Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Imagine Magazine: Issue #20

Alan Craddock provides the cover to issue #20 of Imagine (November 1984), which is dedicated, as its cover proclaims, to "Clerics in the Dungeons & Dragons game." Themed issues like this are always a risk, since, if you're not interested in the theme, it tends to damper your enthusiasm for reading the issue. Fortunately for me, this issue's theme piqued my interest greatly, since clerics might well be my favorite class in D&D. I've always felt that clerics weren't given the love and attention they deserve, being reduced to armored medics respected only for their ability to heal and nothing else. Needless to say, I was curious to see what the writers of Imagine had to say on the subject.

Things kick off with Paul Vernon's "Clerics are People Too." The article rightly notes that, whereas fighters, magic-users, and thieves all have clear literary inspirations, the cleric does not. While I can certainly come up with examples to counter Vernon's specific claim, his larger point remains, namely, that D&D clerics lack fantasy role models and that this contributes to their being played badly and banally. What Vernon suggests is developing fantasy religions better so that players of clerics understand what their character should believe and its impact on their behavior. Nowadays, it's an obvious point – though how often it's actually employed is an open question – but, in 1984, I think it was fairly unusual.

Lewis Pulsipher offers "Alignment, Personality & Philosophy-Religion," an extensive examination of all these factors with regards to playing a cleric. Pulsipher is particularly interested in the subject of alignment, which, as we all know, remains a contentious one even today. He argues for making alignment more important, even to the point of suggesting, for example, that Lawful clerics not roll for their hit points but instead get the average amount per level, while Chaotic ones roll as normal. It's an intriguing notion, though not one I expect to catch on, even if it does succeed bringing alignment front and center rather than leaving it a philosophical abstraction at best.

"As God is My Witness" by Graeme Davis examines the judicium Dei, the various types of trials used during the Middle Ages to determine guilt or innocence. This is a purely historical article but a worthwhile one, full of ideas for use in a campaign. "The Necklace of Lilith" by Phil Gallagher is an AD&D adventure intended for a party consisting only of clerics, which is certainly a novel idea. The scenario concerns the recovery a divine item, the titular Necklace of Lilith, long believed lost. Accompanying the article is another, "New Clerical Spells," which is a reprint of an article from Dragon #58 (February 1982) by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka. The adventure makes some use of these spells and is, in fact, intended as a means of introducing them into an existing campaign.

"New Flail Types" by Graeme Davis does exactly what its title suggests, providing more weapons for use by clerics (along with stats for these weapons in other game systems, like DragonQuest, Traveller, and Bushido). Carl Sargent's "Looking for an Edge" examines the ban on the use of edged weapons by clerics and argues, as others have done, that the ban should not apply to clerics of every god. In the traditional polytheistic set-up of Dungeons & Dragons, I am sympathetic to this perspective, though I also think the prohibition exists for reasons beyond a hamfisted attempted to introduce a Christian worldview into the game.

This issue's reviews include Grenadier's Disappearance on Aramat, which the reviewer, Stephen Nutt, liked even less than I did. There are also a number of reviews of adventures for Star Frontiers, Space Opera, and The Morrow Project, continuing Imagine's commitment to greater coverage of science fiction RPGs. There's also a very positive review of the revised, boxed version of The World of Greyhawk, for which I have many fond memories. "Chain Mail" discusses the postal version of En Garde!, while Colin Greenland gives a strangely positive review of Conan the Destroyer, a movie most people intensely dislike. Conversely, he gives a negative review to the animated Fire and Ice, which, while no masterpiece, I recall being more enjoyable than Schwarzenegger's second outing as the Cimmerian. 

The comics "Rubic of Moggedon" and "The Phalanx" continue in this issue. Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" continues the discussion of alignment begun in the previous issue. He rightly points out that Law does not equal Good and Chaos does not equal Evil and riffs off of these matters to good effect. Richard W. Lee's short fiction, "Prince of Thieves," is fine for what it is but nothing special. Much more compelling is the Pellinore installment, "Pablo Fanquay's Fair," which details a group of traveling performers, along with ideas for using them in a game. The Cock o' th' Walk tavern gets a similar treatment, including a map by Paul Ruiz. There are also rules for making a living by street performance – including by breakdancing. Yes, you read that right. Forgive them: it was 1984.

This is another fine issue of Imagine, with much to recommend it. I am particularly fond of the Pellinore setting articles. They evince a terrific combination of creativity, utility, and humor that sets them apart from most other TSR offerings at the time. Seeing as many of those who worked on Pellinore would eventually contribute to Games Workshop's Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, this should come as no surprise. 


  1. Replies
    1. I have noticed that Imagine had a lot of nice covers.

  2. For those interested in the cleric class (and also published in 1984), I would recommend looking at Dragon issue #85 (May, 1984). There are three articles on clerics (the cover even states 'The Cleric Collection' as its list of features). One piece in particular, 'Clerics must be deity-bound: How one acts depends on who one worships', is a very worthwhile companion piece to the cleric article in this issue of Imagine.

  3. Paul Vernon's exact quote is:
    "… there are no great characters of legend or fantasy literature to whom the players of clerics can look for inspiration, which makes the class particularly difficult to play."
    To which I wholeheartedly agree. Clerics as armored saints is an invention of D&D. The argument that 'in a dangerous and magical world, clerics would bear arms & armor and cast spells' is a tautology. As I mention on my blog (https://grymlorde.blogspot.com/2020/11/d-is-not-sword-sorcery.html), none of the Greco-Roman, Celtic, or Germanic myths have any armored saints despite the presence of dragons, giants, and sorcerers. Neither do the pulps of the '20s and '30s for that matter. We have stories of armored clerics but none of them worked miracles while in armor. Archbishop Turpin, one of Charlemagne's paladins, performed a mass before every battle but never worked any miracles during the battle. In the Christian hagiographies there are several ex-soldiers who later work miracles but not in armor. But we don't need a literary heritage to have fun with clerics in D&D. Rather, as Vernon pointed out, we must create our own cleric archetypes. And that's okay. We just need to be honest with ourselves about it.