From the editor-in-chief's description of the issue:
Up in the land where DRAGON magazine is born anew each month, It's wintertime again. But in the middle of this issue of the world's warmest gaming magazine, there's nothing but palm trees and sunshine. Well...almost nothing. There's a funny-looking island, which is really Alulu, and there's a whole lot of excitement and intrigue ahead for TOP SECRET agents who take on MAD MERC, a 20-page adventure created and developed by Merle Rasmussen (author of the original TOP SECRET rules) and James Thompson (a.k.a. Pong), Merle's sidekick in subterfuge. MAD MERC is the longest (20 pages) of the three modules for the TOP SECRET game that we've published, and it's the first agents' adventure that has been in these pages since issue #48. Is it the best of the three? We'll leave that to the spies to decide.
You'll run into Phil Foglio no matter which end you start from this month. Besides providing our cover painting, which Phil titled "The Critic," he also fills the last page on the inside of the magazine - a snazzy, seasonal "What's New? which is presented in color for the first time on page 80.
This month's feature section is anchored by an in-depth look at the AD&D bard class; it's tough to be one, but even tougher to beat one. "Singing a new tune" is our title for Jeff Goelz's collection of suggestions on how the class could be redesigned. Also in the section is an article by Bill Howell advocating a new set of "Songs instead of spells" for the bard, and a Sage Advice column containing all the answers we could find to all the questions you could think to ask about bards.
The bard articles, like almost everything else you'll read in this magazine, are unofficial and not intended to be taken as rule changes, or even recommended rule changes. Something that is official every time it appears is From the Sorceror's Scroll, the column composed by the creator of the AD&D game system, E. Gary Gygax. Gary's latest words of wisdom include official definitions of magic circles and other protection devices, plus a detailed look at the past and present history of the north central section of his own Greyhawk campaign, from which the WORLD OF GREYHAWK Fantasy World Setting was drawn - "must" reading for anyone running a campaign within the borders of the Flanaess.
Coming up with a logical, sensible, fully detailed map of your campaign area is not an easy task, but it is made much less taxing if you enlist the assistance of none other than the United States government. "Map hazard, not haphazard" is William Hamblin's informative essay on how to obtain topographic maps of the real world and how to put them to good use in gaming.
There's another slice of short fiction inside - "The Doctor," J. Robert Dunkle's unorthodox and somewhat unsettling account of a strange malpractice trial - or maybe malpractice isn't a strong enough word...
In observance of the gift-buying season, we've provided eight pages of review articles to give you some Christmas shopping choices: four assessments of games and game accessories, plus five pages of observations by book reviewer Chris Henderson on what's available to be taken Off the Shelf. In observance of your unquenchable appetite for new monsters, there's a trio of new residents in Dragon's Bestiary. And in observance of nothing in particular - but well worth observing - is a three-page installment of Wormy. Happy holidays! - KM