Attronarch's Athenaeum

DragonMagazine

These are may reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

The Referee’s Code of Honor: Six simple ways to earn players' trust

Author: John Setzer Issue: Dragon Magazine #184 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Trust is vital to the Judge-Player relationship. John offers six ways to build it:

  1. Always treat your players with respect. If they do something wrong, let them find out through the play and game itself.
  2. Never take a character away from a player. Give fair descriptions that do not deceive characters.
  3. Don't take on more than you can handle. Be careful when playing improvised games that you do not do something that you will regret later.
  4. Be reliable outside the game. Players will have difficulty trusting your word during a game if your word is worth little outside the game.
  5. Make the game fun for the players and yourself. Players will let you know they are not having fun by not coming to your game. Judge should be having fun as well. Judge is not there to be a tool to provide amusement only for the players.
  6. Take pride in your work and also in the group. While a group effort is needed to really have a fun evening of roleplaying, most of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Judge. When a younger player begins to show gaming maturity, you can be proud that you had a lot to do with bringing enjoyment to that person.

The advice isn't bad (although there is a fair bit of player pampering with fudging rolls and avoiding enticing them to do stupid shit by asking variants of are you sure) but is so verbose. Three pages (less when you remove ads and an illustration that takes 2/3 of the first page) is too long. Hence two stars.

The way we really play: Development of a DM is a three-stage process

Author: Tom Armstrong Issue: Dragon Magazine #106 Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

A confused article. First half is an attempt to generalise anecdotal data and fit it into some kind of progression model. Tom argues that Judges go through the following three stages:

  1. “Monty Haul” or, in other words, giving too much treasure and magical items to players, way too early, and way too easy.
  2. Strict rules-as-written, as response to players becoming too powerful and campaign going out of control.
  3. “Normal” or house-ruled AD&D.

Above doesn't resonate with me at all. Following that we get two long example of how Tom mishandled his games. He does share a following important titbit for all Judges:

I hadn't thought to ask the players what kind of campaign they wanted. ... Dungeon Masters should try working with their players instead of for or against them; players have good ideas, too.

Playing Dungeons & Dragons is a cooperative affair. Yes, it is very important to be giving feedback to each other throughout the game. That's how we make it better, together.

Another article that could've been two paragraphs.

Beyond the rule book: Procedure and style tips for good GMing

Author: Lew Pulsipher Issue: Dragon Magazine #75 Rating: ★★★★★

Now we are talking! Lew runs games! His first-hand, lived experience drips from every paragraph. And he packs a lot in this article; twenty points on being a good Judge!

First we get ten point about Judging procedures:

  1. Don't let players push you around. You are the ultimate authority; rely sensibly on the rules and on logic.
  2. Be consistent. Players make in-game decisions based on in-game “facts” and physics you provide. Make sure to be consistent so they can make rational in-game decisions.
  3. Tell players how you've changed the rules before you start the game.
  4. Don't stonewall. Always hear out players.
  5. Prepare before the game. As much and as little as need to keep the game running smoothly. Use index cards—that way you can reuse card for the next session.
  6. Maintain some semblance of order. Don't allow one person to destroy the fun others. Don't be afraid to kill a fool's character if his actions call for it. Let the player know what you disapprove of and why.
  7. Be humorous or open to humor. It's a game.
  8. Don't favor one player of another. Try to be impartial and fair, as much as you can. Never favour the monsters.
  9. Don't pursue a vendetta against any particular player or players. Vendetta for in-game reasons is fine, but for outside reasons is a no-no.
  10. Don't give away information. Don't give a player more information than his character would have. Don't tell player more than their character would be able to sense.

And then we get ten points on Judging style guidelines:

  1. Your style is not for everyone. You can't satisfy everyone, but you should be able to gather a group of players you can satisfy.
  2. Let the players gain abilities at the slowest rate which maintains their interest in the game. A ““rate of gain” that is too fast can disillusion players as surely as one that is too slow.
  3. Don't pass the buck. Your campaign is your responsibility. Dice, random tables, modules, supplements—all of them are in your service, and not the other way around. You must change them as you see fit.
  4. What is good for player character is good for the monsters.
  5. Err on the side of stinginess. It's easy to give stuff, but very difficult to take it away.
  6. Don't try to stop the irresistible force or overthrow the immovable object. In AD&D gods, protection from magic scrolls, clerics' undead turning ability, magic-users' inability to use swords, and inscrutability of magical tomes are inviolable. Resist the urge to add something to the game in order to avoid such restrictions.
  7. Don't allow anachronisms. Fantasy role-playing is only a simulation, and not reality. Foil players' attempts to bring forth inventions and innovations from our world into your fantasy world.
  8. Never let the players feel that their characters are invulnerable. Much of the excitement of role-playing comes from the possibility that death may be around any corner. At the same time, if too much is unpredictable, the game degenerates into a lottery.
  9. Avoid arbitrary keying. Avoid encounters and situations which have only one single solution that has to be executed exactly as you envision it. Allow space to be surprised by players' ingenuity.
  10. Don't expect players to perceive a problem the way you do. Judge must expect the unexpected!

Great article every Judge should read; even if you disagree with some of the points. I'll include it in the final Judge Advice collection.

Five keys to DMing success: Make it easy on yourself and fun for your players

Author: Mike Beeman Issue: Dragon Magazine #80 Rating: ★★★★☆

Mike argues that every good campaign has the following five elements:

  1. Continuity. Go beyond series of dungeons; introduce elements that make all the things in the campaign fit together in a cohesive whole. Even better if all these interconnections are covert, so players can discover them for themselves.
  2. Character. Give character a focal point for their life, but don't force them into anything. You can give them a quest, a magic item, an anti-hero, or destiny.
  3. Competence. A good judge must have an active imagination, working knowledge of the rules, and a sense of dramatic. Keep the game running, don't be afraid to make rulings, equip yourself with good play aids and supplements.
  4. Creativity. Plagiarise whatever excites you and then enrich it with your own imagination.
  5. Cooperation. Playing in other games will help you become a better Judge. Consider taking on a co-Judge; either to take turns running games or to run sessions in the same game. Only play in campaigns with people you like, not merely tolerate.

Good article. One star removed for shit, contradictory advice on giving player characters “a focal point for their life.” Players should do that. The article will be included in the final collection.

History of a game that failed: An essay on mistakes—and how not to make them

Author: David F. Godwin Issue: Dragon Magazine #99 Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

By Gygax, this article is a torture! Eight pages of three column dense text on how David managed to consistently fuck-up his games and what he did about that! +5 items abound, nigh invulnerable characters doing whatever they want, and what not!

Let me sum up his advice in the following list:

  1. Feel free to fudge.
  2. Just because it's in the module doesn't mean it's so.
  3. Be exceedingly stingy in handing out magic items.
  4. Don't let your players have a continuous commune spell.
  5. Do not allow a character to become more powerful than a chugging locomotive.
  6. If they wish for the moon, don't let them have it.
  7. Don't allow your players to polymorph a henchman into Odin.
  8. Be careful playing with fireballs.
  9. Be reasonable in awarding experience points.
  10. Go easy on the poor deities.
  11. Beware the many-headed hydras.
  12. Avoid an adversary relationship with your players.
  13. Do not allow thermonuclear devices.

Now, seeing most of the above you might wonder why only one star? First minus: pro-fudging. Second minus: discouraging troupe play. Infinite minus: EIGHT PAGES OF DENSE THREE COLUMN TEXT TO COMMUNICATE ALL OF IT. IT WAS ENDLESS. ENDLESS.

I hope David runs better games today.

No campaign ever fails: What to do if your game gets out of control

Author: Joel E. Roosa Issue: Dragon Magazine #111 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Joel offers eight yes/no questions to evaluate if a campaign is out of control:

  1. Have most of the characters achieved their levels fairly without undue “favours of the gods,” and through real danger to the characters?
  2. Has magical or technological equipment been mostly earned by real effort?
  3. Do most of the characters find the greater share of the individual adventures challenging?
  4. Most importantly: is most everyone having fun?
  5. Are any character too powerful?
  6. Are there too many powerful magic items in the campaign?
  7. Do the characters have too much money?
  8. Do the characters have too much manpower available?

