Over 300 Adventures: the Dungeon Magazin (the TSR times)

This is a review. Or more like an introduction to Dungeon Magazine. Okay, I am sure many of you know this periodical already. There are those, who have seen a couple of issues or have at least looked into a few of them, and then there are the veterans, too, who were the subscribers. I am fully aware of these, but some people have not encountered this magazine before. They might have heard the name but weren’t sure what it was about. This post will help most to the latter group. Well, “help” is a strong word here – I would be already satisfied if I could tell you guys something you didn’t know.

My original goal was to talk about the Dungeon Magazine, give you guys some facts, details, history, maybe even some exciting trivia, then present you with a handful of adventures that I choose from the magazine’s pages. As I kept feeding the empty space, the part about the magazine grew so fat that I feel I will need to show you the modules in another post. I’ll make that “Part 2” – I promise. Sorry about that!

WHY ONLY THE TSR INC. ERA?

In short: personal preference. I am fully aware that you wanted the short version, yes, but I will give you the long one, too.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to DM an AD&D 2e campaign, and I was looking for official adventures to add to the mix. I did not care if they were D&D BECMI or AD&D 1e/2e. I was already restricted because two of my players read many official adventures; I had to select a the ones that they did not know and would also fit my story.

After looking through the D&D Basic and Expert modules and some of what AD&D had to offer, I still did not feel completely safe. That’s when I first started flipping through the Dungeon Magazines. I found hundreds of adventures, and guess what? My players didn’t really know them.

During my search I realized that the issues following the TSR period were not all that interesting (well, to me at least – I do not want to offend anyone). The design, the content, and the staff changed in a way that made me lose interest in the Dungeon Magazine issues that followed this period. So, this review only applies to an era from issue #1 to roughly somewhere around #60. There is no real clear-cut line here in my mind, but it is a fact that the last Dungeon Magazine that TSR Inc. published was issue #62.

WHAT IS THE “DUNGEON MAGAZINE?”

Today? It is nothing more than history, memories, and nostalgia. Years ago? It was an official D&D periodical that run between 1986 and 2013. The magazine went all the way to issue 221 before it too vanished between the pages of history; it did, however, survive for 27 years. Dungeon Magazine withstood the demise of TSR, and its acquisition by Wizards of the Coast, then being sold to Paizo Publishing, then a final move back to Wizards of the Coast, who eventually canceled it together with the original Dragon Magazine.

The idea of having a magazine solely dedicated to adventures first came up in Dragon Magazine #107. There and then, it did not have an official title, but there was no shortage of possible candidates. The magazine received suggestions from readers, and they also played around with a few ideas of their own. After some consideration, they went with the low-hanging fruit of “Dungeon Magazine,” as “Dungeon” and “Dragon” (Magazine) nicely complimented the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game system. The choice was easy, lazy but worked just fine.

Here is a reply to a mail from Dungeon (Adventures for TSR Role-Playing Games) Magazine on this topic from the very first “Letters” section in issue #1, touching on this specifically (Roger E. Moor, the Editor, wrote these lines – edit: I could not find a larger or more recent picture):

“One of my first orders of business as editor of this periodical was to come up with a name for it. Creating names was easy; my own imagination was supplemented by helpful letters and comments from readers, friends, and coworkers at TSR, Inc. However, the names had to meet the approval of the publisher and the legal department.

Dozens of names were discarded in the search, such as Chimera, Atlantis, Labyrinth, Tesseract, Voyager, Viking, High Adventure, Quest, Oracle, Hoard, Paragon, DM, Spectrum, Centaur, Arcana, Gateways, Multiverse, Orion, and Sage, as well as less serious ones like Unleashed!, TMM(TM), Dungeon Ear’s Survival Guide, and Dungeon Propaganda.

Wyrm and several variations on that name were also considered, but these – because of trademark restrictions, previous usage, confusion in spelling or with other products, or unattractiveness – were soon dropped.

Perhaps 50-100 names were generated. This brings up the next letter… […] The name DUNGEON had been considered as a magazine title for a long time at TSR Inc., because it was an obvious and perfect compliment to DRAGON Magazine (thanks to the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® game).

Skip Williams was the first person who mentioned this title to your editor. We had also received several letters like the one above that all suggested the same name, and I have notes from meetings in which the name DUNGEON(TM) Adventures appears as a possibility. In time, it was this name that was selected. A dungeon is an adventuring environment, and adventures are what this Magazine is all about.

The main focus of DUNGEON Adventures is on modules, not on gaming articles; the latter belong in DRAGON Magazine. The letters column also serves as a question-and-answer column for correcting errors in previously published modules or for clarifying and detailing ways of handling certain situations appearing in such modules. We have no other regular features planned, but we are open to suggestions.”

