Monday, January 24, 2011

Recalling the Past - Dragon Magazine

My life changed dramatically in the summer of 1982 when I learned to play Dungeons and Dragons.  That magical first night, without a doubt goes down in my personal history as one of the chief events of my life.  I think the very next day I begged my mother to buy the Basic Set for me and from then on, I was fully engrossed in the lifestyle.

Though I must have owned about every set, hardback book, and module available, I did not purchase my first Dragon Magazine until several years later.  To this day I'm not sure why.  Whenever I received a bit of money from gifts, chores, etc.. I would immediately beg to be taken to the nearby hobby shop.  I sometimes even walked the six miles there and back if no ride was forthcoming.  So I think it safe to say that I should have been exposed to the Magazine on numerous occasions.  Somehow the treasure trove that is Dragon Magazine escaped me until early 1985.

Though I do not recall why I failed to notice the magazine in the first few years of D&D, I vividly recall the evening I finally discovered it.  My mother took my sister and myself to the local mall where we were forced to follow her around for hours as she looked for clothing.  We eventually passed by a Waldenbooks where I was able to slip away from estrogen-fueled shopping for a time.  The small fantasy/science fiction section sat tucked away on the lower level of the back right hand side of the store.  As usual, I made my way there completely ignoring everything else in my way.  Displayed on the shelves amongst the paperback sci-fi novels was the usual assortment of Dungeons and Dragon books, but something else caught my eye that evening.  A lovely female ranger kneeling on a small hill before a gnarled oak tree stared back at me.  A blue sky with scattered clouds framed gray mountains in the distance and cast shadows over a green plain dotted with trees.

Issue #94.  February 1985.
With shaking hands, I reverently reached for the copy and gently flipped through the pages.  Even if the words inside were some magical incantation I don't think I would have been happier or more surprised at my discovery.  Surely I must have drooled while quickly scanning a few articles and looking at the art work.  Fortunately I had enough money in my pocket (from unspent lunch money no doubt) to buy the magazine and take it home where I would eventually read it cover to cover countless times.

Flipping through the issue today (gently and with great care as the pages are close to separating) I can recall the magic and excitement I felt on that day long ago as a 14 year old boy.  A whole new world was opening before me and Dragon Magazine was to be the vehicle to get me there.  Looking at the yellowing pages now, I can also appreciate just how special those time were for TSR and D&D.  Mike Cook was the publisher while Kim Mohan and Roger Moore were on the editorial staff.  Other notable names contributing to the issue were Roger Raupp, Ed Greenwood, Larry Elmore, and Clyde Caldwell.

Speaking of Mr. Caldwell, he was the cover artist of this issue.  According to the magazine, the model was Jeanne Stanley of Winston-Salem, NC (not far from where I lived at the time) and apparently the two met at GenCon in 1984.  The fact that she was a North Carolina resident probably contributed to the eventual nostalgia for this particular issue.

Some of the articles that brought back memories include Official Changes for Rangers, An Army Travels on its Stomach, My Life is My Honor - The Knights of Solamnia, and Creature Catalog II.  The section on rangers was especially important to me because I almost always played that class (and still do) and the additional rules really helped to flesh out rangers and set them firmly into the role that has defined them ever since.  Also noteworthy is the article on The Knights of Solamnia.  That article, along with an add for Dragons of Autumn Twilight perked my interest in the Dragonlance setting and novels.

TSR was about to awaken the dragons and I was thrilled about it.

Looking at all the old advertisements also refreshed my memory of those heydays of D&D and other RPGs.  On the first page was a large ad for two MERP (Middle-earth Role Playing) modules: Moria and Rangers of the North.  A game set in Anne McCaffrey's Pern was featured just a few pages later.  Both Pern and Middle-earth loomed large in my imagination during this period of my life.  I also couldn't help but smile as I stumbled upon the many Play By Mail games advertised in this issue.  Duel Masters, a game of gladiatorial combat was one that I remember falling for while Hyborian Wars (not featured in #94) is another.

Dragonscale paints by Ral Partha.
One of the biggest surprises I encountered while rereading the issue was the full page advertisement for Ral Partha's Dragonscale paint.  I was just thinking about this product recently and for the life of me could not recall who made it or what it was called.  I distinctly remember buying the set along with the Golden Dragon seen in the upper left portion of the photo after reading the ad.  I also remember using the cream and applying it with the soft tip applicator onto my now glistening dragon.  Though I still have that dragon (he has been repainted several times but is slowly falling apart after nearly 25years) I do not think I ever used Dragonscale again.

My poor dragon falling apart after many years.
Close up of the Gold Dragon by Ral Partha.

The issue ended with several comics including Wormy and Snarf Quest.  But my favorite ending section, and the one in which I will end this journey into my past, is Dragonmirth.  Though I took my games seriously even back then, it was nice to be reminded that in the end, a game is just a game.

Dragonmirth was always worthy of a good chuckle.

Do you have a particular gaming product that brings back such memories?

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