Let’s Read Dragon, April 2004

Good afternoon, everyone. I’m LibraryLass, filling in this week on Let’s Read an Old Magazine.


Dragon Magazine (later just Dragon), along with its sister publication Dungeon, for many years formed the in-house arm of TSR, promoting not only D&D but many of their other products, as well as general fantasy and roleplaying interest. Following the acquisition of TSR by Wizards of the Coast the focus narrowed somewhat to focus specifically on D&D, with only occasional forays into other WotC RPGs, mostly d20 modern or d20 Star Wars, along with the odd fantasy-related puff piece (I remember an interview with George RR Martin around the same time as today’s issue.) During the mid-2000s, Wizards licensed both Dragon and Dungeon out to Paizo, today more famous as the creators of the Pathfinder Roleplaying game, but in 2008 the magazines returned to being an in-house organ for D&D 4th edition as a digital publication. Their final issues were released in December of 2013, but the Dragon name was revived in 2015 for a bimonthly app, Dragon+. Although bereft of the rules content that was often the bulk and sometimes the best part of the old Dragon, Dragon+ has carried on its predecessor’s tradition of D&D-related articles, fiction, interviews, and comics.

When Mrs. Malcolm Reynolds afforded me an opportunity to talk about Dragon I knew right away that I wanted to cover one of its famous April issues, which had for many years been April Fool’s themed and featured all manner of gags and fun articles. By the time I had gotten into D&D that tradition had wound down, but no one can say that this issue isn’t wacky all the same. Just look at the cover stories!


’nuff said, probably, but we’ll let the (brand-new, this was his first issue!) editor in chief speak for himself.

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Okay, which of you wrote the blurb about The Last Unicorn?

Incidentally, while it’s not in the header, you’ll also note, if you’re a D&D aficionado at any point in the last 15 years that one more “awesome stuff” niche is filled by this issue: As a preview for the then-upcoming Eberron campaign setting, Dragon 318 features the first published appearance of the robot-like Warforged.

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As you can see, Gary Gygax’s table was a very silly place.

Also the first (second, actually, but I’ve elected to spare you all the pedantic nerdery ((The Avocado)) of the letters column) of this issue’s many comics. While luminaries like Erol Otus and Phil Foglio had long since moved on from Dragon, there were still several good ones in the later years, including Nodwick and Dork Tower. Only a few months after this, Dragon would pick up supplemental Order of the Stick strips that would continue up until near the end of its print run.

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One gets the feeling Aaron Williams was told the theme of the month in advance.

page 26.png“A ninja practiced in disguise and diplomacy might assume a false identity and act as the group’s leader and front-person”

Never, ever do this.

Be honest with your party.

D&D is a team activity.

The “ninja” portion is mostly uninteresting unless one is using the content from it in a 3.5 game– a ninja class (I believe similar to the one that would later appear in Complete Adventurer) followed by an update to the unfortunately named 3rd edition Oriental Adventures, which swapped out long-standing pan-Asian D&D setting Kara-Tur for Legend of the Five Rings‘s jidaigeki-for-white-weeaboos setting Rokugan.

The pirate article is more interesting. Its first section is largely concerned with how to run a pirate campaign (something I’ve always wanted to do)– what classes would work best in a pirate crew, some magic items of a piratical nature, etc.

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I include this page because I appreciate that someone thought about the worldbuilding implications of some common D&D spells and how they’d relate to piracy.

The second section produces a quasi-historical version of Port Royal, Jamaica as a campaign setting. Fun stuff, reproduced here in full.

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And now, the reason that it had to be this one.

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Fucking rad.

The article, anyway, includes a number of stats for dinosaurs that hadn’t made it into the 3.x Monster Manuals 1 or 2, including several stock dinos you might not have expected to take this long– literally all the ones pictured, for instance. Compsognathus (complete with a strength-sapping poison right out of the Jurassic Park books), Diplodocus, Giganotosaurus, obscure fish Helicoprion, Liopleurodon, Pachycephalosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Pteranodon, Rhaphorynchus, and Stegosaurus are all on offer. Ask me what those are!

My PDF copy has excised most of the full-page ads, but this sidebar ad is so charmingly early-2000s that I thought you all needed to see it.

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There’s a second dinosaur article, having mostly to do with reintroducing Ka, an immortal tyrannosaurus rex and god of all things scaly and/or extinct from the Mystara/Hollow World setting. It includes several new spells, including one called Charge of the Triceratops. Best believe if I ever play 3.5 again I’m playing a Druid and building her all around that spell.

The remaining articles include that warforged preview I mentioned, along with previews for the 3.5 Expanded Psionics Handbook and Sage Advice, their rules clarification column. Mostly only interesting to devotees and historians. There’s also some serialized fiction, but it’s not really good or interesting enough for here.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed my first ever crack at this article. Mrs. Mal will be back next week to do her thing!