Total score ranges from -4 (pitiful campaign!) to +4 (_excellent campaign!). Scoring 0 or below indicates that a campaign might be out of control and that some fixing might be overdue.

Since you know where you scored low, you theoretically know what you should look into first. Joel, wisely and helpfully, states that prevention is easier than cure. Obviously, if you scored roll, that means your prevention sucks and you should nuke the whole game.

Then he goes on to offer some advice on how to relieve player characters of excessive goods you've provided them: steal it back, swindle it back, back-fix it, tax it, sacrifice it, or use it. When it comes to abusing retainers, hirelings, and so on, remember that they are people too. If abused too much they'll start talking and player characters' reputation will suffer.

Joel believes that it is less work to bring an existing campaign under control than it is to begin a new one from ground up.

Final verdict? Although I like Joel's take on balance (it's relative and depends on the setting and game system you are playing) and his small assessment instrument, the article didn't really jump out to me. The latter is of lesser usefulness than one might think because it is focused solely on player character power. That might've been a big issue back in the day, but nowadays it seems the opposite is much, much bigger problem.

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Last year I collected 143 most recommended Dragon articles into a reading list. Given the size, I divided them into three collections: Player Advice, Judge Advice, and Setting Advice.

Now I'll begin reading the second collection, Judge Advice, with the intention of noting anything interesting and worthwhile. I plan to share my notes as I go, since others might benefit from them.

Here is the table of contents for the Judge Advice collection:

  • Judge Advice
    • The Referee’s Code of Honor (John Setzer, Dragon Magazine #184)
    • The way we really play: Development of a DM is a three-stage process (Tom Armstrong, Dragon Magazine #106)
    • Beyond the rule book: Procedure and style tips for good GMing (Lew Pulsipher, Dragon Magazine #75)
    • Five keys to DMing success: Make it easy on yourself and fun for your players Dragon (Mike Beeman, Dragon Magazine #80)
    • History of a game that failed: An essay on mistakes—and how not to make them (David F. Godwin, Dragon Magazine #99)
    • No campaign ever fails: What to do if your game gets out of control (Joel E. Roosa, Dragon Magazine #111)
  • Dragons
    • Run For Your Lives: How to DM a dragon (Adam Kay, Dragon Magazine #284)
    • Dragon damage revised: Claw and bite attacks graded by size and age (Leonard Carpenter, Dragon Magazine #98)
    • Dragon damage revisited: Finishing the figures for physical attacks (Leonard Carpenter, Dragon Magazine #110)
    • The Cult of The Dragon: Describing the dreaded dracolich and the sorcerers who create them (Ed Greenwood, Dragon Magazine #110)
    • The Draconomicon: The lesser evils of the draconian undead (Thomas Kane, Dragon Magazine #234)
    • Tailor-made treasure: Develop different hoards for different dragons (Roger E. Moore, Dragon Magazine #98)
  • Monsters
    • The humanoids: Goals and gods of the kobolds, golbins, hobgoblins, & gnolls (Roger Moore, Dragon Magazine #63)
    • Crude but effective: Simple tactics for humanoids (Derek Jensen, Dragon Magazine #199)
    • 101 Dirty Orc Tricks: Traps and tactics for your favourite humanoids (John Baichtal, Dragon Magazine #239)
    • By Tooth and Claw: Ordinary animals are dangerous in any game (Gregory Detwiler, Dragon Magazine #116)
    • The Wild, Wild Wilderness (David Howery, Dragon Magazine #187)
    • Bugged About Something? If your AD&D characters aren’t afraid of insects, they soon will be Dragon (Gregory W. Detwiler, Dragon Magazine #174)
    • How heavy is my giant? (Shlum da Orc, Dragon Magazine #13)
    • Giant-sized weapons: The bigger the monster, the bigger the blow (Stephen Martin, Dragon Magazine #109)
    • Blame it on the gremlins: Militaristic mischief-makers (Gregg Chamberlain, Dragon Magazine #79)
    • Campaign Classics Al-Quadim: The Roof of the World (Wolfgang Baur, Dragon Magazine #241)
    • Enter the Far Realm: Unspeakable madness, corruptions, and terror from beyond reality (Bruce R. Cordell, Dragon Magazine #330)
    • For NPCs Only – The Death Master (Lenard Lakofka, Dragon Magazine #76)
    • The Wild Warriors (Tom Griffith, Dragon Magazine #111)
    • Make monsters, not monstrosities (Lewis Pulsipher, Dragon Magazine #59)
  • Illithids
    • The Sunset World: In the realm of the mind flayers (Stephen Inniss, Dragon Magazine #150)
    • The ecology of the mind flayer: As told by someone who ought to know (Roger Moore, Dragon Magazine #78)
    • The Dragon’s Bestiary: All life crawls where mind flayers rule (Stephen Inniss, Dragon Magazine #150)
  • Misfortunes & Malignancies
    • How to give disease a fighting chance (Matt Thomas, Dragon Magazine #53)
    • Poison: The toxins of Cerilon (Larry DiTillio, Dragon Magazine #59)
    • Taking the sting out of poison: Another views on how to use toxic cocktails (Chris Landsea, Dragon Magazine #81)
    • Curses! Twenty good ideas for bad tidings (Ed Greenwood, Dragon Magazine #77)
    • Curses Are Divine: But their effects on your fantasy hero are horrible! (Mark Keavney, Dragon Magazine #167)
    • 101 Hauntings (Anne Brown, Dragon Magazine #252)
    • Gypsies: A curse or a blessing—or both (A. D. Rogan, Dragon #59)
  • Puzzles
    • Creating Word Puzzles for Your AD&D Game (Mike Selinker, Dragon Magazine #271)
    • Riddles of the Rhyming Sphinx (Johnathan M. Richards, Dragon Magazine #271)
    • Logic Missiles (Mike Selinker, Dragon Magazine #282)
  • Treasure
    • “It’s sort of like a wand. . .” (Gary Coppa, Dragon Magazine #161)
    • Something Completely Different: Variety should be a treasure hoard’s spice (Bruce Humprey, Dragon Magazine #179)
    • Gems galore (Ed Greenwood, Dragon Magazine #72)
    • Rings that do weird things: Thirteen pieces of jewellery not from the DMG (various authors, Dragon Magazine #82)
    • Non-violent Magic Items: One hundred ways to keep players guessing (Lewis Pulsipher and Roland Gettliffe, Dragon Magazine #73)
    • Blades with personality: DM’s planning can produce distinctive swords (Sam Chupp, Dragon Magazine #109)
    • A sharp system for swords: Magic blades get more personality and purpose (Pete Mohney, Dragon Magazine #99)
    • Magic Gone Haywire: Magical-item misfirings in the AD&D game (Rich Stump, Dragon Magazine #163)
    • Tarot of many things (Michael J. Lowrey, Dragon Magazine #77)
    • Unspeakable Secrets Made Easy: Building your unspeakable library in Chaosium’s CALL OF CTHULHU game (Dean Shomshank, Dragon Magazine #150)
  • Miscellaneous
    • It’s a good day to die: Death statistics of D&D players (Lyle Fitzgerald, Dragon Magazine #20)
    • Basic D&D points of view from the editors old and new (J. Eric Holmes and Tom Moldvay, Dragon Magazine #52)
    • The solo scenario: One-player parties are fun for two (Katharine Kerr, Dragon Magazine #73)
    • Plan it by the numbers: A system for tailoring challenges to characters (Frank Mentzer, Dragon Magazine #101)

More on each in the coming months.

#Resource #DragonMagazine

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This is the final post in the Player Advice Collection series. You can learn more about my Dragon Magazine reading project here.

Below you will find 41 articles divided into six categories: player advice, characters, equipment, magic, psionics, and procedures.

Each article has a rating between one and five stars, as well as final verdict: keep if I plan to include them in my final printed collection or drop if I don't. Click on the article name to be taken to the respective post where I reviewed it.

