Friday, February 6, 2009

REVIEW: Iridia, Number 87

I'm too young to have experienced the vibrant culture of fanzines and amateur press associations of the early hobby. Someone can correct me if I'm mistaken, but I believe Alarums and Excursions is probably the only remaining connection to that bygone era, having just celebrated its 400th issue last month. Of course, the spirit of creative enthusiasm that animated those early 'zines and APAs has never really disappeared. If anything, the rise of blogs, forums, and websites has made it easier than ever for gamers to share their ideas with one another.

Still, there's something about an honest-to-Odin print publication that warms the cockles of my heart. Electronic media is terrific, make no mistake, but it remains a distant second in my affections to something I can hold in my hands. That's why Fight On! will always kick Dragon to the curb, even if WotC's e-publication actually did include articles for my preferred editions of D&D. It's a mistake, I think, to overlook the tactile pleasures of being able to turn the pages of a magazine, as the unexpected success of Kobold Quarterly has made very clear. In this respect, it's not just grognards have a touch of the Luddite about them.

So it was with great pleasure that I received several copies of Christian Walker's Iridia, a fanzine published weekly and available either for free as a PDF download or as a print product sent through the mail for a subscription price of $2 a month -- approximately 50 cents an issue. From what I can tell, each issue of Iridia varies in content, length, and even format. Some might see this inconsistency as problematic, whereas I find it charming. Iridia is clearly a labor of love by Walker and that comes through in every idiosyncratic little feature he writes, whether it's an adventure for Star Frontiers, a discussion of collectible miniatures, or a description of a city for Labyrinth Lord.

Issue 87 of Iridia is a 20-page supplement detailing the Freecity of Haldane. The supplelement collects together bits and pieces that appeared in earlier issues of the 'zine, expanding them, and adding new material as well. The result is fantastic. In the span of only a few pages, Walker treats us to an overview of the city's wards, their inhabitants, random encounters, and adventure seeds. He also provides us with details on people and groups within the city, including the gold dragon who has assumed human form and governed the city for the last 75 years.

At only 20 pages, we get only the briefest of information about Haldane and yet it felt as if we'd been given more. Part of that is because Haldane is a classical fantasy city; we can easily fill in the details it leaves unsaid. Part of it too is that the information we do get is quite evocative, which encourages the reader to add further details of his own. I'd be lying if I claimed that there's anything particularly innovative about Haldane, but the city has a well-worn, familiar feel to it that such concerns never crossed my mind. Instead, I simply enjoyed it for what it was: an engagingly written distillation of an archetypal "good" fantasy city. If I have a complaint about Haldane, it's that it's a little "too nice." This is no Lankhmar or Shadizar, but then it's not intended to be. Instead, it's intended as a "base of operations" for adventurers, "somewhere to rest between maulings," as the foreword puts it, and I think that's just fine. Truth be told, how many more corrupt, evil cities do we need? A pleasant, well-run city is frankly a nice change of pace.

Issue 87 of Iridia is a little rough around the edges, like all the issues of the fanzine. There are some layout issues, typos, and other such problems. To dwell on them, though, would be to miss the point: fanzines aren't the polished products of professionals; they're snapshots of the process of creation. Sometimes that means you'll wind up with slightly half-baked ideas; sometimes that means you'll wind up with absolute stinkers. And occasionally you'll be treated to sheer brilliance. Regardless of what you find, though, you can always be sure you're encountering another mind (or more) at work, conjuring up new thoughts and ideas from the swirling vortex of the imagination. That's where this hobby was born and that's where it will live or die. Reading through Iridia I have no worries that gaming is in any danger of doing anything other than living forever.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 polearms.

4 comments:

  1. Oh man, I remember how excited I was around the age of 14 or 15 when I had a three or four issue run of regular articles in Alarums and Excursions (I think I called it the "Gibbon's Corner" or something stupid like that), with my little rules mods, new monsters, and new treasures. It was even more exciting to get comments about it in later issues.

    Of course, I think all you had to do was fork over a few bucks and you were printed. But it just felt grand as a kid getting myself into gaming history, no matter how small. I mean, I was hanging out at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica where a couple of the gamer guys, including the much-mentioned lately Paul Crabough, actually got printed in real mags like the Dragon. Although most of the older guys there were dicks to younger guys, I remember Paul being supportive of any such efforts by the kids who played RPG's.

    I'm loving all this free gaming stuff I'm finding online lately, especially the 'zines. I'm gonna go check out Iridia right now...

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  2. Thanks for the kind words, James. :)

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  3. Yup, A&E is up to #400. I was a long time contributor to A&E back in the day, and I started at #298. A&E has a strong place in my heart -- it was the place where I changed as a writer and designer for the better.

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  4. Something else about periodicals, that while it can apply to a pdf I think comes across better in print, is the specific event.

    I can check Grognardia or LotFP or other blogs and forums daily. Same for websites.

    There is something special about knowing "this month's Dragon" is coming. It's a rare form of setting a few moments aside for some specific thing that is important to you. That activity is too rare in the modern world and the conversion of magazines with specific in time and space issues to regularly updated websites only makes it worse.

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