Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Imagine Magazine: Issue #24

Issue #24 of Imagine (March 1985) features a cover by Ken Kelly and marks the second anniversary of the TSR UK magazine. As its cover proclaims, this issue is dedicated to thieves and, unlike several previous themed issues, almost the entirety of its contents do in fact deal with thieves and related matters. The thief content kicks off with "Criminal Negligence" by Kerry Bateman, which examines the class from an unexpected perspective. Bateman suggests that thieves are misunderstood and maligned in AD&D. The article then talks about what makes the class unique and valuable, as well as addressing common questions and concerns about the class. There's very little world shaking here, but it's not a bad introduction to both the class and this issue's overall theme.

Venetia Lee's "Thieves' Den," meanwhile, is a lengthy and imaginative discussion of thieves' guild, with an eye toward using them in D&D campaigns. I've long had an interest in running an all-thief campaign and this article approaches that subject, along with guidelines for doing so. The Pelinore installment presents the Old Bastion, a safehouse used by the City League's thieves. The installment also provides an overview of the thieves' guilds of Pelinore and how they operate. Chris Felton's "All That Glistens …" discusses scams and illegal activities in which thieves can participate beyond outright theft. 

"How to Sell the Ponti Bridge" is a larcenous short story written by none other than Neil Gaiman, long before he was a world famous, best-selling author. While I'm no fan of Gaiman's work – heresy, I know – I'm nonetheless tickled to see his byline in the pages of a RPG magazine. It's a reminder of just how important roleplaying games, particularly D&D, has been in promoting and popularizing the fantasy genre through which many new writers have come to prominence. "Guilty if Caught" is a mini-adventure intended for an all-thief group, written by Mike Brunton. Actually, it's more accurate to call it three mini-adventures, each one a job offered to the characters by the thieves' guild to which they belong. Chris Barlow's "An Open and Shut Case" examines locks from historical, technological, and game mechanical perspectives. It's a very narrow topic but well done and surprisingly interesting.

"Microreviews" looks at two early computer games, Runes of Zendos and The Wrath of Magra, neither of which ring a bell with me. This month's RPG reviews cover modules for Dragonlance, Marvel Super Heroes, and AD&D. Most fascinating to them, though, is the review of Golden Heroes, Games Workshop's superhero roleplaying game. I owned Golden Heroes based on the relentless advertising of it in the pages of White Dwarf and rather liked elements of its design. The review in this issue speaks well of it, suggesting that it's more complex and detailed than the TSR game, making it better suited for older and more sophisticated players. I'm not sure I'd agree with that, but it's been decades since I last looked at Golden Heroes. Maybe it's time I correct that?

Brian Creese's "Chainmail" looks at playing auto racing games, like Formula One and Speed Circuit, by mail. I continue to be intrigued by Imagine's regular coverage of postal games; it's a window on another age. Colin Greenland reviews Dune (which he liked, particularly its costumes and sets – who can argue with him?), Gremlins (which he didn't like), and The Black Hole (which he openly mocks). He also takes a look at Raymond Feist's Magician, a book that's very contentious in the world of Tékumel fandom, since the invading Tsurani Empire clearly owes a lot to M.A.R. Barker's fantasy setting. I've never read a word of Feist's books, but, from the descriptions, here and elsewhere, it's little wonder that the matter is fraught with acrimony.

"Stirge Corner" by Roger Musson continues to tackle the matter of wilderness travel. In this issue, his interest is on the conflicting demands of what I'd call Gygaxian naturalism – creating a plausible wilderness that follows predictable rules – and one that's at least somewhat "balanced" toward the levels of the characters traversing it. Usually, I find Musson's thoughts congenial with my own. Here, I disagree strenuously with the idea that even wilderness encounters ought to be scaled to the characters' power. I like my wilderness wild and dangerous – and capable of slaying unwary characters who travel through it unprepared. This issue also includes new episodes of all its comics, but, since I never read them anyway, I have little to say on this score.

Issue #24 was a very good one. Its focus on thieves, despite my well known ambivalence toward them as a class, was a true highlight and I found many of its articles genuinely of interest to me. I hope that the coming issues are equally good.


  1. I noticed the comment about Raymond Feist and Tékumel... interesting since I recall the fantasy world of Feist's book(s) was apparently derived from the roleplaying campaign that also birthed the Midkemia Press series of "universal" fantasy rpg supplements like Cities, Carse and Tulan of the Isles. All the more reason to maybe read Magician someday.

    1. The story goes that Feist's GM introduced elements from EPT into his campaign and never told anyone. When Feist later wrote his novels, he drew on that campaign for ideas and inadvertently borrowed from Tékumel. I'm skeptical of this explanation, as are many, but that's the story Feist tells.

    2. "Good artists borrow, Great Artists Steal" Picasso.

      I don't know how much you can complain about a fantasy novel taking from an RPG, since how much RPGs steal from fantasy novels. And Tekumel is pretty obscure, I had never heard of it until a few years ago, when I started to research the origins of the hobby. Feist's first book has sold more copies than ALL of EPT combined

    3. There's no doubt that Feist's works sold more than EPT ever has; I'm not sure that's the point, though. The aspects of Tékumel Feist reproduces are very specific ones, utterly unique to Tékumel, which is why, as I understand it, he later downplayed those elements in order to sidestep the issue of his borrowings. This goes far beyond D&D's inclusion of hobbits or Traveller's references to high and low passages.

    4. like what?

      to be honest, I only read Magician, and a couple past that. Fantasy has dropped off my reading list, and Feist is clearly paid by the page, so I stopped following it.

    5. The borrowing are many: Tsurani/Tsolyáni, Yankora/Yán Kór, pantheon of exactly 20 gods, the lack of riding animals and scarcity of metal, the reclusive emperor, the insectoid Ch'oja/Pé Chói. These are all just off the top of my head; I haven't looked at Feist in a long time. Others more knowledgeable of his works could undoubtedly point out other elements of Tékumel that are present in the books.

    6. Interesting. Big EPT fan personally but I've never read any Feist at all so this is the first I'd heard of this, but from what you describe I'd have been calling theft right quick. Di dhe at least have the decency to apologize to Barker while he was still alive and give him a cut of his sales?

  2. I'm a heretic, too.

    Our wilderness forays were mostly the "Over and Back" varieties of reaching a distant destination, crawling-conquering-plundering, and running away. DM'd by older brothers, they were pretty dynamic in the vein of low-fires and manure dispersing to prevent tracking. Scaling per se, no. Suffering good or bad consequences based on preparation and execution, oh yes.

    "Camping with Girls" is what the older brothers called it. Better bring toilet paper.