Article Category Rating Verdict
What good PCs are made of: Play characters with more substance than statistics Player Advice ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player Player Advice ★★★★★ Keep
Be aware and take care: Basic principles of successful adventuring Player Advice ★★★★★ Keep
Assessing, not guessing: How PCs can make their own value judgements Player Advice ★★☆☆☆ Drop
The six main skills: What AD&D game abilities mean in real terms Characters ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Realistic vital statistics: A new system for figuring heights & weights Characters ★★★★★ Keep
Short hops and big drops: Here's how far and how high characters can jump Characters ★★★★☆ Keep
Sight in the Darkness: An open-eyed look at infravision, the Underdark, and your PCs Characters ★★☆☆☆ Drop
The 7-Sentence NPC: A new way to bring nonplayer characters to life (in game, that is) Characters ★★★★☆ Keep
A new loyalty base: All the tables you need, all in one place Characters ★★★★★ Keep
Swords Slicing into a Sharp Topic Equipment ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Enchanting Weapons: Putting the “Magic” into Magical Weapons Equipment ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Always Wear Your Best Suit: Making armor and weapons unique for all characters Equipment ★★★★★ Keep
In Defense of the Shield: Shield-using skills in the AD&D game Equipment ★☆☆☆☆ Drop
Two Hands Are Better Than One: A handy guide on handling weapons Equipment ★★★★☆ Keep
Different Totes for Different Folks: Basic backpacks for every D&D game adventurer Equipment ★★★★★ Keep
“Oops! Sorry!” Spell interruptions can spell disaster Magic ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Spells between the covers: Details for delving into magical research Magic ★★★★☆ Keep
The Laws of Spell Design Magic ★★★★★ Keep
Paths of Power: A variant magic system for the AD&D game Magic ★★★★☆ Keep
The Color of Magic: Specialized spells for D&D game spellcasters Magic ★★★★★ Keep
Even Wilder Mages: If your wild-mage PC isn't strange Magic ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Good stuff for a spell: Magic focusing: a new dimension for possessions Magic ★★☆☆☆ Drop
Charging isn't cheap: How to make and fix rods, staves, and wands Magic ★★☆☆☆ Drop
The Mystic College: Magical academies for AD&D game sorcerers Magic ★★★★☆ Keep
Psionics is different... And that's putting it rather mildly Psionics ★★★★★ Keep
Overhauling the system: A three-part remedy for problems with psionics Psionics ★☆☆☆☆ Drop
And now, the pscionicist: A class that moves psionics into the mainstream Psionics ★★★★★ Keep
Spells can be psionic, too: How and why magic resembles mental powers Psionics ★☆☆☆☆ Drop
Psionics: Sage advice Psionics ★★★★★ Keep
Credit where credit is due: Elaborating upon the experience-point rules Procedures ★★★★☆ Keep
New charts, using the 5% principle Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
You've always got a chance: Using ability scores to determine success or failure Procedures ★★☆☆☆ Drop
When the rations run out: Characters don't live on hit points alone Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
Wounds and weeds: Plants that can help keep characters alive Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
Good Hits & Bad Misses Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
Magic resistance: What it is, how it works Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
A Hero's Reward: The hero-point system for the AD&D game Procedures ★☆☆☆☆ Drop
The fighting circle: Gladiatorial combat in the AD&D game Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
High Seas: Ships, fore and aft, in fantasy gaming Procedures ★★★★★ Keep
Same dice, different odds: Divided rolls add variety and uncertainty Procedures ★★★★☆ Keep

I've dropped 15/41 (36%) of the articles I've read. Not bad.

Here is the spreadsheet if you want to slice and dice the database yourself:

Attronarch's Dragon Magazine Reading List

Email me for password.

Next up is the Judge Advice collection. That one is twice as thick, so it'll probably take me a bit longer.

#Resource #DragonMagazine

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These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

This time the topic are Procedures.

Credit where credit is due: Elaborating upon the experience-point rules

Author: Katharine Kerr Issue: Dragon Magazine #95 Rating: ★★★★☆

Katherine gives a solid analysis of AD&D's experience system, pointing out how it doesn't work so well for non-violent solutions, wilderness exploration, and domain play.

She goes on to propose a way to think, or framework, for figuring out how to award experience points for situations not covered by the rules (i.e. for treasure and for monsters killed).

Here are the headlines of the procedure for determining the experience points awards of scenarios in general:

  1. Make sure that the material for the adventure is indeed one single scenario.
  2. Define the major goal of the scenario.
  3. Determine the opposition to the goal.
  4. Personify the opposition if necessary as a single “monster.”
  5. Use the table in the DMG to determine the actual point award for the personified opposition.
  6. Determine bonuses, if any.
  7. Keep in mind the “measure of challenge” rule in the DMG.

Although I don't quite agree with her examples, this article is worth reading for the analysis of the AD&D experience point system:

I strongly urge DMs to remember the abstract nature of the AD&D game's experience-point system. They should stay firmly within it by awarding points only for major goals that require the use of many PC skills to achieve. Although it's tempting to give point awards for specific actions, such awards really do run counter to the spirit of the game. While creativity is the most important thing a DM needs for good gaming, a sound and consistent system of rules runs a close second.

Yes, I'll include the article in the final collection.

New charts, using the 5% principle

Author: Lenard Lakofka and Gary Gygax Issue: Dragon Magazine #80 Rating: ★★★★★

Smoothing before the smoothing was popular? This is one of those articles I love reading Dragon Magazine for. Short, to the point, gameable, and full of tables.

It basically reworks AD&D attack and saving throw tables to improve by 5% between each level instead of staggered improvement every couple of levels.

As a bonus we also get a revised table for awarding experience points for monsters.

The tables are a bit visually messy (might also be due to scanning artefacts), but this is very much worth reading, especially if you play AD&D or OSRIC.

Yes, this article will be included in the final collection.

You've always got a chance: Using ability scores to determine success or failure

Author: Katherine Kerr Issue: Dragon Magazine #68 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Katherine's advice can be boiled down to: multiply the ability score with 5 to get the basic skill percentage, break the disputed action steps, and then determine which skill or skills will be used in each step. Assess situational modifiers, but keep it simple and limit to range from -10% to +10%. A good reminder is given repeatedly: this is a game, keep it quick, keep it fair, and be firm.

Although brief (two pages), this article could've been a single paragraph. I also cannot get over the fact that she translates d20 into d00 and then ends up only working with increments of 5. You know, as on d20. Don't do that.

When the rations run out: Characters don't live on hit points alone

Author: Paul Hancock Issue: Dragon Magazine #107 Rating: ★★★★★

Wonderful. Warms my heart. Two pages. Clear mechanics. No beating around the bush. Mandatory if you are running sandbox game where players might run out of rations.

Wounds and weeds: Plants that can help keep characters alive

Author: Kevin J. Anderson Issue: Dragon Magazine #82 Rating: ★★★★★

Twelve plants player characters can use to alleviate their pains. Simple mechanics for gathering and identifying are offered, followed by description of each plant covering: scientific name, other names, appearance, location, uses, game effect, and precautions.

The plants are: aaron's rod, adder's tongue, birthwort, comfrey, garlic, henbane, herb true-love, juniper berry, marsh-mallow, st.-john's-wort, sphagnum moss, and woundwort. The are not overpowered (usually ranging from d2 to d3 for most of then, often temporary), and are nicely illustrated and well described. A bit verbose, but nothing that can't be fixed.

An article worthy of including in the final collection.

Good Hits & Bad Misses

Author: Carl Parlagreco Issue: Dragon Magazine #39 Rating: ★★★★★

The best article on critical hits and bad misses that I've read.

You roll d20 as usual for attack roll and d00 to determine if it will be critical or fumble:

  • If you hit the target, then the difference between the roll and how much was needed to hit represent % you want to roll under to hit a critical.
  • If you missed the target, then the difference between the roll and how much was needed to hit represent % you fumbled.

Let's say that a level 1 Fighter attacks a monster with AC7. He rolls 18 on d20. He needs to roll 12 to hit AC7. Therefore 18-12=6% probability to score a critical. If d00 shows 6 or below, he gets to roll on critical hit chart.

Now, imagine that he rolled a 4 on d20. 12-4=8% probability that he fumbled. If d00 shows 8 or below, he will have to roll on the fumble chart.

I like this approach because it scales with the PC level, unlike for example flat 5% of having natural 20 and 1 on d20 being a critical or fumble.

