Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Imagine Magazine: Issue #3

One thing I've been enjoying about Imagine is its cover artwork, which, so far, as has been both attractive and distinctive. There's no mistaking Imagine for Dragon, that's for sure! (Which is no slight against Dragon, which also had some excellent covers over the course of the time during which I read it). My only complaint is that the credits page makes it difficult to determine who the cover artist is. I think this cover was done by Richard Clifton-Day, but I am far from certain of that. Does anyone know?

Issue #3 (June 1983) opens with an editorial that I find interesting.
A few people will, on occasion, complain about something they term 'censorship'. By this they mean that the publication does not carry the obvious references to sex and violence that appear in some other publications. We can assure them that no external body or individual holds censorial powers over the magazine; where we consciously alter or withhold anything, it is because we believe that is what most readers would prefer, if we were able to lay the choice before them. This is a hobby based on fun -- what purpose can there be in offending anybody?
It's an intriguing paragraph, not merely for what is say but what it claims to be responding to. What are these "some other publications" to which it refers and why did anyone, in 1983, think that Imagine was censoring itself? I can't help but think there is some aspect of the UK gaming scene at the time with which I'm not familiar and that might better explain this. Or was it simply a sense that TSR was already beginning to whitewash D&D and its corner of the hobby?

Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz provide new installments of "The Beginners' Guide to Role Playing Games" and "The Adventures of Nic Novice." Neither is especially noteworthy, being, as you'd expect, discussions of very basic aspects of RPGs without much that'd be deemed insightful nowadays. Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" elaborates on what it means that RPGs' rules are more open-ended and open to interpretation compared to other types of games. It's basically a primer on trusting the referee and being willing to accept his judgments in matters where the rules are vague or non-existent -- again: solid stuff but not exactly world-shaking.

On the other hand, Noel Williams tackles the thorny question of "Basic or Advanced?" This is a very fascinating article, since it deals head-on with the differences between the two different strains of Dungeons & Dragons. Ultimately, Williams concludes that
The DM in Advanced can add more detail (more monsters, more treasures) but not much in the way of rules or the system becomes unbalanced. On the other hand, because it is so well balanced, new contributions of detail are easy to make ...

With Basic, more is left to the DM. He has greater freedom but less guidance. There is less research for him to do and less to attend to in game, but additional work may be needed to make scenarios credible, and imagination is essential.
I'm not sure I'd have stated this the way that Williams does, but I think he's definitely on to something. While I've met my fair share of Basic rules lawyers and free-form AD&Ders, the general thrusts of the two games, as Gygax stated on more than a couple of occasions, comports with what Williams says above.

Peter Tamlyn's "Tavern Talk" continues to discuss the local gaming scene in the UK. Doug Cowie provides reviews of multiple D&D and AD&D modules (assisted by Jim Bambra and Ian J. Knight). These reviews are, on the whole, quite positive, if not necessarily effusive, so, clearly, at the beginning at least, Imagine didn't go out of its way to promote an independent editorial stance for its own sake. Mike Brunton provides an AD&D adventure called "A Box for the Margrave" for levels 4-7. We also get more official rules answers in "Dispel Confusion," Don Turnbull's editorial about "the Pub Game" about which Gygax often talked, and another "Rubic of Moggedon" comic.

Mike Costello's "The Imagination Machine" is an overview of computer gaming at the time. It's a short but thoughtful pieces that declares
In the end, the success of a computer game is not dependent on programming skill but the quality of the underlying design, and there are fewer good designers than good programmers.
How little has changed in the last three decades!

Dave Pringle reviews several books, including Robert Heinlein's Friday and Stephen R. Donaldson's White Gold Wielder. Dave Langford, whom I first encountered in White Dwarf's own book reviews, pens a fantasy short story called "Too Good to Be." There are also letters, fanzine notices, and another comic, part three of Ian Williamson's "The Sword of Alabron."

Issue #3 is a decent one, though it's clear that Imagine is still finding its feet. I continue to like its references to the hobby side of roleplaying and wish that many of its articles were longer. I've also noticed that there seem to be a great many more advertisements per issue than in Dragon, though it's possible that this is simply because ad space was cheaper. Regardless, I increasingly find myself regretting that I never knew about Imagine back in the day. So far it impresses me and it gives me a different window on what gaming on the other side of the Atlantic was like back in the early '80s.


  1. You are correct about the artwork -- Richard Clifton-Day. Originally done fore the 1977 Daw edition of Michael moorcock's "Jewel in the Skull" -- the first volume of the History of the Runestaff. -- shingenmitch longtime lurker and fan of this blog

  2. The cover art is by Richard Clifton-Day. It is same cover as the 1977 DAW paperback of The Jewel in the Skull. http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/m/michael-moorcock/jewel-in-skull.htm

    Censorship: Look over to White Dwarf at the same time. In WD 37 from January of 83 we had a debate in the letters section about how offended Don Turnbull was over the Necromancer class.

