Dragon Magazine was, alongside Dungeon Magazine, one of the two official monthly magazines supporting Dungeons & Dragons. Running from 1976 through to 2013 in differing formats, Dragon has supported every single edition of D&D, from OD&D and both editions of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, through Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and finally ending with the death of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.
When TSR began publishing their first in-house magazine, "The Strategic Review", in 1975, it covered wargames and their new role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, in the same magazine. However, it became very evident that demand for D&D was much higher than for the wargaming part, and so the Strategic Review was cancelled in 1976, having only published 7 issues. In June 1976, they relaunched their magazines with seperate titles; the miniature wargaming "Little Wars" magazine, and the D&D focused Dragon magazine, initially called "The Dragon". However, such was the popularity of D&D that Little Wars was cancelled after only 12 issues - its 13th and final issue was amalgamated into Dragon Magazine issue #22. The Dragon would be renamed simply "Dragon" in July 1980 and finally attain its now-recognizable title of "Dragon Magazine" in November 1987, only to be changed back to "Dragon" in June 2000.
TSR published Dragon until they were bought out by Wizards of the Coast in 1997. Legal issues led to a five-month gap between issues #236 and #237, but TSR continued to formally publish Dragon until January 2000. Whilst TSR was publishing Dragon, it contained material for all three editions of D&D put out by TSR; Basic, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd edition.
Once it was formally bought out by WotC, Dragon content switched over exclusively to Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition content; for the two years in which WotC was publishing it, it often served as a way to convert AD&D material to 3rd edition. They licensed it to Paizo in September 2002; these new authors tied Dragon more closely to Dungeon by including articles supporting and promoting its major multi-issue adventures such as the Age of Worms and Savage Tide. Class Acts, monthly one or two-page articles offering ideas for developing specific character classes, were also introduced by Paizo.
When Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was on the horizon, WotC chose not to renew Paizo's license - instead, they decided to change it to an internally produced online, PDF-format download digital magazine, which would cross-pollinate with their planned online gaming medium "D&D Insider". Announcements of the end of the physical magazines were released in April 2007, and the final issues were printed in September 2007. The first four issues of the new online format, #364 through #367, were published on WotC's website free of charge in June 2008. Starting with issue #368, full issues were only available to D&D Insider subscribers.
In the September 2013 issue of Dragon (#427) an article by Wizards of the Coast game designer and editor Chris Perkins announced that both Dragon and its sibling publication Dungeon would be going on hiatus starting January 2014 pending the release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. The final online version released was Issue #430 in December 2013
A new and fully digital bi-monthly publication called Dragon+, was launched on April 30, 2015... it collects together various "articles" already published for free on WotC's website.
To call Dragon's content "eclectic" is hardly doing it justice. Dragon has everything D&D related; new classes (base and prestige), races, monsters and many other subjects that could be used to enhance a Dungeons & Dragons game. A popular long-running column Sage Advice offered official answers to Dungeons & Dragons questions submitted by players. Other articles provided tips and suggestions for both players and Dungeon Masters (DMs). It sometimes discussed meta-gaming issues, such as getting along with fellow players. It also included a number of different gaming-related comic strips - TSR produced issues contained Knights of the Dinner Table, Finieous Fingers, What's New with Phil & Dixie, Wormy, Yamara and SnarfQuest, whilst WoTC produced issues containing Zogonia, strips of The Order of the Stick towards its final days, and continued the presentation of Nodwick and Dork Tower.
Dragon was the launching point for any number of rules, spells, monsters, magic items, and other ideas that were incorporated into later official products of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Perhaps the biggest example of this was the actual Forgotten Realms campaign setting; although this giant amongst D&D worlds launched as an official product in 1987, it got its start as a series of world-lore articles that Ed Greenwood began submitting from the early 1980s.
Many article series came and went. For example, "Giants in the Earth" was a TSR-exclusive article series that converted real-world or fantasy novel/game characters to AD&D statblocks. During WotC's direct production of the magazines, they would include "Rogues Gallery", a 3e equivalent to "Giants in the Earth".
All iterations of Dragon up until Dragon+ featured the "Ecology of..." series, articles that examined the biology and psychology of different monsters - TSR's versions were usually handled as fiction pieces involving adventurers encountering the focus monster, with biology reduced to footnotes at the bottom of each page. From 1996, they changed the format so that each "Ecology" article focused on the misadventures of the Monster Hunters Association, a band of arrogant wizards who would hunt different monsters to exploit their usefulness in concocting various magical items - this iteration would include more "organic" discussion of the monster's lore, as the MHA members would discuss the target of their hunt, but still rely on footnotes for added details. The MHA's members were statted in the Rogues Gallery article for Dragon #282. Paizo changed the format to a more dry, professional "hunter's guidebook approach" when they took over Dragon, and this is the format that WotC would retain for the magazine's 4e days.