Great two-page article very worth including in the final collection.

Magic resistance: What it is, how it works

Author: Penny Petticord, et al, Issue: Dragon Magazine #79 Rating: ★★★★★

Great complement to a single paragraph explanation of “magic resistance” in the AD&D Monster Manual. Worth reading if you play AD&D or OSRIC.

A Hero's Reward: The hero-point system for the AD&D game

Author: Leonard Carpenter Issue: Dragon Magazine #118 Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Good idea, horrible execution.

Good idea: adventurers can earn “hero points” by performing heroic deeds.

Horrible execution: maximum hero points are determined by the level; they replenish daily; 1 point can be traded for one +1/-1 die modifier, up to five times on a single die; NPCs also get it.

Sure, Leonard advises that hero points could be awarded on a weekly, monthly, or some other, longer time scale. But this to me feels like a power-gamers wet dream. Imagine a name level character having a daily +9 to distribute as they wish? And on top of that the judge must consider all the NPCs and their hero point pool...

No thanks.

The fighting circle: Gladiatorial combat in the AD&D game

Author: Dan Salas Issue: Dragon Magazine #118 Rating: ★★★★★

A solid article offering rules for running gladiator schools and games. Base rules are for the “classical Roman” setting, with “medieval” and “oriental” getting additional rule modifications.

Dan covers types of fighters that can become gladiators, how to run training school (costs, buying gladiators, etc), classical gladiatorial styles (retiarius, thrace, dimachare, secutor, mirmillo, samnite, hoplomache), training procedures, how do the arenas work like, combat (opponent selection, quick combat resolution system, rules of the game), battle variations (blind combat, mounted combat, blind mounted combat, bridge combat, mass battles, and sea battles) and chariot races.

We get thirteen random tables to help determine everything from gladiator's background and style to their equipment and final fate.

Nine pages that read fast, have a lot of mechanics and game procedures, with well explained rules modifications. I felt like I could set up an arena in my game right after reading the article.

This article will make it in the final collection.

High Seas: Ships, fore and aft, in fantasy gaming

Author: Margaret Foy Issue: Dragon Magazine #116 Rating: ★★★★★

Wow, just wow.

I know very little about ships, and I found this article by Margaret just great. It opens by explaining various nautical terms and parts of the ship in plain English. Then it explains all the ship personnel as well as their roles.

Next up are different types of ships and their functions. We get everything from 5th century galleys to mid-19th century ships-of-the-line. Later on Margaret offers very helpful advice on which ship types would fit which time periods in the various game settings (e.g. antiquity, medieval, and so on).

This article is chock full of very helpful illustrations and diagram. They really help understand and visualise different ships types and their main features.

That is the first six pages. Next eight pages is all about game mechanics, procedures, and statistics. We get the following tables:

  • Table Ia: Ships' statistics (33 ship types!)
  • Table Ib: Ships' combat & defensive abilities (33 ship types!)
  • Table Ic: Galleys' statistics
  • Table II: Ships' maintenance and effects
  • Table III: Crew ability & effects
  • Table IV: Wind and its effects
  • Table V: Amount of damage by cause
  • Table VI: Damage distribution (weapons only)
  • Table VII: Towing
  • Table VIII: Effects of fire
  • Table IX: Miscellaneous items
  • Table Xa: Frequency of ship encounters
  • Table Xb: Number appearing
  • Table Xc: State of encountered ship

Even if you don't plan to use statistics and various procedures herein, it is worth reading just to better understand ships, how they were operated, and naval warfare.

Yes, this article will be included in the final collection.

Same dice, different odds: Divided rolls add variety and uncertainty

Author: David G. Weeks Issue: Dragon Magazine #94 Rating: ★★★★☆

Very cool article offering a way to create an asymmetrical curve using dice. When rolling a single die (e.g. d20) we have a uniform probability distribution, and when rolling multiples of a same die (e.g. 3d6) we get a normal probability distribution (i.e. a bell curve).

Now, if we use a divided die roll (e.g. d20/d4) we get an asymmetrical probability distribution. When we divided higher die with a lower die we get left skewed distribution, i.e. most probable outcome is going to be on the left side:

Click here to play on anydice.com yourself.

This is an elegant mechanic to give magical weapons in order to make them a bit different from regular +1 bonus.

I don't remember why I included this article in the Player Advice collection since it is more suited for Judges than players. Either way, I'll included it in the final Judge Advice collection.

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These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

This time the topic is Psionics. All articles bellow are from a Dragon Magazine #78 which dealt exclusively with Psionics in AD&D 1e.

Psionics is different... And that's putting it rather mildly

Author: Arthur Collins Issue: Dragon Magazine #78 Rating: ★★★★★

Arthur does a great job of explaining psionics, highlighting some issues, and offering potential workarounds. Authors often intertwine rules-as-written with their house rules, so I'm very grateful to Arthur for explicitly signposting what is RAW, what is his interpretation, and what is his proposed change.

Funny enough, his take on psionics is very much how I like to run things:

Let your player characters find out the hard way (if they ever do find out) that so-and-so is one of them. ... Let the possibility of psionics always be in the background, lurking around, waiting to surprise, horrify, and delight them.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in 1e psionics.

Overhauling the system: A three-part remedy for problems with psionics

Author: Robert Schroeck Issue: Dragon Magazine #78 Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

A title that oversells the content which ultimately boils down to three issues experienced by Robert. :

  1. Too strong level 1 characters » change psionic point acquisition.
  2. Psionic combat is black box to players » decide how much information to give based on the level of character with psionic talent.
  3. Player characters stop using psionic powers at higher levels » make their psionic powers atrophy when unused.

This is a brief two page article, but it just feel like filler compared to the comprehensive Psionics is different... by Arthur Collins.

Initially I ranked this one with two stars, but reduced it to one star because it introduces issues in one way (power, combat, non-use) and then solutions in different way (power, non-use, combat). Unforgivable.

And now, the pscionicist: A class that moves psionics into the mainstream

Author: Arthur Collins Issue: Dragon Magazine #78 Rating: ★★★★★

Arthur does it the second time in the same issue. Carefully thought out Psionicist class which can coexist with those who have psionic talents.

It is for those characters who want to dedicate themselves to mastering the Talent. In addition to fleshing out the class, it also introduces several new Minor and Major Disciplines, as well as completely new Grand Disciplines.

Six new magic items are offered as well: shiral crystal, jerraman crystal, merasha (potion), transfer portal, mind link medallion, and wards major matrix.

Although the class slots in nicely with AD&D 1e rules, I personally will probably use it to flesh out Psionicist NPC rather than giving it to the players. Either way. it is a ell written article that I'll definitely include in the final collection.

Spells can be psionic, too: How and why magic resembles mental powers

Author: Kim John Issue: Dragon Magazine #78 Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

“Mom, what does this mean?”

“Mooom, what does this meeeaaan?!”

“Moooooooooooooooooooooom!”

Kim addresses why “spells resembling psionic powers” resemble psionic powers in six gruelling pages of dense, small three-column text.

Here, let me sum it up for you:

Characters and creatures who use psionic disciplines or related powers may not have the slightest inkling of the nature of the forces they're tapping; the important thing is that those forces obviously can be tapped and use for the benefit of the one who does so.

“Mom, what does this mean?”

“Mooom, what does this meeeaaan?!”

“Moooooooooooooooooooooom!”

What, you want really detailed explanation for each damn psionic power that resembles a spell? Then go read the full article.

No, this one won't make it into the final collection.

Psionics: Sage advice

Issue: Dragon Magazine #78 Rating: ★★★★★

Great complement to two articles by Arthur Collins.

