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Back in September's Dragon editorial, Chris Perkins made the following announcement:
In years past, when we found ourselves at the lonely crossroads between game editions, the magazines simply went from one edition to the next with nary a breath in between. This time is different. As we turn our attention to the next D&D rules set, we’re putting Dragon and Dungeon on hiatus.
The editorial went on to further state: "Every new edition is a chance for the magazines to evolve, and evolve they will. If you are interested in contributing to the D&D tabletop roleplaying game in the future, my best advice (for the time being) is to start up a regular D&D Next game and familiarize yourself with the new rules. Hone your writing skills as best you can. Then wait to see what happens next."
So as we reach the end of the year, we wanted to take a look back at the history of these magazines...
A year after the appearance of the original Dungeons & Dragons (1974), a young TSR started The Strategic Review (1975-1976)—a newsletter intended to advertise and supplement its products. However, when Tim Kask joined TSR as employee #2 and the Periodicals Editor, he wanted something more. He took over The Strategic Review with issue 5 (December 1975) and quickly turned the newsletter into a small magazine. Then he took the next step.
The Dragon appeared in 1976 as one of two new magazines from TSR, the other being the short-lived Little Wars miniatures magazine (1976-1978).
The Formative Years (Issues 1-48): 1976-1981
Two things about Tim Kask’s early The Dragon might not be obvious to later fans of the magazine.
First, The Dragon billed itself as a “magazine of fantasy, s&s [sword & sorcery], sci-fi, and roleplaying games.” In other words, it sought to serve the whole speculative genre. This was obvious from the start, as early issues included fiction by Harry Fischer, Gardener Fox, and Fritz Leiber—all notables in the swords & sorcery genre. In the late ‘70s, fantasy books weren’t nearly as common as they are today, so The Dragon presented these authors to many D&D players for the first time.
Second, TSR Hobbies did not produce The Dragon; it was instead published by TSR Periodicals. This was at the insistence of Kask, who wanted The Dragon to be a more independent voice for the hobby. When Gary Gygax began writing his “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” column with The Dragon 11 (December 1977), it was only under the editorship of Kask. TSR Hobbies had to buy their own ads too, while the magazine staff was willing to publish critical reviews of TSR products, as when Ed Greenwood panned the original Fiend Folio (1981) in Dragon 55 (November 1981). The Dragon even featured articles about other publishers’ RPGs—with GDW’s Traveller (1977) getting particular attention.
Kask was The Dragon’s editor-in-chief from issues 1 (June 1976) through 36 (April 1980). With the last few issues, Kask stepped back to a managing role, while former Assistant Editor Jake Jaquet took on much of the day-to-day running of the magazine. Jaquet was then editor-in-chief from issues 37 (May 1980) through 48 (April 1981).
The story of The Dragon in these formative years was that of a magazine finding its footing in a hobby also doing the same. If it began as an amateur publication at its start, it became a professional magazine by the time that Jaquet ended his short run as editor-in-chief.
Some of the magazine’s earliest columns and recurring features are of particular note:
- “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” (1977-1986), mostly by Gary Gygax, detailed his own thoughts on the game.
- “Leomund’s Tiny Hut” (1979-1986), by Len Lakofka, contained many well-conceived rules variants.
- “Giants in the Earth” (1979-1982) converted mythical and literary characters to D&D; this introduced readers to yet more iconic fantasy books (and was a great resource besides).
- Complete board games (1977-1991, 2000) appeared in the middle of many early issues of The Dragon. The first of these were Snit Smashing and Snit’s Revenge by Tom Wham in The Dragon 10 and 11 (October-December 1977); the latter was turned into one of TSR’s best-known board games: Snit’s Revenge! (1978).
Finally, a great tradition began in The Dragon 36 (April 1980) when a section of humorous articles presented monsters like “The DM” and “The Keebler” for April Fools' Day.
The Dragon lost its “The” with issue 39 (July 1980). “The”s are hard to deal with editorially, as you have to decide if you should write “the The Dragon” and other such silliness, so its loss may have been a further sign of the magazine’s increasing professionalism. However, there would be an even more notable sign in issue 49.
The Mohan Age (Issues 49-114): 1981-1986
Issue 49 (May 1981) was the first issue by Dragon’s third editor-in-chief, Kim Mohan. It was also the first issue of the magazine whose cover was illustrated by a notable fantasy artist, Tim Hildebrandt. Three issues later, Boris Vallejo covered Dragon 52 (August 1981).
