This month, we celebrate Dragon #400—a truly impressive milestone! The first issue of "The Dragon" appeared back in June 1976—which means this month also marks the publication’s 35th anniversary. To help observe this double celebration, we’ve asked past editors and editors-in-chief to share a few words about what Dragon has meant to them, as readers, as gamers, and as staffers.
Dave Gross’s time at Dragon spanned issues #230 (June 1996) through 287, first as editor and then as editor-in-chief. We spoke with Dave about his time at the magazine—which saw both the transition of TSR to Wizards of the Coast, as well as the 2nd to 3rd Editions of the game.
Wizards of the Coast: Before you started working on Dragon magazine, can you remember the first issue you may have bought, read, or that simply resonated with you?
Dave Gross: The first issue I remember is The Dragon 32, with the wonderful Phil Foglio “Christmas Morning” cover. While I loved the articles, my favorite part of the magazine was always the cartoons. I was a huge fan of “Dragon Mirth,” “Fineous Fingers,” “Wormy,” and “Phil & Dixie.” Whenever I see a gamer taking himself or our hobby too seriously, I want to hand him some of those classic strips.
Wizards of the Coast: What did Dragon mean to you then, as a gamer?
Dave Gross: I’d been playing D&D for several years before I discovered Dragon, so it was proof that my friends and I weren’t the only ones spending our weekends indoors scribbling on graph paper. Also, since I lived in a town with only one small hobby shop devoted primarily to model trains and airplanes, the ads were a big deal. They were the only way I would have known other games existed.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you make the transition from reader to working on the magazine?
Dave Gross: While teaching English at James Madison University, I saw a notice that Polyhedron Newszine was hiring an associate editor. It was a pretty low-level position, so TSR didn’t fly me in for a face-to-face interview. Instead, I talked with Skip Williams and Jean Rabe on the phone. It took weeks for a travelling Vice President to approve the hire, so I had to choose whether to attend Gen Con or save my money for what I hoped would be my new job in Wisconsin—I couldn’t afford to do both. The VP signed the forms right after Gen Con, and I sold choice bits of my comics collection to finance the move. Upon my arrival, Jean recognized me as one of her volunteers from a previous Gen Con, so we were off to a great start.
Wizards of the Coast: When you became editor (and then editor-in-chief), were you given any mandates regarding Dragon’s content? What was your own vision for where you wanted to take the magazine?
Dave Gross: The executives felt that Dragon should focus on TSR games, especially what was then Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. There was little room for maneuvering on that point, but it wasn’t a complete heartbreaker, since I was a big fan of the various campaign worlds. Including articles on them gave us a sense of variety. Once I became editor I wanted to add more “crunchy bits” to articles that were otherwise almost all “flavor.” Much of the time, this was just a matter of asking a writer for a few sidebars with brief rules. I also had a soft spot for anything historical or literary that could fit into a variety of campaigns.
Wizards of the Coast: How would you describe your time working with Dragon, perhaps in terms of alignment?
Dave Gross: Definitely lawful. I’m sure those whose articles I bought considered me good, while those I rejected considered me evil. I’m content to split the difference with “neutral.”
Wizards of the Coast: During your tenure, were there any particular articles or issues that stood out to you—either as exemplary of what you wished for the magazine, or that were just particularly difficult to put to bed?
Dave Gross: One of my early favorites was Jon Picken’s “The Murder Medieval,” which annotated a surprisingly long list of mystery novels set in ancient periods. I love plot-based adventures, and I can’t think of another article that provided me with so much inspiration material.
Another favorite was the centerpiece of our 3rd Edition issue, which we hoped would let players who’d just picked up the new Player’s Handbook start a campaign immediately. Ian Malcolmson wrote a wonderful Robin Hood setting and adventure, and Stephen Daniele created a gorgeous poster map. It was our chance to create a tiny campaign all in one issue.
Wizards of the Coast: Who were your contemporaries at the magazine (and your predecessor as editor-in-chief)? Did they give you any words of wisdom for Dragon?
Dave Gross: At TSR, Michelle Vuckovich, Liz Baldwin, and I were the editorial staff, while Larry Smith somehow managed all the art direction and design. Pierce Watters was our editor-in-chief before we joined the Wizards of the Coast collective and he became publisher. It was then that Christopher Perkins joined us to edit Dungeon, and Jesse Decker came aboard as assistant, or as I preferred to call him, “flunky.” After that, it all becomes a blur of promotions, transfers, and spontaneous combustion.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you have any words of wisdom of your own for future Dragon staffers?
Dave Gross: It’s a job, and sometimes there’s pressure from six different directions at once, but at its heart it’s still about a game and having fun. Don’t forget to enjoy it.