto RACING GAME (Indy 500 Cars & Drivers) $9
      • THOROUGHBREAD[sic] Racing (With Stats on Actual Horses) $7
      • Sports games? Is that still a thing anywhere, other than like Fantasy Football? I played some of the sports handheld electronic games back in the day, but not boardgames. Obviously now all the slack-jawed jocks would play Xbox sports games.

Reading the Dragon part 1

There’s an old thread
which read Strategic Review/Dragon from the beginning, which has the interesting time-warp effect of showing how the game developed from a very minimal little thing to giant tangled mess, and incidentally revealed that the old players (hey, look, posts by JimLotFP!) prefer the minimal thing which is mostly stealth, puzzles, treachery, and action & adventure was dangerous shit; whereas new players (only played 3.x and later) prefer a giant bloated 1200-page set of encyclopedias with a “story” and superheroes swinging Buster Swords. I tell you, no bullshit, these animals like Ed Greenwood’s fucking Elminster “DM’s favorite NPC” stories. They probably play Forgettable Realms. If they held their honor dear, they’d draw steel and charge at that mortal insult, but they think it’s OK.

So I’ll do a short version of this time-warp covering what I think is interesting. The most gameable or relevant articles I’ve boldfaced. I’m sure you can convince a search engine to cough up copies of the old magazines to follow along.

  • The Strategic Review V1N1 (Spring 1975): 50¢, 6-page newsletter format.
    • News that “These acquisitions are: CHAINMAIL, DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP, and TRACTICS.” — Chainmail is of course the 20:1 figure scale Napoleonics miniatures wargame D&D evolved out of, Don’t Give Up the Ship is a Napoleonic naval wargame which was quickly absorbed into D&D’s naval warfare rules, and Tractics was WWII tank miniatures in a sandbox, with a referee. I’ve played a couple dozen sessions of Tractics and modern replacements, and it was a very serious game until TSR dumped it around 1980.

      But the thing to note here is that D&D grew out of Napoleonics, and that was a major interest of the authors of D&D and many wargamers of the time. I haven’t seen a new game about Napoleon’s wars in decades.
    • Creature Feature: The Mind Flayer: Here’s the first attempt at psychic combat, with an AOE Mind Blast ignoring Level, only Intelligence, class, and the Helm of Telepathy, giving results from death to stun to permanent insanity; a mediocre mind is actually the best defense.
    • Tractics errata sheet.
    • CASTLE & CRUSADE by Gary Gygax, explanation of why the spear is weak in Chainmail Man-to-Man combat, and by extension in D&D using Chainmail combat; which was, I gather, common before Holmes enshrined the “Alternative Combat System” as the only choice. This is one of the subtleties lost by not using the weapon vs armor/AC tables.
    • SOLO DUNGEON ADVENTURES by Gary Gygax, with special thanks to George A. Lord: More or less the system reprinted in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. “You may wish to have ‘rough-hewn’ and natural tunnels in lower levels, and where chambers and rooms are indicated substitute Caves and Caverns.” — rather implying the world-spanning Underdark of later editions.
    • Ad for Warriors of Mars: The Warfare of Barsoom in Miniature, published by TSR, written by Gary Gygax and Brian Blume. Which again, search engine. This is a tactical miniatures game, with a lot of RPG-like elements, not too much like Chainmail or D&D. E.R. Burroughs was major influence on early D&D, name-checked in the introduction and Book 2 monsters. And then the Burroughs estate sued based on Disney-revived copyrights, and many copies of this game were pulped.

      The other ad is for Star Probe, published by TSR, which I have never seen; from minimal research it seems to be a Star Trek-inspired wargame?
  • The Strategic Review V1N2 (Summer 1975): 50¢, 8-page newsletter format.
    • In Memorium, Donald R. Kaye, cofounder of TSR, age 37.
    • TSR –WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO Editorial Comment by Brian J. Blume “While we must make a profit in order to remain in business, TSR is not around solely to make money.”