Dragon magazine had truly arrived!
Many years later, Kim Mohan told future Dragon editor Jesse Decker, “I guess it takes about seven years for it to drive you insane.” Fittingly, Mohan’s initial run as Dragoneditor-in-chief was six-and-a-half years. It also may have been one of the magazine’s more creative periods, where many of the best articles continued to fall into series:
- The racial “Point of View” articles (1982), by Roger E. Moore, provided more detail on the demi-human races than ever-before seen, and also introduced demi-human deities that have lasted for decades.
- “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” in Dragon 59-75 (1982-1983) and “Featured Creatures” in Dragon 63-69 (1982-1983), all by Gary Gygax, gave the first look at rules and monsters that would later appear in Unearthed Arcana (1985) and Monster Manual II (1983), two of AD&D’s hardcover rulebooks. The idea that D&D could still evolve and change was surprising—as was the idea that new rules could appear in Dragon.
- “Pages from the Mages” (1982-1985, 1990, 1992), by long-time Dragon writer Ed Greenwood, detailed spellbooks and introduced many new magic-user spells. These articles also provided the most extensive insight ever into Greenwood’s house campaign, causing TSR employee Jeff Grubb to suggest that TSR pick it up. TSR did, resulting in no less than the Forgotten Realms.
- “The Deities & Demigods of the World of Greyhawk” (1982-1983), by Gary Gygax, and “Gods of the Suel Pantheon” (1984), by Len Lakofka, offered in-depth looks into the world of Greyhawk and showed that gods could be more than just high-level monsters.
- “The Ecology” articles (1983-Present) revealed details of the lives of monsters. They were very well-received and became Dragon’s longest running article series. They’ve also been imitated in many other magazines, highlighting their success. The first of the series was “The Ecology of The Piercer,” by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards, in Dragon 72 (April 1983).
- “The Real Barbarians” and “Who Lives in That Castle” (1983), by Katharine Kerr, were articles that provided real-life details for D&D game elements. Kerr might have been Dragon’s most prolific female author in those days and would later become a well-known fantasy author.
A few individual articles also stand out:
- “The Astral Plane," by Gary Gygax and Roger E. Moore, in Dragon 67 (November 1982) was one of the first extended looks at AD&D’s planes.
- “The Nine Hells," by Ed Greenwood, in Dragon 75-76 (July-August 1983) continued with that trend and is generally considered one of the best articles ever in the magazine.
- “The Making of a Milieu," by Arthur Collins, in Dragon 93 (January 1985), was one of the best DM advice articles in those early days; it described how to actually run a campaign.
- “Catacomb," by Henry Melton, in Dragon 97 (May 1985), was another short story—an entirely prescient description of MMORPGs years before they appeared.
Very early in his tenure, Mohan instituted a second tradition at Dragon, to balance its April Fools issues. Dragon 50 (June 1981) marked the magazine’s fifth anniversary; Mohan celebrated by publishing multiple articles about dragons. This tradition would continue through almost every June issue during the magazine’s print run.
A few years later, a bigger change occurred. From Dragon 84 (April 1984) to Dragon 111 (July 1986), Dragon added considerable science-fiction coverage in a new “Ares” section—the name taken from a magazine published by SPI, who TSR had taken over in 1982. Within Ares, Dragon highlighted TSR games like Gamma World, Marvel Super Heroes, and Star Frontiers—as well as some SF games by other publishers. One of the most notable results was Jeff Grubb’s “The Marvel-Phile” column (1984-1993), which statted up Marvel heroes and villains for Marvel Super Heroes for almost a decade.
Dragon also ended its independent run under Mohan. Issue 92 (December 1984) was the last issue published by Dragon Publishing, the successor to TSR Periodicals. After that, Dragon was published directly by TSR itself. Dragon began to reflect this in the early 100s: a new “TSR Profiles” column debuted in Dragon 103 (November 1985), and a few articles appeared in support of specific TSR products, such as the Unearthed Arcana errata in that same issue. However, there also remained articles for non-TSR games—for a while longer, at least.
The Rest of TSR (Issues 115-237): 1986-1997
Over the next decade, four more editors oversaw Dragon. The first of them was well-loved writer Roger E. Moore, who had the magazine’s longest editorial run, from issues 115-198 (1986-1993). Just as many of his early articles remain favorites, the same was true of his newer editorials.
