Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Imagine Magazine: Issue #6

Issue #6 of Imagine dates from September 1983 and features cover art by Emmanuel, who's probably best known in D&D circles for having provided the cover to the Fiend Folio, though he also did a lot of covers for White Dwarf as well. The issue kicks off with Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz's "The Beginners' Guide to Role Playing Games" and "The Adventures of Nic Novice." The former briefly discusses "thieving skills." For old schoolers, it's interesting to see how the authors approach both the thief class and its abilities (Spoiler: thieves aren't ninjas). The latter discusses how to roll up characters in games other than D&D, with both Boot Hill and Bushido being featured as examples.

Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" focuses on how to keep your character alive, with the author providing five "morals" to aid inexperienced players in this endeavor. His morals are:
  1. Don't split the party.
  2. Don't go deeper than you can handle.
  3. Plan beforehand.
  4. If the party becomes seriously depleted in strength, exit fast.
  5. Don't get into unnecessary fights.
These are all good bits of advice if you're playing in an old school dungeon crawl campaign. I find it gratifying that advice of this sort was still being given out in late 1983, especially given Musson's earlier disdain of "dungeon bashing." Also included in this issue is a reprint of Gary Gygax's preview of the thief-acrobat class, which had previously appeared in Dragon. I've never been a huge fan of the concept or the execution of this "split class" and seeing it again didn't change my mind on the topic. Ian Watson provides a surprisingly good science fiction short story called "Dome of Whispers," which ends with the following rather evocative paragraphs:
Which is why the planet Suf is known as the Whispering World, or the Ghost World nowadays; and why the brown people with flashing teeth wear plugs of wax in their ears and converse in sign language, and why tourists pay visits to Suf, to be haunted. Generally the constant haunting is too much for the curious tourists, so that after the first five or six hours they will seek refuge in the inappropriately-named Dome of Whispers, where alone in all the world there is utter silence.

That silence has its guardians, who will not as a rule let visitors so much as whisper anywhere inside their fractured holy place. Though sometimes, for a truly golden consideration, they will allow a person to shout aloud and hear his or her own voice vanish without even an echo.

Nowadays there are a hundred guardians. People are eager to escape all the whispers in the world.
 I know the feeling.

Graeme Morris provides "Jack of All Trades," which is an adventure dual-statted for D&D and DragonQuest. I know lots of people hold a grudge against TSR for the way it handled SPI and its properties and I'm sympathetic to that. At the same time, I grow ever more convinced that TSR was simply incompetent when it came to business matters and only the phenomenal success of D&D kept the company afloat as long as it did. A good case in point is that much of TSR's "support" of DQ was in the form of dual-statted D&D adventures like this one, which suggests they simply didn't understand the properties they had acquired or had any idea what to do with them. The adventure itself is noteworthy, being a fairly generic one about a raid on a bandit leader's headquarters, but it does include a bit of artwork that looks to me like someone having a bit of fun at Gary Gygax's expense:
Or maybe I'm just seeing things.

"Dispel Confusion" focuses solely on AD&D questions this month. "Turnbull Talking" takes up several topics, but most interestingly replies to the editorial in issue #5 of Imagine regarding gender parity in the hobby. Turnbull states his own opinion:
Simply, I believe that fewer females play games than males. Full stop. This has nothing to do with sex-typing, the liberation of the female, or male porcine chauvinism. It's just a fact so far as my own observation goes. Similarly, I guess that male drivers and female primary school teachers are in the respective majority.
Regardless of what one thinks of Turnbull's claim, it's interesting to see some disagreement within the pages of Imagine among its editorial staff. That's not something I remember ever seeing in the pages of Dragon, which presented a much more "unified" front on such matters. Personally, I like reasoned disagreement within an organization, since it suggests openness to persuasion, but that's neither here nor there.

