Written by Christopher Bishop
Imagine Magazine. Ahhh, the golden age of 1983, when roleplaying games were still in their first vital decade of growth. Thrust up from a cottage industry one-off to a somewhat controversial icon overnight, Imagine was the UK’s answer to Dragon Magazine, focusing both on local gaming centers in the UK, as well as having gamers classified sections in which gamers would advertise their games at their local friendly gaming stores, or in some cases in their homes themselves. Ahhh, the trusting 80’s where you weren’t afraid to publish your address in a global magazine and invite people over to roll bones.
This issue of Imagine is arguably one of the most iconic of its 31-issue run. Its main theme was the Barbarian, a class being developed by Gary Gygax for his own gaming table. It also focuses heavily upon Gary coming to the UK and attending GamesFair 83. It is truly interesting to read through the written account of Gary’s speech there. It is very clear at that time, he had huge plans for the future of AD&D. He discusses revising the Basic and Expert sets and that a companion volume would soon follow (Hello BECMI). He also mentions that plans are afoot for considerable additions to the Advanced game in the form of Player’s Handbook II, Dungeon Master’s Guide II, along with several new spells and classes. One thing of particular interest was the discussion of transferring the psionic rules from AD&D to Star Frontiers, where Gary felt that psionics would be more at home. I have read in a few different forum posts by Gary in the past how he was never truly happy with the psionics system, and I guess that was Gary’s Cantina scene.
Here is where I will go out on a limb. As a father, who games with his children, I have created classes, spells and items that clearly were not intended to balance off against other items already in place. This is done because as a parent, you see a spark of interest in something you care about from your child, and oftentimes you want to blow on that spark to make it a warm happy fire of love for the same thing that you yourself love. It is a way of bonding. When my son wanted to play a Necromancer of Nerull, well guess what…this was created. The more I read this iteration of the Barbarian class, the more its over-the-top nature felt like a father’s gift to his son. Of course only Ernie knows the truth of that or not, but one would suspect that the moniker of “Ernie the Barbarian” was fairly earned.
When examining the Barbarian class presented here versus the Unearthed Arcana version there are some pretty wild differences. Barbarians used a different dice method for their attributes. Strength was the best 3 rolls out of 9d6…Wait WHAT~!. That is right, originally Gary had you rolling 9d6 and picking the best 3. Talk about a min-maxers dream!! Dexterity and Constitution followed the same pattern. Clearly Gary had Conan in mind and wanted to make sure that Barbarians under the AD&D mechanics would be quite capable of all the daring feats of skullduggery and adventure Conan was capable of. They used the same D12 for hit points, received a +1 bonus for every point over 14 in dexterity to their AC similar to monks wearing lighter armor. They were able to climb walls like no one’s business and in familiar surroundings could hide like a thief 3 levels higher than their rank. Talk about a powerhouse. On top of this, we get our first taste of skills being expanded upon, and frankly the skill system in this issue seems a little better explained than the version presented in Unearthed Arcana.
A fantasy themed “horrorscope” on page 20 and 21 gives some interesting little fortune-based plot hooks, but what really catches the eye is the intricate artwork weaved in to the 2 page document. It could easily be used to provide a fortune teller’s take on future events. Take for example Ready’reat (Nov 23 – Dec 20) We are advised to “Make new friends, but do not upset old buddies. Attempt to contact a long-lost (dead?) pal from years past. Beware of foul creatures. Pray regularly for guidance.” The fun that could be spun off of that!
On page 23 we are given an adventure directly tied to the Barbarian class called “For The Honour Of The Tribe.” It was written by Graeme Morris, and I truly hope the author is continuing to write adventures because this was a really top-notch affair. The premise is that the PCs are all part of the local Barbarian tribe. They eschew the use of magic of any kind but they do have a spiritual bond through their shaman with a hammer made from lodestone. They believe the hammer to be sacred to their tribe and essential to their tribe’s honour. A decade or so in the past, a wizard came to the ruins of an ancient tower and renovated it, bringing in his various cronies to help him, much to the dismay of the tribe. They do manage to make a sort of uncomfortable peace until, as fate would have it, a magical plan that the wizard wants to see through to completion requires the use of a lodestone. Lo and behold, a sloppy theft attempt from the tribe by one of the wizard’s lackeys sets the PCs on a quest to reclaim the tribe’s sacred relic by any means necessary. This adventure is honestly perfect in size and scope for a convention. In addition to being an absolute joy to read, it is a piece of our gaming history. Finding a copy of Imagine #2 for this adventure alone would be worth it.
One thing that came up a lot in both letters to the editor and opinion pieces was the need to constantly verify if a choice was canon or not with the rules as Gygax saw them. From reading the forum posts at Troll Lord’s old forums (and Dragonsfoot transcripts,) we know this has always been Gary’s curse to often say “Your tables your rules, nothing is canon, it’s just a guideline.” The Dispel Confusion section is filled with just these sorts of interactions and quite a good chuckle can be had reading over folks’ questions. Various comics fill this issue with great artwork including Rubic of Moggedon. The Sword of Alabron and the Illusionary Scripts section provides D&D brain teasers that could make excellent puzzles to throw into your games.
There’s even a great article on minifig painting. The tips and tricks are actually quite well described, as miniature painting for RPGs was still in its infancy at this point, in comparison to the War Gaming arena where it had been present from the start.
In summary, Imagine #2 is truly a time vault of gaming history, where we can see what might have been, hear the voices of our forefathers in gaming, and (in my case anyway) drool over product advertisements for goods and services not as easy to come by these days. Well worth the price of admission.
Keep rolling them bones!