Monday, May 10, 2021

The Fantastic Fun of Dungeons & Dragons

Like a lot of kids of my generation, one of the highlights of school was receiving the monthly Scholastic Book Club order form from my teacher. Over the years, I ordered a lot of books through the club, some of which I held on to for years afterwards. Scholastic also offered issues of its pop culture-focused periodical, Dynamite, which I bought occasionally, depending on the contents. One issue I remember vividly is the March 1981 issue, featuring Gil Gerard and Erin Grey on the cover.

Though I was never much of a fan of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, I had somehow learned – perhaps through the order form's description – that issue #82 included an article about Dungeons & Dragons. As I mentioned last month, from the very start of my introduction to the hobby, I had become an avid clipper of any newspaper and magazine articles I came across that talked about D&D. So, when I discovered that this issue of Dynamite had such an article, there was no question I'd buy it.

The article really grabbed my attention because of the photographs that accompanied it, starting with this one.

I didn't make serious use of miniatures when playing D&D, but I was fascinated by them nonetheless. Consequently, I was amazed by the photo above. That the young woman on the left is holding a copy of my beloved Holmes Basic rulebook only added to its appeal. (Anyone recognize the hex map on the wall between the two leftmost players?)

The article itself isn't all that remarkable. Like many articles of its kind, it's a very basic introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, including a very abbreviated – and Gygax-centric – version of its history. That's understandable, since, even in 1981, D&D wasn't well known. Furthermore, Dynamite was geared toward elementary school-age children. (That said, the Holmes-edited Basic Set came out in 1977, not 1976, as stated in the article.)

The inclusion of such attractive – and large! – painted miniatures no doubt contributed to the appeal of this article for me. The orc depicted below reminds me of something out of Down in the Dungeon; naturally, I loved it. 

39 comments:

  1. I have no idea where it might be from, but the map looks like it could be Middle-Earth?

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    1. You're right. A quick good search suggests that it's SPI's War of the Ring map. Thanks!

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    2. Thought that looked familiar.

      On a related note, while the colors are very different, I never noticed before how similar the shape of the coastline is between Middle Earth (at least that map of it) and the coast of Minaria in TSR's Divine Right.

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  2. Thank you for posting this! I've tried to remember for years where I saw this article. I realize it was part of what kept spurring my interest in D&D in the years before I actually got to play it. While I first got D&D at Christmas 1981 (the Moldvay set), I had been trying to convince my parents for several years to let me play, but unfortunately, they thought it was something "too adult" for me... likely because the store where I kept showing it to them had copies of the LBBs, including Eldritch Wizardry... but when they saw the Moldvay edition at Toys R Us jut before Christmas that year they never made the connection... thank goodness!

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  3. I used to be an actual subscriber to Dynamite in elementary school, but gave it up about four years before this issue. Cricket Magazine lasted a lot longer, mostly because my subscription was courtesy of a great-aunt who couldn't/wouldn't get them to cancel the subscription until I left for college.

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  4. I have seen that photograph of the group playing before, in a different context. Perhaps it was a video rather than a photograph? Something makes me think it was from the UK.

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    1. I've seen it, too...perhaps on another blog.

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    2. If you can find it, I'd love to know.

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    3. For more discussion of the photographs and article, you can check out the following link.

      https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/how-picture-girls-playing-dd-went-cool-awesome

      Scroll all the way to the bottom for a note from the original photographer. He reveals that the only "real" D&D player in the photo was the ... drumroll please ... guy you would have expected in the middle. The two young ladies were that guy's girlfriend(!) and her friend.

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    4. I'm shocked – shocked! – by this revelation.

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    5. Shocked indeed. You'll be closing Rick's Cafe Americain, I suppose?

      Your winnings, sir. :)

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  5. Oh hey, speaking of Scholastic books, maybe someone here can solve a puzzle that's been nagging me for years. Does anyone remember a scifi book from sometime before 1980 that told the story of a couple of kids trying to save some nice-guy aliens that had a colony under a mountain near their home from bad-guy aliens that had taken the place over by capturing the nice aliens' leader? IIRC the "leader" alien resembled a television set with arms and legs and floated in mid-air, and the other "good" aliens were similar mixes of tech and organic bits with some kind of caste system. The baddies were covered in short fur (maybe orange or red?) and had humanoid upper bodies with a bunch of short nubby legs that looked like fingers below the waist. I think the kid's father had been kidnapped by the baddies as well, and I'm pretty sure he was part of some government group that had been studying/negotiating with the "good" aliens before the baddies showed up.