We get more "Rubic of Moggedon" comics, movie reviews by Colin Greenland (including Return of the Jedi, which he liked with some qualifications), and a new feature called "Chain Mail," dedicated to "the postal gaming hobby." As I've said many times elsewhere, I never played a game by mail back in the day, but I was always intrigued by the concept of it. I'd have thought that, by nearly 1984, PBM gaming would have been on the wane. Shows what I know! There continues to be lots of coverage of local cons, fanzines, and other happenings, which is very fascinating. Peter Tamlyn's "Tavern Talk" is a big part of this. In issue #6, he takes on the question of whether or not TSR is developing a bad reputation because of its heavy-handed ways by referencing a column by John Harrington in a Tunnels & Trolls fanzine called Take That, You Fiend. Tamlyn jokingly responds, "What do you expect from someone who plays Tunnels & Trolls?" before admitting that Harrington has a point and that "TSR's marketing department could do with the feedback."

Geof Hogan and Cathy Pash provide new cards for "European Illuminati," which is good fun, especially if you're at all familiar with UK politics at the time. There are reviews of Thieves' World and SoloQuest (both broadly positive), as well as spotlights on new miniatures. The issue ends with another installment of the comic "The Sword of Alabron."

With issue #6, Imagine continues to find its footing and evolve. I notice a lot more advertisements in this issue than previous ones (or so it seemed anyway), which makes me wonder about the financial realities of publishing a games magazine at the time. On the other hand, I very much like the fact that Imagine has its own voice -- or, rather, voices -- that helps to distinguish it not only from Dragon but even from other UK publications. I'm really enjoying reading these issues and look forward to seeing what the future brings.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Imagine Magazine: Issue #5

Issue #5 of Imagine appeared in August 1983 and features a rather striking cover by Tony O'Donnell. In general, I've found the covers of Imagine much more compelling to me than those of Dragon. They're quirkier and more diverse, which appeals to me these days, though I don't doubt that, as a younger person, I probably wouldn't have appreciated them to the same degree. The issue kicks off with an editorial by Kim Daniel on the perennial favorite of "women in gaming." I reproduce the bulk of Daniel's words here:
A woman coming fresh into this hobby feels somewhat excluded. Women are provided for in TSR's game rules (the USA being more sex-egalitarian than the UK), but the language belies the truth -- look at 'Dungeon/Games Master', and all the him- and his-ing that goes on in articles we receive. Mere convention of speech, you may say -- but if that's true then why are articles about nurses, secretaries, and teachers full of she and her? No doubt about it, your average gamer is expected to be male. And it's clear that most gamers are: attend any convention, visit any club or hobby shop, and most of those present will be male.

But why should this be? Perhaps it stems from the roots in wargames. War is traditionally a man's game, so it follows that the simulation of war is, too. There's a theory in sociological circles that war only becomes acceptable while the women remain at home to be 'defended' ... However, if wargamers are mostly pacific people, as Don Turnbull asserted last month, such considerations should not be prohibitive of women. And if, as common mythology has it, women are artful and cunning dissemblers, then surely we should be good tacticians and role-players?

Eureka! I get it -- women must be excluded from gaming because otherwise we might beat men at that game too. It's obvious!
I'm not foolish enough to offer any commentary on Daniel's editorial. I'll only say that, nearly-thirty years later, these same concerns persist and "women in gaming" remains a topic about which many feel strongly.

Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz provide further installments of "The Beginner's Guide to Role Playing Games," which discusses how spells work in D&D, while "The Adventures of Nic Novice" touches on other game systems, in this case Traveller. Roger Musson continues to talk about adventures in his "Stirge Corner" column. This time he addresses the differences between an "adventure dungeon" and a "main dungeon." Though the terms he uses are different, the difference Musson is recognizing is the difference between a "lair" and a "campaign" (or mega) dungeon many in the OSR have also noted. Unlike the OSR, Musson tends to denigrate the "main" dungeon, saying that encourages "dungeon bashing" and "it resembles nothing in life, history and literature. It is certainly not role playing at its best."Here is, I think, a clear example of the shift in tastes that characterizes the transition between the Gold and Silver Ages of D&D.

