Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Imagine Magazine: Issue #22

 Issue #22 of Imagine (January 1985) fittingly features a cover by Rodney Matthews entitled "Earl Aubec." I say fittingly, as this issue's "theme" is Michael Moorcock and his works.  That alone made me sit up and take notice, since I have long had a love/hate relationship with Moorcock as a writer and creator. I'm always interested in hearing what he has to say, even if I frequently disagree with it. Seeing the blazon on the cover announcing several Moorcock-related features immediately increased my enthusiasm to read the magazine's contents. 

"The Vampire Revamped" by Derrick Norton is the issue's first article. It's an extensive examination of the undead monster, with an eye toward expanding its powers and abilities for use with AD&D. I have no objection to this and in fact think it's a good idea. The vampires of Dungeons & Dragons have always been a bit bland in my opinion (hence my own variant of them) and Norton does a good job of presenting multiple alternatives, even if some of them are bit more potent than I'd prefer myself.

"Gibbet Street" is the latest installment in the series describing the City League of Pellinore. As its name suggests, Gibbet Street gets its name from the gallows that stands there – a reminder to the inhabitants of this shady part of the city that criminal behavior can have dire consequences. Also nearby is Beggars Alley. As usual, there are plenty of quirky NPCs detailed, along with examples of the city's guilds. Also presented is information on capturing and selling monsters for use as opponents in the arena (described in last issue). As I have said several times before, I find Pellinore quite charming in its content and terrific in its presentation. It's a good model, I think, for building up a fantasy setting from the ground up and has undoubtedly influenced my posts on Urheim.

Michael Moorcock's "The Last Enchantment" is a Elric short story originally published in 1978. It concerns the Melnibonéan's journey into a realm of Chaos and his efforts to escape it. The story, which I had read before, is not an action packed one. Rather, it's somewhat philosophical and gives Moorcock the chance to muse about the nature of Chaos. Not one of Moorcock's great tales but it's worth a read nonetheless. Much more interesting, I think, is his interview in which he touches upon a very wide range of topics, from Deities & Demigods to Mervyn Peake to why the Eternal Champion always has a companion at his side. If you've read interviews with Moorcock before, none of it is particularly revelatory (or new), but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless. Another article, "The Theatre of Michael Moorcock" by David Hill, is an overview of the three main Eternal Champions series (Elric, Hawkmoon, and Corum), presented as if it were notes from an imaginary stage production.

"Earl Aubec and the Iron Galleon" is an adventure for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons written by Michael Brunton based on an outline by Moorcock. It's an unusual adventure in that it's intended for a single player, who takes the role of Aubec, Earl of Malador. Aubec is a great hero of the Young Kingdoms from before the time of Elric, as well as a previous incarnation of the Eternal Champion. A second character, Jhary-a-Conel, is provided in the event that a second player is included. It's an intriguing scenario, involving a sea voyage that results in a fogbound collision with the titular Iron Galleon. The adventure also includes rules for luck points that remind me of those in Conan Unchained!

Graeme Davis and Colin Greenland take a long look at gamebooks in "Solo Voyages." They cover a lot of ground in this piece, from Fighting Fantasy to Lone Wolf to Tunnels & Trolls and The Fantasy Trip. I find the concept of solo fantasy gaming fascinating, even though I have fairly limited experience with it myself, so this article held my attention. There are plenty of reviews this month, such as Lords of Creation, Middle Earth Roleplaying, and Star Trek the Roleplaying Game, in addition to supplements for Marvel Super Heroes, Indiana Jones, and Traveller. I enjoy reading old reviews, both for the perspective on how things were viewed in the past and for how things are viewed in different contexts. Overall, I'd say Imagine tends to be a bit harsher in its reviews than was Dragon, though, in the case of this issue, that wasn't quite so clear.

Brian Creese's "Chainmail" continues to discuss postal gaming, something with which I have no experience and still find it hard to imagine was once sufficiently popular to command a monthly column devoted to it. Colin Greenland's "Fantasy Media" reviews The Last Starfighter, which he praises for its computer effects, and The Dune Encyclopedia, one of my favorite bits of para-fiction ever published. I should write a post about it someday, because it's a remarkable piece of work that too few people have ever seen, let alone read. Rounding out the issue is Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner," which tackles languages – a topic dear to my heart – and new installments of "Rubic of Moggedon" and "Phalanx."

This is another strong issue, aided no doubt by the presence of all the Michael Moorcock-related material. I've lamented many times before the decoupling of roleplaying games and the literature that inspired them. Seeing the work of a genuine literary superstar like Moorcock in a magazine devoted to RPGs is thus a big thrill for me, as well as a reminder of the lost world I grew up in, when being a D&D player meant that of course you had read Elric (and Conan and John Carter and Middle-earth and …), a situation that seems far less true today than it was in my youth. Ah well.


  1. Oh gods, Play By Mail used to be a huge industry in the 80s, and still survives even today as a vestige of its former self. Imagine wasn't the only magazine that had space devoted to that side of the hobby, The Space Gamer did articles and news updates for in-game happenings in big games like Tribes of Crane and...was it Starmaster? I think it was Starmaster...and several others. The stuff ran for years and years. Never played any of it beyond a brief run in Flying Buffalo's Starweb - that probably put more money into their hands than Tunnels & Trolls ever did.

    Different times indeed, and it amazes me there are still folks who prefer snailmail gaming to email variants.

  2. As a long-time Moorcock devotee I made sure to track this one down.
    It always surprised me to see the Melniboenean Sorcerer in the adventure statted out as a monster instead of a multi-class elf.

  3. Our post-modern social fragmentation reflects even in our gaming sociology, eh? A shared base of imaginative fiction was always a bedrock of the in-game world view back in the day. Now?

    And, "Yes please," to a Dune Encyclopedia post! Perhaps in a leadup to the release of the upcoming film (where I understand they've inserted 'Crusade' for 'Jihad' and got me off on the wrong foot already as a result).

  4. My eye has trouble even seeing that sword on that cover. Something is off with it.

    1. I think it is intended to be a wavy bladed sword similar to a flamberge. That's why the light reflects oddly and the sword looks odd.

  5. Please do a write up on the Dune Encyclopedia. I still have mine and thought it was great, and was disappointed when Brian Herbert did not base his novels on what was in the Encyclopedia. He missed a real opportunity; the Encyclopedia was better than any of his books.