Imagine Reflections #2

TSR Hobbies (UK) published Imagine magazine issue 2 in May 1983. It is 50 pages long and has a cover price of £1.00. In this issue, we have a first-level adventure, a report on GamesFair '83, and the Barbarian subclass!
Imagine 02_Cover (002).jpg
The editorial notes that role-playing games are "developing, growing entities." Much new material has been published for D&D in particular due to "an enormous outpouring of talent." However, there is a caveat:

"An important point needs to be made here. Gary Gygax, President of TSR Inc. in the USA, has gone on record in the past setting out his position on the question of 'official' and non-sanctioned changes. In his view, any house rules that alter the technical aspects of the way an AD&D™ game is played mean that the game being played is no longer the AD&D game."

For this reason, Imagine has chosen to avoid the "trend" of publishing "new monsters, weapons, and other items." Instead, they will seek out articles that "add more pleasure to your gaming." In practical terms, this meant fewer gaming options in the magazine and more pages devoted to news, reviews, and advice columns. Let's have a look at this issue.

"The Beginner's Guide to Role-Playing Games" by Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz provides a short "actual play" transcript of a D&D game. Unfortunately, they did the same thing in the first issue, so it feels a little redundant. However, a cute cartoon at the bottom of the page helpfully shows you how to roll up a character.

"Stirge Corner" by Roger Musson is also aimed at the inexperienced player. In this issue, he discusses what "winning" looks like in D&D. The focus on newbie players demonstrates that TSR saw Imagine as a vehicle to grow the hobby.

Next, Gary Gygax describes a new subclass in "The big, bad Barbarian." This feature appeared in Dragon Magazine nearly a year before, and was later published in the Unearthed Arcana book. There are some similarities to the modern barbarian class, though it lacks an equivalent to the cornerstone rage feature.

Paul Cockburn, the assistant editor, reflects on GamesFair '83, a gaming convention organized by TSR UK at Reading University. Graeme Morrison wrote the D&D Open adventure, which TSR later published as UK1: The Sentinel. Gary Gygax was the guest of honor, and Cockburn notes, "Many of the delegates were surprised at how approachable Gary is, after all the negative press he has received in the hobby." He goes on to relate this story:

[Gygax] horrified a few of the purists with one remark. Referring to the art of DM-ing, he told those assembled that a good referee only rolls the dice for the sound they make. He just decides what happens! You could have heard a pin drop...

I wonder if Gygax realized how infamous these comments would become!

Next up in the magazine is a little feature called "Horrorscope" by Chris Baylis, which presents a fantasy-flavored series of predictions. For example:

HARVESTER (Sept 23 — Oct 22)

Time for a change. Consider new employment. Beware of traps.

It's a fun idea but needed more development to make it shine.

"For the Honour of the Tribe" is an AD&D adventure for 4-6 first-level characters. Graeme Morris designed it specifically to introduce players to the barbarian subclass. An evil magician has stolen a magic mace from the tribe, and the characters must travel to his hideout to retrieve it. It's quite a straightforward affair but has a few intriguing features designed to test the barbarian's abilities, as well as a fun boss battle.

The four-page "D&D Players Association News" mini-magazine is back. In "Pan Pipings," Graeme Morris notes that Gygax is creating several new classes for the game, including the mystic, cavalier, savant, mountebank, acrobat, and jester. In "Dispel Confusion," Morris attempts to give semi-official answers to questions about TSR products, including D&D, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret. And in "Turnbull Talking," Don Turnbull explains how RPGs are different from other game forms. He notes:

The game thrives on its lack of rules, its lack of equipment, the lack of any necessity to learn more than a few simple facts, its lack of competition, its indeterminate length, its free-for-all no-holds-barred style. Try it. You will enjoy it.

The vibe of this quote does not entirely mesh with the editorial, which re-iterated the Gygaxian mantra that if you change the rules of AD&D, you are not playing AD&D!

"Tavern Talk" by Pete Tamlyn is evolving into a gossip column about the local industry. In this issue, he devotes substantial space to the DragonLords fanzine. This was founded by Marc Gascoigne and Ian Marsh, who went on to do significant work in the industry.

There are several game reviews. Star Explorer by Fantasy Games Unlimited is "an interesting game with some good ideas, but the components and rules show a lack of playtesting..." Operation Morpheus, a scenario for Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited, is an "interesting, playable, and exciting adventure." Wilderness Hex Sheets and Dungeon Mapping Sheets from Games Workshop are "well designed... however, alternatives are available at less cost."

There is also an extensive review of The Morrow Project, a post-apocalyptic RPG written by military historian Kevin Dockery and published by TimeLine Limited. The characters are cryogenically frozen humans, awoken after the conclusion of World War III. The reviewer concludes that:

"This is initially a very confusing game to play, yet with a lot of time and effort by the selected PD, this could be the revelation role-playing game of the '80s, becoming expandable and popular enough to rival any of the other major role-playing games available at the present time."

Sadly, the Morrow Project never reached such heights, but it retains a loyal following to the present day.

