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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review: The Strategic Review #7 April '76

The Strategic Review #7 (The Last) April '76

(24 Page Zine)

The first color cover and the last issue of The Strategic Review. At 24 pages it could almost be called a magazine, but it was at heart still a zine. In that respect a certain magic was lost in the transition from SR to Dragon. As a small niche hobby D&D would have grown into something far different than the large business and mainstream game system that it became. The years of slick and glossy yet vacuous products would never have occurred. It seems like it has taken over 30 years for the hobby to turn full circle. Today we are seeing a return to the origins of D&D and a release of modules and supplements that should have been produced decades ago. Just a sense that sets like Gygax's Castle Greyhawk with all its levels would have been completed and published years ago if dungeons and dragons had not become so popular, if zines like The Strategic Review had served just a little longer.


List of articles reviewed

The Dungeons & Dragons Magic System
What Price Gold & Glory
Hints for D&D Judges
Mighty Magic Miscellany
Out On A Limb
Creature Features
Ancient And Medieval Standard Military Symbols
The Missile Weapon in Classic Warfare
Thief Bonuses For Dexterity
To The Everlasting Glory of the Petal Throne
D&D Is Only As Good As The DM



The Dungeons & Dragons Magic System
By Gary Gygax (Pg 3,4)

A short history of the origins of magic in D&D, but more importantly a grounding in some basic truths and philosophy of the game. It is interesting to hear about the inspirations for the D&D magic system but the explanation of the original system from its creator is invaluable regardless of the incarnation of D&D being played. It was more than game balance that created the sometimes frustrating magic system and even in its earliest applications gamers twiddled the knobs to make magic and magic users even more powerful. As Gygax states, D&D is a freeform system and, variation was allowed for and even encouraged, but such superpowerful games have their pitfalls. Starting players with a more limited system offers great experience and great challenges which cannot be equaled when abilities and power are just poured into the players lap.

This article may help any D&D or AD&D player or DM understand the magic system as designed to a greater degree. It certainly expresses the concept and reasoning for the original system of magic and the D&D game itself.


What Price Gold & Glory
By Jim Hayes (Pg 9,10)

A short, short story from the days of D&D when reincarnation turned you into a pixie and an entire extremely large party of adventurers could die beneath the clashing mandibles of half-a-dozen giant scorpions, and it was just another good days work. I remember playing in games not far different than this story described. It was a blast. We had no idea what we were doing but it was incredibly fun. You had to think about whether it was worth naming your character because they died so often. The story is worth the read just for the fun of trying to figure out how many people they actually had in their group.


Hints for D&D Judges
Part I: Towns
By Joe Fischer (Pg 10,11)

This may be the first write-up on creating a base of operations for a campaign that was ever published. Everything said in the article is as valid today as it was 33 years ago when SR7 was first printed and said in a way that is plain and simple good advice. There are supplements aplenty today, but even modern day publishers of adventure modules seem to overlook the importance of providing a base of operations for players, a town, a village, pub, inn or small keep lurking on the borderlands. Personally I'd shy away from using crazed magic shop owners with Balrog butlers, but that is depends entirely on a DMs taste in running their campaign, high magic, low magic, even no magic.


Mighty Magic Miscellany
By Neal Healey (Pg 11)

Three massively powerful items for D&D. The first is actually the least powerful and a true classic of the game system.

The Cup and Talisman of Akbar

This is an artifact. It can be massively powerful and therefore can shake up a campaign if just handed out to players. First it's gold value is massive. If using such values to generate experience points then acquiring this item is equivalent to raising almost any low or mid level character an entire experience level. The item itself has the ability to generate potions of various strengths once per week, 75% of the time this is simply healing potions but 6% of the time it will generate potions to raise dead or act as a restoration spell. If a DM puts the artifact away for a time when the players are fairly high level it will prove valuable but in no way unbalancing.

The Staff of the Priest Kings

This is a monstrously powerful staff for D&D. It appears only in this zine and the Encyclopedia Magica (EM) from what I can tell. The basic staff combines 8 spell powers. There is no mention of a difference in spell charges that these would take, or limits on their daily use. The staff can hold 200 charges and no mention if it can be recharged. There are five staves that take the basic model and add extras. As written this staff feels incredibly unbalanced, and the more powerful staves have even more powerful abilities. It has a monty haul feel to it and I can't imagine it being used in an original D&D campaign. For AD&D the basic staff might work with a high level campaign, but without alteration a player could cast Earthquake or Hold Person 200 times, or Raise Dead Fully over 65 times from a fully charged staff.

