Thursday, October 8, 2020

Dragon, Ares, TSR, SPI

Issue #76 of Dragon (August 1983) – a favorite issue of mine – contained the following notice on page 4, right after the "Out on a Limb" letters column: 

Here is some background on this. Ares was an in-house science fiction gaming magazine produced by Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI). The first issue appeared in March 1980 and was published (more or less) bimonthly. TSR acquired SPI's assets in 1982, just as issue #12 (January 1982) was about to be published. From that point on, the magazine switched to a less frequent schedule, becoming quarterly and its editorial direction was entirely in TSR's hands. 

Much like SPI itself, TSR had no clear notion of what to do with Ares and struggled trying to find a place for it within the company's publishing plans. The note above appeared just prior to the release of issue #15 (Fall 1983). TSR must have concluded that the best way to preserve Ares was to give it an injection of readers from Dragon by shifting all of the latter's SF content over to its pages. On the face of it, this move makes sense and might have even worked had it not been for the fact that, in acquiring the company, TSR had voided all existing subscriptions to SPI's periodicals, including Ares. This move angered its existing subscriber base and likely played a major role in the magazine's demise in 1984, ending with issue #17.

From that point on, Ares survived as a section within the pages of Dragon itself, reversing the decision announced above. Even though I liked Ares as a separate magazine, the Ares section of Dragon – which only ran April 1984 to 1986 – was among my favorite parts of Dragon, presenting lots of excellent articles for Gamma World, Traveller, and, of course, Marvel Super Heroes, among many others. I was saddened when Kim Mohan announced in issue #112 of Dragon (August 1986) that, according to reader opinion, "we've been spending too much space on coverage of superhero and science-fiction games. Accordingly, the ARES section is now a thing of the past."

I've regularly remarked that, when it comes to roleplaying, science fiction is an "also ran genre." It's not without its fans, but it's, at best, a distant second to fantasy in terms of popularity, assuming it's not been eclipsed by another genre. There are numerous reasons why this is the case; I even understand them. Looking back on this notice from Dragon is a reminder that it's ever been so.


  1. Of course, from Gary, Dave & Professor Barker's points of view (Starship Warden, Temple of the Frog, Tekumel) there was no difference between Fantasy & Sci Fi

  2. If we consider horror as a genre distinct from fantasy and SF (even though it often overlaps with both), I'd definitely put it as the #2 genre in roleplaying: World of Darkness and Call of Cthulhu are probably the most historically significant RPG product lines after D&D. This is even more so if we consider that many of the most popular SF RPGs also have significant fantasy elements (Star Wars and Shadowrun, for example)