Gygax Magazine, Issue #2
Publisher: TSR, Inc.
Page Count: 74
Release Date: 08/20/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
So far, we’ve only received two issues of Gygax Magazine and I’d dare say it has been a mixed bag. The issues themselves have been a wonderful bit of nostalgia, featuring articles by big names for tabletop gaming’s past and present, beautiful covers reminiscent of the old Dragon magazine we all miss so much and so much more. On the other side, the fulfillment side had been lackluster at best. Subscriptions take forever to arrive (I had to nag for my own personal issue even though I paid for it and it took roughly two months to get to me – long after others received it), crazy international shipping rates, larger than expected delays between issues and non subscribers getting their issues before subscribers. It’s a new company and so there is always room for error, but when you’re taking on the name TSR and your magazine espouses arguably the bigger name in our industry, the errors you do make are going to be magnified and scrutinized. Basically it comes down to the fact that the magazine is splendid, but TSR needs a lot of work on the business and customer service side of things if the company is to survive. Unfortunately in this day and age, it’s hard to find a gaming periodical work with even the best versions in the industry like The Unspeakable Oath or The Rifter not even being able to put their product out on a quarterly basis. Some like Pathways and Savage Insider are able to make a regular schedule, but these also happen to be free and much shorter in length. Ah for the days of Dragon, Dungeon, Inquest, The Duelist and other tabletop magazines were able to meet a regular monthly or quarterly schedule, eh?
Now then, it’s been six months since the first issue of this magazine. Justin Jeffers reviewed it for us then, but he’s got a tiny tot to take care of now, so I’m more than happy to handle the reviewing duties of this issue, especially since I do tend to review a lot of gaming magazines for the site. I have to say that like the inaugural issue, Issue #2 is an incredible read and a lot of fun to peruse, especially if you’re a gamer of accelerated years like myself. From that striking cover of a red dragon tending to its young, to the magazine ending with an Order of the Stick comic, I felt like I was a kid again. It was also interesting to see what a range of articles there were in this issue. Instead of being strictly old school and looking primarily at AD&D and the origins of this most wonderful hobby (although it did have some bits on ICONS and Pathfinder, this issue contains pieces on Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who game, Savage Worlds, The One Ring and more! I’m really happy to see such a fine spread of articles, although I would like to see some older games that are still going strong like BRP, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and more. Perhaps even a look at games that dies long ago but are still loved and fondly remembered ranging from Chill to TSR’s FASERIP version of Marvel Super Heroes. Heck, maybe I should pitch that to Jayson Elliot myself! With nineteen articles to talk about, I suppose it’s time to get started!
1. Editorial. This one page intro by Jayson Elliot explains a little about the contents in this issue. It does what it needs to and sets up the magazine nicely. Even through it’s an introduction rather than an editorial, I suppose there’s not actually much TO editorialize just yet. 1 for 1.
2. Tactics in Samurai Battles. I have NEVER played Samurai Battles and after reading this article, it doesn’t sound like something I’d want to play in the first place. That said, I learned a LOT about the game from reading this article and if I ever did choose to give it a whirl (always try something new, right?), I would have some tactics and knowledge that should (hopefully) give me a leg up on other newcomers. Unless of course they too read this article… Hopefully this article will help Samurai Battles find its much needed (and deserved) audience. 2 for 2.
3. The Evolution From Wargaming To Roleplaying. Ernest Gygax’s articles are always a highlight of these magazines, and this was no exception. It shows how the Gygax clan went from Avalon Hill wargames to Chainmail to adding fantasy aspects to said game and finally the eventual creation of Dungeons & Dragons. Of course there is a LOT more to the article than that quick summation, but it’s a really fun read. I loved hearing about that first dungeon crawl and how Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson collaborated to make their seminal product. I also liked hearing about Ernie’s character Tenser (whose name you should all recognize) and stories like how he came up with the cone of cold spell. A wonderful article indeed. 3 for 3.
4. Hitchhiking in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. I’ve never gotten the appeal of Doctor Who, so much of this article was lost on me. That said, fans of Cubicle 7’s licensed game should find that this hodgepodge of an article provides them will all sorts of new things to bring into a game or campaign. There are three new races and ten new gadgets most of which are homages to Douglas Adams, of which I highly approve. Although I’d never use this, this was a really fun article to read and I think fans of both British Sci-Fi classics will have a blast seeing this quasi-crossover. 4 for 4.