Many of the gaming world's most famous writers, game designers and artists have published work in the magazine. Through most of its run the magazine frequently published fantasy fiction, either short stories or novel excerpts. After the 1990s, the appearance of fiction stories became relatively rare. One late example was issue #305's featured excerpt from George R.R. Martin's later Hugo-nominated novel A Feast for Crows. It also featured book reviews of fantasy and science fiction novels, and occasionally of films of particular interest (such as the TV movie of Mazes and Monsters).
In the early 1980s, almost every issue of Dragon would contain a role playing adventure, a simple board game, or some kind of special game supplement (such as a cardboard cut-out castle). For instance, Tom Wham's Snit's Revenge, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space and File 13 all started as supplements within The Dragon. These bonus features become infrequent after the 1986 launch of Dungeon magazine, which published several new Dungeons & Dragons adventures in each issue.
During the 1980s, after TSR had purchased Simulations Publications Inc., the magazine had a subsection called Ares Magazine, based on SPI's magazine of that name, specializing in science fiction and superhero role playing games, with pages marked by a gray border. The content included write-ups for various characters of the Marvel Universe for TSR's Marvel Super-Heroes.
In fact, the amount of pre-4e Dragon content is so huge that there's actually a website that tries to serve as an encyclopedic reference for the whole mess, which you can find here: http://www.aeolia.net/dragondex/
Sadly, no equivalent for the 4e Dragon content exists (yet).
As noted above The Dragon was preceded by seven issues of The Strategic Review. In the magazine's early years it also published five "Best of" issues, reprinting highly regarded articles from The Strategic Review and The Dragon. From 1996 to 2001, Dragon Magazine published the "Dragon Annual", a thirteenth issue of all new content.
During Dragon's long run, its material was amalgamated into a fully official printed book twice; once during its 3.5 days, once during its 4e days. Whilst Dragon's content had always been seen as "official unofficial content", these books added a certain level of legality to it. The 3.5 version, the Dragon Compendium, in particular, is generally allowed in games/optimization contests that allow all first party books.
Dragon Magazine Compendium Volume 1
Intended to be part of a series of books gathering the more well-designed and received content from Dragon in official print, the 3.5 Dragon Compendium ironically came out in August 2007... as in, 4 months after it had been announced Dragon Magazine was shutting down. Consequently, it was the only one of its kind to ever be released. It featured the following articles:
- New Races:
- Diabolus: A fiendish looking yet benevolent PC race.
- Diopsid: A playable race of humanoid beetles inspired by the stalk-eyed fly.
- Dvati: An extraplanar PC race consisting of a single soul shared between identical twin bodies.
- Lupin: A return of a classic PC race of humanoid wolves from the Mystara setting.
- Tibbit: A catfolk PC race derived from an ancient D&D monster; housecats who can transform into a halfling-like humanoid form.
- New Base Classes:
- Battle Dancer: A monk Variant Class with a Chaotic alignment, based on slaves who taught themselves unarmed martial arts forms disguised as dance styles to free themselves.
- Death Master: A Necromancer who combines the traditional Intelligence focus of the wizardly necromancer with certain clerical necromancer abilities, such as rebuking undead. He also gains an undead companion and turns into a lich at 20th level. Intended for evil NPCs.
- Jester: A bard Variant Class who focuses on offensive magic and debuffing opponents, rather than the bard's focus on curative magic and buffing allies.
- Mountebank: A Charisma-focused rogue Variant Class who gains innate mystical abilities due to a fiendish pact, but withoiut directly spell-casting.
- Savant: The ultimate Skill Monkey, a PC analogue to the Expert who uses their broad knowledge base to become a jack-of-all-trades character. Can be seen as a bard Variant Class, given it can cast arcane and divine magic, and also sneak atack, whilst getting lots of feats.
- Sha'ir: A return of the famous genie-binding wizard Variant Class from Al-Qadim.
- Urban Druid: As its name suggests, a Druid Variant Class that is bonded to the urban environment rather than the wilderness.
- New Prestige Classes:
- Aerial Avenger: A flying warrior specialized in mid-air combat.
- Arcanopath Monk: A monk specialized in slaying wizards.
- Blessed of Gruumsh: A divinely blessed paragon orc or half-orc.
- Cerebrex: One of three paths of magic-user who use magic to augment their own biology. The cerebrex manipulates its nervous system to gain incredible powers over the minds and senses of themselves and others.
- Fleet Runner of Ehlonna: A cleric or druid dedicated to Ehlonna who seeks to master speed above all else.
- Flux Adept: One of three paths of magic-user who use magic to augment their own biology. The flux adept manipulates muscle, glands and organs to gain incredible physical prowess.
- Force Missile Mage: A wizard who focuses on mastering the iconic Magic Missile spell to unprecedented heights.
- Monk of the Enabled Hand: A monk who has learned a number of specialized unarmed strikes.
- Osteomancer: One of three paths of magic-user who use magic to augment their own biology. The osteomancer manipulates their bones and the bones of others, specializing in gruesome natural arms and armor.
- Shaper of Form: A transmuter whose specialization has reached unprecedented heights, allowing them to manipulate physical matter with unparalleled power.
