Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The New Arrival: GYGAX Magazine

So, the finger's healed up again well enough that I can resume ten-fingered typing. Time to start posting again:

I'd heard to the new 'TSR' and their launch of 'Gygax Magazine' a while back from folks in my gamer group better informed on the latest in the industry than myself. Curiosity got the better of me, so a few weeks ago I ordered a copy. It was a long time in coming, making me wonder if the print run on the first issue had run out or, just possibly, if the stock might have burned up in the recent fire in the Lake Geneva apartment of one of the Gygax brothers who are key players in the 'new TSR'.

Turns out not so; all was well, and the week before last (Th. the 11th, to be specific), it arrived in all its glory.

When I opened the mailer and saw the front cover, it was like a flashback to Lake Geneva days. I knew that 'Gygax Magazine' was a homage to the Good Old Days of DRAGON Magazine, but not that it was a sort of retro-clone. They've done everything possible to make this look like an issue of DRAGON: same typeface, same colors, same fonts, same layout, even same artist (i.e., they've commissioned a new piece v. similar to one that appeared on an actual DRAGON cover by the same artist who did the original).

Among the editorial staff are Tim Kask (the original editor of THE DRAGON, and later of ADVENTURE GAMER, wh. was itself an unofficial DRAGON in all but name*), Luke and Ernie Gygax (E. Gary G.'s sons), Jim Ward (whose roots at the original TSR go all the way back to METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA, arguably the first science fiction rpg, and the man who hired me to work at TSR back in October '91), Len Lakofka (author of the amazing L-series THE SECRET OF BONE HILL and THE ASSASSIN'S KNOT, among my all-time favorite adventures), and other names less redolent of the legended past. Diesel (one of the three original 1st edition MM/PH/DMG artists, the other two having been the late Dave Sutherland and the long-vanished Dave Trampier) and Tom Wham and Jeff Dee are listed among the contributing artists. They're even brought back Phil and Dixie with WHAT'S NEW by the ever amusing Mr. Foglio.

As for the contents, they're a mixed lot --- but then that was always the case with any given issue of DRAGON, too. Among the pieces that caught my eye:

--'The Cosmology of Role-Playing Games by James Carpio. Which deals not with the cosmology of rpgs, as one might expect from the title, but with sorting out a kind of graphic presentation showing the relationships between various generations of roleplaying games. Seeing how many of these names you recognize is a good way to confirm what era you yourself belong to; I myself knew and had played many more games near the core (e.g., Gangbusters) than on the peripheries (some of which I've never heard of, and cdn't swear actually exist without checking).

--Leomund's Tiny Hut, a column that ran for years in DRAGON, revived but with the name bizarrely enough changed to Leomund's Secure Shelter. This renaming is a good example of someone just not getting it: the whole appeal of reviving something old is to recapture its appeal and tap into that nostalgia folks who remember the original feel. Renaming it would be like Trampier reviving his famous old comic but changing the name to "Maggoty". A missed opportunity.

--Ecology of the Banshee. A classic feature that began before the first issue of THE DRAGON (it was carried over from THE STRATEGIC REVIEW), which just goes to show gamers never tire of monsters. This one expands the monster to include Peg Powlers (river-drowners); the art, by one Michael Kwiatkowski, is particularly nice.

--Jim Ward reminiscence strongly reminiscent of those 'Monty Haul' campaign write-ups that appeared in early (and I do mean early) issues of THE DRAGON, long before my time. Except that those were first-person, from the point of view of the characters suddenly swept away to the Starship Warden, whereas this piece is from the point of view of the players and DM.

--Ethan Gilsdorf's "The Future of Tabletop Gaming", an autobiographical description of early Dungeons and Dragon's appeal; bit of a surprise to see him here, since he's not one of the old-timers from early TSR.

--Michael Tresca's "D and D Past, Now, and Next". I found this the most interesting article in the issue, probably because it dealt with a topic of much interest to me: comparing the various editions of ADandD, in this case with particular reference to conversion ease or difficulty between editions. I was intrigued to note that Tresca seems to have blithely disregarded any NDA, given that his discussion includes the still-being-playtested 5th edition. Or perhaps I'm overstrict in my interpretation of NDAs. Still, quite a good piece, and one I'll probably re-read next time I run an adventure from one iteration of the game using the rules from a different iteration.

One column or feature I'm especially glad to see is "The Kobold's Cavern", as sort of mini KOBOLD QUARTERLY ensconced within the new magazine as a feature, edited by Wolfgang Baur himself (who, lest we forget, himself was once editor of DUNGEON in its glory days). Since K.Q. was the best of all the recent rpg/DandD magazines, and had recently wrapped up after a five-year (twenty-three issue) run, it's nice to see it'll carry on in some form.

Finally, there's an Adventure, a grand tradition DRAGON drifted out of, to its diminishment, when they decided to spin off their ready-to-run mini-module of the month into a separate magazine, DUNGEON. Though I enjoyed DUNGEON, esp. in its early days, I always regretted that decision, so it's good to see GYGAX magazine reinstating the old tradition. Haven't read this one ("GNATDAMP: A Sanctuary in the Swamp") yet, but looking forward to it. Oddly enough, there's no author credited in the adventure itself; you have to turn back to the Table of Contents page to find that it's by one Michael Curtis.

In keeping with the general tone of the issue, even the ads look Old School; I particularly liked one for a boxed set of miniatures (metal miniatures: v. old school indeed), clearly meant to recall/evoke the PCs sets TSR did in its early days.

And, at the very end, three comics: WHAT'S NEW with Phil and Dixie -- which proves that shtick still works just as well as it ever did; THE ORDER OF THE STICK, which seems to have run dry and just be going through the motions; and a new one called MARVIN THE MAGE, which I'd characterize by (rarely, for me) using a sports metaphor: a swing and a miss. I'd rather they reprinted a classic from the days of old, but then I suppose that'd require permissions.

Still: all in all, an enjoyable issue. I'll certainly be getting #2, supposedly due out in May.

current reading: THREE GUINEAS by Virginia Woolf [1938] -- not one of her best efforts. Another 'swing and a miss', in fact. Though I'm finding it better than on my one previous reading, circa 1985.

*it even had FINIEOUS FINGERS as its ongoing gamer cartoon, Kask having taken this best of all early DandD cartoons -- indeed, arguably the best DandD/rpg cartoon ever -- with him when he left TSR.

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