"In a Class of Their Own" by Chris Black looks at the historical origins of the druid and attempts to apply that knowledge to the AD&D character class. The issue also reprints a number of new druid spells by Gary Gygax, spells which had previously appeared in Dragon and would later appear in Unearthed Arcana. Peter Tamlyn's "Tavern Talk" continues to keep readers abreast of local cons and game clubs. Doug Cowie and several others review recent game releases, including the modules Dungeonland and Master of Desert Nomads, both of which are treated favorably. Graeme Davis pens a Celtic-themed AD&D scenario called "The Taking of Siandabhair," which largely takes place on a remote island.

"Dispel Confusion" continues to provide answers to game rules questions, once again focusing on AD&D, Star Frontiers, and DragonQuest. Don Turnbull's "Turnbull Talking" briefly talks about the history of wargames and how D&D grew out of that environment. The only really noteworthy thing about the piece is that Turnbull wrote it at all. By 1983, my own experience was that wargames were increasingly uncommon in the games shops I frequented and were seen more and more as a separate hobby from roleplaying. But then perhaps that's the reason Turnbull felt it necessary to talk about that history.

The comic "Rubic of Moggedon" continues. Mike Costello offers up "The Imagination Machine," where he talks about computers. Dave Pringle tackles several book reviews. Carole Morris's "Lay, Lore, and Legend" is a treatment of Celtic mythology for roleplaying purposes, which seems to be something of a theme in issue #5. There are more letters, con and club announcements, and ads aplenty, along with another episode of Ian Williamson's "The Sword of Alabron" comic.

Issue #5 is solid, especially in the way that it further helps to establish Imagine's unique voice, compared to Dragon or even White Dwarf. I can definitely understand why TSR would grow increasingly worried about that voice, since it's not merely different from that in TSR's other publications but also a bit too "independent." In time, as I understand it, that independence would lead to clashes between the two branches of the company and would ultimately lead to the demise of Imagine. But that's still far in the future at this point.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tenuous Golden Ages

Over on Google+, Chris Kutalik shared some photos of an old TSR board game called Knights of Camelot. I never owned the game myself, but I remember it well from ads I saw in the catalogs included with lots of TSR games back in the day. Looking at the photos Chris shared, it was the layout and graphic design that caught my eye. With a map by Darlene and interior artwork by Jeff Dee, it's a very attractive product. Equally eye-catching was the presentation of the rules, which looked like a dry run for the Basic and Expert Rulebooks (no surprise, given that Knights of Camelot was published in 1980, shortly before the B and X books came out).

I commented that, for me, TSR was at the height of its powers, between 1979 and 1982. While the fact that those coincide with my earliest in the hobby certainly plays a role in my estimation, I don't think that's all there is to it. Fond as I am of TSR's earlier efforts, I don't think any of them, taken as a whole, are as well done as the aforementioned B and X rulebooks or Star Frontiers or Gangbusters or any number of other products of that era. I mean, I love the Dave Trampier's cover the Players Handbook to death, but the presentation of the PHB itself? It's OK but it's got nothing on even TSR's more lackluster efforts between 1979 and 1982.

Looking at it as objectively as I can, what strikes me most about that era is that the products still exemplify the wild-eyed enthusiasm that makes the earlier stuff so intoxicating, while at the same time looking professional but not "slick." A lot of my dislike of TSR's output from 1983 on is that it feels soulless and uniform, more like that of a mass market widget manufacturer than a purveyor of "products of your imagination." Again, some may disagree with this assessment on my part, but it's one that comports with the recollections of at least some of the company's former employees, who saw a sea change at TSR.

I mention all of this as a kind of prolog to presenting this link a post over at Gamasutra, which presents the history of the TRS-80, Radio Shack's personal computer. Interestingly, the heyday of the "Trash-80" (as we called it), roughly coincides with that of the period I so admire at TSR. Consequently, I tend to strongly associate the two in my mind. One of my closest friends in elementary school was a computer aficionado and he owned a TRS-80, which he used to write programs to aid him -- and us -- in playing D&D and other RPGs. We also played some early computer "RPGs" on that computer, like Zork and Temple of Apshai, among others, thereby cementing the mental connection. The fact that that computer and D&D's publisher both used the same three consonants probably also had an effect on my young mind.