- A vast array of feats, including the concept of Sorcerous Bloodline feats, which would inspire the Sorcerer of future editions and Pathfinder.
- A vast array of new equipment and magic items, with the latter gathering many of the Bazaar of the Bizarre articles together.
- Spell templates.
- A system for glyph magic.
- A discussion of how to use riddles at your table without them derailing the game.
- A historical examination of runes and how to use them in fantasy games.
- Two eaxaminations on tesseract-based dungeons.
- New poisons.
- New Monsters:
- Blackroot Marauder: A malevolent construct created in blasphemous mockery of a treant.
- Bleeder Beholder: A vampire-like beholderkin which lacks a mouth and has only a single eye, but is covered in blood-sucking mouth-tipped tentacles.
- Bodak Creature: A template for non-humanoid bodaks.
- Bonespitter: A grotesque undead monster born from multiple creatures mashed together by planar flux.
- Bonetree: A swamp-dwelling carnivorous plant that feeds on bones.
- Casurau: An incorporeal undead created when dozens or more of intelligent and usually defenseless creatures die in a single traumatic event.
- Chaoswyrd: A horrif, nightmarish planar beast from Limbo.
- Ciruja Plant: A magical carnivorous plant that feeds by draining the youth from living beings.
- Elemental Demon: A primal creature that emerges spontaneously from the elemental matter of the abyss, combining aspects of elemental and demon. Consist of Air, Ash, Earth, Fire, Ice and Water Demons.
- Demonically Fused Elemental Template: A creature template to represent elementals corrupted through being magically fused with demonic essence.
- Lesser Chromatic Dragons: Three new dragons based on three "missing" colors; the ground-dwelling Orange Dragon, which spits an explosive oil, the arrogant and haughty Purple Dragon with its three different breath weapons, and the quick, serpentine, Yellow Dragon, which encases its victims in sprays of adhesive, moisture-draining salt.
- Ghoulish and Ghastly Creatures: A pair of creature templates to allow DMs to apply the Ghoul and Ghast traits to non-humanoids.
- Glasspane Horror: A bizarre and vicious aberration that consumes gems and which appears as living glass.
- Grandfather Plaque: A unique construct doorman that consists of an almost sapient decorative door plaque, which can greet and dissuade visitors for its creator. An obscure monster originating from the days of AD&D.
- Bog Mummy: A variant mummy created by pickling in the oxygen-starved waters of deep swamps.
- Ragewing: A small, flying aberration that drives victims into fits of homicidal fury to feed on the bloodshed that results.
- Ravenous Creatures: Victims of a twisted magical plague which induces a starvation that never heals, corrupting them into a particularly savage form of gaping-jawed ghoul.
- Seelie Court Fey: An upgrading template for fey creatures to represent membership in the Seelie Court.
- Spiritus Anime: An incorporeal undead that possesses the bodies of the dead to wreak havoc on the living.
- Trap Haunt: The ghost of a rogue slain by a trap, who nowo seeks to lure victims into the trap which killed them.
- Fire Troll: A troll subspecies adapted to life in regions of extreme heat, who heal through exposure to flames and heat, vulnerable only to cold and lightning.
- Unseelie Fey: A template representing a Half-Fey descended from the crueller members of the fey society.
- 101 wondrous whereabouts
- A guide to contructing NPCs with just seven sentences.
- Alterante Critical Hit and Fumble Rules.
- An instant adventures generation chart.
- Some examples of ways to spice up the visuals of enchanted weapons.
- A pronounciation guide for D&D.
- A guide to running solo dungeon adventures.
Dragon Annual 2009
Like its 3e predecessor, this was intended to be the first in a series, but it failed to go anywhere. It gathered 14 articles from the first year of 4e's Dragon print run, consisting of the following:
- Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Yeenoghu - Information on the Demon Prince of Gnolls as he fits into the World Axis.
- Creature Incarnations: Kobolds - New variants of kobold to use in your game
- The Ashen Covenant - Details on an Orcus cult to run your PCs up against, including stats for an obscure classic D&D monster, the Eye of Fear and Flame (renamed the Flameharrow, here)
- Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild - Details on an eladrin city in the Feywild with connections to the Underdark.
- Wish Upon A Star - New flavor and mechanics for Warlocks of the Star Pact.
- The Bloodghost Syndicate - Details on a bugbear thieves guild.
- Intelligent Items - Rules for incorporating magical items with their own minds, an obscure but classic aspect of D&D.
- Fight! - Rules and background for running gladiator-themed campaigns or encounters.
- We Who Are About To Die - PC options for playing gladiators.
- The Longest Night - A mini-adventure in which a low level party must fight a red dragon.
- Playing Dhampyr - World Axis lore and PC content for dhampyrs.
- Masters of the Planes - An assortment of plane-themed Epic Destinies.
- Playing Shadar-Kai - World Axis lore and PC content for shadar-kai.
- Art of the Kill - PC options for playing assassins.