5. Leomund’s Secure Shelter. This is an interesting look at death in D&D/OD&D/AD&D. Usually we think of death in D&D as being at -10 Hit Points, but here we get a bunch of charts which randomized death. Now, if your con is high enough, you can hold on until you are at -15 Hit Points. Of course this first chart is only about when you are instantly dropped to a particular HP total. This article also includes a chart for losing consciousness as well as a list of actions a PC can take when clinging to consciousness. Obviously, if you’re having a hard time staying conscious due to pain, blood loss, a concussion or whatever, you’re not going to be able to run that 100 meter dash at your usual speed. These optional rules are a lot to take in and while they make the game more realistic, some players will balk at not being able to say, use their Vorpal Sword at full capacity or cast Chain Lightning when they only have a single Hit Point remaining. As well, these charts only seem to apply to high level characters. What about those first level characters unlucky enough to have between one 1 and 3 Hit Points? Perhaps this idea would work better if it was percentage based instead of a specific set number based. Still it’s an interesting article. 5 for 5.
6. A forgotten grimoire, and its curse. Yes, there’s no capitalization in the title except for the opening article. Odd, isn’t it? This article is by the author of Playing at the World and his quest to find the oldest written version of D&D. This mysterious MacGuffin was believed to be penned by Dave Arneson back in 1974 late in stages of D&D development. In the end Peterson feels the Dalluhn Manuscript is indeed post Blackmoor and Chainmail but pre D&D. Is it an early draft by Arneson, or something else? We may never know, but the article is a fun and fascinating read and complete with plugs for Peterson’s book and for his website, where he goes into more detail about the manuscript in question. 6 for 6.
7. From One Geek to Another. This is an etiquette guide for gamers. While I admit that I’ve encountered a lot of gamers who are lacking in the social skills, common sense and personal hygiene categories, I can’t really say this article was all that useful. Don’t get me wrong; I think an gaming etiquette piece would be highly useful. The problem is the author spend very little of the article actually covering the proposed topic at hand. Instead it’s mostly rambling. The majority of the article is on introducing yourself to others or friends that have not met to each other. I guess this would be helpful if I or the target audience of Gygax Magazine were in elementary school, but honestly, if you’re an adult and you need a gaming magazine to tell you how to introduce yourself or others, then you probably have more than a few issues on your plate to resolve. This is just kind of a nonsensical article to me and makes me sad that the author and the editors thought this was something actually needed. 6 for 7.
8. Building a Winning Spell Book in Mage Wars. I don’t play Mage Wars but I enjoy seeing the wide range of games and systems being covered in this issue. Much like the article on Samurai Battles I learned a lot about this game, but unlike that article, I didn’t feel this one was written very well. The article tries too hard to sell the game (Note, if you actually refer to a product as a “Gamer’s Game,” you’re doing it wrong and coming off as a fanboy – not a journalist or critic), the information is too mish-mashed and the article just…ends. There’s no closing paragraph or summation – it literally seems to end with the author having more to say but the text is just missing. I actually went skimming through the magazine to see if the article was simply missing the “continued on p.XX” piece, but it wasn’t. This simply isn’t written very well and although it was educational, it wasn’t quality and not something that endeared me to trying the game. 6 for 8.
9. Heroes, Kings, and Champions. I love Ken St. Andre. I love Tunnels & Trolls and I’m one of the few people that review that game’s releases regularly. However, I just didn’t get this article. I guess it’s because it felt more like a blog entry than a review, treatise or journalistic piece on gaming. It’s all over the place, starting off talking about classic heroes in literature and how some writers like Fielding and Chaucer wrote about common people (although in both cases cited, neither book named in this article actually features common people or even common situations, which kind of kills the point he is trying to make) and then it abruptly shifts into a weird conversation about what type of character are you making and/or are you writing the adventure for. It’s a little rambly and I honestly don’t get what the intent of the article was or what the author was going for. It’s just not very coherent. 6 for 9.
10. The Old School Renaissance. In a nutshell, this is an article about helping younger or less experienced gamers discover older editions of D&D along with their retro-clones. Personally I’ve never understood Edition Wars. Do I like 1e and 2e better than say 4e? Yes, but that won’t keep me from playing or running 4e if something from that line catches my fancy. At the same time I really like how some dedicated passionate gamers have kept old editions alive. This article does a great job of explaining why those people do what they do and also highlighting the difference between the two styles. I will say that the article does make new games sound like they are about roll-playing over role-playing and I have to say, I think every edition of every game has equals amounts of players who play both ways. I know a lot of OSR gamers who just roll dice and barely give any depth to their character and 4e players who spend more time with their characters talking rather than fighting. It’s all about who you game with more than the system. Still, it’s a great article and really highlights why some of us stick to the older games. 7 for 10.
