Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Imagine Magazine: Issue #2

Issue #2 of Imagine appeared in May 1983 and kicks off with an editorial that treats a topic that regularly concerned TSR at the time -- what is and is not an "official" change to D&D and whether or not house rules change one's game into something else. Though the editorial itself takes a more moderate approach to this question, it nevertheless cites Gary Gygax's own opinion that
any house rules that alter the technical aspects of the way an AD&D™ game is played mean that the game being played is no longer the AD&D game.
It's worth noting that, while TSR -- and Gygax especially -- became much more strident in pressing this point over time, it was not a new point. Going back at least as far as the Dungeon Masters Guide's release in 1979, Gary argued that, if you're not playing AD&D by the book, you're not playing AD&D but something else instead.

Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz return for a second installment of "The Beginner's Guide to Role-Playing Games," as well as "The Adventures of Nic Novice" comic strip. The latter focuses on generating a character's ability scores and presents 3d6 in order as the method. The example character is a fighter with the following rolls: 18, 8, 10, 11, 15, 9. That's very close to the fighter stereotype I inherited as a young man, in which nearly every felt a character needed 18 Strength and felt that a good Constitution was valuable, but all the other abilities didn't much matter, so long as they weren't too low.

Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" column discusses "winning" in the context of RPGs, another topic clearly geared toward neophytes. Meanwhile, Gary Gygax's "The Big, Bad Barbarian" is a reprint of an article that appeared in issue #63 of Dragon. Graeme Morris provides an adventure, "For the Honour of the Tribe," that is designed for a party consisting solely of barbarians. It's actually a rather interesting little adventure, though it does little to make me appreciate the Gygaxian barbarian class, which I've long disliked.

There's a report on Games Fair '83 that's worth noting, since Gygax was a guest of honor at the convention. According to the report, attendees were "surprised at how approachable Gary [was], after the negative press he received in the hobby." It's also reported that Gygax "horrified a few of the purists with one remark," namely that "a good referee only rolls the dice for the sound they make. He just decides what happens!" While that comment might have been surprising in 1983, it's pretty well known nowadays that Gary had a lot more of the "storytelling" style as a referee than many old schoolers would themselves countenance in their own games.

"Horror Scope" by Chris Baylis is basically a horoscope column, using the months of the World of Greyhawk setting in place of zodiac signs. It's pure fluff without any game mechanics attached to it. Graeme Morris reappears to offer news of upcoming changes to AD&D, including new character classes, weapons, and spells. "Dispel Confusion" offers up official answers to questions about AD&D, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret. Editor-in-Chief Don Turnbull has a short but well-done column in which discusses the ways in which RPGs are odd kinds of games. He concludes with this:
The game [i.e. D&D and, by extension, all RPGs] thrives on its lack of rules, its lack of equipment, the lack of any necessity to learn more than a few simple facts, its lack of competition, its indeterminate length, its free-for-all no-holds-barred style.
The comic "Rubic of Moggedon" re-appears and is just as baffling to me as in its first appearance. Pete Tamlyn's "Tavern Talk" continues to report on fanzines and local events. It's worth mentioning that Imagine continues to feel more plugged into the local hobby scene than Dragon did at the time. I like that. There are multiple game reviews, including one of The Morrow Project, which is surprisingly favorable. "Illusionary Script" returns with more mind-benders, as does Mike Brunton's "Figure Painting." Nick Pratt presents a review of the 1973 film The Island at the Top of the World, with an eye toward its utility as inspiration for referees. Concluding the issue is more of "The Sword of Alabron" comic by Ian Williamson.

Reading Imagine almost 30 years after it was published is an enlightening experience, both because it sheds light on UK gaming culture at the time, but also because it's a house organ gaming magazine that doesn't seem aloof from the hobby out of which it grew. There's a "groundedness" to Imagine I find intensely appealing, even if it sometimes comes at the cost of being a lot less polished and "professional" when compared to Dragon.


  1. Whatever happened to Graeme Morris. His work was great.

  2. The "groundedness" comes both because the magazine's writers were closer to the fan base and continuing to write about it, and because the fan base was, to be honest, smaller.