“Tucker’s Kobolds” in Dragon 127 (November 1987) is probably the most famous editorial in the history of the magazine: it described how to turn kobolds into conniving, dangerous monsters—and continues to influence the depiction of the race to this day. “Legend” in Dragon 144 (April 1989) isn’t as well known, but it’s a wonderful description of the heights that D&D games can ascend to.
However the main story of Dragon’s later TSR years was that of a magazine far more integrated with its parent company. This was exemplified in “The Game Wizards” (1987-1997), a new column that gave readers insights into upcoming TSR products. Its most famous installment was probably “Who Dies?” by David “Zeb” Cook in Dragon 118 (February 1987), where Cook infamously suggested removing various well-loved character classes from the upcoming AD&D 2e revision. “Angry Mothers” in Dragon 154 (February 1990) is similarly infamous—this time because writer James Ward talked about removing demons and devils from AD&D 2e to keep parents happy.
Other TSR columns highlighted the company’s novel publications, listed upcoming TSR products, and answered game rules. The most famous TSR-support column was probably Bruce Heard’s “Voyage of the Princess Ark” (1990-1992). This series was intended to showcase TSR’s Mystaran releases—but it also demonstrated some of the best world-building seen in Dragon’s history and is still considered a Mystaran touchstone two decades later.
Moore was followed as editor-in-chief at Dragon by: Kim Mohan returning for issues 199-217 (1993-1995); Dungeon editor Wolfgang Baur taking over for issues 218-221 (1995); and Pierce Watters leading the magazine through TSR’s final days for issues 222-238 (1995-1997).
Dragon 225 (January 1996) marked a revamp of the magazine overseen by editor Anthony Bryant. He wanted to focus Dragon more on its D&D roots—which largely marked the end for support for other games, although they’d already been decreasing for the past decade in any case. The magazine also received a graphic upgrade.
After issue 236, there was an unprecedented six-month break in Dragon’s publication. Dragon 236 (December 1996) itself included a listing of TSR’s planned releases for 1997… but it turned out that many of the listed games would be a year or two late. That’s because TSR was on the edge of the bankruptcy.
When Watters’ final two issues were produced in mid-1997, they were published by Dragon’s new owner: Wizards of the Coast.
The Wizards Years (Issues 239-298): 1997-2002
Dragon officially came to Wizards with issue 237 (1997), even if that issue had been entirely produced by TSR. Even though con listings and other elements of the magazine were half-a-year out of date, Wizards thought that it was critically important to get the industry’s top magazine back out on track as fast as possible. Dragon 238 (August 1997) was thus the first issue that had some work done at Wizards.
Dave Gross had been editor of Dragon since issue 230 (June 1996); he stayed in that role when Pierce Watters moved from editor-in-chief to publisher with the next issue, Dragon 239 (September 1997). The editor-in-chief role entirely disappeared, suggesting that Gross was probably doing much of that work during the magazine’s first few years at Wizards. Gross was officially acknowledged as such with Dragon 274 (August 2000)—which we’ll see was a pivotal issue for the magazine.
The general story of Dragon under Wizards is of a magazine gaining more respect from its publisher and so more resources. When Wizards CEO Peter Adkison asked about the amount of black & white art in Dragon, and was told it was a resources issue, he allocated more money so that the artwork could be upgraded to color. Similarly, Adkison got Gary Gygax writing for Dragon again. Meanwhile, the magazine was coming into closer alignment with the D&D game than ever before.
Several new and notable columns appeared in Dragon during this time:
- “Countdown to Third Edition” (1999-2000) offered a year-long look at upcoming features from D&D 3e. It demonstrated the tightest integration ever between Dragon and the D&D game’s current publications.
- “Up on a Soapbox” (2000-2004), by Gary Gygax, reused an old Dragon column title, but was now filled with Gygax’s thoughts on the game and his reminiscences about D&D’s earliest days.
- “Dungeoncraft” (1999-2004+), by Ray Winninger and later Monte Cook, was Dragon’s most concerted effort to talk about the art of DMing. When it finally disappeared from Dragon in 2004, it was only because Paizo was collecting DM-specific advice in Dungeon. Wolfgang Baur and James Wyatt later authored the long-running column for Dungeon.
Though Wizards continuously upgraded the look of Dragon from 1997 onward, the biggest change came with Dragon 274 (August 2000), which updated the magazine to D&D 3e. Dragon joyfully adopted the art styles of 3e, most clearly shown in a new spiky cover logo. Dragon’s use of full-color was massively upgraded on every page, and the magazine became more artistic than ever. It was the start of a new era.
