If you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons for a long time, chances are that you’ve already heard about Dragon Magazine. It’s possibly the best-known roleplaying magazine in (former) publication, winning several awards for quality, editing, and content over its nearly 40 years in print.
It’s out of print now. It’s successor Dragon+ is now available online every few months, but it isn’t quite the same. If you were looking for inspiration, innovation, and information about D&D, you couldn’t find a better source than Dragon Magazine. Especially before the internet, with its wikis and social media.
A Short History of Dragon Magazine
Dragon Magazine was first published in 1976, succeeding The Strategic Review (which only had a few issues) as the official D&D magazine. It was a smashing success, lasting until 2013 and spanning a whopping 430 editions, several art collections and special editions, and numerous different editors, artists, and contributors.. It even survived the switch to digital in 2007, when the 360th edition was released to the internet. It was paired with a sibling publication, Dungeon Magazine, which was less well read, but also managed to hold on over the years.
Dragon Magazine contained a wide variety of content. You might read an article about running piracy in Spelljammer, turn the page to catch the next installment of a grim and dangerous adventure story, again to hear reviews on the latest in fantasy reading and gaming, and then again to find the stats and rules for all the species of Lindworm that you could possibly need. Some of DnD’s official writers, including Gary Gygax himself, might slip in new gods, classes, spells, monsters, and even settings – some as famous as Psionics and the Forgotten Realms itself.
But Dragon wasn’t just known for its variety – it won a whopping 8 Best Publication awards, in various categories, over the years. It included excerpts and stories from fantasy and sci-fi authors, including George R. R. Martin. And early editions almost always contained full modules that DMs could run in their campaigns, or just as one-shots.
Sadly, Dragon was laid to rest in 2013, pending the release of 5e. And when 5e did come out, Wizards of the Coast elected to create Dragon+ instead. And it isn’t quite the same.
Dragon+ is a great publication, of course. It keeps its readers well up to date with the latest official content, interviews some of the designers, and features various merchandise that fans might purchase. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d definitely urge you to.
But it limits itself almost entirely to speaking about the most recent official publications from Wizards of the Coast. Gone is the added content from the magazine itself. Gone is the creative writings and reviews of new books and videogames. Gone are the new rules, the new monsters, the new innovation. It’s good as an update and an advertisement for WotC, instead of acting as an actual center for community and creativity within the community.
It's not shocking – magazines do not hold the cultural influence that they once did, after all. But it is a bit sad, and if you’re looking for some real inspiration, you’re much better off mounting a search for some of the classic magazines instead of the new ones.
Drawing Inspiration from Dragon
Dragon Magazine has amazing content, and a lot of it holds up in terms of concept and story. But it was never in publication for the most commonly played version of the game (5e), and its best stuff was all the way back in AD&D. It still lists monster stats with THACO, for goodness’ sake!
Luckily, you don’t have to use the rules exactly as they’re presented there. The proverbial “crunch” can be forgone in favor of the “fluff”. The concepts for psionic paths, for instance, work well as character flavor, even if you don’t want to put in the effort to adapt them into subclasses. And the various worldbuilding for the Underdark, the Planes, and the Feywild are great inspiration for your own campaigns.
And if you do want to use the stats and rules that it presents, the abilities that it does give make a great starting point for you to make mechanics that work with the latest gaming innovation. You might not even need to make too many changes – adapting the concepts and ideas from older editions is hugely popular among 5e players who have experience with past versions. A few quick searches online, or on DMsGuild, and you might find that something has already been made.
Where to Find Dragon Magazine
Since Dragon Magazine is out of print, you can’t exactly just pop into the grocery store and buy it from the impulse isle like you might Vogue or Reader’s Digest. Luckily, D&D players hate to let anything die (even when it isn’t their character) and have preserved it well.
You can find digital copies of Dragon through various internet archives, like this one: Internet Archive
You can also pop into your local game store, secondhand bookstore, or antique shop and see if they have any copies sitting among the old magazines and books. The only ones that you’re likely to pay high prices for are the ones from the 70s. Anything after the 80s aren’t likely to cost you more than a couple of dollars maximum.
Have you ever read Dragon Magazine? What did you like about it? Did you ever use any of the content that you found in it during your own campaigns? Let us know in the comments below!