Gary Gygax, in an interview he gave in 1999, talks a little about the genesis of Imagine and its ultimate fate. Like most things Gary said after his departure from TSR, you have to take much of it cum grana salis, but it's interesting nonetheless.
It was my plan for TSR UK to publish a UK version of "Dragon" magazine. This I meant to be named "Royal Dragon" and its content were to be about 50% that taken from "Dragon" the balance, and all ad space, coming from contributors and advertisers in the UK. Don Turnbull did not favour this plan and eventually he convinced the Board of Directors that his "Imagine" magazine was a superior idea. I was dubious, but I agreed. As a matter of fact, the magazine never showed any substantial profit, generally ran at a loss from a purely financial standpoint. Of course, the advertising and promotion of the TSR line and the goodwill the publication generated, justified its continuation for the time. Had the expense of half the content, general layout too, been absorbed by "Dragon" magazine, which was then generating a profit of something like a million dollars annually, and the name I urged been used so as to make it clear that it was tied to the D&D game, I believe the publication would have made a profit, been more effective and still satisfied the individual tastes of the British gaming audience. That is a moot question now, certainly.I'll return to Gygax's comments periodically, as I discuss the thirty-one issues of Imagine in the months to come.
As for lower echelon staffers believing that they were paid to be independent critics of TSR products, somehow being given free rein to exercise their budding critical talents, I can only shake my head in wonderment at such hubris. Biting the hand that feeds one has always been considered in bad taste. If such persons felt so overwhelming an urge to be independent, they should have sought employment elsewhere or struck out on their own. In short, I have absolutely no sympathy for such views. The very reason for their employment was to promote the TSR line and its success paid the wages for their livelihood.
What's most immediately interesting about issue #1 is how much material it includes for complete neophytes. There's "The Beginner's Guide to Role Playing Games" by Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz, which is accompanied by a comic strip called "The Adventures of Nic Novice," which focuses on explaining just what a RPG is. Then, there's Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" column, where he reminisces about his first encounter with RPGs and how he had to wrap his mind around the concept of a game with "no restrictions." I find myself wondering if roleplaying games were still a largely alien concept in the UK in 1983 or if these articles were simply meant as a way to entice newcomers to the hobby into picking up a copy of the magazine.
"QB-161-01: Antares" by John E. Black is a fiction piece about virtual reality "cubes" and the consequences of one man's use of them. Dave Pringle offers up book reviews and the pseudonymous Gordius presents a mind-bender in the "Illusionary Script" feature. Michael Brunton and Graeme Morris co-author a D&D adventure called "The Beacon at Enon Tor," which is designed for use with the recently-released Frank Mentzer-edited Basic Set. Morris also provides "D&D Players Association News," as well as (again with Brunton) the "Dispel Confusion" column, which answers questions about AD&D and Star Frontiers game rules. "Turnbull Talking" is for TSR UK's head honcho, Don Turnbull, to talk about whatever is on his mind.
Peter Tamlyn's "Tavern Talk" is a column devoted to "the amateur side of the hobby," focusing on conventions, fanzines, and the like. Meanwhile, Jim Bambra reviews Star Frontiers and Paul Cockburn reviews Judge Dredd. Michael Brunton returns in a lengthy piece called "Figure Painting," where he talks about how to paint miniature figures for use with RPGs. Rounding out the issue is a brief "Letters" column (understandably so, since this is issue #1) and a comic by Ian Williamson called "The Sword of Alabron," which is notable for featuring an explicitly Scottish dwarf (he is identified as such and even wears a kilt). Is this the first instance of that now hoary gaming stereotype?
What's most notable looking at Imagine #1 is how much less polished it is than contemporary issues of Dragon. At the time, that probably would have put me off -- I felt similarly about White Dwarf -- but nowadays I find it not only charming but positively a point in its favor. There's also a lot more emphasis on the amateur side of the hobby, with lots of ads for fanzines, local cons, and the like. Though clearly a house organ for TSR UK, Imagine nevertheless feels a lot more "open" than did Dragon, which is precisely what Gygax was complaining about in the interview quoted above. Me, I like that and I suspect it's one of the defining characteristics of this magazine.