And so, 16 years ago Dragon #274 arrived in the mail boxes of subscribers and hit the shelves of gaming stores everywhere.

Wizard of the Coast had broken away from the “clean-cut” family image fostered under AD&D Second Edition. Now it was time for a new image: “dungeon punk” as it would later be called.

Dungeons & Dragons had become darker, edgier

I don’t remember if I had already picked up the Third Edition Player’s Handbook before getting the magazine, but I recall not liking the new layout.

Issue #274 featured lots of white text on dark backgrounds. There were far more sidebars than what had come before. And the designers liked to splash graphics all of the place–even under text, making the magazine look “busy” and at times distracting to read.

Sometimes a letter would be subtituted for a number, “b” for a “6.” (I recall seeing stuff like this in the opening credits for movies of the time, but I don’t rememer which ones–End of Days, perhaps?)

They even broke up the articles into half-to-fourth page sections. Gygax makes his return with “Upon on Soapbox” but this article is mixed in with the letters-to-the editor. Most pages have three columns of text, some of these articles run for two columns, the a new article starts on the third column.

It took a few issues before they cut back on did this sort of layout, as well as toned down on the newer “darker” image somewhat. I think the advertisements for Insane Clown Posse might have done it.

Nothing says: “What the hell is going on with this gaming magazine?” like a photo of a bloody clown in shirt and tie crouching over another bloody clown in a shirt and tie. The caption: TERROR HAS NEW NAME. This was in issue #276.

I mean, I’d seen some disturbing illustrations other RPG books (like those for The World of Darkness, by White Wolf. But didn’t expect something like is in D&D).

But what about the content in #274?

For what it’s worth, it did answer a lot of questions about the new game–especially the design philosophy behind new d20 system. You got a playtesting report. Monte Cook tells you how to create your prestige classes. There’s some advice about being a Dungeon Master for the new edition and a short story, “Power and Glory,” by Ben Bova. And you got some new monsters for the World of Greyhawk.

And yes, the interview with Justin Whalin about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie. It told the reader so much, and so little.

The Sherwood Campaign content was so-so in my opinion.

Then came “Sage Advice,” where Skip Williams answers questions about the quirks and nuance of the new edition…

And somebody said “Thac0” was counter-intuitive and hard to explain…


Not even the great sage can answer this question in 20 words or less.

In the Forum section you had “Powerplay” sidebars, by Sean Reynolds, describing potent combinations of feats and skills. D&D Third Edition would become a powergamer’s dream.

In summary, Dragon #274 says it all on the cover: “The New D&D Game.” And the magazine had become new, different from what had come before, as indicated by the artwork and layout.

After reading this issue, I was pretty much sold on the idea of running D&D Third Edition. 

The next big question for me: could I find players?