      Irony: They probably meant that, in 1975. But once they got a taste, and once Lorraine Williams was running the game and company into the ground, money was all they considered.

      “The members of TSR are long-time gamers who have found that there is a great deal of satisfaction in creating and/or publishing a good set of game rules or an enjoyable game, and please note the emphasis on the term gamers. Some attempt to down-grade the game aspect of our hobby and pretend to simulute[sic] reality.”

      Road to Hell, Good Intentions Paving Company: TSR did indeed publish Gamist games, not Simulations or Narrativist/”Story” games. Until the same 2nd Ed/Lorraine era, when all adventures became story-driven plot railroads, and that’s remained true for almost everything under WotC and Hasbro. If you want an actual game where you make decisions, you can’t use much official D&D material.
    • THE STRATEGISTS CLUB: Survey for content preferences, with a discount coupon of 25¢-75¢ per product for people who send TSR $1. Uh huh.
    • CAVALIERS and ROUNDHEADS RULES ADDITIONS: English Civil War miniatures wargame by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. Another game that vanished, and a period nobody wargames anymore.
    • WARGAMING WORLD: News of conventions and magazines, including one from Flying Buffalo.
    • QUESTIONS MOST FREQUENTLY ASKED ABOUT DUNGEONS & DRAGONS RULES: The first actual explanation of how D&D is supposed to work, which you cannot get from the white box. Initiative is 2d6 + Dexterity modifier, morale system is “up to the referee, although there is one in CHAINMAIL”, experience for items, treasure, and monsters scaled by Level, and how D&D magic works. Notable to me in this are:
      1. The ever-changing initiative systems. I now count 1d6 unmodified, 2d6 modified, Holmes’ Dexterity rank, and Eldritch Wizardry second-by-second, in just original edition games.
      2. The many attacks given to high-level Fighting Men against even 1 HD monsters, like Orcs and Dwarfs; later rules would make that sub-1 HD only, like Normal Men, Gnomes, Goblins, and Kobolds.
      3. Grappling rules are implied to be some fistful of dice method, but never explained in this example. Grappling is a worse rules clusterfuck than initiative.
      4. In Vance’s books, it’s not possible to have multiple of the same spell, but Gygax explicitly allows it. “If he had no books with him” implies that a Magic-User can indeed carry spell books into a dungeon.
    • CREATURE FEATURES: The Roper. Gross, annoying, and at 10-12 d8 Hit Dice, offensively strong. I dunno if I’ve ever used one, but now I’m more interested.
    • RANGERS I, AN EXCITING NEW DUNGEONS & DRAGONS CLASS By Joe Fischer: Preposterously strong (2 hit dice at Level 1!), stacked with special abilities, casts from both Magic-User and Cleric lists at higher Levels, track, are hard to surprise, and get a bonus to kill giant-class giants and kobolds (I just read the thing, I can’t interpret this madness). The XP table is 25% higher than a Fighter’s, but instead of needing a prime requisite, they all get a 4/3 XP multiplier until 8th Level, so they level faster. The only drawbacks being they have to stay Lawful (which makes little sense, as Rangers would seem to me to be Druidic Neutrals or Elf-like Chaotics), can’t bank their loot (oh no what will they do, oh, yeah, murderhoboes), and no more than 2 Rangers per party. Well, thanks for small mercies, a whole party of Aragorns (1: “They call me Strider!” 2: “No, they call ME Strider!” 3: “They call me… Strider?” 4: “Some call me… Maurice.”) sitting with their backs to the walls of a tavern would be too much, but 2 is OK! This munchkin Lord of the Rings bullshit has been a pernicious blight on gaming since the beginning.