I've often wondered if the reason that putative golden ages are often so brief is because they only arise during a period of transition between one era and another. In the case of TSR, it was the transition between being a hobbyist company and a more professional one, while, in the case of the TRS-80's ascendancy, it was a period between personal computers being a curiosity and a consumer product. Younger friends of mine often talk wistfully about the days "before the Internet became big" in a similar fashion. I am sure enthusiasts of other hobbies have their own versions too. Great work seems to arise in periods of tension, while the old ways still exert their influence and the new ones are just aborning. They're great times to be involved and I consider myself lucky to have been there for several throughout my life.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Starting a Meme

As a general rule, I'm not a big fan of Internet memes. My eyes tend to glaze over whenever everyone's blog is posting and re-posting the same stuff or variations on it -- some of the wags out there are no doubt asking, "How is that any different than usual?" -- but I'm going to be hypocritical and indulge in a little memetic engineering anyway.

Posted above is a photo of the shelf immediately above my desk, where I do most of my writing. The books on that shelf are the ones to which I refer most often, both in my writing and in my playing. What I'd love to see are more photos like this, with people showing off the shelves to which they most frequently turn in their writing and (especially) gaming. A number of folks have already done this on Google+, which is great, but I'd like to see them on blogs, too.

Have at it!

New Popular Edition

At the back of issue #6 of Imagine (I'll be posting about issue #5 later today), there's this advertisement:
That's obviously the 1983 Frank Mentzer-edited Basic Rules, with which I'm familiar. But this is the first time I've ever seen the phrase "new popular edition" associated with it. Is that something unique to the UK market (since the ad appeared in Imagine) or was it a phrase used elsewhere as well? In either case, what does it mean? Is it "popular" in the sense of "mass market," suggesting that the boxed sets were intended for wider appeal than AD&D? It's a strange turn of phrase, so I'm curious what others make of it.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

More OSR Links of Awesomeness

Back at the end of September, I made a post in which I directed readers to eight blogs that presented material from some awesomely diverse campaigns settings. That post proved extremely popular, so, with November drawing to a close, I thought I'd do it again and shine a light on some of the clever, cool, and imaginative work of our fellow old school enthusiasts. Here are six more blogs -- and campaign settings -- worth visiting:

The Black City: Beedo's megadungeon has been described as "At the Mountains of Madness with Vikings." The eponymous Black City is a ruined alien city located on the shores of the island of Thule, now the focus of expeditions of glory-seeking Northmen. It's a great idea for a campaign set-up -- even if Beedo does show an inexplicable liking for halflings ...

Castle Nicodemus: Michael Moscrip of The Grumpy Old Troll, like a lot of us, runs a regular OD&D campaign via Hangouts on Google+. His setting, Anglia, which includes the dungeon known as Castle Nicodemus, is described as taking cues from "Boorman's Excalibur, Bakshi's Wizards and plenty of Dragonslayer." This blog details that setting, along with other old school goodness.

Hill Cantons: Chris Kutalik's venerable sand box campaign might rightly be called one of the foundational campaigns of the OSR. It's not just of longstanding, but it's also served as a kind of laboratory for many of the wild and crazy ideas we've all discussed over the last five years.

HMS Apollyon: Gus L. of Dungeon of Signs runs a megadungeon-centric campaign set aboard "a miles long demon and monster haunted cruise ship that travels between worlds and frequently 'rescues' individuals from the seas it traverses." Someone else called the campaign "Metamorphosis Alpha adrift on the River Styx." Whatever you call it, I think it's pretty cool -- one of the most original ideas for a megadungeon I've seen in a community filled with original ideas for megadungeons.

Planet Algol: Though I've known about -- and admired -- Blair's Planet Algol setting for years, it occurs to me that some folks might never have heard of it. Describing succinctly is difficult, but I'd call it a sword-and-planet romp that draws equally on Burroughs, Heavy Metal, Harryhausen movies, and psychedelic fantasy from the '60s and '70s. I love it.

