Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Dragon #11

The Dragon Rumbles editorial this month sees Tim Kask getting excited about the inclusion of stories from Fritz Lieber, Gardner Fox, and L. Sprague de Camp, as well as talking up the popularity of the Snit Smashing game included last issue. View from the Telescope Wondering Which End is Which sees Gary in fine form, taking pot-shots at anyone and everyone who wants to profit from D&D without the permission of TSR. It contains some praise for Judges Guild, which is now officially licensed to produce D&D material, and also for GDW, but mostly it’s Gary just letting loose, which I always enjoy. How Do You Stop That Thing? is an article discussing tactics for the game Ogre, in which one player with a heap of smaller vehicles and weapons defends against the other player who has one gigantic monstrous tank. From the Chronicles of Emaj the Rotund is a play report for Snit Smashing. Sea Magic is a short story by Fritz Leiber that features Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. In the comics, Wormy stumps his dwarven foes with a riddle, while Finieous Fingers falls for crying hobbits. There’s also an unimpressed review of the animated film of The Hobbit, which had just been released at the time. And finally there is Snit’s Revenge, an add-on to Snit Smashing.

Oh, and there is some interesting stuff in the ads, as well. At the front of the issue is a Minifigs Ad that shows some demon miniatures, including Orcus and Demogorgon. Minifigs at the time was the official D&D miniature creator, and these look pretty rad. At the back of the issue is an ad for the AD&D Monster Manual, which is one of the strangest pieces of advertisement I’ve ever seen. It’s basically just a big block of text explaining what the book’s about, followed by the complete entry for the Carrion Crawler. I think it’s a great ad, as it shows you exactly what you’re getting from the book. It’s like TSR know they’ve got a good product, and they’re willing to let it speak for itself.

Brawling: The Easy Way “Out” in D&D by Rob Kuntz: Look kids, it’s an unarmed combat system! I’m seriously perplexed that it has taken this long for one to show up. There were rudimentary (and very good) rules for grappling in an early issue of The Strategic Review, but these ones are much more involved.

There are rules here for Grappling and Punching. The person with the highest Dexterity usually goes first. When grappling, each combatant averages his Strength and Dexterity scores. The attacker compares his result to the defender’s, dice are rolled, and a chart is consulted to determine how many Constitution points the defender loses.

When punching, someone with a much higher Dexterity than his opponent will get multiple attacks. A hit is scored on a 2d6 roll of 2-7. The attacker’s Strength is compared to the defender’s Constitution, and again a chart is consulted to determine damage to Constitution. There’s an optional rule that gives you a chance for a knockout blow if you roll snake-eyes.

It’s not really a difficult system, although it does use more dice rolls than I feel are necessary. But my real problem with it is the way it completely bypasses D&D’s level system. It doesn’t matter what level you are as a fighter, a 20th level Lord with average stats could get trounced by a farmer with an 18 Strength. Certainly there’s some fun to be had with that kind of result, but it flies in the face of the basic building blocks of the game. Not only that, it completely ignores hit points as well. It’s not that it’s a bad system for unarmed combat, it’s just a bad fit for D&D.

The Play’s the Thing by Thomas Filmore: It’s an article about giving your PCs personality and flavour. There’s not a lot here that modern players haven’t seen before: the usual stuff about fleshing out your background, your likes and dislikes, that sort of thing. The one useful tid-bit I can take from the article is an NPC: Saltair the Dwarf, blamed for a friend’s death, a drunk and a gambler who hates everyone. Oh yeah, I can really needle my players with this guy.

Seal of the Imperium by M.A.R. Barker: Professor Barker is back, answering more questions about Empire of the Petal Throne. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I would like to include Tekumel as a possible destination in my campaign, as I like the idea of thrusting D&D characters into such an alien world. The information given in this article will be incorporated. Barker talks about the Shen and its club-like tail, whether non-humans get more hit points than humans, why it’s so hard to advance to high level, the nature of Demons, the organization of the Ssu, the use of women in the armies of Yan Kor, and where magical scrolls come from.  It's always interesting to hear this guy's perspective on the game, because he's coming to it from a much different place than Gygax and the rest of the D&D crowd.

From the Sorcerer’s Scroll by Rob Kuntz: This is the first in what Rob intends to be a series. Here he spends his time talking about what’s coming up for D&D: the Monster Manual, Monster & Treasure Assortments for levels 7-9, AD&D, and an outdoor map designed by Brian Blume. Did that map ever get created or published? It seems not, but I’d like to know anything about it. There’s a plug for Judge’s Guild (although the comment about them saturating the market doesn’t sound too complimentary). It ends with a survey, as Rob wants to know what people want the feature to be.

Quarterstaff Fighting Rules by Jim Ward: It’s yet another fighting style that bypasses D&D’s level system in favour of ability scores. Yay! To resolve a combat round, each person writes down his actions. He can attack twice, defend twice, or attack and defend. High Strength makes it easier for you to hit, high Constitution lets you absorb damage, and high Dex does both. There are also different levels of proficiency that make it easier to hit. It’s not that difficult to figure out, but it still has that potential problem of low-level characters with high ability scores being better than high-level characters. The best thing about the article is that it provides some ability scores for Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Implausible scores, I might add, as most of them have a 17 or 18 in everything. But I guess legendary figures get some special dispensation.

NEXT: Hold on to your hats, folks – it’s the Monster Manual!


Justin said...

I have been reviewing the DMG guide to unarmed combat, and I am a bit perplexed. Was this the final word? Has anything better come out?

Nathan P. Mahney said...

The DMG unarmed combat system is one I've skimmed over, and it did look confusing. I think there's a simpler one in Unearthed Arcana, but other than that I don't have much to recommend.

Dwight Divine said...

I'm wondering if you have the actual paper copy of Dragon #11, and if so, whether you could post the back cover, which appears to be a Christmas themed portrait of the TSR staff of the day.

At least according to this memory by Tim Kask:


I would very much like to view that image, if you have access to it! Sadly, my own collection of Dragon magazines starts quite a bit later (in the mid to high double digits).

Nathan P. Mahney said...

I don't have a hard copy of Dragon #11; I'm using the Dragon Archives cd-rom set for these retrospectives. But I'll take a look anyway and see what I can come up with.

Dwight Divine said...

Thanks very much for checking, I'd love to see the old gang back in the day, as represented by what seems to be a fine example of '70s art!