"Illusionary Script" presents a bunch of brain teasers with a D&D flavor. Here's an example:

You know you need at least one scroll case (5gp), one flask of oil (1 gp) and one candle (1 sp), and you've been told you MUST spend 100gp getting supplies of these three items. So how many of each will you take?

Award-winning miniaturist Mike Brunton presents the sequel to last month's "Figure Painting" feature. Finally, Nick Pratt reviews Disney's The Island at the Top of the World, noting that "there is little to recommend a film which alternates uneasily between the dully predictable and the unintentionally comic."

This month's contributing artists include Les Edwards, Tania Long, Ian Williamson, Pete Young, Paul Ruiz, and Shoo Rayner.

And that's a wrap! My favorite article was the adventure, "For the Honour of the Tribe." Next month, we have fiction from Dave Langford, a comparison of Basic and Advanced D&D, and a new mini-adventure by Mike Brunton!
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black


I'm amused by the random smear of red on the barbarian's collarbone and he looks more like he's yawning than screaming. Perhaps he's stretching after a good breakfast with his lizard people buddies?
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
The movie reviews in all the issues are amazing. Totally worth seeking out.

Didn't the rules say the DM rolls? Wouldn't that be a house rule not to?
 





CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Most people aren't. That is kind of my issue with "collaborative storytelling" games and general thought on less-rules-more-better approaches.
The randomness, risk, and unpredictability that dice bring to the table are a huge part of the fun for me. If it ever becomes obvious that the dice don't matter, the DM has already determined the outcomes, and there aren't any real risks, I lose interest fast.

I mean, I know that a "good enough" DM will be able to hide this behavior, and make their pre-determined outcomes look flawlessly random. But I've never actually played with one. :) And when I'm in the DM chair, the best I can do is just make all of my rolls public (or roll them in the open, if I'm not on a VTT platform). I let the players see me react/respond to the same random numbers they are being asked to react/respond to.
 

The randomness, risk, and unpredictability that dice bring to the table are a huge part of the fun for me. If it ever becomes obvious that the dice don't matter, the DM has already determined the outcomes, and there aren't any real risks, I lose interest fast.

This is the paradox, though. A lot of people say they enjoy said randomness vs something like a diceless RPG but then spend hours creating builds that minimize those odds and thus the risk. In most editions of D&D there comes situations where the dice roll is not that relevant and most players are happy for it, not disappointed.

In essence, the actual unpredictability is an illusion and the player has a pretty good idea of the outcome. Like a pool shark in a causal pool game, they dive into a fight with expectations to win hands down.

For many, I think it's more the confidence and pride it comes in conquering and squashing the risk. That is part of the escapism, right, controlling things you couldn't ordinarily control like fate itself?

As a side note: The Cypher RPG offers players a chance to reroll a "crit fail*" for a cost. One of my players often says, "Not this time, I let the roll stand and let's see where it takes us."

*Nat 1's in Cypher are more than just a crit fail but I paraphrase.
 

The Grognard Files Podcast has some more information on the DragonLords zine on their site, and talked about it on one of their fanzine episode. The art is...shall we charitably say a product of its time.

 

jolt

Explorer
It's always tough with the things Gygax said because, despite being the president of the company, the big financial backing in the company came from other people who expected to have a say in things. So you had two Gary's (at least): Gary "Here's how I play but do whatever you want" Gygax and Gary "Towing the company line" Gygax.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
This is the paradox, though. A lot of people say they enjoy said randomness vs something like a diceless RPG but then spend hours creating builds that minimize those odds and thus the risk. In most editions of D&D there comes situations where the dice roll is not that relevant and most players are happy for it, not disappointed.

In essence, the actual unpredictability is an illusion and the player has a pretty good idea of the outcome.
I'm not so sure that weighting the odds are the same thing as a foregone conclusion, though.

I also think the importance of "optimized builds" is greatly overstated here on the Internet. When you roll a d20, you're adding a random number between 1 and 20 and that can swing even the most extreme builds: against a DC 15 check (for example), a character with a whopping +10 bonus to that check can still fail about as often as a character with a -5 could succeed. You have the same odds of rolling an 18, 19, or 20 as you do of rolling a 3, 2, or 1.

Things like Advantage or the Lucky feat will skew that, of course, but can't (and shouldn't) eliminate it entirely.
 

I'm not so sure that weighting the odds are the same thing as a foregone conclusion, though.

I also think the importance of "optimized builds" is greatly overstated here on the Internet. When you roll a d20, you're adding a random number between 1 and 20 and that can swing even the most extreme builds: against a DC 15 check (for example), a character with a whopping +10 bonus to that check can still fail about as often as a character with a -5 could succeed. You have the same odds of rolling an 18, 19, or 20 as you do of rolling a 3, 2, or 1.

Things like Advantage or the Lucky feat will skew that, of course, but can't (and shouldn't) eliminate it entirely.

The social context between those two rolls are different though.

One player anticipates probably succeeding with a +10 and is really hoping for that 5% chance to get a nat 20 for extra bonuses. If they fail, it probably will be a unpleasant surprise and the dice "failed them (and probably goes to dice jail.) It's like an athlete going for the gold.