The Brazen Bottle

Another item that does not seem to have seen print beyond SR7 and the EM. While amazingly powerful, the bottle lets you compel djinn, efreeti and balrogs into captivity, it does not turn them into servants. It seems to imply that when the bottle is uncorked the captive is released making the bottle an item that can only be used once with any degree of safety. For a high level AD&D game the Brazen Bottle does not seem out of place, merely powerful.



Out On A Limb
By Gary Gygax (Pg 14,15)

The Letters column makes its first appearance. History the gaming and convention industry at the time, nothing to add to the D&D or AD&D game system, yet definitely noteworthy



Creature Features
(Pg 15)

Two new creatures. One to become a classic and the other to be forgotten.

The Denebian Slime Devil

The name, at least, lifted from the Trouble With Tribbles episode of Star Trek. This would have suited an April Fool's issue, never my favorites, and DMs may find the concept of the creature useful. It can be played as a farce, to lighten a campaign, or easily changed to a darker type of creature that while harmless haunts the player it has attached itself too, perhaps changing into shapes of creatures the player fears, or enemies he has slain, or loved ones. There is the germ of an idea in the creature.

The Catoblepas

A creature which made it into the AD&D Monster Manual (but never into any of my games). This first write-up doesn't contain the full statistics list but the creature is basically the same as its later incarnation. I just can't see inflicting a creature whose stare causes instant death with no saving throw upon players, but D&D could be a merciless game.



Ancient And Medieval Standard Military Symbols
By Gary Gygax (Pg 16)

A handy thing to have for any D&D or AD&D game reaching beyond man to man combat. Most of the symbols are useful for a fantasy campaign (so you can label cardboard chits and push them around a map) and the reader can easily extrapolate what symbols to use for units particular to fantasy ( the out line of a dragons head, a magicians hat, a holy symbol for clerics, etc...).



The Missile Weapon in Classic Warfare
By Gary Gygax (Pg 18,19)

The historical uses of missile weapons in the ancient world should be of interest to any DM. The article goes into some depth regarding the sling, a weapon commonly used in D&D and AD&D but usually misunderstood. There is a great deal more that can be easily researched on the use of slings and early bows but Gygax's article is as good a place to start as any that can be found, and better than most. While not written for D&D the article shows the thinking behind statistics for these weapons found in the D&D and AD&D rule system.



Thief Bonuses For Dexterity
By David Klempa (Pg 19)

Not a word of explanation for these tables, but it should be noted that this early addition to the D&D rule system applies a percentile roll to a natural roll of 18 for the dexterity stat.



To The Everlasting Glory of the Petal Throne
By M.A.R. Barker (Pg 20 - 22)

Invaluable to anyone running an Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, the article is written as a report from one NPC within the campaign to another, the Emperor. The form is done with much praise to the emperor at the start of every paragraph, something which a DM may copy or lift wholesale to flesh out an encounter in their own campaign. The description of events within the realm may inspire a DM to create similar events or adventures. Definitely worth reading and plundering for ideas.



D&D Is Only As Good As The DM
By Gary Gygax (Pg 22,23)

You have to be cruel to be kind, and Gygax believes in leaving the bark on when he beats down on Monty Haulism and super powered gaming. His advice and recommendations are spot on. The best sense of reward is always against great challenges. It is up to the DM to not only tell an interesting story and master the rule system but also to maintain a sense of challenge and danger in a purely intellectual game.


Useful Illustrations:
Cover: War Elephant
Pg 3 - Dragon's Head
Pg 5 - Maiden on Altar
Pg 8 - Men in Armor
Pg 11 - Dragon
Pg 18 - Wall Relief of Slingers and Archers
Pg 20 - Female Swordswoman
Pg 21 - Armored Priest/ 4 armed headless monster
Pg 22 - Armored Priest




So ends the The Strategic Review and the era of Dragon begins.

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