Monday, September 15, 2014

Dragon Magazine: Where To Start My Quest?

One of my many stated goals for the year is to read every issue of Dragon magazine.  I'm well on my way to completion, but I ran into a bit of a quandary along the way.  Instead of just reading each one, I'd like to discuss them with the community.  I want to post about certain articles and items that interest me or pertain to this blog.  As I read the older issues however, I noticed that in the early years D&D existed in a form quite different from the version I was familiar with.  I started playing in the Moldvay years.  As a result, elements of the Holmes edition are unfamiliar to me.  And let's not even get started on the original version.  The content during those first years really would not fit well with the topics I choose for this blog.  My dilemma then is:  where do I begin with Dragon magazine?

So my first option would be to start at the very beginning.  Though I have found little in that earliest of issues that resembles the game I used to play, I could learn from the past.  Writing about and discussing articles from way back then might give me a better understanding of where the game came from and how it arrived in its current form today.  The disadvantage would be that it would take many posts before I journeyed into content that I recognize and that fits with the theme of this blog.

The next option would be to start with posts dating back to the beginning of the Moldvay era.  That iconic boxed set was released in January of 1981.  Issue #45 was the first issue published after the release.  Having read it, and subsequent issues, I can say that the content did not change overnight and become more Moldvay-ish. It was a slow transition from those early issues to what I came to later know and love.  I did, however, recognize more of the elements and themes that made up the game I used to play so long ago.  Moldvay was there but not in an overwhelming sense.

Another good starting point would be from the oldest physical issue of Dragon magazine that I own.  My earlier issues are all in electronic form, mainly from the CD compilation that unfortunately has long been out of print.  I obtained this issue from eBay, so beyond being the oldest, and sporting great cover art, this option holds no special advantage over simply starting with issue 45.  After all, there were only two months between the two.  It felt right to include it as an option though.

Option four is to begin with issue 63.  What's so special about this one?  Though I did not own it at the time, this issue dates back to my very first D&D game.  On a warm summer night back in July 1982, I was introduced to the greatest game ever invented.  To say that D&D had a profound effect on my life would be an understatement.  Dragon #63 honors that momentous event.  The advantage of beginning with this issue (beyond the nostalgia) would be that I should be quite familiar with the content of each issue from this point on.

The final option holds a very special place in my heart.  Issue 94 (from February 1985) was the first issue I ever purchased.  I vividly recall the evening I walked into a Waldenbooks and discovered this beautiful magazine sitting on the shelf in the gaming section.  How I had missed discovering Dragon magazine for over two years I will never know.  I was always in the local hobby shop so I know I should have/would have noticed it.  Perhaps fate meant for me to find this particular issue or maybe I just matured enough to notice additional content beyond books and modules.  Either way, this issue remains my favorite to this day (but not my favorite cover art) and therefore deserves inclusion in my list.

So, where should I start?

Though this entire post has been one long-winded question, I would still like to leave readers with additional points to ponder.

*  Do you collect Dragon magazines?

*  What was your first issue?  Do you have any memories associated with it?

*  Though I plan on writing a future post on the subject, do you have a favorite cover?

Thanks as always for reading my blog.  And thanks in advance for your comments and participation!


  1. Having done this with White Dwarf and now Owl & Weasel I say go with Issue #1. Compare and contrast with what you know with what was printed then.

    1. That's good advice.

      Did you do the entire run of White Dwarf? That would be an epic task!

  2. I have to agree with Tim B: Start at the beginning. But why limit yourself? What about the Strategic Review? Actually those really old issues clearly show the origins of D&D in miniatures wargaming.

    My collection runs from around #70 to around #300 with a few holes. I'd love to have a copy of that cd! Early on several of my friends and I bought issues randomly until I eventually subscribed.

    Not sure of my first, but my oldest survivor is #64, with a nice Hildebrant dragon on the cover. Just seeing it brings back fond memories of poring over that issue; reading it front to back and back to front many times over.

    With so many favorite artists and great subjects, it's hard to narrow it down. If you insist on holding a gun to my head, I would have to go with #32. A great, humorous Phil Foglio piece. I'll leave it to everyone to Google it.

    1. That's interesting that you chose #32 as your favorite. It's not a bad piece by any means, just different from what one usually finds gracing the covers of Dragon. It's definitely a Foglio piece. I'd recognize that style anywhere.

      #64 is a great cover as well. Mine is falling apart. I think I'll need to look on Ebay for a replacement soon.

      Thanks for your advice!

  3. I started collecting with issue 121 (Japanese warlord on the cover) and stopped with 306 (when the covers began to resemble those of "men's magazines" I canceled my subscription). That was back when everything Japanese was BETTER -- katana? It's like a sword but BETTER! Castles with paper walls? BETTER! Ninjas? Ninjas are just BETTER than EVERYTHING! :)

    I also grabbed the pdf CD as soon as it came out.

    For what it's worth, I agree with jimmd. Start with the Strategic Review (since it's on the CDs anyway) and take a look from the very beginning.

    Favorite cover? First I'll give you the runners up ...

    140 & 150 - both Elmores that suggest story
    125 historical dark ages Arthur w/o any fantasy elements
    137 evocative of lonely "Northerness"
    126 "Last Arrow" ranger vs undead giant - I still wonder if she gets that shot off and if it even matters

    The Winner: 127 ... I built a whole campaign off of this one image. In fact, I would say that it changed my approach to crafting villains in my games. They are "just" orcs, the same ones you've been snuffing out since first level, but man, you can read each one's personality in that one moment in time. This opened my brain up to the possibility that there could be so much more behind the stat block then a nameless, faceless mook.

    1. Here's my much delayed reply. Ha!

      I like most of the covers you listed as well. Issue 140 certainly does suggest a story. Larry Elmore titled it, Avalyne the Life Giver. I wonder if she will be able to help the fallen fighter. He looks like he is in bad shape. I also wonder why the giant does not return to engage the cleric. Definitely a story waiting to be told.

      Issue 125 is one of my all time favorites as well. I've always been a fan of Arthurian stories, especially the ones that reflect the "historical" nature of the legend rather than the idealized version. Roger Raupp knocked it out of the park on this one.

      Jim Holloway's orcs are definitely intimidating. What draws me to your favorite cover however is the fact that the focus is not on the heroes. Looking at the cover forces one to take the perspective of orcs/the bad guys rather than the traditional view. That technique didn't seem all that common at the time.

      Thanks for sharing you favorites. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to acknowledge your contribution.

  4. Those covers bring back some great memories.

    I started with issue #39.

    Favorite cover is one I do not recall the number: the one with the knight/paladin charging...I think it was a dragon.

    David S.
    Minnesota, USA

    1. Issue 39 was a few years before my introduction to D&D and several more before my first Dragon Magazine copy. It has interesting cover art. I wonder what you thought of it at the time?

      Off the top of my head I recall several distinct dragon themed covers. The blue dragon vs. adventurers issue along and the dragon vs. a fighter jet all come to mind. But one of the most iconic that I remember without flipping through my collection (or Googling) is the cover titled Bridge of Sorrows. The cover depicts an armored centaur and a Gandalf-like wizard attacking a red dragon which hovers over a crumbling bridge. I'm not sure if this is the one your talking about or not but it's the one I thought of immediately after reading your comment. I'll have to break out my copies this week to see if another issue matches your description more closely.

      Thanks for sharing, by the way.