Dragon enjoyed a readership like no other in magazine history. For thirty-one years, Dragon served as the herald of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), whose players totaled between two million and six million in 2000. Upon its inception in 1975, Dragon was the first magazine to endow its readers with a voice that would shape the development of the nascent role-playing game (RPG) phenomenon. Only within the pages of Dragon could D&D’s players get definitive answers to questions like, “Can a wall of force stop a sphere of annihilation?” or “How does a sword of wounding affect a tarrasque?” (#250) from the mouth of the game’s R&D staff. “Dragon was a messageboard before there were messageboards,” writes Amber E. Scott, a freelance writer and contributor to the magazine, in an email interview, “It told gamers that others thought and felt like them, enjoyed the hobby they enjoyed, and saw the fun in imagination, reading, and killing monsters… It enabled a sense of community.” Passing into the care of three different publishers over the last three decades, the editors of Dragon saw 359 issues to print, five Dragon Annuals and eight compilations, along with 150 issues of Dungeon, its companion magazine. In September of 2007, however, the magazine shut down, transitioning to an online-only format.
“D&D has the strength of the D&D brand and player network behind it. No other role-playing game even comes close to the impact of either of those two things,” writes Dragon‘s last editor-in-chief, Erik Mona, via email. Among role-players, the term is synonymous with the entire RPG genre. It is impossible to grasp the appeal of Dragon without understanding D&D, its origins, and its demographic. “Gamers face challenges many other hobbyists don’t,” Scott writes, “We are often ostracized—seen as nerds at best, demonic at worst. Gamers tend to be socially isolated… a condition still sometimes seen but mitigated greatly by the Internet.” TSR Hobbies, the original publisher of D&D, mistakenly believed its gaming audience to be twelve to fifteen-year-old boys who would be lost to the company as consumers the moment they turned sixteen. Wizards of the Coast (WotC), the gaming company that acquired D&D in the late nineties, released the “Adventure Game Industry Marketing Research Summary” in 2000, but what it revealed about the RPG industry’s consumers then is still illuminating. According to WotC’s summary, D&D entertains a largely adult audience: more than half the market is nineteen or older, and one-fifth is female. On the subject of Dragon‘s demographic, Scott adds, “I don’t think the readership is limited to those who actively play D&D; many former gamers, wanna-be gamers, and gamers from other systems read the mags… More women read now than in the past, but it’s still mostly men… Many more are middle-aged with families and kids.”