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I have an interest in the pre-WOTC editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and would like to learn more about the history and foundation of the game; I would therefore like to get a hold of various back editions of Dungeon and Dragon magazine.

I'm aware that a D&D Insider subscription comes with access to the magazines. However, I'm not enthused about paying for a continuous subscription to maintain access. I'd rather pay once, and I'm not interested in the more recent WOTC products.

Is there any legal and reliable way I can get access to the old editions of Dungeon and Dragon magazines without having to pay over time to maintain that access?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

You might look around for the Best of Dragon Magazine CD set. It's unavailable on Noble Knight and pretty expensive on Amazon right now but with some searching you might find a reasonably priced copy. It has issues of Dragon from 1-250.

Also if you want more backstory on the history of D & D can I recommend Designers and Dragons? It covers not just the history of D & D but roleplaying as a whole. I've read the first edition (published by Mongoose) but it's about to re-released by Evil Hat productions (see link above). As a bonus they provide a the chapter on 1970s TSR for free.

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This was going to be my answer. The CD is out of print (TSR stopped making them when they realised they didn't have a license to distribute many of the magazine assets electronically), but they can still be found second-hand if you're persistent. It's an excellent archive, and the only legal source of the magazines in PDF. – SevenSidedDie Dec 9 '13 at 16:57
If it's the only legal source, it's the only source I'm willing to use. I guess that makes this my answer! – GMJoe Dec 11 '13 at 4:03

If I remember correctly, on Paizo's online store there are some old Dungeons and Dragons, and quite old, but not the oldest issues.

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Used books often turn up with old copies in paper. I've seen them at Half-Priced Books in College Station, Austin, Houston, and Dallas. They're usually pretty beaten up but not too expensive. If they are in good condition expect to pay big bucks.

eBay, Amazon, et al are also your friends but expect to pay more (although as I type the top result on eBay is 35 issues at $30 plus shipping).

Finally, have you just asked local gamers? I got rid of my paper when I got my treasured CDs but others might have kept them.

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