Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Tim Kask: A Tale of Two Magazines

Back in July of 1981 Tim Kask launched the first issue of ADVENTURE GAMING magazine. It was a magazine dedicated to the entire gaming hobby. The magazine launched just as two of the largest "Industry Magazines" (DRAGON and WHITE DWARF) were beginning their slow migration from magazines that covered the entire hobby and into house magazines that covered primarily the products offered by the company publishing the magazine. Tim Kask had been the editor of DRAGON for the first 34 issues of the magazine, so if anyone was qualified to launch a new magazine for the growing hobby he was certainly on that list. Unlike the two previously mentioned magazines, and magazines like Space Gamer, Tim's new venture wouldn't limit what kinds of games it covered. To quote Tim from his "Off the Wall" editorial:

Do you really plan to cover it all? You betcha, Buffalo Bob! The lines that used to separate the types of gamers are becoming more blurred. The amount of crossover interest and participation has never been greater. There can be no disputing the fantasy phenomenon erased a number of those lines, as well as gave the industry an incredible boost in interest in sales. Fantasy remains the dominant force in the industry today, but all areas are showing increased interest and sales. We plan to accurately reflect the hobby whatever direction it may take.
 The words that Tim wrote in 1981 were true, but they weren't sufficiently true for him to launch a successful magazine that lasted years. ADVENTURE GAMING published only 13 issues. As a fan of the hobby as a whole, I find this to be a great loss. Magazines are one of the best ways for modern fans to learn the history of the hobby. They are the primary way we can cut through the "common knowledge" and assumptions about the history of the hobby we so often encounter in conversations across fandom. If you read the article in FIRE & MOVEMENT magazine about the TSR/SPI merger you get quite a different picture than what you hear from former SPI employees. That merger doesn't look to be a clean merger from either side, and one wonders if TSR's attempt to acquire IP while avoiding debt obligations that would have been demanded during bankruptcy wasn't poorly communicated. It certainly created bad blood, and TSR may have been being too "creative" for their own good. Add to that the state of nature-esque competitiveness of that growing market, and modern gaming historians are poorer for the fact that magazines like ADVENTURE GAMING, SPACE GAMER, and DIFFERENT WORLDS didn't do better outside their regional spheres of influence.

Let's just have a look at what ADVENTURE GAMING #1 had to offer:

  1. Scepter & Starship -- A Traveller Variant article. Note that Traveller recently had a very successful Kickstarter over 20 years after this issues publication.
  2. Starting Over: Some Points to Consider Concerning New FRPG Campaigns -- A good how to start a campaign article.
  3. The Joys of Napoleonic Wargaming -- Here you begin to see the breadth of the magazine's coverage.
  4. Reflections -- A "Gamer POV" article about the hobby.
  5. The Adventures of space Trader Vic -- One of the obligatory cartoons.
  6. Campanile -- A column by Kathleen Pettigrew that was a gamer opinion column.
  7. CIVILIZATION: A Game Review -- What it says.
  8. What Makes a Player Good? A DM's View -- An article that looks at a topic that is often under evaluated, that of what players can do to make a better game experience.
  9. Heroic Combat in DIVINE RIGHT -- A cool variant rules article by one of the designers of the game.
  10. Away to the Wars! -- A variant for the KNIGHTS OF CAMELOT game.
  11. Cangames 81 and Canadian Gaming by John Hill -- Yes, that John Hill of SQUAD LEADER fame.
  12. NPCs are People Too! -- An article on how to give more personality to NPCs.
  13. On Being a Gamemaster -- A GM advice column.
  14. Any News of the Questing Beast? -- An overview of KNIGHTS OF CAMELOT
  15. Whither Boardgames -- A column dedicated to the discussion of boardgaming and about how RPGs are hurting boardgame sales and how boardgaming still has value.
It's a pretty interesting lineup and one that would be fun to see in a modern publication. Speaking of modern publications, Tim Kask and his merry band of adventurers are at it again. Late last year/early this year saw the launch of GYGAX Magazine, a quarterly "adventure gaming" magazine. A magazine with a distinctly familiar mission:

We've go material that reaches back to some of the earliest role-playing games, and some of the absolutely newest. Virtual tabletops, fantasy miniatures rules for toddlers, complicated mathematical answers to simple questions, even a city in a swamp...we've got it all here. If there's one question that's come up more than any other while we were making this magazine, it's been "what are you going to write about?" From here on out, we would like to direct a similar question at our readers. What would you like to read? Drop us a line and let us know. With your help, we want to see tabletop gaming thrive and expand.
 While the wording is more "marketing" oriented than the older editorial, the message can be said to be very similar to the older quote, "We plan to accurately reflect the hobby whatever direction it may take." The first issue of GYGAX features the following:

  1. The Cosmology of Role-Playing Games -- An incomplete but interesting look at the role-playing game hobby as a cosmology. It has a lot of important games, but it misses a few games I would consider highly influential. Not to mention that it just ignores 4e completely.
  2. Still Playing After All These Years -- An editorial by Kask. A very good one.
  3. Leomunds Secure Shelter -- An article by Lenard Lakofka, of Bone Hill fame, that looks at the math of AD&D.
  4. The Ecology of the BANSHEE -- With the demise of Kobold Quarterly, it's nice to see an ecology article.
  5. Bridging Generations -- An article by Luke Gygax discussing the continuation of the hobby.
  6. Gaming with a Virtual Tabletop -- What it says.
  7. Keeping Magic Magical -- An article by Dennis Sustare the designer of SWORDBEARER a game that very much kept magic magical.
  8. Playing It the Science Ficiton Way -- A discussion of METAMORPHOSIS ALPHA and its origins.
  9. DMing for Your Toddler -- Cory Doctorow's less useful version of Highmoon Games RPG KIDS. Do yourself a favor and buy RPG Kids.
  10. Greate Power for ICONS -- Steve Kenson article for the supers RPG.
  11. The Future of Tabletop Gaming  by Ethan Gilsdorf -- The second "celebrity" article. It's a good article, but I'm wondering if Shannon Applecline couldn't have done a better job.
  12. The Gygax Family Storyteller -- What you might imagine, in the best possible way.
  13. Talents OFF the Front Line -- An article for GODLIKE by Dennis Detwiller.
  14. D&D past, now, and Next by Michael Tresca -- A good article that none the less falsely states that 4e is the "first edition to explicitly require an objective environment." No, that would be 3e and both Line of Sight rules and Flanking rules.
  15. Gnatdamp -- A city in a swamp. Good article.
  16. The Kobold's Cavern -- Wolfgang Baur!
  17. Magical Miscellany -- Support for Green Ronin's AGE.
  18. An AGE of Great Inventions -- More support for Green Ronin's AGE, which is a wondrous thing.
  19. Scaling Combat Feats for PATHFINDER -- A good article by someone who wants to address the "feat taxes" of 3.x and PATHFINDER. Insert my snarky remark about how PATHFINDER is already amped up, so why does it need to be turned up to 11. Answer with "because it's a game and there is no wrong way to play" response.
  20. Marvin the Mage -- Obligatory Cartoon.
  21. What's New -- Obligatory Cartoon.
  22. Order of the Stick -- Obligatory Cartoon.
As you can see, Tim is being more conservative in the new venture. There are no mentions of Napoleonic games here and the focus is on fantasy. The magazine still covers a wide swath of the hobby though. It has yet to be seen if there is a market for this publication. I'm certainly the target audience, and I've already got a one year subscription to print and digital, but who else will be is the vital question.

Will GYGAX be the next ADVENTURE GAMING or will it be the first of a new breed of hobby based magazines? Only time will tell. It wasn't for lack of quality that ADVENTURE GAMING failed.

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