11. Weird Vibrations. Any article that starts off by citing Lovecraft and Ashton Smith instantly gets my notice, I’ll tell you that. This is a fun look at changing the Bard class in Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea into something more Call of Cthulhu-esque. More specifically, using the short story The Music of Erich Zann as a bard template, which I think is a wonderful idea and something I did with a Bard back in 2e AD&D’s Ravenloft. What’s here isn’t just for S&S though. The article can be applied to any system that has a Bard or even systems like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Lamentations of the Flame Princess as it is all ideas rather than stat blocks. Anyway, I just loved this article, and the full page piece of art that went with it. 8 for 11.
12. The Inkubus. This is a weird little article written as a fiction story about a new monster for the Savage Worlds system. I love seeing SW covered here, but Savage Insider obviously does a better job on that system because that magazine is geared solely for it. I didn’t think the fiction here was very good at all and the new monster did nothing for me. Bleh. 8 for 12.
13. The Blighted Lands. This article is by Luke Gygax and is all about his new fantasy setting of Okkorim. This is a great look at a new setting, although the article doesn’t say what edition of D&D or AD&D it is for. Obviously it’s for an older one, but some clarification would have been nice. Okkorim isn’t a full world, but it’s meant to be a supplement to your already existing setting. It’s a dessert slash Arabic setting, so you might start to think of Al-Qadim which was an AD&D Second Edition setting. In fact, Okkorim is more of a low fantasy setting and players will find that having enough fresh food and water is perhaps a bigger challenge than any sword wielding antagonist. You get a full adventure, a few new monsters and, for print versions of the magazine, there are two foldout map insert. Just a lot of nice work from beginning to end here. 9 for 13.
14. The Hare and the Hill Giant. It’s odd to see Shane Ivey writing about The One Ring instead of Call of Cthulhu, but I’ll take it as I’m a fan of both systems. This is a full length adventure and easily the longest article in the magazine. It’s a pretty simple conflict where your heroes will have to do battle with trolls, but it’s well written and a lot of fun. 10 for 14.
15. Super Science in Fantasy Games. The title says it all. This article basically gives examples of futuristic scientific devices for use in fantasy settings. Force fields, ray guns and the like are here. The article doesn’t specifically say what system these are for, but the text and the appearance of the OGL (along with the fact it’s in the “Kobold’s Den”) should tell you it is either for 3.0, 3.5 or Pathfinder. Thankfully the table of contents specifically calls it a Pathfinder article, but a good editor (and writer) would specifically state it in the article or via a sub-heading so this is slightly sloppy here. At least the content is good. 11 for 15.
16. Dueling Through the AGEs. A look at various forms of duels. This article uses the AGE system rules. It’s not a system I use, but the article is well written and the information is both interesting and potentially useful for those that do. 12 for 16.
17. Lost Wonders of Calemarath. This article is for use with the Midgard campaign setting and I just didn’t care for it. Poor writing, poor layout, poor formatting and it really needed to be fleshed out more. I think this might be the worst article in the magazine. 12 for 17.
18. Full Frontal Nerdity. This was a humorous two page comic that takes a nice satiric look at some of the things gamers will do to get more cash for their characters. In this case, it’s serving up the remains of your slaughtered enemies as delicious meals. Soylent Green is Black Pudding I guess. 13 for 18.
19. The Order of the Stick. OotS is the best fantasy gaming comic today, bar none and it’s great to see it back in a magazine. Roy and Haley meet a good or neutral aligned wererat. Hilarity ensues as they try to help him. 14 for 19.
So there we go. A 74% quality rate, which is pretty good for a magazine which has only seen two issues and is still working out a lot of kinks. I’d be remiss if I did not note a lot of editorial mistakes, especially with heading capitalizations, which is a shame to see in a professionally published magazine. There are also an insane amount of ads in this issue, which was also something that many people remarked on in this first as well, but you have to pay the bills somehow, right? Overall, the good definitely outweighs the bad in Gygax Magazine, but there’s no denying that there is room for improvement. It’s still a quality magazine and it really is between this and The Unspeakable Oath for our “Best Gaming Periodical Award.” We still have a quarter of the year to see if either puts out a third issue. Fingers crossed there.
The bottom line – Gygax Magazine is worth the cover price and the team behind it will only get better. The articles are generally quite good and it’s fun to flip through this. If you’re nostalgic for the gaming magazine of the 80s and 90s, you should definitely grab this and maybe even contemplate a subscription.