Questions answered are:

  • How often should a character check for possession of psionic abilities?
  • If a non-psionic character has his intelligence, wisdom, or charisma increased by powerful magics (tomes, wishes, etc.), would this allow for a new chance to become psionic?
  • Can a character lose his psionic potential if he suffers a decrease in one of the three important ability scores?
  • How can the chance for psionic abilities be quickly assessed for NPCs who have no previously noted scores for intelligence, wisdom, and charisma?
  • Which player character races in the AD&D™ game can possess psionic ability?
  • Is it possible for a character to use a wish spell to become immune to psionic attack?
  • If a psionic character is surprised by a psionic monster, does the monster get to attack the character as if the character were defenseless?
  • Shouldn't psionic attacks or defenses put up by experienced and high-level psionic characters be more effective than those put up by lower-level characters or creatures?
  • Can a psionic character cast a spell while employing any sort of psionic power (attack, defense, or discipline)?
  • If a psionic spell caster has a thought shield defense up while casting a spell, would a psionic attack made against the character cause the spell to be lost, or would the defense hold and allow the spell to be cast to completion?
  • If a character is slain by psychic crush, can he be raised or resurrected? Would he still then possess psionic abilities?
  • The Players Handbook states that thought shield is the only defense against psychic crush, but the charts in the Dungeon Masters Guide contradict this. Why?
  • What does the Players Handbook mean when it says that thought shield can be kept up at all times, unlike other defenses?
  • During multiple psionic operations, when two or more psionic characters are transferring strength points back and forth, how are the points distributed after the operation is ended?
  • The line at the bottom of p. 77 of the DMG (“Damage accruing beyond the point ...”) is unclear. Can you explain?
  • Can psionic creatures or persons sense the presence of other psionic beings? If so, at what range does this ability function?
  • If a fighter gains the discipline of domination and then switches to the thief class (as a bard would do), would this character lose the domination power?
  • Can the psionic discipline animal telepathy be used to communicate with humans? After all, humans are animals.
  • Could someone possessing the cell adjustment discipline become aware of his own or someone else's hit-point total by using this power? How long does it take to use this discipline, in terms of “casting time”?
  • Can a character with the discipline of energy control negate the effects of a powerful spell such as wish, feeblemind, or disintegrate? Does “spell level” refer to the level of the spell caster throwing the spell at the psionic character, or to the level of the spell on the spell tables in the Players Handbook?
  • Does the “Detection of Invisibility” table on p. 60 of the DMG apply to psionic invisibility? Can a character using the discipline of invisibility attack another creature and still remain invisible to that creature?
  • Can molecular agitation be carried out on any visible object, even if seen through a crystal ball, wall of force, by clairvoyance, and so forth? Also, if a creature only possesses a small quantity of metal, can it still be burned if this metal is heated?
  • Can a psionic character levitate himself by the use of the telekinesis discipline?
  • Do magical protection items (rings, stones, cloaks, scarabs, etc.) affect saving throws vs. psionics?
  • Should a character gain experience points just for using a psionic discipline or attack/defense mode?
  • If a psionic character uses psionic blast on a non-psionic monster and slays it, should the character be awarded experience points for the kill just as if he had slain the creature in normal (physical) combat?

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These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

This time the topic is Magic.

“Oops! Sorry!” Spell interruptions can spell disaster

Author: Donald Hoverson Issue: Dragon Magazine #163 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Donald offers a simple procedure for adding a little bit “oh no!” to spell interruptions. Whenever a spell caster gets interrupted they roll a d20 to determine what happened. There is 80% chance of nothing but spell loss, 10% chance of ill effect, 5% of neutral effect, and 5% for helpful effect.

In those 20% cases of something happening, there is 75% effect will be minor, 15% it will be medium, and 5% it will be major. Minor effects are approximately at the level of 1st and 2nd spells, medium at 3rd to 6th level spells, and major mirror spells of 7th to 9th level.

The progression is basically annoyance » oh, no! » oh shit!

There is another table to determine what the effect actually is. It has 20 generic entries that the Judge must adjudicate based on the situation. For example “spell affect caster” or “spell effect oscillates in duration or effect (over a period of 1–100 rounds for one day).”

Here is my problem with this article: I'm not sure that the proposed procedure has been sufficiently play-tested. I mean, there is 10% chance that interrupting the big bad casting a spell results in them casting a better spell! That's a lot.

My final verdict will be as follows. It's a short article (just page and a third) worth skimming. I won't include it in the final collection.

Spells between the covers: Details for delving into magical research

Author: Bruce Heard Issue: Dragon Magazine #82 Rating: ★★★★☆

Bruce explains and expand on AD&D 1e procedures for magical research. The article is verbose and sometimes a bit dense, but worth working through. It has many examples to help with understanding the procedures.

Allow me a brief aside. Sometimes OSR judges talk about their dislike of XP for gold, and how the players get loaded with wealth they have nothing to spend on, and what not. Well, I'm quite certain their players are not using all their available investment options. Magical research is one of those. And it has fantastic returns.

After explaining the basics of magical research, Bruce offers procedures for creating an arcane library, purchasing books (including a table for random determination of book value, and table with 71 spell book), and appraising a book's value. He also gives very brief advice on the appearance of library.

Final section covers “special books” which are in essence, you guessed it, special and powerful arcane books. My favourite might be the devious “vampire” book which slowly devours the magic-user's arcane library without them noticing.

Ultimately, I've found this article worth my time investment. I might try to write a simplified version one day. Yes, I'll include it in the final collection.

The Laws of Spell Design

Author: Ted Zuvich Issue: Dragon Magazine #242 Rating: ★★★★★

A titanic effort by the author to reverse-engineer spell design rules from the AD&D 2e Player's Handbook. Ted argues there are four types of new spells:

  • very similar to an existing spell,
  • somewhat similar to existing spell(s),
  • derived from an existing spell, and
  • entirely new spell.

The “laws of spell design” are most applicable to the first three cases, and can be used as a guideline for completely new spells.

There are 21 laws:

  • Generalized Law of Parameters: Law of Range, Law of Components, Law of Duration, Law of Time, Law of Areas, and Law of Resistance.
  • Implicit Spell Parameters: Law of Changes, Law of Control, Law of Damage, Law of Expertise, Law of Forms, Law of Information, Law of the Mage's Price, Law of Metaspells, Law of Power, Law of Presence, Law of Self, Law of Self Knowledge, Law of Specifics, and Law of Targeting.
  • The Final Law: “There will be exceptions.”

Each law is well explained and supported by examples. All laws are summarised in the Generalized Law of Parameters and Implicit Spell Parameters tables. Once you read the article it is easy to reference them.

This is a great article with good ideas to think about spell design. Still, I must address elephant in the room: AD&D spell balance was shit. It was an afterthought, a consequence of numerous play sessions. D&D was a revolutionary game, no doubts about it; and I personally don't care so much for balance. Still, AD&D 2e wasn't that much better in the balance department. The author struggled with that, and delivered the best he could given the conditions.

Procedures offered in this article are best used collaboratively with the player wishing to design a new spell. Yes, I'll include this article in the final collection.

Paths of Power: A variant magic system for the AD&D game

Author: Wolfgang Buar and Steve Kurtz Issue: Dragon Magazine #216 Rating: ★★★★☆

I thought I would hate the system offered in this article, but I ended up liking it very much.

The basic idea is as follows:

  • Spells are linked together to form a “path of power.”
  • Magic-User must learn the spells in the path sequentially.
  • This gives different flavour to Magic-Users (from random collection of spells in the spellbook to deliberate collection of paths of power).

The paths are divided into greater (starts with level 1 spells), and lesser (high level magic, can only be reached through greater paths). The article offers 89 paths (!), of which 61 are greater and 28 are lesser.

Here is what I like about the system: it gives players an option to develop their Magic-User in a very flavourful way. “I'm dedicated to Storm Road, Road of True Sight and Path of Terror” sounds quite epic to me. At the same time, the limitations of paths themselves ensure that “path” Magic-Users don't outshine the base class.

Another thing I like, especially as judge, is that it basically creates hooks automatically.

The downside, as I see it, is that it requires a very, very proactive player. I'd never go through the trouble of creating bespoke paths for my campaign without heavy player buy-in.

There is also a bit of video-gamey feel to the whole concept, but if that's a plus or minus largely depends on you and your players.

Final verdict? Worth reading for inspiration; don't try it unless you have a player who is willing to do the work; yes, I'll include it in the final collection.

The Color of Magic: Specialized spells for D&D game spellcasters

Author: Dan Joyce Issue: Dragon Magazine #200 Rating: ★★★★★

Brief, but influential article that can be perfectly summed up with the following quote:

...the key to creating hundreds of new spells to suit any kind of spell-caster: make cosmetic changes to existing spells. Describe spells differently.

