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.
Erik Mona worked as editor-in-chief from issues #327 (January 2005) to #359 (September 2007, the final print issue, with extensive retrospectives on the top dragons and villains off the game, the ecology of the tarrasque, and even an imagined fight between Elminster and Raistlin).
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?
Erik Mona: The first issue I remember getting was #75 (July, 1983), which featured a bizarre cartoon cover with all sorts of monsters and demons sunbathing on a beach. That issue contained the first of Ed Greenwood's infamous Nine Hells articles, which added significant flesh to the bones of the devil hierarchies hinted at in AD&D's Monster Manual 2. The issue also marked the first installment of Larry Elmore's long-running cartoon, SnarfQuest.
My copy of the issue was tucked in with a bunch of old modules and other back issues that came with a big comics collection I acquired as a youngster. In hindsight I think the trove of D&D stuff was probably what made me want that comic collection, since to this day I remember very little of the comics in the box, but could probably compose a virtually complete list of the Dragon issues and adventures I got as a "bonus" with my purchase.
Wizards of the Coast: What did Dragon mean to you then, as a gamer?
Erik Mona: I'd already been playing D&D for a couple of years thanks to an after-school class offered by my elementary school. I had to have my mom petition the principal to let me into the class because I was only in 3rd grade at the time, and the class was for the much more mature 4th-through-6th-graders, and luckily the principal relented and let me in.
Dragon was another source of more information about what rapidly became my favorite hobby, and I was a near constant reader from that point forward.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you make the transition from reader to working on the magazine? To becoming editor-in-chief?
Erik Mona: The Dragon staff scraped a comment I made about one of Roger Moore's Greyhawk articles off an old AOL message board, reformatting it into a letter to the editor in the "D-Mail" section of issue #227, marking my first appearance in the magazine (albeit by my old AOL screen name, Iquander). Through AOL, I came into contact with former Dragon editor Roger E. Moore, whom I helped as a continuity consultant on several Greyhawk-themed articles around that era.
I joined the TSR/Wizards of the Coast staff in 1999 as the editor of the Polyhedron newszine, and began to vet Greyhawk articles in a more formal capacity. Eventually I was transferred to the periodicals department, and Polyhedron became a section of Dungeon magazine. The other RPGA magazine, the Living Greyhawk Journal (which I essentially created to go with the Network's new organized play campaign) became a section of Dragon during Jesse Decker's editorial tenure, which is when my name formally entered Dragon's masthead.
In the years that followed, I eventually became editor-in-chief of Dungeon, and finally became editor-in-chief of Dragon, running the magazine from issue #327 all the way to the last print edition, #359.
Wizards of the Coast: When you became 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?
Erik Mona: On the advice of a new publisher, both Dragon and Dungeon magazines relaunched in 2004. The first “new” Dungeon was #114, and the first “new” Dragon was #323. Dungeon's relaunch brought the magazine back to its roots with three adventures every single month, one for low-level parties, one for medium-level parties, and one for high-level parties. This significantly invigorated the magazine and was phenomenally popular with readers. The Dragon relaunch branded Dragon as the "player's magazine," jettisoning legacy columns such as Bazaar of the Bizarre and cutting the magazine down into lots of short, easily digestible articles aimed at players. It was less successful.
I felt very strongly that Dragon was the “Dungeons & Dragons” magazine, rather than simply a magazine aimed at players. After taking over the ship with issue #327, I reinstated classic columns, got rid of stuff that had always rubbed me the wrong way, and planned out an editorial calendar that brought back classic features such as the Creature Catalog, Campaign Classics, and the like. I also re-jiggered the magazine to look more like a modern magazine, with a news section up front called First Watch. I kept a lot of player-focused material, but I was always sure to include material of interest to both players and Dungeon Masters. I also charted out more than a year's worth of themes and commissioned material supporting those themes from a cadre of freelancers we'd developed over the years, supplementing the reader-submitted material from the "slush pile" with more targeted, deliberate editorial coverage.
In an editorial, I said "To me, the joy of Dungeons & Dragons isn't found in a prestige class level progression or the prerequisites of a feat. Those things may be necessary to ensure fairness, but they are means to an end, and that end is compelling, exciting fantasy adventure. During my tenure, Dragon will focus first on compelling, exciting fantasy, providing features that will spark your imagination and practically beg to be added to your campaign."
Wizards of the Coast: How would you describe your time working with Dragon, perhaps in terms of alignment: Chaotic Neutral? Lawful good?
Erik Mona: Any magazine editor who answers this in any way other than "chaotic neutral" is lying, but one of my strategies for dealing with the back-breaking deadlines, near-constant pressure, and general chaos of the magazine business was to bring a little law to things by planning editorial calendars well in advance. I got to the point where the main editorial themes were charted out more than a year in advance. In Dungeon, this meant I could get great adventures for all levels in every issue, as well as accelerate the pace of the Adventure Path series to monthly, which was a huge breakthrough for the magazine's popularity. For Dragon it meant stronger themes, better articles, and more stability across the board.
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, and/or that were just particularly difficult to put to bed?
Erik Mona: When the magazine turned 30 with issue #344, I knew I needed to do something really special to celebrate such an important milestone. I managed to make the issue a sort of reunion of some of the magazine's greatest highlights over the years, publishing new installments of old columns like Bruce Heard's Voyage of the Princess Ark, and Ed Greenwood's The Wizards Three. Beyond that I was very pleased to bring back the Creature Catalog, make Campaign Classics an annual themed issue, launch the Demonomicon of Iggwilv and Core Beliefs columns, put a modron on the cover of the April issue, publish a new Gord the Rogue story by Gary Gygax, and, well, just about everything. Ever since I picked up that first issue in 1983, I only ever wanted one job—to be the editor of Dragon magazine. I got to do it, and I got to do it when the getting was good. I'm proud of virtually every moment.
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?
Erik Mona: My immediate predecessor as editor-in-chief was Matthew Sernett, preceded by Chris Thomasson and Jesse Decker. Prior to that I worked a bit with Dave Gross. My fellow editors on Dragon were managing editor Jason Bulmahn and associate editors F. Wesley Schneider and Mike McArtor. My senior art director was Sean Glenn.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you have any words of wisdom of your own for future Dragon staffers?
Erik Mona: Plan out your editorial calendar in advance. Hire the best freelancers you can afford. Be exceptional.
Oh, and try harder. Editing a magazine is more difficult than you think it is going to be. But it's also the best job in the world. Enjoy it while it lasts!