Though Dave Gross headed Dragon during most of Wizards’ first run, he was succeeded in Dragon 288 (October 2001) by Jesse Decker; it was Decker who would bring Dragon to its third publisher less than a year later.
The Paizo Years (Issues 299-359): 2002-2007
In late 2002, Wizards of the Coast made the decision to license the publication of Dragon magazine (and Dungeon) to former employee Lisa Stevens. Together, Lisa Stevens, Vic Wertz, and Dragon’s Group Publisher Johnny Wilson formed a new company to publish the magazines.
The changeover was a fairly smooth transition, as Wizards’ magazines division moved straight over to Paizo—even working out of Wizards’ offices for a time. Jesse Decker continued as editor-in-chief from Paizo’s premiere issue, Dragon 299 (September 2002), through Dragon 311 (September 2003). The magazines continued to support Wizards’ D&D products—but at the same time, Paizo was generally willing to expand the envelope of what Dragon covered, in part because they didn’t have to also produce regular roleplaying supplements. Thus Decker’s last few issues presented the “Incursion” storyline in Dragon 309 (July 2003), where githyanki invaded the world and included the first DM Screen for 3.5e in Dragon 310 (August 2003).
Under Matthew Sernett, Dragon was revamped with issue 323 (September 2004), to make it more practically useful to players. That same issue also made Dragon’s logo even more readable. Erik Mona stepped up as the print magazine’s final editor-in-chief with Dragon 327 (January 2005). His love for Greyhawk would also influence Dragon’s final print years.
Many of the top columns at Dragon during its Paizo years followed on the heels of one of these interests—either focusing on players, returning to older settings, or both.
- “Campaign Classics” (2004, 2007) was the focus of Dragon 315 (January 2004) and Dragon 351 (January 2007); both of these issues included articles that returned to many unsupported D&D campaign worlds, from Al-Qadim to Mystara. Dragon 319 (May 2004) similarly included an extensive player’s handbook for Dark Sun under D&D 3.5e.
- “Class Acts” (2004-2007) was an old series revamped with Dragon 323 to give more extensive and regular attention to players. These 1-2 page articles gave crunchy support for a variety of classes.
- “Demonomicon of Iggwilv” (2005-2007), by James Jacobs, gave extensive details on the classic demons of the game such as Demogorgon, Pazuzu, and Zuggtmoy.
- “Core Beliefs” (2005-2007) by Sean K. Reynolds, shone a similar light on the Greyhawk gods that were now the default deities for 3rd edition. Like Demonicon, it was evocative and dripping with story ideas. It recalled the much older deity articles by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka, but covered the topic with much more depth.
Generally, Paizo continued to improve the already good graphic design that had appeared under Wizards, and now Sernett’s practical player articles and Mona’s in-depth setting articles were combining to create a well-received whole.
However, the print run of the venerable magazine came to an end with Dragon 359, as Wizards reclaimed its rights to support the upcoming 4th Edition of D&D.
The Electronic Era (Issues 360-430): 2007-2013
When Wizards of the Coast brought Dragon back into the fold, they also enacted the biggest change ever for the magazine: they turned it into an electronic-only publication, available through their D&D Insider website.
It took Dragon some time to fully forge its new electronic reality. Dragon 360 (2007) was a set of individual files published to the D&D Insider website over the course of a month. Wizards published bimonthly in this form until Dragon 364 (June 2008) dawned under new editor-in-chief Chris Youngs (formerly Chris Thomasson and thus a former editor of the magazine). Under his tenure, articles continued to be published regularly on the D&D Insider website and also compiled into an attractive PDF magazine at the end of each month.
During its second Wizards of the Coast run, the Dragon magazine staff was aligned with the D&D R&D staff. This allowed the magazine to integrate more closely with the actual D&D game than ever before. This began in Dragon 360 with a new “Design & Development” column—which didn’t just preview D&D 4e, but also explained the reasoning behind many of the design decisions, offering a level of interaction with the D&D creators that had never been seen before. Starting with Dragon 365 (July 2008), readers could also playtest upcoming D&D rules—the first of which were drawn from the Eberron Player’s Guide (2009).
Over the years, Dragon became increasingly sophisticated at presenting supplemental articles for the newest D&D publications. For example, Dragon 372 (February 2009) provided original articles that supported Dungeon Delve (2009), Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead (2009), and Player’s Handbook 2 (2009). Similarly, familiars received special focus in Dragon 374 (March 2009), to support Arcane Power (2009). These were not just puff pieces or developmental notes, but complete, coherent articles that added to the already published material; they showed the potential strength of a closely allied house organ.