Worth reading. Will go into final collection.

Even Wilder Mages: If your wild-mage PC isn't strange

Author: Joel E. Roosa & Andrew Crossett Issue: Dragon Magazine #202 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In this case we actually have two articles rolled into one.

First section is about creating random effects for wild surges (two random tables, one for variation type, and one for variation intensity).

Wild mages are very rare (does anyone even play them today?), so I'm not too keen on tacking on a lot of cosmetic procedures (which these ones are). At the same time, I could see using tables here when one needs inspiration for creating spell variations.

Second section offers alternative approach to make wild surges less predictable and more disruptive. A 2d10 table of wild surges is offered.

Although not badly written, I see this as primarily cosmetic article not worth including into the final collection.

Good stuff for a spell: Magic focusing: a new dimension for possessions

Author: John M. Maxstadt Issue: Dragon Magazine #111 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I don't remember what I expected from this article, but it sure wasn't what's written inside.

The whole gist are magic-focusing items which allow the wielder to expend their spell in order to cast the spell embedded into the focusing item.

For example a Magic-Focusing Wand of Magic Missile would allow the Magic-User to “cast” Detect Magic, or rather, focus it through the wand in order to end up casting Magic Missile instead.

It's not a horrible idea, but the whole article is grossly overwritten (four pages!) and includes questionable Judging advice (a lot of hand-holding for the players).

Ultimately, this article is worth skimming, but will not make it into the final collection.

Charging isn't cheap: How to make and fix rods, staves, and wands

Author: Peter Johnson Issue: Dragon Magazine #101 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Great article if you have 10th+ level Cleric and 14th+ level Magic-User player characters in your campaign. Alternatively, can be used to torture your players with fetch quests.

First page and a half are most interesting because they summarise magic item creation rules from the Dungeon Master's Guide. Rest of the word count is spent on “recipes” for creating and charging of the following items:

  • Rods: Rod of absorption, Rod of beguiling, Rod of cancellation, Rod of lordly might, Rod of resurrection, Rod of rulership, Rod of smiting.
  • Staves: Staff of command, Staff of curing, Staff of the magi, Staff of power, Staff of the serpent, Staff of striking, Staff of withering-
  • Wands: Wand of conjuration, Wand of enemy detection, Wand of fear, Wand of fire, Wand of frost, Wand of illumination, Wand of illusion, Wand of lightning, Wand of magic detection, Wand of magic missiles, Wand of metal and mineral detection, Wand of negation, Wand of polymorphing, Wand of secret door and trap location, Wand of wonder.

I won't be including it in the final collection.

The Mystic College: Magical academies for AD&D game sorcerers

Author: James A. Yates Issue: Dragon Magazine #123 Rating: ★★★★☆

You have a player haranguing you to play Dumbledore? Are they insisting on building their own Unseen University, with blackjacks and brazen strumpets? Maybe they want their very own Island of Rorke on which they could become impotent?

Oh boy, then this article will save you, beleaguered Judge!

Ten pages of painstakingly detailed explanations on how to establish a magical academy, covering everything from finding land and securing permits, to determining residents of the school, their benefits and obligations, student advancement (the joy and adrenaline of getting 0-level scrubs from -2000 XP to 0 XP by lecturing them for 25 years is indescribable!), faculty advancement (watch-out for that ambitious Snape-wannabe, who knows what might they be plotting), territorial development (how to hire your own King Arthur or Mordred), and policies and domain growth (will you terrorize the locals lawfully or chaotically?).

I fell asleep six times whilst reading this magnificent treatise. I cannot imagine greater punishment for any player that pesters me for opening their own arcane college. On the other hand, I'll sleep well, for procedures presented within are quite fine.

This article will make it into the final collection.

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Swords Slicing into a Sharp Topic

Author: David Nalle Issue: Dragon Magazine #58 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

A brief historical overview of the sword. Main message is summed up with this paragraph:

Swords weren’t just stamped out by the hundreds. Each one was a unique work, embodying the skill of a bladesmith. Swords of quality should not be sold cheaply and are a warrior’s mark of success.

Or in other words, think twice before hand-waving away a band of 10+ adventurers walking in a hamlet in the middle of fucking nowhere and buying swords, armours, and 100 gallons of oil.

Enchanting Weapons: Putting the “Magic” into Magical Weapons

Author: Mike Nystul Issue: Dragon Magazine #243 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

A series of prompts on how to make magic weapons a bit more unique, divided into following categories:

  • Weapon's origin: commission, badge of office, masterpiece, secret society, special purpose.
  • Weapon's location: bad guy, in a stomach/digestive tract of dangerous monster, fields of the fallen, test, thieves, twist of fate.
  • Assigning abilities: interesting is more effective than powerful, attunement, damage dice, helping hand, initiation, priming, restrictions.
  • Associated plotlines: equal but opposite, give it back, it isn't working, one of many, treasure hunt, whatever you desire.

It's a fine article to read once or twice, but hardly a mandatory one.

Always Wear Your Best Suit: Making armor and weapons unique for all characters

Author: Gordon R. Menzies Issue: Dragon Magazine #148 Rating: ★★★★★

Three ways to pimp your arms and armour:

  • Decorations: enamelling, simple engraving, complex engraving, and elaborate engraving.
  • Plating with precious metals: copper, bronze, silver, electrum, gold, platinum, mithral, and adamantite.
  • Making them from different metals: copper, bronze, meteorite iron, mithral, and adamantite.

Everything has cost, impact on value of base item, time required, impact on encumbrance, and functionality. Each metal has brief description, plus reference to an article Fire For Effect! in Dragon Magazine #123 which includes melting points for each.

Now, this is exactly the type of article I am looking for! Just three pages, has fluff, has mechanics & procedures, and tables! perfect. Yes, I will include it in the master collection.

In Defense of the Shield: Shield-using skills in the AD&D game

Author: Tim Merrett Issue: Dragon Magazine #127 Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ OR ★★★★☆

Do you think shield improving AC is too simple? Do you yearn for CRUNCHY SHIELDS?! Do you agree that shields were historically difficult to use? That they were more important than armour? Ever wished you could spend your proficiency slots on handling a shield?

YES?!

Well, then this is the perfect article for you!!!

Not for me though.

Two Hands Are Better Than One: A handy guide on handling weapons

Author: Donald D. Miller Issue: Dragon Magazine #127 Rating: ★★★★☆

At first I thought that the only good thing about this article is the illustration of cleric bonking some pitiful fool, sporting a big ass grin, a big ass cross, and double wielding maces.

But then I had the following question in one of my game sessions:

“Wait, can dwarves carry polearms? Aren't they huge?”

This article provides and answer in one page of text, and two tables. And I love it! It provides maximum length and weight for secondary (off-hand), primary (prime-hand), one-handed, two-handed, and pole arm weapons for dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings, half-orcs, and humans.

And then, to make it even easier, it lists all AD&D weapons and races and how many hands it takes them to wield 'em. Perfect.

This one might be included in the final collection.

Different Totes for Different Folks: Basic backpacks for every D&D game adventurer

Author: Vince Garcia Issue: Dragon Magazine #191 Rating: ★★★★★

If you are playing any flavour of the classic D&D (B/X, BECMI, RC) or their retroclone, then this is a must-have article.

It replicates and expands adventuring gear from the core rulebooks in just page and a half. All the additions are meaningful, with clear in-game application. In other words, the spirit of simplicity is maintained.

Here is a list of all added items: explorer's backpack, waterproof backpack, bandages, bedroll, block and tackle, bow strings, candle, chisel, hand-held climbing hook, disguise kit, hand-drill, heavy gloves, soft gloves, inexpensive holy symbol, vial of ink, blank journal, knapsack, utility knife, bullseye lantern, leather lasso, leather in bulk, lockpicks, magnifying glass, explorers' map, detailed map, general map, stringed musical instrument, wind musical instrument, oil in metal flask, papyrus, parchment, parka, cooking pot, quill pen, quiver (back and belt), salt, waterproof scroll case, sewing kit, blank spellbook, spellbook cover, tents, twine, empty glass vial, and whistle.