It took quite some time, up until issue #14 (December 1988), that a readers caught on to the “Dungeon & Dragon Magazine” cheat.

Over the years, the magazine featured hundreds of adventures. Among the people who submitted material were amateur enthusiasts, just as freelance designers and writers, who were at some point in contact with TSR. You can see many well-known names among the authors of the adventures, but based on an early Editorial note, none of them were employees of the company when their work was published. Later, in issue #30, Barbara G. Young, on the right, admitted that 3 employees fell through the craks, but the other 86 at that time were all “amateurs”.

Within the periodical pages, you could bump into names like John Nephew, Carl Smith, Merle and Jackie Rasmussen, Carl Sargent, Ed Greenwood, James M. Ward, Allen Varney, Bill Slavicsek – to name a few. The list is nowhere near exhaustive, and a lot of them contributed more than just once. Even Christopher Perkins was sending adventures to Dungeon Magazine, starting back in 1988, first under the pen name Christopher Zarathustra, then using his real name. I counted 15 adventures written by him in total up until issue #62 (and he wasn’t even the top contributor).

THE PHYSICAL BOOKLET

The structure of the booklet stayed pretty much the same throughout the years: there was the Cover, some advertisements, then the Editorial, the table of Contents and a Quote mostly on one page, followed by the Letters and then the adventures.

Sometimes the Editorials leaked into other pages as well if the Editor had a lot to say, and the section dedicated to Letters was also flexible; sometimes one pages, sometimes two or three.

The amount of advertisements made people complain (in the Letters). To me, it actually seemed that the number of pages the Ads and Letters took up got ever so slightly more and more as the years passed. E.g., issue #43 (1993) had 10 pages filled with advertisements, out of the total of about 80.

An example below from issue #25 (1990).

ART

Looking at art and artists, we need to touch the covers, illustration, and cartography from that early era. Dungeon Magazine boasted cover illustrations from some great and talented artists, like Jim Holloway, Keith Parkinson (responsible for Issue #1 red dragon cover), Clyde Caldwell, Jeff Easley, Jennell Jaquays, and many-many more. Again, the list is not complete.

Cartography mainly was done by “Diesel,” or David “Diesel” S. LaForce. He was The Cartographer of TSR. His maps were an integral part of many TSR products – no matter if AD&D, D&D Basic, or the magazines. Check out this list from Tome of Treasures to see just how many publications include his work.

Sad Trivia. When Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR, the employees were given a chance to move to Renton, WA (USA) and continue their work or stay and resign; Diesel chose the latter. Sadly he was unsuccessful as a freelancer and had to turn to manual labor instead. After nine years, he returned to creative work and took up sculpting for a living.

Other contributing artists were also well-known people in the RPG industry, with names such as Jim Roslof, Dave Sutherland, Valerie Valusek, or Roger Raupp and host of other talented people, who made sure that the adventures and the magazine contained some excellent black-and-white illustrations as well.

THE FIRST FEW PAGES (Editorials, Quotes, Letters)

Every issue had a quote from somewhere, under the table of contents. I am not sure how many people read those. In the first issue, the Editor, Roger E. Moore, asks the readers what type of adventures they want to see?

With the quote, in that first issue, Roger was clearly making fun of himself:

Roger, and later the other Editors and readers used a wide variety of source material to choose quotes from, ranging from The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Beowulf, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Psychological Types (Carl Jung), The Beauty and the Beast, to Shakespeare, Nietzsche, or poems by John Keats, William Blake.

In Issue #8 Barbara G. Young arrived as Associate Editor, and Roger, who was coming up with these quotes, gave this task to her. She, in turn, reached out to the readers to send in recommendations:

Following issue #9, Barbara replaced Roger as Editor.

The Editorials actually could get quite intimate sometimes; friendly and informal. In one instance, around issue #21, Barbara complains a bit about the fact that many of the mails are still addressed to Roger E. Moore, even though she’s been the Editor since issue #9. The Editorial is entitled “I am not Roger Moore.” To fully grasp the story, you need to know that Roger E. Moore became the Editor of Dragon Magazine after Kim Mohan resigned.

Barbara G. Young was replaced by Wolfgang Baur in 1995, with issue #51, who Dave Gross replaced with issue #54 the same year. For the last few issues, the Editor was Anthony J. Bryant.

The Letters section was the precursor of today’s forums; people interacted with the Editors and each other as well. They reacted to adventures, to mails from other readers. Those few pages held things that you would expect in magazines. Some were minor complaints, most of which were about errors, related to maps and game statistics. Then there were a few complaints about solo adventures that people didn’t like, or even quite the contrary; people wanting more solo adventures. Readers debated and argued about ethics, the need for boxed texts, the level of adventures, and the type of campaign worlds they wanted to see.

