Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ares Magazine: Special Edition #1

In addition to its seventeen regular issues, Ares also released two "special editions," the first of which appeared in Summer 1983. If you're curious what's constitutes a special edition, managing editor Geoffrey Golson helpfully provided the following:
The Special Editions will maintain the same format of the regular game issues, but will concentrate on different aspects of the magazine's formula. Sometimes we'll delve deeper into science fact, other times we'll explore myriads of game variants.
My own feeling is that the special editions (of which there were two) were an attempt by TSR to make use of material they already had but couldn't find a way to include in a regular issue of the periodical. For example, this first special edition's highlight is a massive supplement for the Universe RPG detailing an alien race. I also think that TSR was simply experimenting with different formats, trying to find some way to make Ares work for them now that they held the editorial reins.

The issue kicks off with "White Hole Bomb" by Curtis L. Johnson. This is a "science fact" article that discusses the possibility of creating artificial singularities to use as weapons of war. While the science may be considered dubious nowadays, the article at least makes an attempt to present then-current ideas as fodder for speculation. It's a far better approach than the killjoy articles John Boardman wrote for most of the magazine's run. Next up is "Conan the Barbarian" by L. Sprague de Camp, which is little more than a timeline of Conan's life according to both Howard's original stories and the later pastiches. As these things go, it's fairly innocuous, though, as usual, De Camp can't resist getting in his digs at REH, especially with regards to his "abnormal" devotion to his mother.

There are two fiction pieces in this issue. The first, "The Oaken Sword," is by Ian McDowell and is an Arthurian tale whose protagonist is Mordred Mac Lot. Mordred is here portrayed sympathetically, as a rakish youth who feels disappointment at his true father's unwillingness to admit to his paternity. The second story, "Nitimandrey & the Cabinet Maker's Vision," by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, concerns the titular king who is visited by a poor cabinet maker who has received a terrible vision that the king decides must never come to pass. Edward Bever then offers rules variants for use with the Dawn of the Dead simulation game to make the game "more like the film."

The remaining half of the magazine (32 of 64 pages) is devoted to "First Contacts," which describes an alien race known as the Sh'k''tlp. Written by Greg Costikyan, this is, as I noted above, more a full-length supplement to Universe than a mere article. It presents not only information on the race's history, society, and culture, but also rules modifications for Universe to enable players and referees alike to create Sh'k'tlp characters for use in their campaigns. It's very well-done but suffers a bit because there's only a single very small and not very clear illustration of a Sh'k'tlp, making it difficult to visualize what these rather alien aliens look like. There's also the fact that their name is unwieldy to the point of being unpronounceable, but that was the style at the time.

I personal liked the first special edition of Ares, particularly the "First Contacts" supplement. However, I can't help but wonder how it was received at the time. Unless one were a hardcore Universe fan -- did such beasts even exist -- more than half the pagecount was devoted to something of very limited utility. Of the other half, most of it was taken up by fiction pieces and, while decent enough, neither one is science fiction. Once again, Ares seems to have suffered from an identity crisis to its likely detriment.


  1. Jim, hope you could answer a quick question: was the LSdC essay original, or a reprint?

  2. If it's a reprint, it's not identified as such.