Birthdays and anniversaries are key times for reflecting on both the past and the future. This month marks two milestones for Dragon magazine: it’s both Dragon’s 400th issue and its 35th birthday. Volume 1, Number 1 rolled off the press in June of 1976, under the moniker The Dragon, to support a hobby that was still in its infancy. No one at TSR fully comprehended yet what sort of tiger’s tail they’d grabbed.
Everyone has a favorite Dragon issue, and I’m no different. Perhaps your favorite had an especially amazing cover, or it contained a variant class or monster you especially loved, or “Sage Advice” cleared up a rule you’d been using incorrectly for months. My favorite issue is #47, from March 1981, because it literally changed the course of my life.
I can narrow it down even further, to page 56. To the lower left corner of page 56, to be exact. That’s where, while flipping through the magazine at the local hobby shop, I spotted an ad looking for "skilled and talented people to fill positions in the Production, Development and Design sections" at TSR, Inc. Reading the list of qualifications was like scanning my own resume. I was working as a newspaper reporter in Peoria, Illinois, playing as much D&D as possible, writing roleplaying articles and game reviews for magazines such as Steve Jackson Games’ The Space Gamer, and looking for a new position. I probably would have bought issue 47 anyway for all the terrific articles, but it was the ad that really made me reach for my wallet.
What else did issue 47 hold? The centerpiece was "Crimefighters—Roleplaying Rules for Pulp Heroes" by David Cook. It also offered an AD&D exam, a special section on "The Other Planes," fantasy calendars by Ed Greenwood, AD&D stats for the mythical figures Camilla and Medea, a Squad Leader scenario, and a full-page ad for a bronze dragon miniature (5 inches high and 8 inches long!) cast in real bronze for only $750. That would be about $1,800 now. I can’t imagine they sold very many, but I know that I wanted one.
That help wanted ad led to me getting a job at TSR in May of ’81, and I’ve been working on D&D ever since. Instead of writing about city council meetings, school board elections, home burglaries, and municipal construction projects for 30 years, I’ve been privileged to write about wizards, dragons, deadly traps, and labyrinthine tombs. It’s hard to say whether I’ve contributed more to the well-being of the world through D&D than I would have in the news business, but I like to think that the answer is yes.
Much has changed since 1976. D&D is in its 4th edition, and it’s being published by Wizards of the Coast LLC instead of TSR, Inc. Dragon comes to you digitally instead of being stuffed into your mailbox, and you get a suite of handy electronic resources along with it. And a 5-inch-high, 8-inch-long miniature dragon is barely into adulthood; a really big one is over a foot tall.
Through the month of June, other members of the D&D team will pick out their favorite articles from Dragons past, and we’ll reproduce them here for everyone to enjoy, along with reminiscences from past editors-in-chief. We’ll also bring you more character themes, “Bazaar of the Bizarre” (a regular feature that goes back to Dragon 27, when Gary Gygax introduced the bag of wind), new options for Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms characters, and the full monthly menu of columns, previews, and excerpts.