Issue #100 of Dragon (August 1985) was a milestone for the periodical, as well as for me. For the magazine, it was a portentous number to use as an occasion for celebration. For me, though I didn't know it at the time, it represented the end of an era. The same month that this was released was the last time I attended a "games day" hosted by a public library. It may have even been the last such gathering my local public libraries sponsored, since I don't ever recall hearing of others. Even if it wasn't, I remember well that my last one was a rather underwhelming affair, with far fewer participants than previous ones and most of those who did attend were much younger than I. There weren't nearly as many teenagers, let alone college students or adults, and that disappointed me.
From my perspective, it seemed as if the demographics of the hobby had changed over night and I didn't like the change, especially now that I was one of the "older kids" I looked up to when I was younger. In retrospect, it's obvious to me how hypocritical I was back then, wanting to distance myself from the 10 year-olds clutching their Elmore-covered Basic Sets the way I had done with Sutherland-covered one a mere six years before. But six years is a long time in the life of a child and, as a teenager, I wanted no reminders of my younger self. Thanks goodness that the teenagers of my younger years did not feel the same way!
There was more to it than adolescent snobbery, though. The hobby really did seem to be changing by late 1985 and, while I was still as keenly interested in it as ever, it became much harder to find people with whom to play and, for the most part, the new RPGs coming out held much less appeal to me than those published in the years before. Issue #100 wasn't my last issue of Dragon, but I did let me subscription lapse not long thereafter; it would never again play as central a role in my connection to and understanding of the hobby after that.
The funny thing is that, for all the fanfare surrounding issue #100, it wasn't a particularly memorable issue. The only things I still remember about it are the adventure set in 20th century London and Gary Gygax's article (and accompanying Greyhawk short story) about a chess variant called "dragonchess." Dragonchess is a three-dimensional version of chess, with boards representing the sky, the land, and the underworld. I'd known about 3D chess variants ever since I'd watched Star Trek in reruns in the mid-70s, but this was, I think, the first time I'd ever seen the rules for such a game -- and by Gary Gygax no less! Needless to say I fell completely in love with the idea of playing dragonchess.
There were, of course, two problems with this. First, and perhaps most importantly, I am a terrible chess player. I can barely hold my own in a regular game; learning and mastering a variant that uses three boards at once was almost certainly going to be beyond me. Second, to play dragonchess, one must assemble the boards for oneself and that, too, requires skills I did not possess. This didn't stop me from trying, of course, but I utterly failed to do so. Ultimately, I gave up the idea of having three boards stacked on top of one another and instead opted for having three boards placed side by side. This required me -- and the poor souls I goaded into playing with me -- to keep track of which squares on one board were "over" or "under" others. That was hardly insurmountable but it was nevertheless trying, particularly when one considers how many other aspects of standard chess Gygax changed in his variant.
Dragonchess had a much larger number of pieces -- 42 per side, consisting of 15 different types. Likewise, many of these pieces had unique moves unlike those in standard chess. Furthermore, some pieces behaved differently depending on which board they were currently situated, while others were bound to a single board. The object of dragonchess is the same as regular chess, so that is at least familiar. However, the larger number of pieces and types, not to mention the presence of three dimensions, made it much more difficult to grasp. That's not a criticism of the game itself, which looked like it'd be a lot of fun when played by two opponents who are both skilled at standard chess and well acquainted with the unusual aspects of dragonchess.
Alas, I was neither of those things and, while enthusiastic for the game, I was not very good at teaching its rules to others. Add to it that I didn't have a "proper" board and it's little wonder I never got the chance to play many games of dragonchess. Nowadays, I look back on my efforts with more than a little embarrassment -- the follies of youth! One of several that this issue of Dragon brings to memory.
This is the last installment in "The Articles of Dragon" series. Next week, I'll turn to new but related topic.