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.
Wolfgang Baur has been known for his contributions to Dragon and Dungeon magazines, as well as various D&D and RPG sourcebooks, settings, and material. Wolfgang followed Roger E. Moore as Dragon editor in the mid-90s—and nowadays operates the open design magazine, Kobold Quarterly. We spoke with Wolfgang about his time with both publications!
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? What did Dragon mean to you then, as a gamer?
Wolfgang Baur: I remember it exactly! It was a back issue in a hobby shop, Dragon #37 (May 1980), with the unicorn cover by Darlene Pekul. I flipped through it, and when I saw an article about neutral gem dragons called "That's Not in the Monster Manual!" I was sold.
I was thrilled to have material that my players had never seen, and I put an emerald dragon into the very next game I ran. New magic and monsters, a column written by Gary Gygax, advice from Skip Williams… it felt like a channel directly to the TSR mothership in Lake Geneva, and I loved it.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you make the transition from reader to working on the magazine?
Wolfgang Baur: I became a writer for Dungeon Adventures fairly early on, when I was in junior high and high school. I had to get my parent's permission and their signatures on the contracts. (They seemed pleased). I wrote about four published adventures in three or four years—not a lot. But when a friend of mine in college told me that TSR was hiring, I sent in a resume that listed my magazine credits. They already knew my work and were happy to hire a known quantity.
Wizards of the Coast: Were you given any mandates regarding Dragon’s content? What was your own vision for where you wanted to take the magazine?
Wolfgang Baur: We had free rein to cover anything published by TSR. (Articles about other companies were off limits by that point). We had to cover the releases of big, new products like Planescape, Dark Sun and Al Qadim, but there was a lot of flexibility in what we could cover and how.
My own vision of D&D was a little darker than the usual take (I was in a White Wolf phase by the mid-90s), so some of that made its way into the magazine. But I was still a very young and unseasoned editor when I took the helm, and I didn't really have a sense of what I wanted or how to get it. Fortunately I was surrounded by talented co-workers and freelancers who pitched some amazing stuff to me. Nearly everything was written by a stable of regular freelancers; in-house staff wrote almost none of the magazine other than the advice column and the editorial.
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?
Wolfgang Baur: Several things stand out for me even now. I was fortunate to spot some talented writers as they were getting started, and it was a pleasure working with them. Willie Walsh's classic adventures for Dungeon were written in that time, and I found the first ever Christopher Perkins adventure in the slush pile. I've since worked with both and admire their talent more than ever.
I do remember that putting some issues to bed was nightmarish, because we were always working on at least two issues at once to meet our required output of twelve Dragon issues and six Dungeon issues per year.
Wizards of the Coast: Who were your contemporaries at the magazine (and your predecessor as editor)? Did they give you any words of wisdom for Dragon?
Wolfgang Baur: My contemporaries in the Periodicals Department included Roger Moore, Barbara Young, Dave Gross, Pierce Watters, Dale Donovan, Michelle Vuckovich, and Larry Smith, the art director. Cindy Rick did the ad sales, and the late Brian Thomsen was the publisher.
My predecessor was Roger Moore; and boy, was he a tough act to follow. Roger defined the look and tone of the magazine for most of a decade. He taught me half of what I know about magazine publishing: copy editing and proofing, of course, but also how to treat contributors, balance an issue, write an art order, and so much more.
Barbara Young, the editor of Dungeon Adventure, taught me the other half of what I know. I pretty much owe my career to them, and to a fear of displeasing former editor Kim Mohan, who worked down the hall and was a figure of immense stature and respect. When Kim laid down the law, you knew it was final.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you have any words of wisdom of your own for future Dragon staffers?
Wolfgang Baur: Future Dragon staffers, do not violate the Editorial Commandments: make your deadlines; stay on hostile-but-respectful terms with marketing and publishers; and never promise your readers anything that a freelancer has queried until you have the manuscript in your hands.
Most of all, I'll pass along Roger Moore's advice: Reading any games magazine should be fun for a wide audience. If it isn't fun, you're not aiming high enough.
Wizards of the Coast: Can you speak to the Open Design and patronage system with Kobold Quarterly—how are you using these to generate game material?
Wolfgang Baur: Open Design is exactly what it says: Anyone can walk in the door and do game design, if they've got the ability and the persistence to keep at it. Several Open Design patrons now write professionally for Wizards of the Coast and other RPG publishers, and it's probably the easiest road into a freelancing gig ever.
That said, there's quality control. It’s true that anyone can show up and take a shot at design, but not everyone's writing is accepted by the other patrons on the project. Good work goes far; sloppy, lazy, or boring game design gets shot down, just as it would anywhere else. But Open Design is unique in making game design accessible to anyone.
We're currently designing the entire Midgard campaign setting using the patronage model, along with supplements written by patrons. It's been a big success, because there's a lot of untapped talent in the world of RPGs.
Wizards of the Coast:
KQ has run such events as King of the Monsters—last won by Bittman’s horakh. What put his monster design over the top in your opinion, and are there plans for another such contest?
Wolfgang Baur: Indeed, the horakh for D&D
was awesomely gruesome! With its eye scoop
power, it deserved to win based on sheer meanness and appeal to DM cruelty. In some ways, blinding a foe is similar to the rust monster’s ability or the older level-draining undead: a way to strike sheer terror into jaded players. And the eye-scooping isn't even the most gruesome part. So yeah, I’m not surprised that it won. Fear is a great monster element.
And yes, there is another King of the Monsters or similar contest planned! I think we'll be announcing it pretty soon over at KoboldQuarterly.com, and anyone can enter. I invite your readers to give it a go.
Wizards of the Coast: How is it now, running Kobold Quarterly as compared to Dragon—a similar madness, or all new insanities and triumphs?
Wolfgang Baur: It's 25% of the work with 10% of the budget and resources. Seriously, it's a challenge keeping a quarterly afloat, especially one that offers a print edition as well as PDF and a blog. The juggling act is pretty crazy, and I couldn't do it without the help of an awesome staff, some devoted volunteers, insanely talented freelancers, and a very patient and hard-working wife.
Kobold Quarterly and Dragon are different animals, I'd say. I miss the glorious majesty of Dragon, of course; but sometimes, it's great to be the underdog and pull off some great coups. I’m thinking of moments like posting Colin McComb's jaw-dropping essay about spying on Gary Gygax, getting the last interview with D&D creator Dave Arneson, launching a new campaign setting with Forgotten Realms and Al-Qadim designer Jeff Grubb and Brandon Hodge, or getting the first sneak peek at a new monster or a new spell that I just know is going to get readers excited.
Honestly, I haven't changed much since I bought that first issue of Dragon in 1980: I'm just looking for cool monsters and magic.