Chris Youngs became Digital Games Manager of the brand-new D&D New Business team in 2010. The editor-in-chief role fell to industry veteran Steve Winter beginning with Dragon 389 (July 2010). Though things continued as normal for the rest of the year, there were still changes with the magazine starting in Dragon 395 (January 2011). That’s when Wizards embraced flexibilities of its new digital form and realized that articles didn’t have to be compiled into a single PDF for them to be a magazine; instead, magazine articles were now released as individual PDFs.
If there was one constant during Dragon’s initial digital years, it was continual evolution. Christopher Perkins, with support from a team of producers including Greg Bilsland, Stan!, and Steve Winter, led the magazine beginning with Dragon 404 (October 2011). As producers, they were responsible for soliciting content and working with freelance writers and editors on the development of articles. With Dragon 407 (January 2012), the scope of the magazine changed once more—in part due to the development of D&D Next, first announced on January 9. After that, Wizards produced fewer 4e products and also turned away from its Points of Light world. As a result, Dragon began to focus its attention on three of D&D’s great worlds from the past: Dark Sun, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms.
In late 2012, Dragon changed formats once more when Wizards returned to compiled digital issues, but with shorter articles moved over to the free “Daily D&D” website. The first issue in this new format was Dragon 416 (October 2012).
When D&D has operated between editions, it’s often focused on nostalgia, and that’s certainly been a major element of Dragon’s later years. Not only did Dragon continue to visit Dark Sun, Eberron, and the Forgotten Realms, but also a new “History Check” column (2011-2013) revisited the stories of many classic D&D figures and events—from Kas and Vecna to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Other nostalgic articles have occasionally supplemented these columns.
The number of changes that Dragon has undergone during its second run at Wizards has been impressive, which raises the question: “What form will Dragon return in when next we open its pages?”
A Few Notes on Dungeon
Adventures premiered in TSR’s magazines with “The Fell Pass” in The Dragon 32 (December 1979). Dragon published many more adventures of note over the years, including “The Wandering Trees” in Dragon 57 (January 1982), “The Dancing Hut” in Dragon 82 (February 1984) and “The City Beyond the Gate” in Dragon 100 (August 1985). However, adventures were never a major focus for TSR’s premiere magazine. To fill this gap, Kim Mohan and Roger E. Moore conceived of a magazine full of adventures; Dungeon 1 (September/October 1986) premiered just as Mohan left TSR, with Moore as its editor-in-chief.
A few early Dungeon adventures are of particular note. David and Grant Boucher introduced the red dragon Flame, one of the great villains of D&D, in “Into the Fire” (Dungeon 1). Years later, in Dungeon 69 (July/August 1998), editor Christopher Perkins presented Dungeon’s first series of connected adventures, the “Mere of Dead Men," which was well received and gave rise to even longer “adventure paths” that populated later issues.
Dungeon was briefly combined with the d20-focused Polyhedron magazine in the early ‘00s, but this was short-lived. In the years afterward, Paizo Publishing further explored the magazine’s niche through evocative adventures. One of those was “Incursion” in Dragon 100 (July 2003)—the other half of the githyanki invasion found in Dragon 309.
However, Paizo had set the path for the magazine’s future a few issues earlier, in Dungeon 97 (March/April 2003), which had the first chapter of “The Shackled City” adventure path. This series of adventures took players from levels 1-20 as part of an extended campaign, all played out in the pages of Dungeon. In all, Paizo produced three adventure paths: “The Shackled City” (2003-2004), “Age of Worms” (2005-2006), and “Savage Tide” (2006-2007).
In the years since Dungeon has returned to Wizards, they’ve continued this model, first with the “Scales of War” adventure path (2008-2010), then with the more open-ended “Chaos Scar” sandbox (2009-2011). Dungeon has also been able to take advantage of its close ties with Wizards in recent years to publish such adventures as "Evard's Shadow," a sequel to the Dark Legacy of Evard (2011) D&D Encounters season that appeared in Dungeon 192 (July 2011). Special adventures from PAX, from Gen Con, and from the Encounters seasons themselves have also appeared in Wizards’ Dungeon, giving readers access to otherwise limited edition products.
As with Dragon, the future of Dungeon remains to be written.