    The title of the darn thing has been eluding me for years, although I feel like the word "Ness" (no relation to the lake monster) or something like it was part of it. Sound familiar to anyone?

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    1. Yes; this is "The Day of the Ness" by Andre Norton, illustrated by Michael Gilbert. It is still in print.

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    2. Thank you! Must have searched every possible combination of "ness" and other words except that one. "Ness" by itself gets so many lake monster results it's hopeless for finding the book by itself.

      Man, that had been driving me crazy.

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  6. Awesome. I had a subscription to Dynamite magazine, and I received this particular issue when I was 10 years old, about 9 months after I had started playing D&D. I read that article countless times.

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  7. I got Dynamite. Screw D&D articles- I got that issue solely to cut off the cover, trim it and put Erin's pic up on my wall alongside Lynda Carter, and Farrah Fawcett.

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  8. Is that wizard standing on a plastic slottabase?

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    1. Did those exist in the early '80s?

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    2. It looks like a 20mm slottabase, yes.

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    3. AFAIK the earliest slottabases were 1985, so probably not. Could be wrong though.

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  9. The photo really makes me miss my hair. LOL.

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  10. Publicity shots had these big elaborate sets resembling a miniatures wargame instead of a rpg since time immemorial. Misleading but makes sense - authentic rpg activities (nerds hunched over a table cluttered with paper and weird dice) aren't very spectacular or crowd-pleasing by nature.

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  11. I remember reading this magazine article is what got me interested in buying the 1981 Basic Set.

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  12. I had this issue too! Good memories.

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  13. What I would like to know is where the figures and the dungeon setup came from. Were they commercially available? Does anyone recognize them?

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    1. Not sure about all of the figures, but the wizard and orc are from a range of 90mm figures from Superior. http://www.miniatures-workshop.com/lostminiswiki/index.php?title=Fantasy_9000

      Looks like some in the background are from that range too.

      The setup looks homemade. I'm guessing plywood base with a grid pattern painted on it, and wooden "blocks" with a pattern of stones and doors painted on. You can see that they ran out of painted blocks and used the unfinished wood around the perimeter.

      It's a cool looking setup and fired my imagination when I first saw it. Tried to make my own and failed miserably. Way too unstable.

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    2. Thanks for the link. That's very useful.

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    3. @DeepOne I thought those looked familiar. Our local hobby shop had the whole Superior range way back when, their Starfleet Wars figs and rules were really popular back in the day. I was glad to see Monday Knight Productions bring them back into production.

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    4. @Dick McGee That is interesting. I don't believe I personally ever saw them for sale, but I'm sure I was not looking in the right places. I saw this article about a year before I started playing D&D, so it was just a memory when I started visiting hobby shops, looking at figurines, etc. It wasn't until the internet that I rediscovered this article and managed to identify some of the figures. The ability to revisit ephemera like this is astounding.
      It is something no other generation has ever had.

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  14. I loved Dynamite. There was another, similar magazine, perhaps by Scholastic or maybe a competitor called...Bananas? I am not certain.

    I have Scholastic and RIFF to thank for many of my earliest book purchases.

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  15. I call shenanigans on that picture starting the article with one really nerdy-looking boy and two cute girls playing D&D. I'm having a hard time seeing that scene happening in real life in the 80's.

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    1. Could it be a 20th century version of two of the Brontë sisters with their younger brother playing an updated version of their story/wargame game?

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    2. "OK Nerd, I'm trying to break into my modelling career by posing for pictures for this stupid magazine, and that's it. Don't get any closer or try to talk to me. [smiles for camera and points] What's that grody monster thing over there?

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    3. Ha. Looks like an entry for Dynamite's "What's Wrong With This Picture?' feature.

      Dynamite magazine was the best. I remember Fonzie on the cover, the Invisible Man, the Six Million Dollar Man, Welcome Back Kotter and the Sleestaks.

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  16. Sarah Darkmagic covered this a few years back. She even got some email from the photographer talking about that scene.
    https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/how-picture-girls-playing-dd-went-cool-awesome

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    1. Thank you for the clarification. That is an awesome post by Sarah.

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  17. The map on the wall is definitely the War of the Ring map. That white circle is the tracker for the Dark Power player's shadow points (which measure what Sauron can do in a turn).

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