DigitalDragons: Dungeon and Dragon are dead. Long live Pathfinder.

It’s a sad day when things from your childhood disappear. I still mourn that Marathon bars were renamed as Snickers, miss Eagle comic and fondly remember Magnum PI, Cagney & Lacey and the Wombles. Of course, things change, so now we have Snickers, Heat, CSI and Yu Gi Oh. Ah well.

Now one of the last remnants of my teens and beyond is disappearing from the newstands. Dragon and Dungeon magazines are going digital. This isn’t a surprising move at all, as the entire hobby is starting to move toward favouring .pdfs over print, but it’s a blow nonetheless, and (IMHO), a mistake.

I’ve bought Dragon since issue 2, and Dungeon from it’s beginning. My collection is far from complete; availability and house moves made sure of that. In the late 70s and 80s I bought it from a local RPG shop a mere bus ride and 2 mile walk away. That was the weekly ritual for me ‘n’ my friends, and buying it among all the other RPG ephemera was our way of supporting Dave (the owner), the shop and the hobby as a whole. Subscribing was unthinkable. The shop went long ago, and getting the mags involved a trip to the shopping centre known as Meadow Hell.

The early days of Dragon were as rough as the games it spawned. When compared to the latest computer-powered high-quality full colour issues, the oldest magazines look more like a college made cut-and-glue effort printed on a second hand Gerstestner. And we loved it. It had hand-drawn adverts, articles fresh from a manual typewriter and a whole load of enthusiasm. Some of the oldest elements of the game come from those pages.

Even during the Dark Days of D&D when the 2nd Edition AD&D rules appeared, I stuck with Dragon. While the rules themselves were terrible and got worse with all those extra supplements, the settings bloomed. This was the time of Dark Sun, Spelljammer, the Horde, Kara-Tur and more. Dragon was the window into all these worlds, and it was wonderful. I never understood how so much goodness could come from such an utterly upplayable rules-set; I still don’t, though I’m very glad it did.

Now we have the magazines at their very best. Both Dungeon and Dragon mags pour out pages and pages of great adventures and articles every single issue. I can’t remember the last bad copy of either. They look great, and do more to define the hobby than any number of supplements ever could. I’d certainly rate the Adventure Paths from Dungeon among the best published adventures, ever.

Yet still, they’re going to disappear.

Perhaps they’ve been the victim of their own success, and Wizards of the Coast (D&D’s owner) is more than a little jealous of what Paizo (the mag’s publishers) have done. Perhaps they want a slice of that praise instead of criticism for churning out book after book of bland feats and prestige classes. Uh, please. I dunno.

The thing is, the magazines are important for the hobby. I’ve known many gamers who took to the hobby after first seeing the magazines at the newstand. Putting it online takes away that source of new blood, completely. It’s also shifting the game from being something that’s accessible to all from childhood upwards to a game that’s only available to the ‘net savvy elite. We can kiss the under 18 gamers goodbye now, for they’re without credit cards and likely have ever paranoid parents gazing over their shoulders at references to demons and the like. Sorry kids. It’s been nice knowing you.

WoTC prmise to offer lots of great stuff online, that’s for sure. Exclusive adventures, insights into the game, articles and more. It’s pretty much what we already have for free at http://www.wizards.com/dnd, turned up a notch. I suspect that’s going to contain less in the future as content becomes subscriber-only. Ah well. It was good while it lasted.

In other words, we’re going to lose the magazines, lose the excellent D&D website and gain a fenced off area which replaces both. That’s my guess, anyhow.

It’s not going to be the end of the hobby – far from it – but it’s a big loss nonetheless. The only good point in all of this is that Paizo are going to replace Dungeon and Dragon with a mag of their very own offering great adventures, articles and content from the guys who’ve made the last 50 issues of those mags the best ever in their history. Without the shackles of WoTC exclusivity I’m hoping it’ll offer more Open Content and lots of goodies from all the other game companies out there.

Dungeon and Dragon are dead. Long live Pathfinder.

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