Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Different Worlds: Issue #1

Different Worlds premiered in February 1979 with Tadashi Ehara as its editor, a position he held for the entirety of the magazine's run. Ehara states, in his inaugural editorial, that Chaosium wanted to produce "a magazine to cover all aspects of role-playing, from Dungeons and Dragons to Bunnies and Burrows, from Traveller to En Garde! Even SPI's Commando." Thus, Different Worlds was intended to cover the entirety of the hobby rather than focusing on a specific game or even group of games. In this, Different Worlds was no different than Dragon, White Dwarf, or Imagine, though I have little doubt that its origins on the west coast of the United States colored its content in ways both subtle and obvious.

The issue kicks off with Charlie Krank's "Beginner's Brew," the subtitle of which is "What is all this stuff?" Krank then explains what an RPG is and what its various elements (referee, players, dice, etc.) are and how they all relate to one another. The article is basic, as one might expect, but what interests me most is that such an article was deemed necessary at all. Yes, it was written in early 1979, barely five years after the invention of the hobby, but how many readers of Different Worlds wouldn't know what a roleplaying game was? Of course, Imagine regularly included such articles, too; perhaps it was simply considered a requirement at the time, much like examples of play in RPG rulebooks.

Next up is the first part of Mike Gunderloy's D&D variant, "Specialty Mages." Specialty mages, as opposed to "True Mages," (i.e. OD&D magic-users) are somewhat more robust (d6 hit dice) and have a wider range of weapons (swords and spear) but have a narrower, more focused list of available spells. The first part focuses on the Mages of Earth, providing lists for spell levels 1–10 – yes, 10. This is not explained, simply presented as if it were a fact, which I suspect reflects early house rules of an additional level above 9. I myself remember encountering such things in the early '80s, which suggests it was a widespread notion. I'm curious to see what Gunderloy might do in the second part of the article.

"My Life and Role-Playing" is a collection of articles of varying lengths by notable game designers and writers of the period, in which they talk about their early experiences with the hobby – how they discovered it, what led to their creating a game of their own, etc. – and, in several cases, give us insight into their home campaigns. The range of writers is indeed vast, consisting of (among many others) Ken St. Andre, Marc Miller, Greg Costikyan, Dennis Sustare, Lee Gold, and Dave Hargrave. I could devote a post or more to each of these articles, since nearly all of them contain historical tidbits that were otherwise unknown to me. For example, Marc Miller not only mentions his unpublished fantasy RPG, Companions of the Road but also Frank Chadwick's If I Were King … (which might be an earlier version of Liege Lord). Equally interesting is reading about Dave Hargrave's disappointment with OD&D and how it fueled his desire to come up with his own design. It's terrific stuff and I'm so very glad I read it.

Ed Simbalist, one of the creators of Chivalry & Sorcery and Space Opera, presents "Archaeron," his home fantasy campaign setting, along with a hand drawn map of its main area. What's most appealing about the article is not so much its content, which, if I am honest, isn't all that remarkable, but Simbalist's own comments on why he designed the setting in the way he did. I adore articles of this sort and wish more game designers – or indeed just gamers – would do something like this. Greg Stafford provides "The Cult of Geo," a new cult for use with RuneQuest, the first bit of content in the issue specifically geared toward a Chaosium game. 

Steve Lortz's "What is a Role-Playing Game?" is an odd article, not quite in the same genre of Charlie Krank's earlier piece from the same issue. Rather than being a discussion of RPGs from the perspective of a neophyte, it is rather an examination "rule organization," with a focus on things like time, scale, and sequences, among related topics. He demonstrates his point of view more fully by outlining the rules structure of an imaginary game, Cannibals and Castaways, in which the player characters attempt to survive on a desert island inhabited by cannibals. There's even an example of play, followed by yet more analysis of RPG rules, this time with an eye on "move structure in RPGs," "move" here being a synonym for "action." As I said, it's an odd article and I must confess I found it tedious and generally uninteresting to me (but my disinterest in rules discussion is legendary). The issue concludes with an article by P.E.I. Bonewits and Larry Press to support Authentic Thaumaturgy

My overall impression of Different Worlds is immensely positive after only a single issue. Unlike Imagine, which seemed to take a while to find its footing, it's pretty clear that Different Worlds already has a good sense of what it's about. Since I only ever read a single issue of the magazine back in the day and one fairly late in its run – I can't recall the issue number but I will remember it when I get to re-reading it – this is all new to me. I anticipate that there will be many moments of discovery and pleasure along the way; I cannot wait to read more.


  1. By far, DW was my favorite gaming magazine of the times. Sorcerer's Apprentice was my second favorite. I always found myself reading through everything in those two magazines, whereas in The Dragon, I'd only usually find interest in a a handful of articles per issue, and eventually let my sub lapse and bought off the shelf in order to only buy issues that had something of interest.

    DW/SA= All steak, not much sizzle.

  2. I missed the earlier issues of DW to my eternal regret, not getting into it until around issue 20. Nice to see a retrospective of the earliest of the early days.

    FWIW, the "what is roleplaying?" articles might have been an attempt to reach out to true newbies. DW was carried by magazine distributors who serviced newsracks (when they were still everywhere - I bought my first issue of DW in a Woolworths) and bookstores (before the Big Boxes killed most of them) and they were doubtless hoping to reach beyond the hobby that way.

  3. Oh, just a mostly-unrelated FYI: I dug back through the links to some earlier posts and found the one about those "Anywhen RPG" ads from K Society that cropped up in several mags in the late 80s - Imperial Earth and its Papal attack fleets, etc, etc. Some digging turned up a bit of interesting chat about that bit of vaporware from people who were neighbors of the company - follow the link:


  4. Guys, Tadashi Ehara is still selling back issues of Different Worlds on his personal website: https://www.diffworlds.com/different_worlds.htm

    Catch 'em while you can. (I'm going to regret posting this, because I have not yet acquired copies of them myself and now anticipate them selling out, but I can't resist spreading the love for DW and Tadashi Ehara. His website contains many treasures of old school gaming lore.)

  5. Tadashi had alot of good stuff on his site for sale: Many of the old JG materials, Thieves Guild/Gamelords and some others, but I never managed to place an order before what I wanted was gone :o(

  6. Different Worlds is one of two gaming magazines that I have a complete run of (the other is Dungeon, I used to have a complete run of White Dwarf through issue 50 or 60 or so, but I managed to lose an issue here and there). Though I'm not sure how much content from the magazine I've ever actually used (sure, I photocopied all the RQ cults to keep with my RQ stuff, but I'm not sure I ever had a PC or NPC follow one of those cults), but I'm so glad to have read it at the time and still have it in my possession. I did re-read a lot of the Traveller material when setting up my Wine Dark Rift campaign and I've made note of the useful RQ material for my RQ1 campaign.

  7. My favorite gaming magazine and long past time for me to do a reread. If only I can remember where I put them all.

    I think you're right when you say that "its origins on the west coast of the United States colored its content in ways both subtle and obvious.". It definitely had a different feel to it.

  8. One of my favourite magazines, but then I was always a Chaosium fanboy. [Eat at Geos!]

  9. I have the original painting that on different worlds #1. It's signed Swenston 78