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.
Chris Youngs worked as editor-in-chief from issues #312 (offering evil classes: assassins, mind controllers, and blackguards) to #315 (as Chris Thomasson), as well as from issues #360 to #388 (with epic heroes, paladin basics... and another look at assassins!).
Chris Youngs: I had a slightly different route to Dragon than most of my fellow editors-in-chief. I’ve talked about this in past editorials, but I was not much of a D&D player when I started at Wizards of the Coast. I was a gamer, to be sure. I was active in two different RPG campaigns, both rotating through a panoply of games. I’d joined a group of fellow RPG and TCG fans in college who had been playing together for ten years already. Earthdawn, Call of Cthulu, Vampire (and Werewolf, Mage, and Wraith), Deadlands, Feng Shui, MechWarrior, Shadowrun—they all saw time at our table. But just like you can’t pick your family, you don’t always get to pick your game. I joined a fully formed group back in college, and as the new guy, I played what they picked and counted myself lucky that I had a regular game with a cool bunch of guys. I was fortunate I didn’t have to go hunt up a group all on my own, and I was so happy to be in a regular RPG group again that I didn’t care what we played.
So I didn’t play D&D from age 6 (when my mom took away all the D&D books that my older brother had painstakingly saved his allowance to collect) until I started at Wizards in 1998. I came to Dragon from the TCG side of the company, where I’d served as an editorial intern, but on meeting Dave Gross, Chris Perkins and Jesse Decker, I soon came to appreciate the history and legacy of these magazines. The department had a collection of nearly every issue of the magazine, and I remember looking at them all and doing the math of the issue numbers—over twenty years of giving D&D players something new and exciting every month!
My very first day on the editorial staff of Dragon, I showed up and found galleys on my desk for issue #254. And thus began my crash course in D&D 2nd Edition. Luckily, the game at the time was so crazy with rules and variants and no clear-cut design philosophy that you didn’t even need to know the rules to edit them. So editing consisted almost entirely of copyediting, with some minor reference checking, and proofreading of galleys. Content editing wasn’t part of the job back then.
Wizards of the Coast: How did you make the transition from reader to working on the magazine? To becoming editor-in-chief?
Chris Youngs: Making the transition was easy on one hand, since working on the game didn’t require much knowledge. In the absence of game balancing factors, I just had to learn how to recognize a good idea from a bad one (and believe me: this is acquired knowledge) and continue to work on my editing skills. Dave, Chris, and Jesse were all great at shaping both sets of skills.
Wizards of the Coast: To becoming editor-in-chief (twice)?
Chris Youngs: Becoming editor-in-chief was more about opportunity for a change of pace than anything else. I’d been working as Dungeon editor for about three years when Jesse left the helm of Dragon to pursue a design job in the Wizards R&D department. Working on Dungeon is about the best job in the world, in my opinion, but it was also just plain exhausting. The younger sibling of Dragon appealed to only a fraction of the gaming group, and a smaller readership meant a smaller staff. When I started on Dungeon, I was editor, art director, copyeditor, proofreader, and typesetter. After a few years, I needed a change to refresh my energy, and Jesse’s leaving provided that opportunity.
That was in 2004, so after six years, I had developed a tremendous respect for the legacy of Dragon, but mostly for its dedicated readership. Some of these people had been subscribing since the beginning, and they set the bar high.
The second time around, we were trying something completely new by taking the magazines digital. People had grown accustomed to getting their information digitally, and we needed to adapt. That said, people are inherently uncomfortable with change. We knew we had to stay true to the core of Dragon—that meant loads of cool new options for players.
In a way, we hadn’t attempted anything this dramatic since the relaunch of the magazine leading up to the release of 3rd Edition. At that time, we made a pretty dramatic overhaul of the look and feel of Dragon, from logo to fonts, to better synch with the new game edition. This time, we were planning for the same, even though 4E hadn’t been announced. So it was great to be working on Dragon again, but frantic and nerve-wracking and utterly insane to be planning for a new edition all at the same time… again.
But mostly, I was just giddy about getting to work on Dragon again (okay, and Dungeon).
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?
Chris Youngs: Make it fun. Focus on the players. Give them a reason to come back every day. And make it good. We also tried to tie content to products coming out, but not exclusively.
Mostly, make it good.
Wizards of the Coast: How would you describe your time working with Dragon, perhaps in terms of alignment or class?
Chris Youngs: I’m feeling wacky when it comes to alignments these days. (I recently described my character in Chris Perkins’s Wednesday night Io’mandra campaign as Chaotic Ruthless.) So I’ll say Chaotic Harried. You have to be adaptable working on a magazine. Every day is different. But every day also brings a new crisis. It can get to be exhausting unless you learn to embrace the chaos of it.
As for class: Hybrid. It’s like being a cleric, since you’re constantly patching content and filling holes in the schedule. It’s also kind of like being a bard, since you have to learn how to give people bad news, but gently. And it’s also like being a ninja. Not for any particular reason, other than that I’d like to be a ninja.
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?
Chris Youngs: Three come to mind that fit the bill for both questions. Issue #274. That was the first 3rd Edition Dragon issue. When you launch a new edition, you have a problem in that your pool of available freelancers is very small. So you have to figure that stuff out for the first few months. Plus, the game isn’t typically finished when you start producing content. So your articles end up evolving much more at the last minute as you adapt to the game state. And we also launched a redesign with that issue. What were we thinking? The second was even more difficult, though: Dragon #315. This was the first Campaign Classics issue. I set out to build an issue that would have an article from every single campaign setting ever produced for D&D. I managed it with, like, two exceptions. And in both cases, I had articles lined up but the authors flaked. That’s one of the risks of the job, I suppose.
And then there was Dragon #364. That was our first online issue. I put in lots and lots of hours on that one, for all the same reasons as #274. But with the added wrinkle that not only were we changing editions and redesigning, but also changing format (portrait to landscape) and delivery system (analog to digital). That means you have to work out whole new work pipelines and processes and other “insert busy work sounding term here.”
All three were crazy, all fun. And some of my favorite issues of all time, as a result. I mean, Yeenoghu! Come on!
Wizards of the Coast: How did you handle the transition from print magazine to digital?
Chris Youngs: I drank a lot. And there may have been sobbing involved.
But seriously, it was a lot of work. I had good support from the RPG team and a fantastic art director and amazing co-workers like Bart Carroll and Steve Winter and Chris Perkins. Everyone chipped in, we worked out a process, tapped some of our excellent in-house designers for the redesign effort and coordinated it with the facelift the books were getting. The goal was to make the transition as seamless as possible. We failed in some regards, but succeeded in others. I think our #1 goal was to provide something interesting for the readers each week. I think we did that right out of the gate.
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?
Chris Youngs: No one of note. ;) I started when Dave Gross was EIC. Chris Perkins was an Associate Editor, and Jesse Decker was Assistant Editor. Pierce Watters was our Executive Editor. Larry Smith was the Art Director. And what a crew! That was a lot of fun. I got to work with all those guys, as well as Matt Sernett and Erik Mona. I helped hire James Jacobs at Paizo. All great, gifted, cool people. And then there’s the art staff. In addition to Larry, I got to work with Stacy Longstreet, Lisa Chido, Pete Whitley, Scott Okumura, and Jon Schindehette.
No specific pearls of wisdom come to mind, but I feel like I learned a lot from all of them.
Wizards of the Coast: Do you have any words of wisdom of your own for future Dragon staffers?
Chris Youngs: Listen to your readers. Never forget the magazine is for the fans. And don’t forget your towel.