Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Imagine Magazine: Issue #28

Issue #28 of Imagine (July 1985) is another "special" issue, in this case "pulps." I try not to be too judgmental on this particular topic, since I understand what is meant by "pulps," namely broad, over-the-top action, as exemplified by many of the stories that appeared in the pages of pulp magazines during the 1920s, '30, and '40s. Yet, as I regularly point out, "pulp" is no more a genre than is anime (another term frequently misused by those unfamiliar with it); the pulps were filled with stories of many different genres, from fantasy to crime stories to historical fiction, with many more besides, most of which shared only the paper on which they were printed and nothing more. 

Paul Mason's "The Masked Avengers" presents itself as "an introduction to pulp rolegames," which in this case means Daredevils, Justice Inc., Gangbusters, Chill, and Call of Cthulhu. According to Mason, pulp stories were "stirring tales of two-fisted action" featuring "rugged individuals fighting for truth, justice, and the American way against the forces of evil in a variety of exotic locations." He's correct that that's the way "pulps" are popularly understood, though the pedant in me recoils at the narrow understanding of the contents of these magazines. Oh well.

".... And Action!" by Mark Davies and Derrick Norton is, in a bit of serendipity, an article that demonstrates well just how much of a mess AD&D's combat rules were. The article takes five pages to elucidate the game's initiative system, something that Moldvay Basic handles succinctly in a few short paragraphs. Chris Felton's "Lycanthropy," on the other hand, is a four-page discussion of lycanthropes in D&D and AD&D, fleshing them out for use as opponents, NPCs, and even player characters. As is often the case, it's not a topic that matters much to me personally, but the article is nicely done and engaging – exactly what I want out of gaming articles. Felton returns, along with Paul Cockburn, in "The Gods of the Domains," this issue's Pelinore article. The piece fleshes out a few of the gods, providing them with mythology and relationships to one another. Accompanying the article is "Carraway Keep and the White Order" by Graeme Drysdale, which describes an organization for magic-users and elves.

David Hill's "A Look at the Cthulhu Mythos" is an overview of its (literary) history, detailing all the authors who have contributed to it and the ways in which their contributions changed it. Short but interesting, I was glad to see an article like this in a gaming magazine. Marcus Rowland's "A Nice Night for Screaming" is a murder mystery scenario intended for use with a variety of "pulp" RPGs, including the Adventures of Indiana Jones. It's a tight, well written adventure, as one would expect of Rowland. Chris Felton has yet another article in this issue, "The English Daredevil," which examines this pulp archetype from the perspective of England in the 1930s, with suggestions for modifying the rules of various games to make them a little less USA-centric. It's a good article; my only complaint is that it's too short and narrow. I'd love to have seen a longer treatment of the subject.

Hilary Robinson's "Time for the Little People" is a science fiction short story dealing with interactions between Terrans and an alien race. Sadly, this month's review focus entirely on TSR products, for AD&D and Marvel Super Heroes. Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" discusses the potential pitfalls of a campaign less focused on dungeon delving and defeating monsters and more on politics and other social interactions. In particular, he ponders how to award experience points in D&D campaigns of this sort. As always, there's lots of food for thought. 

This month's "Fantasy Media" is written by Neil Gaiman, which is interesting from a historical perspective, if nothing else. Gaiman reviews a movie I've never heard of, Titan Find, which he dubs an "Alien rip-off," as well as Runaway (starring Tom Selleck, which he likes well enough), Repo Man (which he also liked), and Cloak and Dagger (another positive review). What struck me reading this column was how many movies whose existence I had forgotten; it was quite a trip down memory lane being reminded of these. And, as always, there are comics I didn't bother to read.

Imagine continues to intrigue me, partly because I'd never seen it back in the day and partly because its content is noticeably different from what I'd read in Dragon or even White Dwarf (to which I had more regular but nevertheless intermittent access). Articles are fairly hit or miss, it's true, but they also tend to be longer and off the beaten path in terms of content. There's quite a lot of good material here, along with some forgettable stuff too. The good material, though, is of very high quality and it's a shame that the magazine didn't last longer. As the conclusion of this series draws closer, I find myself slightly saddened.


  1. A great review and well timed, I've been looking for pulp ideas and inspiration and had forgotten about this Imagine issue.

    As a regular reader of Imagine I had no idea it's demise was imminent, I recall visiting Games of Liverpool and WH Smith on a daily basis to see if issue 31 arrived... it was a sad day when I realised it had reached the end of the line.

    You should listen to these Grognard File episodes, Dirk the Dice interviews Paul Cockburn, the editor of Imagine - some real insights in it:


  2. I probably need to rewatch cloak and dagger. I know it had a RPG the young kid played as part of the story and his character was played byvthe same actor as his dad. I think? I rember big d12s rolling down an alley.

    Anyway like the cover but not sure its what i would use for a pulp issue.

  3. Imagine is UK. we had dragon here. how would you even GET imagine here? (wait, where did you grow up? I am assuming ontario for some reason, but maybe that is just some crap that rattles around in my head)

    Rick (in Alberta)