    • MEDIEVAL POLE ARMS By Gary Gygax: You know how sometimes people have really weird sexual kinks they can’t come out and discuss, but it shows up in everything they do? Polearms were that for Gary. Why do we need to know, in a game of “rules for gamers”, about every slight variation in German and Swiss polearms between 1300 and 1700 CE?
    • TSR NEWS: Announcements of Boot Hill (a game I’d love to have a new retro-clone of!), Panzer Warfare (never seen it), Classic Warfare with setting books (never seen it), and Greyhawk! “Anyway, if you decide to send ticking packages, be sure that the printer gets one also…”
    • SPECIAL! SPECIAL! SPECIAL! SPECIAL! SPECIAL!: Playtest War of Wizards for $5, when the production copy will be $7. Never heard of it, but apparently written by M.A.R. Barker of Tekumel fame. “it can be adapted for integration with such similar games as DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, CHAINMAIL, and the upcoming fantasy game PETAL THRONE.” But check out this spell list and page 2 and page 3! Silver Halo of Soul Stealing! Doomkill! I want a spell called “Doomkill”!
  • The Strategic Review V1N3 (Autumn 1975): 50¢, 8-page newsletter format.
    • Editorial: Very petty, catty calling out of hostile reviews, and stirring up a mob to harass the reviewer’s new company’s wargames. It’s like a Twitter cesspool but 40 years earlier.
    • TSR NEWS: Printing Fight in the Skies (aka Dawn Patrol), which was and is a really fantastic tactical WWI aircraft duelling system with experience and skills for pilots. Empire of the Petal Throne nearing print, and assorted others in production.
    • CREATURE FEATURES: The Yeti, The Shambling Mound, The Leprechaun, The Shrieker, The Ghost, Naga, The Wind Walker, The Piercer, The Lurker Above: Huh, why did the Wind Walker vanish into mist, while the others became more or less iconic?
    • MONSTER REFERENCE TABLE ADDITION, HOSTILE & BENIGN CREATURES by Wesley D. Ives: April Fool’s article 6 months late, statting up Drolls, Buydras, Wererommels (Armor Class see Tractics), Weregandalfs, and so on. Entirely accurate depictions of several new-endangered species of wargamers.
    • THE BATTLE OF THE EBRO RIVER IN 5mm NAPOLEONICS: Actual play report, and again a bygone wargaming genre.
    • WARGAMING WORLD: Miniatures news, magazines, a few Play-by-Mail campaigns, almost all forgotten now.
    • GALLERY OF GUNFIGHTERS, Part 1 The Art of Gunfighting: Boot Hill hype, excellent background on how to live, fight, and die as a gunslinger. “He who lived by the gun frequently died by the gun; or on the short end of a long rope.”
    • FROM THE RIVENSTAR SONGBOOK: THE UNICORN SONG by Moonwulf of Rivenstar (aka Michael Longcor): Poetry/joke, the kind of thing you should copy out and sing for the players when they go to a tavern, so as to provoke a bar brawl.
    • MAPPING THE DUNGEONS: Addresses for D&D referees and clubs, and first action report of Dave (The Fiend) Arneson’s Nazis vs Necromancers wargame.
    • Deserted Cities of Mars, by Jim Ward: Description and generation tables for Barsoom, especially in Warriors of Mars. More of the early E.R. Burroughs influence, before litigation and the inferior tastes of mere Tolkien hippies excised most of this from D&D.
  • The Strategic Review V1N4 (Winter 1975): 75¢, 12-page newsletter format.
    • Editorial: Hiring of Tim Kask (“expect to see some improvements and changes in SR next issue”), Terry Kuntz (“will be the one responsible for all the rules interpretations requested, so get mad at him from now on.”), and Dave Arneson (“produce material like a grist mill (Crack! Snap! Work faster there, Dave!).” — Ha ha, no, Dave ended up writing half of Supplement II and then flaking out).
    • MAPPING THE DUNGEONS: Equivalents of MiniFigs “Swords & Sorcery” miniatures to Hyborean nationalities, which suggests quite a lot of early fantasy RPG/minis gaming was using Robert E. Howard’s Conan books as their semi-official setting.