Further, each class gets a starting kit as well, which are in essence predefined equipment packs with price and encumbrance.

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The six main skills: What AD&D game abilities mean in real terms

Author: Jefferson P. Swycaffer Issue: Dragon Magazine #107 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

A verbose description of the six ability scores, from “the most material to the least”:

  • Strength: a measure of muscular power, reflected in speed, lifting ability, throwing ability, jumping range, capacity to absorb damage or resist pain, and endurance.
  • Constitution: a measure of overall health, endurance, and vigor. Reflected in strong heart, healthy lungs, and a good muscle tone.
  • Dexterity: a mix of manual dexterity, coordination, and agility.
  • Intelligence: people are perceived as intelligent when they are observant, methodical, or articulate.
  • Wisdom: strength of willpower.
  • Charisma: a matter of being smooth, suave, positive, persuasive, gentle, and sincere; natural leadership; pride and envy are the primary sins against charisma.

As you can see from the above definitions, Jefferson does well defining physical characteristics but fails short with intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. He essentially uses circular, self-referential logic to describe each.

All in all, I don't regret reading this article, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone but the absolute newcomers who are wondering what does each attribute stand for. And even then, wouldn't you expect that to be described in whatever ruleset you are using?

Realistic vital statistics: A new system for figuring heights & weights

Author: Stephen Inniss Issue: Dragon Magazine #91 Rating: ★★★★★

Awesome and practical article for generating believable heights and weights for characters. In fact, I've extensively used it to generate NPCs.

Stephen finds the following faults with the system offered in AD&D:

  • Dwarves, gnomes, and halflings are implausibly heavy and extraordinarily dense for the given figures.
  • Human and half-human females weigh less for their height than do their brothers; this isn't the case with real-world humans.
  • Human males are 9% taller than females, whereas in the real world the difference is smaller.
  • It produces extraordinarily tall humans.
  • Height and weight are determined independently.
  • Provided tables do not make provisions for all the allowable character races.

Now, Stephen doesn't stop at the critique—he offers a completely fleshed out system contained in seven tables:

  • Table A: Average heights (roll for humans, look-up for demihumans)
  • Table B1: Variation from average height (roll)
  • Table B2: Height adjustment by strength (look-up)
  • Table C: Character weight by height (look-up)
  • Table D: Weight modifiers by race (look-up)
  • Table E1: Variation from average weight (roll)
  • Table E2: Weight adjustment by strength (look-up)

Don't allow the tables to discourage you—it doesn't take long to use them. Stephen claims “a minute or less” but it will most likely take you a bit longer the first time.

Final verdict: I will include this article in my “final” Dragon Magazine Collection. I might also include it in the Wilderlands Gazetteer I'm working on for those players that like to have that kind of detail.

Short hops and big drops: Here's how far and how high characters can jump

Author: Stephen Inniss Issue: Dragon Magazine #93 Rating: ★★★★☆

A simple system for determining how far can a character jump. Everything is based on a so called “jump number” which is determined by the character's strength, dexterity, race, and class. Various environmental modifiers are taken into account in order to determine how far can the character jump.

Another great article by Stephen. I've used it a few times to determine if characters could plausibly jump over the chasm. Most notable use has been during a play-by-post session when a sole survivor was fleeing for his life. He stumbled upon an 11-foot wide chasm so I gave him the article and asked him to figure it out.

With that being said, most of the time I default to anything shorter than 5-feet is automatic success, unless there is combat or some other distraction. The procedures here are nice back-up for those special cases.

Yes, this article will also make it into the final Dragon Magazine Collection.

Sight in the Darkness: An open-eyed look at infravision, the Underdark, and your PCs

Author: Roger E. Moore Issue: Dragon Magazine #211 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Roger explains what infravision is, how it works above- and under-ground, how it was treated in different game editions (Chainmail, D&D, AD&D 1e, D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and AD&D 2e), and “clever” tricks with infravision.

I'm on the fence for this one. It is not badly written but is very thin on usable stuff, at least for me. As a trained engineering familiar with thermodynamics and thermal imaging, there was little new for me on the scientific side of the article. The gaming side was thin and limited to small gimmicks (e.g. making light bombs).

Actually, I found the historic overview of infravision in various editions of D&D to be the most interesting part of this article. The biggest takeaway for me is that I should remove infravision from elves.

Note: There is an updated version of this article called Infravision & Your Fantasy Hero.

The 7-Sentence NPC: A new way to bring nonplayer characters to life (in game, that is)

Author: C. M. Cline Issue: Dragon Magazine #184 Rating: ★★★★☆

A seven-point checklist for describing NPCs:

  • Occupation & history
  • Physical description
  • Attributes & skills
  • Values & motivations
  • Interactions with others
  • Useful knowledge
  • Distinguishing features

Four example to see it in action.

Good article, highlighting what is actionable & gameable information for the Judge. At the same time, today we know better than presenting all of the above in a single god-damn paragraph.

Yes, this article will also make it in my Dragon Magazine Collection.

A new loyalty base: All the tables you need, all in one place

Author: Stephen Inniss Issue: Dragon Magazine #107 Rating: ★★★★★

Man, I love tables. This article has 25 of them:

  • Table A: Encounter reactions (roll)
  • Tables B: Encounter reaction adjustments (look-up)
    • Table B1: Charisma
    • Table B2: Species reaction
    • Table 23: Alignment difference
    • Table B4: Alignment
    • Table B5: Physical aspect
    • Table B6: Social behaviour
    • Table B7: Social group
    • Table B8: Inducements
  • Table C: Loyalty (roll)
  • Tables D: Loyalty adjustments (look-up)
    • Table D1: Charisma
    • Table D2: Enlistment
    • Table D3: Association
    • Table D4: Status
    • Table D5: Pay or profits
    • Table D6: General treatment
    • Table D7: Discipline
    • Table D8: Special circumstances
  • Table E: Morale check (roll)
  • Tables F: Morale adjustments (look-up)
    • Table F1: Perceived odds
    • Table F2: Personal situation
    • Table F3: Leader's situation
  • Table G1: Interactions of character species and “humanoids” (look-up)
  • Table G2: Interactions of humanoid species (look-up)
  • Table H: Reactions between alignment types (look-up)

Stephen reworks the original AD&D 1e system from d00 to d20 with roll-high logic while collating all the reaction, morale, and loyalty rules into one place. There is hardly anything that I could disagree with in this article, but I can see it being dismissed as too crunchy or intimidating.

The reality is that the procedure is simple: a single d20 roll. Where it slows down is referencing all the look-up tables, which are granular. Good news is that any Judge can easily reduce the granularity by shortening the modifier bands. Heck, just keeping Charisma between 3 and 18 removes 17 lines from table B1.

Ultimately, I'd recommend all the Judges to read this article, even if they don't plan to use the rules and procedures within. Stephen peppers it with enough useful advice to make it worth your time, while all the numbers in the table are useful even without ever using them as intended.

Allow me to explain: each table has thoughtful modifiers which you might've not thought of. By reading through them, even once, and their proposed numerical expression, you will at least have an idea how might they manifest in your own game.

Usable, thought-through procedures is what I'm looking for in Dragon Magazine. Therefore, this article will also be included in the final collection.

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These are my reading notes of various Dragon Magazine articles. Learn more about the collection here.

What good PCs are made of: Play characters with more substance than statistics

Author: Katharine Kerr Issue: Dragon Magazine #96 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Player Characters (PCs) are players' way to contribute and shape the Judge's world. Most players fail to create “true” PCs, i.e. characters that are different than themselves. At least that is what Katharine presents as the core challenge.

She offers solid advice on how to create characters by thinking about social class (random table), family life and background (random table), motivation, way of talking, opinion of the world, and polytheism.

The article is well written and well argued—I especially appreciated brief discussion of medieval upbringing and polytheism—but ultimately doesn't really match neither my play- nor judging-style.

For better or worse, the main campaign I'm running has had quite high death toll. To follow Katharine's advice to the letter would be frustrating, for it does take more effort than rolling six attribute scores and picking your class.

