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Jeff's Gameblog
Tuesday, 15 June 2004
Gaming Magazines of Yore, Part 2 of 2
Different Worlds was a truly great generalist magazine. Unlike Dragon or early White Dwarf it never seemed to have an overpowering bouquet of AD&D. The mix was just right. IIRC Chaosium published it, but you couldn't tell. There was one special Call of Cthulhu themed issue and a fair amount of Runequest stuff, but any decent game magazine would carry articles on CoC or RQ.

Although I wouldn't pass up a chance to get any DW for cheap, two issues in particularly stand out. Number 15 had a Traveller article by Paul Crabaugh called "More Citizens", which had new basic (Book 1,Supp 4) career paths for char gen. As I understand it, one of the career paths in the article is a generic "citizen", i.e. for regular schmoes. Issue 20 contains a piece called "Zarzeena's World", a campaign setting for Magic World, the generic fantasy BRP rules that came in the old Worlds of Wonder boxed set. I'm curious about Zarzeena and his/her/its world because the article is by Steve Perrin of Runequest fame. I'd like to see what he does when tasked with creating a fantasy setting that isn't Glorantha.

Another great magazine from the old days was Stardate. It was a sci-fi oriented mag, aimed mainly at the two hot FASA properties of the time, BattleTech and the Star Trek rpg. They covered other stuff, Traveller probably coming in third in terms of games covered. Great magazine. You could really tell the folks cranking it out loved the subject matter. Most every issue I owned had a good amount of crunchy stuff like stats for new BattleMechs or new Trek vessels. I need to sit down and figure out exactly which issues I still own and which I still need. I believe the magazine got through two years of roughly bi-monthly publication. The third year started out with a name change to Stardrive, maybe due to Paramount getting huffy about the term stardate. I think only one issue of volume three was published before the whole thing disappeared. Too bad. The gaming world was a better place when StarDate was around.

The were plenty of other magazines (and a viking horde of fanzines) produced back in the first couple decades of the rpg hobby. You can't properly discuss this subject without mentioning Alarums & Excursions, the very long-running rpg APAzine. Lee Gold is one of the invisible saints of the hobby for keeping A&E on track all these many years. I'd love to get into A&E, but it seems like a momental task to jump into this late into the game. I suppose I could just order some back issues and see if I liked them.

I mentioned Vortext in one of yesterday's blog entries. I don't know much about it other than it went about 8 issues and number 4 has a World of Synnibarr adventure.

White Wolf produced a decent gaming magazine back before they turned it into Inphobia. The earlier White Wolf Magazine incarnation was a pretty decent generalist magazine. I only had one issue, but it was pretty good stuff. Issue #10 has an article that I'm very curious about, written by the Rasmussens of Top Secret fame.

Finally, I'd sure like to learn more about Ares magazine. It was published by wargaming great SPI, so it undoubtedly had a somewhat different focus than other rpg mags. Still, I seem to recall it had a Call of Cthulhu themed issue.

Posted by jrients at 9:53 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 15 June 2004 7:49 PM CDT
Monday, 14 June 2004
Gaming Magazines of Yore, part 1 of 2
The golden age of print rpg magazines is over, but thanks to the internet getting back issues is easier than ever. As a kid I was absolutely hooked on Dragon. I might not have been able to get a rulebook or module every month, but I could almost always count on a new issue of the big D. I even had a subscription at one point. That was supercool. Of course, this was back when Dragon was oriented more to servicing the entire RPG hobby. Nowadays I can't hardly stand to pick up an issue of Dragon or Dungeon unless it has something decidedly old school inside.

So I get my gaming rags these days second hand off the eBay and at cons. I already own the Dragon CD-ROM. Although the interface sucks and the data is slightly incomplete (see bottom of this page) I still highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in the early days of the hobby. The collected issues of The Strategic Review are worth the price of admission alone.

Apart from The Dragon, as it used to be known, there were plenty of other great rpg magazines. White Dwarf started life out in the same way as Dragon, as a generalist mag with a D&D bent. Alas, around about issue #100 they switched over to their all-GW, all-the-time format. I have three issues of the old WD: #40, #45, and #73. I look forward to getting more. I learned a valuable lesson from playing a couple of the UK series of AD&D modules and reading the original Fiend Folio: the Brits have a lot to contribute to gaming that the cornfed boys of Wisconsin just couldn't bring to the table.

