Dragon #112: The evolution of Dragon right over a cliff...

Daniel Horne Dragon Magazine Jim Holloway TSR

Dragon Magazine #112 shows some great promise with an incredible Daniel Horne cover, but there is an absence inside that the editors were not really ready to fill. Now remember, this issue is from August 1986, a full year after Gygax was ousted from TSR, and I think the magazine is feeling those ‘growing pains’, or more correctly, the evidence of shrinking sales and budget cuts looming overhead like storm clouds.

As stated, Daniel Horne [‘saving the best for last’ October #126] is a paragon of Dragon artwork, and it would be hard to compose a Top 10 list of covers without have at least one Horne on there, so this magazine should sell [and did, as I bought a copy when I was 15], but overall, the art is extremely thin.

Artist Jim Holloway does spend time poking his usual fun at the TSR art department, and he also revisits some of his MMII dinosaur illustrations in the massive ‘Dinosaurs’ article about life in the Mesozoic Era. However, you find little to no art outside this piece! There are some random item sketches for ‘A First Full of Credits’ concerning Star Frontiers equipment [odd, since Gygax pulled the line the year before], and a Marvel Super Heroes piece on Dire Wraiths, but that is about it.

When I went through the magazine, I was shocked by the art treatment, and so it was with great interest that I read Editor-in-Chief Kim Mohan’s article ‘Dawn of a new age’: A fresh look, and outlook, for DRAGON magazine. In it, Mohan takes the reader through an explanation of what readers have said they want, and what they don’t. To his point, readers wanted less SF and Hero articles, thus Dragon cut the ARES section [a personal favorite of mine, but oh well], and readers also demanded much more coverage of video games [*sigh*, there would soon be whole magazines dedicated to this subject], and the readers wanted shorter articles without stat blocks and charts. His quote, ‘You think we are getting stale; you’re sick of theoretical articles, “realism articles”, and articles that are nothing more than the trimming around a set of boring statistical tables’. Also, readers hated advertising… go figure!

So, in essence, as of Issue #112, Dragon was to become obsolete. You see, with one-hundred and eleven issues behind them, pretty much every article on D&D was going to be a bit ‘stale’, and without added SF content plus leaning on quickly outdated computer game reviews, how could Dragon continue to be an industry leader? If I’m correct, and I think I am, then the downward slide of Dragon began right here, and by 1990 the bulk of the readership finally turned away for good. Sad, but true.

Now, I guess it is my job to relate the above to my fellow designers at Gygax Magazine so that we don’t make the same mistakes twice, which I’m off to do right now.  And please, if you are able, HELP SUPPORT AOTG THROUGH OUR ONGOING THE FOLIO KICKSTARTER TO THE RIGHT! Good gaming!

Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5]

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  • Scott on

    Brian: I think a key factor to the older Dragon was that the game of D&D was so young it was intrinsically needed to add content. I mean, there were essentially what, five books for the game? [PHB, DMG, MM, FF, Deities & Demi] to draw from and Dragon was a huge resource for players. After a hundred issues of content, anything would become stale, and then as editions stacked up, it became even more so.

  • Brian on

    I started reading Dragon around #100, and I ended getting issues as far back as the 60’s, but I really don’t think the “Decline” started until after Mohan left. The magazine, under another certain editor who I will allow to be nameless here, really started the downward spiral by making the magazine increasingly bland, removing regular features that were very popular in the name of “change,” and almost making me cancel my subscription. I do believe the magazine improved again in the latter years under Paizo’s direction, but you’ll never recapture the groove that magazine had going in the 1980’s.

  • Scott on

    Bill: You are correct in the above. TSR was facing many problems by Issue 100, and the financial side probably put more weight on Mohan’s shoulders to ‘increase numbers’ which made him have to change something. Listening to fans was probably his best option, as after 100 issues, what ‘freshness’ could be brought to the magazine in the way of D&D? Sad, but times they were a’changin

  • Bill Coffin on

    I’m not sure something drastic happened with this issue that portended the decline of the magazine. As a guy who read it back in the day, the issues had been increasingly threadbare after issue #100, and the overall feel of the book had become bland. Maybe Mohan had data on what the readers want, but reader surveys can be very leading things, and they don’t always give you the best optics on your readers. The older Dragon offered its readers a cultural touchpoint that united the hobby. It was part gaming aid, true, but it was also a gathering place for the hobby before online forums would do the same, some years later. But being a cultural read requires a lot of investment in writing, art and editorial. Those are the things that get trimmed first when looking to cut overhead.

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