The -5 player is probably rolling out of desperation, completely tense and expecting a fail. The win is unexpected, a thrill and something everyone will be talking through the week. It's like an amateur player takes a random shot and make the goal despite themselves.

That's the difference when the more rare and unexpected outcome weighs on your success, not your failure.

Weighting the odds in a game is more than about numbers. In poker, you have the player type called the Rock, a risk adverse player who works the odds. Sounds like a smart player, but they rarely win big because poker is more about playing position, bluffing and tells than the random premium hand.

If a lot more players were truly honest about loving randomness and unpredictability, they'd have more -5s and no +10s. And it's also probably why a lot of GMs have a sweet spot that they, not the players, enforce.

Go above the sweet and many GM get frustrated because the outcomes are become more and more the same, which is that their challenges get handily defeated again and again.

For the group, as a whole, the session has - indeed - become a foregone conclusion.

In fact, that's sort of what the whole hamster wheel of leveling is about -- getting "better" at something by reducing the odds.

And I am not saying that is a bad thing, but for someone to embrace it and say they love randomness and unpredictability while making PCs with +10s in several places, there's some paradoxal thinking going on at some level.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
The social context between those two rolls are different though.

One player anticipates probably succeeding with a +10 and is really hoping for that 5% chance to get a nat 20 for extra bonuses. If they fail, it probably will be a unpleasant surprise and the dice "failed them (and probably goes to dice jail.) It's like an athlete going for the gold.

The -5 player is probably rolling out of desperation, completely tense and expecting a fail. The win is unexpected, a thrill and something everyone will be talking through the week. It's like an amateur player takes a random shot and make the goal despite themselves.

That's the difference when the more rare and unexpected outcome weighs on your success, not your failure.

Weighting the odds in a game is more than about numbers. In poker, you have the player type called the Rock, a risk adverse player who works the odds. Sounds like a smart player, but they rarely win big because poker is more about playing position, bluffing and tells than the random premium hand.

If a lot more players were truly honest about loving randomness and unpredictability, they'd have more -5s and no +10s. And it's also probably why a lot of GMs have a sweet spot that they, not the players, enforce.

Go above the sweet and many GM get frustrated because the outcomes are become more and more the same, which is that their challenges get handily defeated again and again.

For the group, as a whole, the session has - indeed - become a foregone conclusion.

In fact, that's sort of what the whole hamster wheel of leveling is about -- getting "better" at something by reducing the odds.

And I am not saying that is a bad thing, but for someone to embrace it and say they love randomness and unpredictability while making PCs with +10s in several places, there's some paradoxal thinking going on at some level.
You're right about the social context, and the ways that players declare their rolls. (And when, and especially who gets to even try.) But that stuff all happens outside the rules of the game. The PHB doesn't dictate that only characters with certain modifiers get to do certain things.

The DMG says that part of my job as a DM is to make sure that everyone gets to participate and have fun doing it. So for me and my group, that means making sure that the optimization-focused players share the spotlight equally with the casual story-focused players. Sometimes, the wood elf rogue/ranger with the +10 to Perception isn't always going to be the one rolling Perception, and the 5 Charisma fighter sometimes has to speak up for himself during negotiations. Of course this will vary from group to group, because each group has its own social dynamic.

But that +RND(1,20) modifier is always there. And as a player I need it to be there, and I need it to matter, because without that random risk of failure I have no stake in the story.
 

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Good old Gary. The OG Gatekeeper-on-chief on the one hand and cheerfully encouraging us to make up or change anything we don't like on the other.

Being an American who started playing D&D in the early/mid 90s, I never saw or had access to Imagine. It seems like a pretty cool magazine, even if it was a.little make limited in scope and approach to, say, Dragon.
 

Mortus

Explorer
When I first started playing D&D in the early 80s, I fudged rolls behind my screen all the time to affect the narrative. I developed excellent acting (i.e. lying) and dice-slight-of-hand tricks. My players never suspected and we had a blast.

Years later when one of my players began DMing they asked me for advise and they were devastated to learn of my ‘techniques’ so then I started asking players if they prefer public or private DM rolls. I haven’t had a group choose private DM rolls yet in the decades since.
 

When I first started DMing, I would also "override" dice results if I thought it would be anticlimactic or not challenging enough for the players. Though, at the age we were, it's entirely possible everybody at the table was fudging their rolls! Eventually I grew out of that.

When I first started playing D&D in the early 80s, I fudged rolls behind my screen all the time to affect the narrative. I developed excellent acting (i.e. lying) and dice-slight-of-hand tricks. My players never suspected and we had a blast.

One of the things I love about online play with dice rollers is that it's all out on the (virtual) table. At first I was worried that if players saw the modifiers on monster's attacks and saving throws, that would affect their decision-making, but that turned out to not be the case.

Years later when one of my players began DMing they asked me for advise and they were devastated to learn of my ‘techniques’ so then I started asking players if they prefer public or private DM rolls. I haven’t had a group choose private DM rolls yet in the decades since.
 

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