If you took your time to digest these, you were bound to bump into a few that were more interesting. I have found a mail where a reader complained that he needed to pay tax for the periodical, which he claimed was illegal (Dungeon Magazine editorial staff, naturally, had nothing to do with this). He also made it known that he would like to have a complete and detailed furniture layout of dungeon rooms because that impacts battles. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough details…

There was a guy who wrote more than once as King Tharr of the Broken Lands (a place in the Known World of Mystara), always using a unique tone:

Then there was Ryan, who took things a little too seriously and simply flipped (and this guy also hated solo adventures):

Same with “Very Upset” who probably hasn’t read the earlier Editorials, nor the guidelines in Dragon Magazine issue #111. Just goes to show that angry people loved question and exclamation marks long before online forums were a widespread thing:

I loved the mail that was addressed to Barbara, the Editor directly, titled “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby”:

It is interesting to see what things puzzled or annoyed people back in the days, as in the letter from Russ Gilman, who wanted more notes on what information the different animal had in adventures (title of the letter was “Talk With a Horse, of Course”)

There were many-many more interesting, comic, or annoying letters. I think that the Editors did not censor too many things. Probably just the really tasteless ones.

Trivia. Dungeon Magazine had at least 8 Editors and 8 Editors-in-Chief throughout its lifetime. At the end of the TSR Inc. period, the Editor was Anthony J. Bryant, while Pierce Watters was holding the position of Editor-in-Chief.

THE ADVENTURES

In Dragon Magazin issue #111, Roger E. Moor published the guidelines and conditions for submitting adventures. There were rules on length, complexity, style, and formatting. Some topics were to be avoided and things that an adventure must not contain. There were a few points of these in the “Ideas to Avoid” section.

Tastelessness should be strictly avoided.
Do not write adventures involving the destruction
of children and helpless persons,
excessive gore or violence, descriptions of
Satan or Satanism, or game versions of
major Christian, Jewish, or Moslem religious
figures. Explicit sex, the encouragement
of drug abuse, offensive language,
and bathroom humor cannot be used. We
have a responsibility to keep our material
exciting but inoffensive.

Another important point was that if they selected your adventure, then TSR Inc. bought the work at a rate of $0.04 per word. Their employees almost always recreated the cartography, but “…the original artist receives $100 per full magazine page of maps used.” – Dragon Magazine #11. If you submitted a high-quality, black-and-white illustration that they could use, the would buy that as well.

“You cannot retain copyright of your
module or of its contents if you wish to sell
it to us; we must purchase all rights to it.
We do not offer royalties on the modules we
purchase; instead, we pay a flat fee.”

The above had two consequences. The direct consequence, coming from the compensation, was that your adventure became the property of TSR Inc, as seen above. The indirect one was that Dungeon magazine was literally flooded with adventures.

The Editors and some of the readers complained that most of the adventures published were for AD&D, and there were very few for D&D Basic. After some back-and-forth and some considerations, the magazine conducted a survey between issues #13-15 and found that 95% of those who sent back the questionnaire prefer AD&D over D&D. (No wonder the lack of BECMI material) Strange that despite the preference for AD&D, there were still fights in the Letters section between readers; some wanted more D&D Basic, some wanted less, while some wanted D&D Basic to disappear from Dungeon Magazine completely to give more space to AD&D.

This D&D vs. AD&D resurfaced constantly through the years: in 1990 then again later, in 1991 when the new revised D&D Basic “black box” (left) came out. (At that time, Barbara asked the readers in her Editorial to submit more D&D adventures using that material.) And this was followed by mails through the years, by readers angrily demanding more D&D adventures and an explanation from the Editorial Staff about why that is not happening (a notable one June 1992 issue #35). The response was simple – the magazine simply did not get enough quality D&D Basic adventures.

I tried tallying up the number of actual writers who were published and ended up about 160. They altogether created around 300 adventures I believe – and we are still talking about only the TSR period. This, the Dungeon Magazine, is a source that would be a mistake not to consider if someone is looking for something to DM. I have selected a handful of these that I will talk about in my next post a bit later.

It is interesting that Wizards of the Coast also selected and published 6 of these in “Dungeons of Despair” in 1999. I guess It was one of those things that they could make money out of in the interim period, while they were waiting for D&D 3E. (That was Despair alright… not sure about Dungeons). The coincidence here is that this 64 page booklet contains one of the adventures that was also on my list. Had to be one of the better ones, right?

Notice who the Editor was already. He didn’t include any of his own adventures though.

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