Wermspittle: The walled village of Wermspittle is surrounded by garbage-infested shantytowns and its labyrinthine sewers are filled with all manner of unwholesomeness. Plagues and warfare are abroad and the once-secluded village has seen its population increase, as refugees and fortune seekers make their way here. Wermspittle is a weird urban fantasy campaign -- and we need more of those!

Comments on this post can be made here.

ASE 2-3 Now Available

Though the news of this has already spread far and wide -- or, at least, I hope it has -- I'd nevertheless like to make everyone aware that the second volume of Patrick Wetmore's terrifically gonzo post-apocalyptic megadungeon, the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, is now available for purchase via Lulu.com in both print and electronic form.

The second volume is bigger the first one, since it includes two full levels of the ASE rather than just one. It's also, if anything, even more bizarre. I've already got my copy and will doing a review of it in the coming weeks, but, if you liked the first volume, as I did, I have little doubt you'll enjoy the second.

Pulp Fantasy Library: On Thud and Blunder

I'm firmly of the opinion that it's no mistake Dungeons & Dragons was published when it was. The late '60s saw a huge literary revival of pulp fantasy, thanks in no small part to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter, which kicked off in 1969. And one cannot deny the influence that the first authorized paperback editions of Tolkien's works (also published by Ballantine) had, when they appeared in 1965. This foundation having been laid down, the 1970s proved to be an extraordinarily fruitful period for fantasy literature of all sorts, much of it quite excellent. Of course, given the sheer volume of new fantasies being written during the '70s, it was inevitable that a significant portion of them would be, at best, mediocre and, at worst, execrable. This was particularly the case with regards to "heroic fantasy," the term then used to refer to what we nowadays call sword-and-sorcery tales -- the genre Robert E. Howard pioneered in the 1930s.

It's against this backdrop that Poul Anderson penned his famous essay "On Thud and Blunder," which first appeared in Andrew Offutt's anthology, Swords Against Darkness III, published in 1978. Anderson's essay is both a clear-headed skewering of the worst excesses of then-contemporary sword-and-sorcery stories and a call to arms to writers to do better in their own efforts. Anderson begins his essay with the following "excerpt" from the adventures of Gnorts the Barbarian:
With one stroke of his fifty-pound sword, Gnorts the Barbarian lopped off the head of Nialliv the Wizard. It flew through the air, still sneering, while Gnorts clove two royal guardsmen from vizor through breasplate to steel jockstrap. As he whirled to escape, an arrow glanced off his own chainmail. Then he was gone from the room, into the midnight city. Easily outrunning pursuit, he took a few sentries at the gate by surprise. For a moment, arms and legs hailed around him through showers of blood; then he had opened the gate and was free. A caravan of merchants, waiting to enter at dawn, was camped nearby. Seeing a magnificent stallion tethered, Gnorts released it, twisted the rope into a bridle, and rode it off bareback. After galloping several miles, he encountered a mounted patrol that challenged him. Immediately he plunged into the thick of the cavalrymen, swinging his blade right and left with deadly effect, rearing up his steed to bring its forefeet against one knight who dared to confront him directly. Then it was only to gallop onward. Winter winds lashed his body, attired in nothing more than a bearskin kilt, but he ignored the cold. Sunrise revealed the shore and his waiting longship. He knew the swift-sailing craft could bring him across five hundred leagues of monster-infested ocean in time for him to snatch the maiden princess Elamef away from evil Baron Rehcel while she remained a maiden — not that he intended to leave her in that condition … .
As Anderson immediately admits, the above is "exaggerated" for effect "but, unfortunately, not much." Before moving on to the meat of his essay, he defends heroic fantasy literature as not "inherently inferior" to other kinds of literature, while at the same time recognizing that
every kind of writing is prone to special faults. For example, while no one expects heroic fantasy (hf) to be of ultimate psychological profundity, it is often simple to the point of being simplistic.
The purpose of "On Thud and Blunder," then, is to point out these "special faults" so that writers can avoid them in the future and thus ensure that fantasy literature lives up to its fullest potential. That's an admirable thing in my opinion, but it Anderson's essay is loaded with assumptions that don't always apply -- which is inevitable when you're dealing with fantasy. Anderson takes the tack that heroic fantasy takes place in a pre-industrial society based on historical Europe. That's often the case, but it isn't universally so (look at T├ękumel, to cite just one obvious example), making some of his comments and suggestions less broadly pertinent than he might have assumed.