  3. Connecting, "any house rules that alter the technical aspects of the way an AD&D game is played mean that the game being played is no longer the AD&D game", and, "a good referee only rolls the dice for the sound they make. He just decides what happens!", we can conclude: by Gary's reasoning, a good referee does not play AD&D.

    The Don Turnbull piece is fascinating because it's exactly the opposite of what the D&D business turned into in the 2000's. That's truly a priceless quote.

  4. Happy (Late) Birthday. Love the site always visit, it is a great read.

  5. That quote about the DM throwing dice for the sound effect, and imagining the shocked gasps, makes me smile. I think that Gary was entitled to his contradictions as any man. But perhaps not so contradictory. He wrote AD&D to make an official version. I missed the early 80's scene, so I wonder: was there a strong vocal element, perhaps stemming more from the wargaming crowd, that demanded an official D&D? And was Gary writing AD&D essentially for that audience? (Even if he was more a D&D type DM)

  6. I played AD&D pretty much non-stop during the early/mid 80's, both as a player and a DM, and I can honestly tell you that I have never played an official "by the book" game.

    We were all grade/high-school age back in those days, and we either didn't really know or understand what we were doing... or we just didn't care because we were just having too much fun. None of us were interested in tournament play, (although I was a member of the RPGA for a few years there...) since there was no realistic way any of us could get to the nearest gaming con (usually hours away from our isolated suburban neighborhoods) even if we could have afforded it.

    So we house-ruled, borrowed, ignored, and otherwise altered the rules to suit our interests, playing styles, and comprehension (and lack thereof) of the books. We all read Gary's insistence about the unalterable nature of the rules... and just did what we wanted anyway. That is, when we were at all aware that we WEREN'T playing the rules as officially decreed. Most of us learned by playing with others, and I don't recall reading the rulebooks super carefully until I had been playing for years. I doubt most of my friends did either.

    What we played could best be described as: "B/X rules, with AD&D classes, races, combat matrices, spell/magic-item/monster lists, with many Dragon Mag. ideas mixed in, and playing through mostly AD&D modules."

    But we had a blast... which we understood back then was the entire point... NOT getting bogged down making sure we played exactly the way the books instructed us to.

  7. Way back then (I was in college at the time), RPGA had gotten well underway and there was a big push for standardization so that all campaigns were playing by the same rules. Standardization was fine for tournament play, but we still houseruled as needed at home.

    Also, Gary and TSR always seemed to emphasize AD&D as the "official" D&D over OD&D-descended B/X, &c. Not sure why, but that could also explain his fixation on AD&Dn as "official as written."

  8. Curse you, Maliszewski! You've broken my resistance. Now I have to start hunting old issues of this magazine.

  9. I remember an article where he talks about D&D and chess.. possibly in the pre-AD&D justification articles that he put out. If I remember correctly, he was horrified at the people playing with level 40-50 characters in campaigns that no longer resembled D&D. There was this idea that one character could move between campaigns run by different DM's. There were the tournaments. All this seems to have come together to create a standardised approach to facilitate it... as AD&D.

  10. Oh, protest less stridently, sir, and seek not to blame others; you are simply weak. Please ignore the near-complete run of Different Worlds on my desk, thank you (still looking for #1 and #18).

  11. @Michael Scriven -- hmm, rather than a reaction from the war gamer side of things I always took the "official" talk to have much more to do w/ marketing to and cultivating a rabid fanboy base who would turn up their noses at Judges Guild and other perfectly serviceable products (I confess I passed over tons of great stuff b/c it didn't have the TSR label).

    But really, when you are selling dreams in a box -- a product so simple, free, and intuitive that every child already does it (with everything but a few charts and some cool dice) when they run around the backyard playing cops & robbers how else are you going to get folks to keep bringing their nickels back for more? It's really cool that a few of these guys could actually make a living helping people play and I don't begrudge them a bit, but my guess is that it's just marketing and nothing deeper :)

  12. Well, he SAID he wrote AD&D to make an official version -- but I don't see much evidence for that in practice. A simpler explanation is that AD&D is just more stuff/pages for people to buy. If anything, in many places it's less coherent and harder to interpret than OD&D.

  13. i'm planning to make some of them available on my blog.