Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: Gygax Magazine #1

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I believe there are two different kinds of nostalgia: the kind that can enrich one’s enjoyment of the present, and the kind that can cause one to linger on the past and thus neglect the present (and strip away enjoyment of the now). Perhaps, to refine this concept a bit, one can take nostalgia and do either of these things with it. “Good” nostalgia can spur a dynamic present, such as when fond memories of one’s roleplaying youth spur on successful roleplaying now. “Bad” nostalgia, on the other hand, can cause one’s present roleplaying efforts to falter, if one continually considers their present roleplaying efforts to be inferior to their past activities in the hobby.

Gygax Magazine #1 created a flood of nostalgia for me. It was immediate upon looking at the cover, and only increased as I flipped through the issue. My very first thought was, “Here is Dragon Magazine reborn!” There were ads throughout that reminded me of what I saw in the old Dragon, which had enticed me to learn more about games beyond D&D, expanding my knowledge of gaming options. Seeing an “Ecology of…” article made me smile. The layout of the articles, the illustrations that accompanied articles, and comics such as Phil & Dixie were a sight for these sore, older eyes. It was definitely like seeing long-lost friends.

A side-by-side comparison with an issue of Dragon.
One is from 1993 and one is from 2013.

BUT, let's move beyond the nostalgia. Let's set those feelings aside, and consider Gygax Magazine #1 on its own merits, as a stand-alone product.

It seems to me that the publishers (which include Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. and Luke Gygax) are trying to assert a certain "pedigree" by using the name "Gygax" for the magazine title, as well as using the initials "TSR." So to me they are trying very hard to make that association with the old days of D&D. Which I don't think is a bad thing, but I can see how some might consider this to be too much in the realm of "standing on the shoulders of giants."

I won't go into an exhaustive review of all the articles, but rather give you impressions of the ones I found most interesting:

"The cosmology of role-playing games" by James Carpio was a fun exploration of the RPG universe, with D&D being the big bang, of course. An interesting analogy, at the very least.

"DMing for your toddler" by Cory Doctorow made me smile and reconsider introducing my kids (five and seven) to roleplaying much sooner than I've planned!

"The Gygax family storyteller" by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. was a nice glimpse into the life of the co-creator of D&D.

The "Gnatdamp" piece by the inestimable Michael Curtis was the biggest treat! I really enjoy his work across the board, and I can't wait to subject players to this village! ;-)

"An AGE of great inventions" by Rodrigo García Carmona was of particular interest to me because I've started a Dragon Age RPG campaign, so any material for use with the AGE System is welcome!

There were some editorial issues here and there. Some articles didn’t have the square mark that was placed at the end of other articles, leading to some confusion as to when a particular article had ended. I felt like this was a particular problem for Tim Kask’s "Still playing after all these years" fond-memories article, which seemed to finish rather abruptly, as well as Lakofka's "Leomund's Secure Shelter" piece.

The ending of "Keeping magic magical" by Dennis Sustare was, well, awkward:

"And if you design a magic that is compelling and new, perhaps some publisher will say, “That looks great. Let me print and sell that for you!”

It seems like they didn't know how to end the article, and slapped on a rather saccharine declaration.

The placement of games in James Carpio's RPG cosmology was a bit off. For instance, Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG should have been further out, in the 2012 area.

But these are relatively small quibbles.

I realize that my review is coming a bit late to the issue #1 party, and that a second issue has been released. But I wanted to join my voice to the review chorus, being one of the many who loved Dragon. I wish the modern era could support a monthly print gaming magazine the likes of Dragon, but alas I do not think that is to be. But I praise the people behind Gygax Magazine for their efforts, even if we only get four issues a year and not nearly as many pages.

Speaking of issue #2, here's the contents:

I think I still see some pure nostalgia pieces in there, but that's to be expected. I would expect to see such offerings become fairly non-existent as the issues come and go.

How the creators of the magazine are using their nostalgia is, to me, still up for debate. If they’re taking the initial issues to pay homage to Dragon as well as the early days of the hobby, I respect that. I think if they hadn’t paid respect to the past, they would have taken considerable flak for that. To bear the name Gygax, I think, must have seemed like a mandate of sorts for them to create a bridge to the past. Not to mention the fact that “cashing in” on the nostalgia of older readers would have been a foolish business decision, in I believe that’s a marketing tactic as old as the proverbial hills: make someone reflect on their younger days, which most of us also consider “better” days.

How we long-time gamers choose to use nostalgia is up to us. Let's see how the folks behind Gygax Magazine choose to use it going forward. I'm hoping it's for the good.

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