October 29, 2008

Looking Back: Dragon Halloweens of the Late 70's and 80's

"For Halloween, we’re got something on tap that will tie past editions to the new edition in a way that just makes the DM in me tingle all over. I’ll talk more about that next month."
-- from Bill Slavicsek, "Ampersand", Dragon #366, August 2008.

I don't think we ever did hear from Mr. Slavicsek as to what was 'coming on tap' for Halloween this year - maybe will find out in a later issue of Dragon? Or maybe tomorrow I've got something cool on tap...

Nevertheless, to go along with the upcoming Halloween holiday, I thought I would bring my own something 'on tap' that tied in past editions for Halloween: a brief look back at a few of the Halloween issues of DRAGON magazine. Not an exhaustive list by any means - but all worth the read if you have access to them. My favorite? It would have to be the 1986 revision of The Witch NPC class. Hands down, best witch class ever.
  1. The Dragon #20 (1978) "The Horrible Halloween Issue" - In addition to a preview of the new animated film "Lord of the Rings", here's a couple of additional selections from this issue of Dragon:
    2. "DEMONOLOGY MADE EASY or, How To Deal With Orcus For Fun and Profit", by Gregory Rihn
    3. "Demonic Possession in the Dungeon", by Chas Sagui
  2. Dragon #42 (1980) - In addition to the awesome illustration by Todd Lockwood, this issue featured a number of sweet Halloween articles, including:
    1. "Demons, Devils and Spirits", by Todd Moldvay
    2. "A new evil... The Possessors", by Arn Ashleigh Parker
    3. "Patron demons", by Lewis Pulsipher
    4. "Restless dead", by George Lakin
    5. "The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow", by James M. Ward (Dragon's first haunted house module; remember this was years before Dungeon magazine existed).
  3. Dragon #76 (1983) - The Deathmaster was a magic-user sub-class who dies on Halloween (a.k.a. Orcus's Feast Day) will rise again as one of Orcus's undead minions.
  4. Dragon #114 (1986) - "The Witch", by Bill Muhlhausen was a remake of the classic NPC class from OD&D, and it updated for AD&D rules. The same issue also featured an article entitled "Grave Encounters: Creatures that lurk in cemetaries and crypts", by Nick Kopsinis and Patrick Goshtigian.
  5. Dragon #138 (1988) - This was one of the better Halloween issues from Dragon. It featured four solid 'scarefull' articles with a solidly Lovecraft spin:
    1. The Black Book and the Hunters, by Craig Schaefer
      .... Those who annoy the Old Ones should keep a careful watch behind them.
    2. The Ungrateful Dead, by Tom Moldvay
      .... Beautiful ghouls and titanic zombies: new undead for your AD&D games.
    3. Methods to Your Madness, by Ed Friedlander
      .... A new insanity system that lets a little lunacy go a long way.
    4. The End of the World, by Eileen Lucas
      .... Got an ailing fantasy campaign? Cure it - with the Black Death.
  6. Dragon #150 (1989) - Here's where the CORRECTED Vampire for AD&D was printed. Also, the editors of Dragon were still obsessed with Lovecraftian horror.
    1. The Dragon's Bestiary, by Stephen Inniss
      .... In the lands of the mind flayers live their more monstrous relatives
    2. The Sunset World, by Stephen Inniss
      ..... Illithids welcome all strangers to their homeworld with open tentacles.
    3. Fangs Alot!, by The editors
      .... A Halloween issue without vampires is like a day without sunshine: the revised AD&D® 2nd Edition vampire!
    4. The Well-Rounded Monster Hunter, by Dean Shomshak
      .... Cthulhu doesn't scare me. I have a degree in art design!
Looking back on these old issues, I can't help but wonder "How many of these topics have be unknowingly rehashed and recast by the RPG community over the years? In print, online, in blogs, where ever?" Doesn't it seem to you that reading what has already been written is the only way to contribute something completely new to the arena of Gaming? In science, we use PubMed to track every single research article ever published, as well as the abstracts. Knowing the literature is a fundamental requirement of doing research - you don't want to be one of those scientists who unwittingly "discovers" something novel, only to later find out that it was published years ago in some other journal.

Thinking about this... there could (and maybe should) be a similar database for the gaming community. For example, if there have been more than a dozen articles written about "Vampire Ecology"; do we really need another one? Or more to the point since this is a creative medium; do we really want one? Or is this too scholarly of an approach, and we should just ignore our gaming roots and reinvent the wheel forever?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It should behoove the authors of all the various blogs that consitute the rpg blogosphere to "know thy history, know thy roots" and then build on what has been done to truly move things in new directions.

As a final comment: from a business standpoint - it is interesting to me how much rehashing the publishers have knowingly done. I mean, do you really think that the recent Dragon about Gnolls and Demons was the first of its kind? The answer is no.

[1] Artwork of Orcus drawn by Todd Lockwood appeared in Dragon #42 (1980).
[2] The Witch image taken from Dragon #114, artist unknown.

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  1. Wow, a role playing analog to PubMed would be incredible. Now if we could only convince Congress to fund one...

  2. "For example, if there have been more than a dozen articles written about "Vampire Ecology"; do we really need another one?"

    Tolkien wrote about orcs, trolls, and dragons, so do we really need them in our D&D games?

    Yes, absolutely, as long as you've got an interesting take on the subject.

    Limit yourself to completely original ideas, and you're going to be staring at a lot of empty pages.

  3. @ Scott : thanks for stopping by again! I guess what I mean is that the better we know what has been written before, the better our own writing and story lines for gaming will be.

    As a parallel - just because another research group has published a paper about Gene XYORZ doesn't mean that I am not going to do the same thing - I'll just make sure that I reference them in my own work and try to build upon it so that the reader gets a sense of the depth and context of it all.

    As for writing about 'vampire ecologies'; if 10 RPG bloggers and game designers have previously written about 'vampire ecologies'; then isn't it in an authors own interest to know what has been written - and in the context of commentary or house rules - cite those other authors and their own ideas while adding your own new, novel insights about the same topic?

    I'm not saying "don't write about what has been written about already". I'm just suggesting that people might benefit from knowing what has already been put to the page so that they might deepen their own perspectives before putting their own ideas out.

    just my 2¢

  4. What? You don't need to know what has been written before! Comic publishers have done it for years, that is why they invented retcon!

  5. After thinking upon this article for a while, and looking at your previous work, I have come to the conclusion that you suffer from obsessive collection and documentation syndrome (OCaDS).

    The need to collect, catalog and index all things (that you care about)! I too share your affliction, my support group meets every Saturday @ 4...

  6. @Gregor:

    @Madbrew: BWAHHAHAHAA!!! OMG... thank you.. its 6:06am and I almost just woke up the kids with my laughter. But, I think you are right... sadly I fear that I would do well as a data entry person for MegaCorp. Or as a librarian...

  7. http://www.pen-paper.net/rpgdb.php?op=articlelist

    Pen N Paper RPG.com has something close - just they lack 'abstracts' or bylines for each of the articles. And I cant quite figure out how to search it, although it is 6am...

    @ Gregor : Thanks for the bump! I left a comment over on your site as well.


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