    White Dwarf at the time also had no issues with showing female nudity and talked about violence as if it were part of the game. It is one of the "features" that set it apart from Dragon and Imagine. Looking at all three from the same time period you even saw ads that were different. One that comes to mind (and one I'll post when I find it) had a topless elf woman for some play-by-mail game in White Dwarf and Dungoneer and the the same elf with a top in Dragon and Imagine.

    Imagine was a good magazine and one I enjoyed. But I could never shake the feeling that it was "Dragon UK" and "Not Quite White Dwarf, But Really, Really Close".

    Looking at this review, my own and going through some other magazines from the time there are really two divides.
    There is the Atlantic Divide that separated US and UK gamers (my command of other languages is limited to English and German and I have not read any Continental RPG magazines) AND the divide between TSR and Every One Else.

    I don't think this stands as a surprise really.

  3. I don't know about gaming in 1983, but there was quite a fuss in the early 80's over violence and adult content in the then-new VHS format, in horror films in particular. This lead to the term "video nasty" and a wave of censorship and bans from 1984 on. We didn't get The Exorcist until 1999, for example. So I wonder if the discussions on censorship in gaming are associated with this more high-profile controversy?

    The computer gaming scene was quite different over here than in the US, and the crash of 1983 didn't affect us at all. I don't know if Imagine lasted long enough to cover the surge in bedroom programming that formed the basis of UK computer games culture in the 80's and early 90's.

  4. excerpts here: http://mesmerizedbysirens.blogspot.it/2012/11/imagine-magazine-issue-3.html

  5. I also remember there being a brief flare up of media backlash against the Fighting Fantasy books, but this must have been later, circa 1985 perhaps? I recall the thrill at hearing the FF books discussed on the news, and the fear at the thought that people wanted to ban them!

  6. The WD Necromancer Class really was evil. There was a sacrifice table that included pregnant women. I seem to recall a recent flap about something similar in I think a LotFP product.

  7. We could actually do with some censorship today. The Saw films in particular are like viewing the sickness of a very diseased mind. The Conan remake is another one, where if it had most of its scenes censored, would have probably benefited from it. Honestly, why did the film makers think we want to see utter brutality, the kind that would risk us vomiting if we were seeing it not on the screen but for real? It always seems to me that the people peddling these kind of wares are likely mad and have only got this one trick (called shock!) up their sleeves and nothing, absolutely nothing, else.

  8. I don't remember that backlash, but I know that both House of Hell and Beneath Nightmare Castle had images removed from later editions, so I can believe it.

  9. Mmm. Well you see, that's the trouble with censorship. - Who exactly is going to decide what qualifies for censorship? Your idea of what should be censored isn't necessarily the same as mine.

    Whilst you didn't like the Saw series of films (they're not my cup of tea either) or the recent Conan film's violence, many people did enjoy these films.

    You ask why the "film makers think we want to see utter brutality". The answer probably is because many people find some kinds of fictional violence quite exciting, thrilling or scary within the context of an action or horror film.

  10. Of course, it's not about including fictional violence but how it is depicted and the context around it. For example, would you say that a film that was two hours of slow and literal physical torture should be banned? I certainly would. And so would most people.

    Many people did enjoy Conan and the Saw films, but they enjoyed them for the story and the action, not for viewing someone saw a limb off or someone stick his finger into a very recently amputated nose hole. After all, anyone who did watch them for the enjoyment of such scenes likely has mental health issues of the like probably experienced by the very people who construct these scenes in the first place.

    So yes, we do need some level of censorship. It's just common sense really.

  11. So it's very very bold to insult your female gamer audience, get your young gamer audience in trouble with their parents, and make your adult gamer audience bored and disgusted (or worried that their kids will get into their magazines and be terrified by the shocking scenes).

    Everything is great, as long as a small subset of immature male college gamers thinks you're cool. Even though they don't have much money, compared to all the other groups you've managed to turn away.

    Likewise, it's obviously smart to limit your moviegoing audience as much as possible, because God forbid you shouldn't be a huge tax loss for your movie company to claim.

  12. Don't know what that censorship thing was all about, although a lot of the early Imagine editorials were rather defensive, perhaps because (as we now know) it was a bit of a political football with Mr. Gygax. That said, if Imagine was keen not to offend, they certainly failed with the rather phallic cover of issue 10, which caused a few raised eyebrows at the time, if I remember rightly!

  13. love this magazines' reviews. cheers from mexico city.