That said, he brings up a large number of good points, such as:
People who have experienced blackouts will tell you that a nighted city without the modern invention of lights is black. With walls shutting off most of the sky — especially along narrow medieval streets — it is far gloomier that any open field. You’d grope your way, unless you had a torch or lantern (and then you’d better have an armed guard). Furthermore, those lanes were open sewers; in many places, stepping stones went down the middle because of that. Despite sanitary measures, metropolitan streets as late as about 1900 were often uncrossable simply because of horse droppings. Graveyards stank too: one reason why incense was used in church services.
And:
The Church raises the subject of religion in general, which is little used in our field. Oh, yes, we may get a hero swearing by his particular gods and perhaps carrying through a small rite, equivalent to stroking a rabbit’s foot. We certainly got plenty of obscene ceremonies in honor of assorted toad-like beings. Both of these do have their historical counterparts. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see an imaginary society which was pervaded by its faith, as many real ones have been.
These are but two small but valuable thoughts Anderson brings to bear in imagining an "improved" heroic fantasy genre, where verisimilitude is given a higher priority than it often is by writers of the genre. No doubt some will see in this essay a schoolmarmish attitude seeking to "take the fun out of" pulp fantasy by making it conform to a narrowly-conceived "reality," but I don't think that's what Anderson was attempting to do at all. Rather, he wanted writers to avoid sloppiness and to ground their stories of fantastical heroism in something more closely approximating a believable world, so as to make both the fantasy and the heroism shine all the brighter. Even if one disagrees with him and his observations, "On Thud and Blunder" is nevertheless and intriguing document from the second flowering of sword-and-sorcery literature and is worth reading for anyone interested in its history.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

REVIEW: The Magnificent Joop van Ooms

Reviewing almost anything James Raggi writes poses unique challenges, but it's his adventures that are particularly troublesome to me. Partly, it's because Raggi's understanding of and approach to fantasy is often so different from my own. I don't think any of the adventures he's written to date are ones I can imagine myself as having written. Mind you, that's a good thing! To my way of thinking, what separates a good adventure module from a bad one is that a good one gives you ideas -- whether in rough or polished form -- that you could never have come up with yourself.

The flip side of this is that I frequently have no idea what to do with these modules, however intriguing their ideas. I recall reading somewhere (perhaps on Google+?) that Raggi says this is a common response to his writing and that he enjoys watching people wrestle with it. That's fair enough and, truth be told, one of my biggest cavils about adventure modules is that they can encourage passive consumption by referees rather than active, imaginative engagement.

Which brings me to The Magnificent Joop van Ooms, an 16-page product written by James Raggi, illustrated throughout by Jez Gordon, and with a cover by Jason Rainville. Though released under the rubric of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Adventures, it's not really an adventure at all, at least not in the traditional usage of that term. Rather, it's more of a collection of settings, mechanics, NPC descriptions, and related ideas that can be used to create adventures, thirteen examples of which are included in the book itself. Consequently, I can easily imagine some purchasers being disappointed by its contents if they were expecting a map-and-room-key sort of product, because The Magnificent Joop van Ooms (hereafter JvO) is nothing like that.

Before discussing exactly what JvO is like, a short digression regarding its physical qualities is in order. As I noted above, this product consists of 16 pages, which are staple-bound and enclosed in a cover with a wrap-around illustration depicting the eponymous Joop van Ooms demonstrating his unique magical abilities. The interior uses a clean, two-column layout and is amply illustrated with superb black and white artwork. The text is small, like all Lamentations of the Flame Princess products, meaning that it is in fact meatier content-wise than its page length would suggest. The book sells for 3.00€ (about $3.80 US) in PDF or 7.50€ (about $9.50 US) for the print + PDF combo.

