Way back in the early 1980’s, TSR was big, yet under fire from religious and parent groups. The company chose to expand to a division in the United Kingdom. It was from the offices of TSR-UK that Imagine Magazine spawned. Lasting only 30 issues, plus one special, Imagine started as half original, UK-only content and half-Dragon Magazine content. When the plug was finally pulled on TSR-UK, Imagine died with it. The writers that were let go went on to start GameMaster Publications, which lasted all of five issues, continuing the Pelinore setting they created.
Issue 3 of Imagine predates Pelinore for the most part. Other than the first issue adventure, The Beacon at Enon-Tor, there is no mention of the setting until issue 16. Instead, what we have is a young magazine dipping its toes in waters owned by heavyweight RPG magazine White Dwarf. The cover art of a knight leading a charge (titled Jewel in the Skull by Richard Clifton-Dey) is exceptional. Once inside, however, things start to diminish.
Immediately, I noticed an editorial error…IN THE EDITORIAL. “Solo wargaming and the advent of the solo AD&D™ module M1 Blizzard Pass are other aspects of the same activity.” The problem is M1 Blizzard Pass was a Basic Dungeons & Dragons module. The artwork is similar to other D&D artwork from the early years, black and white sketches that seem almost cartoonish. The ad artwork is only as good as money would buy.
Imagine kicks off with a new column for the novice player, though there is already one for the inexperienced player. Apparently in the United Kingdom, there is a difference between “novice” and “inexperienced”. So five pages (two of which are ad-filled) later, we finally come to an article, titled “Basic or Advanced?”. This is a comparison of the two D&D systems at the time. It basically is for the novice or inexperienced player as well, as it was well-known to experienced players at the time that Advanced was more comprehensive. Just by looking at the sheer size of the books in comparison gave this away. The Basic set had just two books, a 64 page rulebook and B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The Advanced game, meanwhile, had three hardcover books just for running the game.
After this comes a split page, on which is found “Tavern Talk”, mostly rumblings on what is new in the RPG world. This is followed by three reviews: I3 (Pharaoh), U2 (Danger at Dunwater), and N1 (Against the Cult of the Reptile God). While the short reviews are worth it, the remaining text on the page is mostly stuff that never came to fruit, or just things that the author found newsworthy. The reviews continue with a Star Frontiers and X3 (Curse of Xanathon) reviews, as well as some independent work. There are a few more pages of ads, before you get to the next section.
A Decent Adventure
Now, all the way at page 21, something really useful comes up with the adventure titled A Box for the Margrave. Billed earlier in the magazine as an adventure for both Basic players and Advanced players, it’s really an Advanced adventure that is pushing Basic players towards a “more codified system”. The adventure is your typical “deliver this object for the ruler to his _____” adventure, while avoiding the bad guys. Overall, it’s not too shabby, well written and thought out. It is a mini-module, however, reminiscent of the “Side Treks” from Dungeon Adventures.
Imagine Magazine, like many of the other early role-playing game magazines, is FILLED with ads. Every place the editors could place an ad, they did. A few more pages of ads and there is a page that is the “Newsletter of the British Dungeons & Dragons Players Association” (think RPGA). Off to the side is another ad, one many will wish was still able to be ordered from: an ad for the R-Series Modules, all for under £3 (about $3.75 USD currently). Graeme Morris touches on some recent happenings in the British PA. He also clarifies a rule regarding the barbarian’s +2/point over 14 for Dexterity modification to armor class. If you were adding this bonus to missile attacks and saves still, well, you were doing it wrong.
Questions and Answers
Dispel Confusion is the next column, and one that is similar to the old Sage Advice column in Dragon. To those unfamiliar, readers ask a question regarding rules, and someone responds with a ruling. This brief column shares its two pages with Turnbull Talking, “Turnbull” referring to Don Turnbull, publisher of Imagine. In his space, he goes on about a game they play in the car, titled “The Pub Game”. I never really see the practicality of this in regards to Dungeons & Dragons. Maybe one could use it to extend travel times in a Lord of the Rings-style campaign, where characters walk for eons.
Filler Before the End
Rounding out the issue, there are three more pieces and a lot more ads. The first piece is on home computer gaming, a new thing in the early 1980’s. This returned in Dragon many years later, though Dragon liked to make elements from the game into tabletop-usable options. This column starts with the announcement that this will become a regular piece starting in issue 5. I feel this was ahead of its time, and the space could have been better filled with another mini-module or player options. Later issues options eventually appeared stateside in Unearthed Arcana.
The following article is a book review piece, which covers fantasy and science fiction novels, along with a few non-fiction works. While useful, I was surprised to see a negative review of Robert Heinlein’s Friday, as it is a seminal work of the author’s later years. The final non-advertisement or non-cartoon is a nice short story titled “Too Good to Be” by David Langford. It is a story that is science fiction meets fantasy, as an illusionist creates the stars.
Final Take on Imagine #3
Overall, Imagine Magazine had potential, but with more than 20% of the issue taken up with ads, it left a bit to be desired. This issue is disappointing, as it is still in its infancy, and it does not have the feel of Dragon. Once Pelinore came along, things smoothed out, and the content was better. Pre-Pelinore though, the magazine lacked something. Still, as an important part of gaming history. If you are lucky enough to find a copy while tooling around the internet, it is worth a look.