White Dwarf had a major competitor for a while over across the pond, a little number produced by TSR UK called Imagine. Can't say I know much about this one, never having seen a copy for sale on this side of the pond. The fellows over at StarFrontiers.com have some stuff from Imagine in the modules department. One of the articles includes Star Frontiers stats for shotguns in space, so I know the guys at Imagine are my kind of people.

I already have an near-complete archive of the Judges Guild published mag Dungeoneer. I need to track down issues 7 and 13 (the superhero issue) and then I'm done. Dungeoneer is cool. It was edited by Paul Jacquays and has the homey feel of a good APAzine. JG published a couple of other mags, the Judge's Guild Journal and Pegasus. The only thing I know about JGJ is that the original City-States material first appeared there. Pegasus is a complete unknown to me.

I used to have some issues of Polyhedron, the old RPGA magazine. I'd like to track down some back issues, but they are fairly rare and can be expensive. Issue 7 to 14 had a good solid run of non-D&D stuff: Gamma World, Gangbusters, Boot Hill, and Dawn Patrol. I'd also like to get issues 20, 27 and 30, though I only want #27 because it features an article about the She-Hulk. Rowr.

HEROES Magazine, the Avalon Hill rpg house organ, only ran ten issues. Seven of those issues had Lords of Creation articles and another two had James Bond 007 stuff. Volume II, number 1 was a special all-Runequest issue, meaning it's probably two damn expensive to ever hope of getting a complete run of the mag. (Damn those Gloranthans and their completist ways. They interfering with _my_ completist ways. The nerve of some people!) Anyway, I own four issues (I3, I5, II2, and II3) leaving I1, I2, I4, I6 and II4 to get the rest of the LoC and Bond goodies.

Posted by jrients at 9:15 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, 14 June 2004 9:30 PM CDT
I must have it!
Today, during another round of obsessive googling, I discovered Shannon Appel's index for Vortext magazine, a game publication I don't recall encountering before. (Incidentally, Shannon's indexes are a great resource for any gaming nut.) Apparently, issue #4 of Vortext inluded a Synnibarr adventure, "Bio Starr 1", by Raven McCracken and Bryce "Playing Synnibarr will open avenues in your imagination for
which you probably did not even know you had an address" Thelin. I must track down this magazine!

Posted by jrients at 12:50 PM CDT
Sunday, 13 June 2004

Here's the latest version of my 6 Islands campaign setting. I'm leaning towards the humans that live on the island possessing a culture and technology somewhat like England just prior to the Norman Conquest. Among other things, doing so would reduce the importance of horses. I've never had a whole lot of empathy for horses and I have almost always imagined fantasy rpg parties as walking rather than riding. If they are riding, it's almost always been either by ship or on the back of fantastic creatures.

The light bluish-green areas are shallows. I'm not exactly sure about the brownish island. It's basically a coloring error I left in because it gave me something to think about. Maybe the land on that island is less wooded or less fertile.

The scale of the map is probably about thirty six miles to a hex. Bigger then a breadbox, but smaller than most settings.

Posted by jrients at 8:48 AM CDT
Saturday, 12 June 2004

Ran to the library today. They had 4 paperbacks from the Destroyer series on the shelf. I picked up #16, Oil Slick. Good, fast read. I managed to finish it in eight hours and still get all my usual Saturday afternoon/evening stuff done.

I also borrowed The Year 1000, subtitled What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, further subtitled An Englishman's World, by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. Being a bit of an Anglophile, I alwyas turn to Britain circa 1066 when I start to think about a psuedo-historical D&D campaign.

Posted by jrients at 9:09 PM CDT
Corroboration is a good thing.
If you want to play an AD&D derivative, go get Senzar. Ignore the puerile crap and you'll find the very best non-D20 core game ever made. Logical and intuitive to use. -Patrick R.