On the other hand, I could see myself using her guidance to create name-level and other NPCs of importance. I could also see it used after PC hits level 4 or above. You know, when they don't die from a single slap anymore.

Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player

Author: James Ward Issue: Dragon Magazine #13 Rating: ★★★★★

Ten tips in ten paragraphs! In order, they are:

  • Make Continual Light wand light-sticks as soon as possible.
  • Carry around a small potted rose plant, Growth/Plant Spell, and Potion of Plant Control.
  • Get a ten foot pole and a five foot steel rod.
  • Invest in steel potion bottles.
  • Carry freshly squeezed garlic juice in small vials (kept in steel pouches, of course).
  • Polymorph cockatrice into a snail, throw the snail at adversaries and cast Dispel Magic on it.
  • Get all Magic-User poison for the dagger, no matter the price.
  • All Magic-Users should start creating new spells as soon as possible; trade and sell them.
  • A set of extra spellbooks for Magic-Users is a must.
  • Get Permanent spell as soon as possible, for it is as good as Wish. Make Fly permanent on fragile characters, Infravision and Protection from Evil on Fighters, and Charm on foes.

I think I understand why Gary got to increasingly dislike Magic-Users.

And now I know what I'll start spending money on in The Keep on Yeoldelands campaign.

Be aware and take care: Basic principles of successful adventuring

Author: Lew Pulsipher Issue: Dragon Magazine #79 Rating: ★★★★★

Absolutely amazing article, should be mandatory reading for players trying to get into OSR play-style as well!

“The qualities that characters, and the players of those characters, must exhibit to succeed in a fantasy adventure are founded on the ideas of common sense and cooperation...”

The article is well written and very practical. The advice is broken down into following buckets:

  • Generic: elementary precautions, whom do you trust, know your objective and stick to it, gather information, keep a monster chronicle, provide for rescue/escape, equipment, security in camps.
  • Behaviour during the adventure: avoid mental passivity in battle, coordinate efforts, keep reserves in reserve, don't take separate routes, concentration of attacks, you can't beat everything, get out while you have some “bottom,” never flee into unknown areas, don't back yourself into a corner, guard your spell casters, make lists, other precautions.
  • Staying alive after the adventure: search for enemies, search for hidden treasure, examination of items.
  • Using magic wisely and well: deception in place of magic, phantasmal forces and illusions, imaginative use of spells.
  • Adventuring and referees: know thy referee.

The only controversial advice might be the last section, which in essence encourages players to understand the Judges' behaviour and then exploit it. For example, if your Judge is willing to fudge the dice in your favour, you should leverage that.

I can understand that advice in a more adversarial Player-Judge relationship, which was perhaps more common back in the day. Today I'd say that collaborative play-style is more prevalent.

Either way, this is a truly evergreen article, which I'll definitely include in the final Dragon Magazine Collection.

Assessing, not guessing: How PCs can make their own value judgements

Author: Lionel D. Smith Issue: Dragon Magazine #104 Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Lionel offers a simple procedure for PCs to randomly determine value of treasure items. It takes into account class, race, and level to determine base probability for successful estimation, and then uses d20 and a control die to determine the result.

Although the procedure and advice are solid, I see them more fitting for a Sage or NPC than PCs. The closing sentence is an important reminder to those who struggle with traditional gold-for-XP systems:

“The business of buying and selling can and should be an adventure in itself.”

Just because the players returned with a large haul of jewellery, gems, and who-knows-what doesn't mean they are rich. Give them XP, and then let them figure our how to liquidate all that wealth in a world where most don't earn a single gold coin in a single year.

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Last year I collected 143 most recommended Dragon articles into a reading list. Given the size, I divided them into three collections: Player Advice, Judge Advice, and Setting Advice.

Now I'll begin reading the first collection, Player Advice, with the intention of noting anything interesting and worthwhile. I plan to share my notes as I go, since others might benefit from them.

Here is the table of contents for the Player Advice collection:

  • Player Advice
    • What good PCs are made of: Play characters with more substance than statistics (Katharine Kerr, Dragon 96)
    • Notes From a Semi-Successful D&D Player (James Ward, Dragon 13)
    • Be aware and take care: Basic principles of successful adventuring (Lew Pulsipher, Dragon 79)
    • Assessing, not guessing: How PCs can make their own value judgements (Lionel D. Smith, Dragon 104)
  • Characters
    • The six main skills: What AD&D game abilities mean in real terms (Jefferson P. Swycaffer, Dragon 107)
    • Realistic vital statistics: A new system for figuring heights & weights (Stephen Inniss, Dragon 91)
    • Short hops and big drops: Here's how far and how high characters can jump (Stephen Inniss, Dragon 93)
    • Sight in the Darkness: An open-eyed look at infravision, the Underdark, and your PCs (Roger E. Moore, Dragon 211)
    • The 7-Sentence NPC: A new way to bring nonplayer characters to life (in game, that is) (C. M. Cline, Dragon 184)
    • A new loyalty base: All the tables you need, all in one place (Stephen Inniss, Dragon 107)
  • Equipment
    • Swords Slicing into a Sharp Topic (David Nalle, Dragon 58)
    • Enchanting Weapons: Putting the “Magic” into Magical Weapons (Mike Nystul, Dragon 243)
    • Always Wear Your Best Suit: Making armor and weapons unique for all characters (Gordon R. Menzies, Dragon 148)
    • In Defense of the Shield: Shield-using skills in the AD&D game (Tim Merrett, Dragon 127)
    • Two Hands Are Better Than One: A handy guide on handling weapons (Donald D. Miller, Dragon 127)
    • Different Totes for Different Folks: Basic backpacks for every D&D game adventurer (Vince Garcia, Dragon 191)
  • Magic
    • “Oops! Sorry!” Spell interruptions can spell disaster (Donald Hoverson, Dragon 163)
    • Spells between the covers: Details for delving into magical research (Bruce Heard, Dragon 82)
    • The Laws of Spell Design (Ted Zuvich, Dragon 242)
    • Paths of Power: A variant magic system for the AD&D game (Wolfgang Buar and Steve Kurtz, Dragon 216)
    • The Color of Magic: Specialized spells for D&D game spellcasters (Dan Joyce, Dragon 200)
    • Even Wilder Mages: If your wild-mage PC isn't strange (Joel E. Roosa & Andrew Crossett, Dragon 202)
    • Good stuff for a spell: Magic focusing: a new dimension for possessions (John M. Maxstadt, Dragon 111)
    • Charging isn't cheap: How to make and fix rods, staves, and wands (Peter Johnson, Dragon 101)
    • The Mystic College: Magical academies for AD&D game sorcerers (James A. Yates, Dragon 123)
  • Psionics
    • Psionics is different... And that's putting it rather mildly (Arthur Collins, Dragon 78)
    • Overhauling the system: A three-part remedy for problems with psionics (Robert Schroeck, Dragon 78)
    • And now, the pscionicist: A class that moves psionics into the mainstream (Arthur Collins, Dragon 78)
    • Spells can be psionic, too: How and why magic resembles mental powers (Kim Mohan, Dragon 78)
    • Psionics: Sage advice (Dragon 78)
  • Procedures
    • Credit where credit is due: Elaborating upon the experience-point rules (Katharine Kerr, Dragon 95)
    • New charts, using the 5% principle (Lenard Lakofka, Dragon 80)
    • You've always got a chance: Using ability scores to determine success or failure (Katherine Kerr,  Dragon 68)
    • When the rations run out: Characters don't live on hit points alone (Paul Hancock, Dragon 107)
    • Wounds and weeds: Plants that can help keep characters alive (Kevin J. Anderson, Dragon 82)
    • Good Hits & Bad Misses (Carl Parlagreco, Dragon 39)
    • Magic resistance: What it is, how it works (Penny Petticord, et al, Dragon 79)
    • A Hero's Reward: The hero-point system for the AD&D game (Leonard Carpenter, Dragon 118)
    • The fighting circle: Gladiatorial combat in the AD&D game (Dan Salas, Dragon 118)
    • High Seas: Ships, fore and aft, in fantasy gaming (Margaret Foy, Dragon 116)
    • Same dice, different odds: Divided rolls add variety and uncertainty (David G. Weeks, Dragon 94)

More to come soon...

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