The Alexandrian

Tagline: A great bargain for a wealth of material, and a wonderful little taste of history.

Dragon Magazine ArchiveAllow me to salivate.

The Dragon Magazine Archive collects, on five CD-ROMs, the first two hundred and fifty issues of Dragon Magazine, as well as all seven issues of The Strategic Review (the house organ which Tactical Studies Rules published prior to Dragon). It thus collects more than twenty years worth of material – thousands and thousands of pages of the finest roleplaying material ever set to paper.

For forty bucks. (Some places are selling it for as much as $70 – don’t let ‘em fool you. Amazon.com is selling it, here, for $28.)

So, like I said: Allow to salivate.

Elsewhere on RPGNet I have written a lengthy “100 Issue Retrospective” which covered the magazine from Issue #162 (the first issue of Dragon I ever owned) through to #262 (the most recent at the time I wrote the retrospective). In it I discussed at quite some length the merits and history of The Dragon, and I heartily encourage you to take a look at that for more background information concerning the magazine.

To summarize my feelings, I consider Dragon Magazine to be one of the most significant icons in the roleplaying industry – and certainly one of the most enduring. I remember well removing the subscription card from my red-boxed Basic Set of D&D (hands up everyone who was introduced to roleplaying through that nostalgia-ridden product), mailed it in, and waited with eager anticipation for my first issue to arrive in the mail. When it did, I felt instantly connected to a larger world of roleplayers.

Because so many roleplayers are introduced into the industry through some form of Dungeons & Dragons, and because it is a natural progression to purchase a subscription to Dragon (particularly in the years when TSR was advertising the magazine in the introductory sets of their games), I imagine this is feeling which I share with many others. To a very real extent, Dragon (like D&D itself) serves as a major portal into the hobby of gaming.

Thus the Dragon Magazine Archive, in addition to providing you with an amazing wealth of material, lets you take a peek into what was passing through this gateway in years past. For years when you were in the hobby (particularly the early years), it’s a nostalgia trip of immense proportions. For the years when you weren’t, it’s a glimpse into an “arcane past” which is fascinating and invigorating.

But, lest we forget and assume there is nothing here but nostalgia, let us remember that within this archive you will find thousands of articles and reviews and columns. You simply cannot find a better bargain, in terms of a dollar-to-content ratio, then you will find in this package.

FAVORITE BITS

Despite owning the Archive since my birthday (about four months now), I’ve been able to do little more than skim through the thinnest layer of material – most of it concentrated in the earliest years of the magazine. As a small sampling, let me point out some of my favorite bits:

Strategic Review #1: After a lengthy discussion of spears in man-to-man combat, Gary Gygax writes: “Coming Next Issue . . . POLE ARMS, and Their Relationship to CHAINMAIL.”

Maybe I’m just warped, but I found this intrinsically amusing. (If you have no idea why it would be, you’re just too young.)

Other notable “before they were famous” moments including one of the earliest discussions of the dual-axis alignment system (complete with the diagrams that would later crop up in first edition). My favorite, though, is the article of random dungeon design (for solo play) which would later serve as the basis for one of the most famous sections of the 1st edition DMG.

One of the first things most people will take a look at when they get their hands on the Archive is the very issue of Dragon — and with good cause. It is a major milestone, and I have met old hands who divide the entire history of roleplaying (at least during the first couple of decades) into “before Dragon” and “after Dragon”.

The very first words of the editorial content of The Dragon are: “This issue marks a major step for TSR Hobbies, Inc. With it, we have bid farewell to the safe, secure world of the house organ, and have entered the arena of competitive magazine publishing.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so unintentionally hilarious in my life.

Perhaps the most valuable resource I found in the Archive were the early Tékumel articles – articles which are otherwise very difficult to obtain. While they wouldn’t fully justify the cost of the Archive, except for the true Tékumel fanatic, they come awfully close. Easily worth $10-15 to anyone with the slightest interest in Tékumel, which doesn’t leave a lot of the purchase price left to make up with everything else. (I have posted a review of Tékumel elsewhere on RPGNet.)

Any summary of the Archive would not be complete without perhaps the most noteworthy inclusion:

Wormy!

SnarfQuest and Yamara, the other two comics of serious note in Dragon’s history, in my opinion, have been published in collections, but Wormy never has (because it’s creator simply disappeared). (I believe the Yamara collection is still in print from Steve Jackson Games; while a new (and more complete) SnarfQuest collection is on its way from Dynasty Publishing – which will also be publishing new(!) SnarfQuest strips in their Games Unplugged magazines. But I digress.)

Wormy is one of the most memorable icons of the gaming industry, and has long been unavailable in any form. Now, at last, it is possible to read the strip in its entirety at an affordable price. If the Tékumel articles almost make the Archive worth the price all by themselves, then Wormy definitely has the cover charge under control.

PROBLEM PARTS

Every single problem with the Archive can be summed up in one word: Interface.

The interface, quite frankly, sucks. It’s not just bad, it’s atrocious. The pages take too long to turn, the general controls are unintuitive to the point of stupidity and are sluggish to respond. The provided Table of Contents for several issues is screwed up (although you can always just look at the magazine’s contents page and work from there).

For a product like this, printing is of the utmost importance – but here the problems seem to multiply. I routinely had the printer simply print blank pages. And, unless you set the printing to grayscale, the program will print the black ink by using your color cartridge to print all the colors in the spectrum (a massive waste of expensive ink). Plus, they don’t have the page numbers of the digital document match up with the page numbers of the actual magazine (because they don’t take the simple step of not counting the cover and inside cover as pages).

Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM! It slows any attempt to multitask down to a crawl.

Bah.

Fortunately, all of the magazines are presented in Adobe Acrobat format and thus, with their free viewer, you can access them directly and without any problems – bypassing the clunky interface entirely. (Although you may still occasionally use the program for the search engine it employs – which quickly and efficiently searches through the entire collection.) There’s still no way to bypass the faulty page numbering (because that’s embedded in the document format), but at least in the Acrobat Reader the digital page numbers are displayed right on the screen – so that you won’t be reduced to guessing how large the off-set is for this particular issue.

CONCLUSION

The Dragon Magazine Archive is a fantastic bargain. Don’t pass it up.

Style: 3
Substance: 5

Author: Various
Company/Publisher: Wizards of the Coast / TSR, Inc.
Cost: $40.00
Page Count: Unfathomable
ISBN: 0-7869-1448-3

Originally Posted: 2000/03/21

“Worse yet, though, this monstrous program takes up 40MB of RAM!” … speaking of things rendered hilarious through the benefit of hindsight.

The Dragon Magazine Archive remains one of the best bargains in the history of gaming. And that remains true even though it’s currently priced at $155 on Amazon.

For an explanation of where these reviews came from and why you can no longer find them at RPGNet, click here.

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