Like Death Love Doom, JvO is set in the "real world," specifically early 17th century Amsterdam. While the amount of material unalterably grounded in early modern Europe is small (about two pages), I nevertheless find its inclusion needlessly off-putting. It's not that I mind the real world setting; it's that Lamentations of the Flame Princess, as currently written, doesn't really support that setting. There are, as yet, no rules for firearms, for example, and there are too many swordswomen and too much magic (never mind the implicit demihumans) for me to buy it as anything like the 17th century I know about. Now, that said, I think it's pretty clear that Raggi loves the early modern period and wants to make it the game's native setting, but, to do that, there's some work remaining. In the meantime, I think he confuses and frustrates some potential customers of his adventures.

JvO begins with overviews of both the United Provinces (of the Netherlands) and Amsterdam itself. Following that are 50 random encounters adventurers might have "down on the wharf." These encounters range from the mundane (a swarm of street urchins) to the exotic (a mermaid on the prowl) to the downright bizarre ("Everybody dies. Seriously. Roll up new characters, start them somewhere else. Amsterdam is wiped from the face of the Earth."). There are also simple rules for buying and selling on the black market.

This brings us to Joop van Ooms himself -- "an inventor, architect, engineer, painter, poet, and sculptor" who "has broken through to the Void Beyond the World and has seen both the glories and feculence of creation." He also works magic through his art. The book provides many examples of just what he is capable of when painting, writing plays, sculpting, etc. Also detailed are his constant companions and the studio where he lives and works in Amsterdam. The sections devoted to Joop van Ooms and his activities contain almost no game mechanics. Instead, they're simply descriptions and ideas, leaving it up to the referee to implement.

This is the point where I expect opinion of JvO will be divided -- between those who lack for ideas they can riff off of and those who want a complete, ready-to-run product. Bearing in mind my minor cavils, the former group ought to be quite happy with JvO, while the latter are bound to be disappointed. Even the former group may have some issues with this product, since it's ideas are of a very specific kind, rooted not just in the early modern era but also in an idiosyncratic take on a Lovecraftian cosmos. On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine almost anyone buys a James Raggi product not expecting these things, so my sympathy is somewhat limited.

In the end, I suspect whether one likes The Magnificent Joop van Ooms will depend greatly on whether one has enjoyed Raggi's previous works. It's very much of a piece with them, so, if they appeal, this one will too. If not, then this product will do nothing to change one's mind and may in fact only encourage further dislike.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 5 out of 10

Buy This If: You've enjoyed James Raggi's previous efforts or are looking for a collection of inspirational ideas from which to craft your own weird fantasy adventures.
Don't Buy This If: You're expecting an adventure module you can run "out of the box" or have no interest in weird fantasy set in early modern Europe.

Comments on this post can be made here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Luke Gygax Speaks

Over at the comments to my earlier post, Gary Gygax's son, Luke, one of the principals behind the new TSR Games and Gygax magazine, had this to say:
At this time Gail is not part of Gygax Magazine.  Personally, I hope that she decides to come onboard in the future.  All the posts from Gygax magazine staff I've seen were clear that this project is something Ernie and I are involved in as part of a larger team including Tim Kask, Jayson Elliot, James Carpio and Jim Wampler.

Gygax Magazine is supported by the Gygax family members who are actually gamers.  Ernie (aka Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.) was the first person to playtest D&D, played numerous iconic characters in Greyhawk and worked for TSR through the 1980's.  I cut my teeth on gaming and feel passionate about the positive aspects that gaming brings to people's lives.  Gygax Magazine is a way for us to share our love of gaming both Old School and current systems with the gaming community.  We are focused on producing a quality magazine and we hope that you will take the time to read the first issue in December.

Please realize that the information on Gygax Magazine was leaked ahead of our projected announce date.  This resulted in unwanted confusion.  I appreciate the excitement this has generated and I hope that the product meets expectations.
That's about as definitive as it gets right now. Thanks to Luke for providing this information and helping to clear up some of the confusion.