      Fanzines announced: Alarums & Excursions, Greg Costikyan, several others already running “Dippy” Diplomacy fanzines.
    • CHAINMAIL WEAPONS ADDITIONS: Jo Stick, Bo Stick, and Quarterstaff stats, possibly munchkiny.
    • PANZER WARFARE: ADDITIONAL UNIT ORGANIZATIONS by Brian Blume: Division numbers for Russia, Italy, USA. There’s a fixed number of Battalions per year, but no costs listed, so I’m perplexed by what kind of game Panzer Warfare was, it seems high-detail and yet not concerned with your strategic investments?
    • THE STRATEGISTS CLUB: TSR fan club banquet seated 58 people, had a $20 gift cert (worth $88.89 in 2017’s debased currency). TSR won its own awards, but unlike most years, it earned those.
      • Best New Game Of 1974: Dungeons & Dragons
      • Outstanding Designer: Gygax & Arneson
      • Outstanding Writer: John Lundstrom – naval historian
      • Outstanding Wargame Magazine: Wargamer’s Digest
      • Best Miniature Figure Release: Custom-Cast “Fantastiques”
      • No award was made for the S&S novel due to the proliferation of novels named, and the catagory will probably be dropped.
    • THE EXCITING GAME OF FANTASTIC ADVENTURE: Dungeon!: Great introductory game, some version of it is still in print from Wizards of the Hasbro.
    • WARGAMING WORLD: Gen Con, Origins, and a lot of diplomacy. More magazines, including The Space Gamer!
    • ILLUSIONISTS! GENERALLY APPEARING AS A NEW CLASS FOR DUNGEONS & DRAGONS By Peter Aronson: Much more of a balanced “advanced” class, Int & Dex 15 requirements were quite hard on 3d6, slightly limited in direct damage, but ideal for the crowd control activities Magic-Users were mostly doing anyway. Very limited set of magic items they could use. Generally a great spell list, only up to 13th experience Level and 5th spell Level, but that’s far above where any “legitimate” D&D ever reached (Gary will have many words on that subject in a future issue).
    • TSOLYANI NAMES WITHOUT TEARS by M. A. R. Barker: Illustrated with a fat priest about to sacrifice a terrified half-naked woman; why is it never a priestess about to sacrifice a terrified half-naked fat man? Cultural notes about naming EPT characters, and then 2 pages of tables and calligraphy which you would never be able to write at the gaming table; and this was when the only copy-cut-paste was with a mimeograph or Xerox, scissors, and glue.
    • Repeated boxes of THE DRAGON IS COMING!. He’s not even breathing hard.
    • Ad for Empire of the Petal Throne, $25 ($111.11 in 2017’s debased currency).
    • Creature Features: Clay Golem
    • Mighty Magic Miscelleny: “Ioun” Stones: Adapted with permission from Jack Vance’s “Morreion”, but then nerfed down from godlike artifacts taken from a dying star into trinkets that add a little stat bonus and can be easily caught.
    • Ad for En Garde!, GDW’s Three Musketeers RPG. $4 ($17.78 in…): Quite a good game, a mix of strategic career advancement and up-close duelling, keeps going in and out of print, so it’s not hard to find a copy somewhere, more or less unchanged since 1975.
    • GALLERY OF GUNFIGHTERS: Part II: John “DOC” Holliday (a/k/a Tom McKey): The guy everyone playing Boot Hill wants to be.

Dragon+ Magazine

Dragon+ magazine has some interesting content, mostly in the maps and some paintings (Hasbro can certainly afford good artists).

But the reader is a cruel joke. What is Hasbro doing? There’s an iOS app, Android app, and web version, but no PDF. It’s free-as-in-kittens content, why do I have to page thru this abysmal UI they’ve cobbled together? Or why can’t it just be a series of static, usable web pages, which might even be searchable?