The above quote is from an old thread on The Miniatures Page. It's nice to see at least one other person who sees the potential in SenZar. Now all I need to do is locate a copy. I have yet to see one on eBay and the handful of copies I've found via googling are all for sale by British outfits. It looks like I'm going to have to start contacting game stores to get a copy.

Posted by jrients at 3:06 PM CDT
Friday, 11 June 2004
Sick curiosities, part 2

My love of old and disregarded games didn't really take firm shape until I discovered two different websites at about the same time. The first, The Museum of Roleplaying Games, got me interested in the original D&D game and classic Traveller. The second, eBay, made tracking down old games much easier. And since I'm always on the lookout for reading/playing copies and not mint condition stuff, collecting old rpgs became much cheaper too. Now I've reached the point where old and influential games are not enough, forgotten and largely unloved games are starting to fill my shelves as well. Hence my recent acquisiton of Cyborg Commando. It is a pretty crappy game, by the way. Maybe not as legendarily bad as some would make it out to be, but still not good. Not good at all.

Still, just because Cyborg Commando or World of Synnibarr aren't the best games ever written doesn't necessarily mean you can't have fun playing them. After all, playing a fantasy adventure with the original D&D booklets was pretty hard too. Yet people muddled through and often had a kickass time doing it.

My investigation of oldy, moldy games has clearly established one thing in my mind: Stop looking for the one perfect system. You aren't Jack O' The Lantern for crying out loud. A game that's good enough is good enough. A lot of gamers, myself included, have wasted a lot of hours wringing our hands and bemoaning our inability to find the game that perfectly matches our play style or the kind of campaign we want to run. I say let go of the urge to find the perfect game. Find a game, damn near any game, and get to playing.

Posted by jrients at 4:18 PM CDT
Thursday, 10 June 2004
Sick curiosities
I am more and more attracted to RPGs that slipped between the cracks. This started, naturally enough, with my first RPG, the '81 D&D Basic/Expert set. My fascination with this rpg (particularly Tom Moldvay's Basic rules) can be explained away as simple nostalgia. However, I think there's more there. I think perhaps that Moldvay's work really is the pinnacle of Basic-style D&D, though perhaps not AD&D. Knowing that Moldvay was the man behind Lords of Creation finally pushed me into that direction, thought the William Blake campaign info in the back was the initial draw many years ago.

I got into old games well before LoC though. I think maybe the first vintage RPG I ever purchased was the 1st edition of the Basic D&D rules, the old blue book. That was back a ways and I really only purchased it because it was in a store and it said "Dungeons & Dragons" on it. I wasn't entirely sure what I was even buying. Then came the day I picked up Superhero 2044 at a con. That hazily-remembered day, many years ago, marks my descent into being a collector of lost and forgotten games. Back when I got married I sold 2044 (among many other things) because I had to cut back my game collection to move into smaller digs with my new wife. Still, I cherish memories of it. Superhero 2044 hails from a day when an RPG could be typewritten, shoddy, and incomplete but still make a serious contribution to the hobby.

Posted by jrients at 5:20 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2004 5:21 PM CDT
Wednesday, 9 June 2004

The next part of my "In Praise of Bad Games" series should be about Cyborg Commando, but the going is slow. I recently acquired a copy and fell honor-bound to read the thing before I do my write-up. The prose retains all the turgid qualities of Gygax while omitting all the charm of say, the original Dungeon Masters Guide. I'm finding it very easy to blame co-author Frank Mentzer for this state of affairs. His rewrite of the D&D Basic/Expert line significantly dumbed down Tom Moldvay's brilliant version.

Posted by jrients at 9:02 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, 10 June 2004 5:00 PM CDT

I love 'nonfictionalized fiction', fiction masked as a piece of nonfiction. Examples include things like Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual and biographies of fictional characters. Right now I'm reading Inside Sinanju, the guide to the world of Remo Williams. I haven't read any of the Destroyer series, but Pat put this book in my hand after I related to him that I finally caught the entirety of Remo Williams: the Adventure Begins on cable. I think this weekend I'll end up at the library looking for Destroyer novels.

Posted by jrients at 9:45 AM CDT

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