Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The 'Good' Old Days

I recently came into possession of a few PDF scans of the very first issues of Dragon Magazine, back in the 1970s when it was known as The Dragon. It featured authors such as Fritz Leiber* and Gardner Fox coupled with some truly awful artwork and articles that really demonstrate how the roleplaying game in those days was only just beginning to distinguish itself from the wargaming hobby.

On one hand, you've got interesting articles describing how to wargame the Battle of Five Armies from The Hobbit, or innovative tables to determine the circumstances of a character's birth. On the other hand, you've got some striking relics of the era, such as a cartoon poking fun at the recycling craze (adventurers run from a "Recyclosaurus", who wears a t-shirt that reads 'Ecology Now!' and munches on a can of 'Tree Frog Beer'), and truly odd articles like "The Idiot Class", which describes an NPC that player characters can hire "to confuse the enemy so that it will run away, attack a wall, commit Hari Kari, eat all its treasure or some related act, just so it will not attack the troop." Suddenly Gamma World seems like a pillar of sanity.

Lest we forget that there was a time when gaming was an almost exclusively male hobby (and, as the TV show "Life On Mars" tries to tell us, the 70s were a very different culture), one needs only look to a truly insulting article titled "Notes on Women & Magic - Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D". The author stipulates that female characters should not be able to fight as well as their male counterparts (though they "in some ways surpass men as thieves"; mid-level female thieves get to be titled "Succubus." Was the author in the middle of a nasty divorce?), and that the Charisma ability score should be replaced by Beauty, which is "important to thieves, fighters and magic users." It is further noted that "Clerics may not use beauty if they are lawful or neutral. Chaotic clerics may use their beauty score." "Fighting Women (warriors) may incorporate the spells of Seduction, Charm Men or Charm Humanoid Monster depending upon their level and beauty scores (see spells of seduction, et al). Women's strength scores range from 2-14." (Emphasis mine)

In case you were wondering what 'Humanoid Monsters' might include, here's the list given: "Hobgoblins, Ogres, Trolls, Giants, Mummies, Vampires, Gargoyles, WereWolves (either shape), Werebear (man only), Lizard Men and Centaurs."

...Dang. I don't know what women do for mummies, exactly, or why wolves are turned on by women while bears aren't, but I don't really feel like speculating.

Perhaps it's telling that in a number of the illustrations there is a recurring character who looks like a fairyland elf (you know, the kind with pointy shoes and hat that peaks in a curl?) and is always smoking some sort of hallucinogenic substance from a suspiciously-shaped pipe...

*A surreal and amusing article where he tries to explain wargaming to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser.

One of my favorite lines: "Oh, so they fight only with their minds?" Fafhrd said. "That sounds sick to me. I keep my mind solely for enshrining the images of beautiful women."

Also: "About these wargamers or mind-fighters," the Mouser said, turning back to me. "I'll wager some of 'em aren't above using a real knife under the table, especially if the games goes against 'em."

"A man could keep on playing a table game, though hamstrung," Fafhrd put in.

1 comment:

E.G.Palmer said...

I love Fritz Lieber.