Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/12/06/tabletop-review-gygax-magazine-issue-3/
Well, this was a nice surprise to get in the mail. With the previous two issues of Gygax Magazine, I didn’t get my issue until well after a month after non-subscribers had received theirs and only then after asking TSR’s customer service about the whereabouts of my copy each time. Now, I get the magazine before it’s even announced on TSR’s website, Facebook or G+ accounts. That’s pretty awesome. I had to check and see if I missed an announcement, but no, the digital copy isn’t out yet and from only a few comments on the Facebook page for Gygax Magazine, this really was a stealth release! I’m happy to see early subscribers getting their issues well…early, as that’s a nice touch of customer service and even happier that issue three is out three and a half months after issue two. That’s pretty close to the quarterly schedule they are aiming for. Compare that to the six-seven month gap between issues one and two and you can definitely see that each issue of Gygax Magazine is getting better in terms of turnaround and customer service. Of course the contents of each issue might vary in quality depending on what type of articles you are looking for, but that’s the point of these reviews, right?
Issue #3 does have only sixteen articles compared to Issue #2′s 19 but that’s because we’ve got a huge dungeon for first edition AD&D taking up a lot of pages. This dungeon is party of the giant Mega Dungeon that was previously only playable up at TSR’s Hobby Shop. This inclusion is actually a tease for The Hobby Shop Dungeon which will be released by TSR at the tail end of 2014. So yes, you have to wait a full year for the release, but hopefully this will tide you over until then. Plus this way you don’t have to experience a Lake Geneva winter. Brrr.
Editorial. Jayson Elliot gives us a quick rundown on what’s in this issue, why they use (BOO! Boo, I say!) sentence case for article titles instead of Title Case and how annoying it is for a magazine to have a URL in it only to have readers go to the link weeks, months or years later and find it no longer leads to anything but a 404 error. There’s also a tiny bit of errata (Hey, it was only the second issue) and overall the Editorial does what it needs to. 1 for 1.
- How Do You Stop a Space Amoeba? Well, that’s definitely a title that grabs your attention. This article is for a game called Federation Commander, which is apparently an officially licensed Star Trek game. I’m not really a Star Trek fan (or anything Sci-Fi really), so it was fun to learn about a game I didn’t even know existed. This is exactly what I wanted to see from Gygax Magazine – a nice blend of articles for games I know and love, and some that may introduce me to something new and nifty that will suck away some of my disposable income. Anyway, you get a full solo scenario for the game in this article (although you do have to download the First Missions rules either directly from the Federation Commander‘s Website, or from http://gyg.ax/firstmissions….which I don’t provide a hyperlink to as it gives me a 404 error. Oh the irony when paired with Jayson’s editorial, eh?
The article is well done, although the author’s narrative style felt a little too rambly/rushed and not explanatory enough for my liking. You know when someone is SUPER EXCITED about a topic and they start speaking a little too fast and a little too loudly because of their passion for it and you find yourself a bit lost? That’s what this article reads like. I can tell the editor of the article felt a little similar since it’s the first and only time I’ve seen an editor explanatory note to the readers in one of these magazines so far. Even though I had to read the article twice, I understood how to play the game. Did the article or the First Missions download make me want to purchase Federation Commander? No, but I think if you ARE a Star Trek fan, the one-two punch combination might make entice you to pick up the full game. Two small issues I had with the article though. I HATE when a magazine splits an article up. The article is on pages 5,6 and 64. Why not just go pages five through seven? As well, the article gives two different “continued on” page numbers. The top of page six says it is continued on page 62 and the bottom says that the article is continued on page 64. Believe the bottom – page 62 is an ad for GaryCon. 2 for 2.
- The Dwarven Rune Priest. Hey! An article for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Now this was right up my alley, as often times I feel like I am the only person reviewing this awesome line from Goodman Games (and third party companies like Brave Halfling or Land of Phantoms). This particular article is about a new character class called…the Dwarven Rune Priest. You probably didn’t see that one coming, eh? I really liked this article, but then I’m a big fan of DCC and will be happy to try out this class in a game down the road. I’m not sure how it will fit in as a player goes from Level 0 to Level 1, but I’m sure I can explain how a lowly Cheesemaker becomes one with the earth elements. Now if you’re looking for this article to explain DCC to newcomers, you’ll be disappointed. This is written specific for people who know the system, which make it a niche piece. However that’s true of any article in a magazine that covers all forms of gaming. About the only thing I, as a DCC player, could ask for is more rune options! I really hope to see more DCC articles in future issues. 3 for 3.
BTW, the ad across from the start of the Dwarven Rune Priest article? It’s for a Kickstarter that happened back in October. It’s now December. Whoops.
The Airlancer. Here we have another new character class for a system, but this time it’s for AD&D, First Edition. Unlike the Dwarven Rune Priest though, the Airlancer is more than a little unbalanced. I hate to be so blunt, but man, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of AD&D can take one look at this and tell it’s got Mary Sue issues. First, it’s meant to be a warrior option. However, it keeps getting d10 hit dice until Level 12 when it starts to get +3 HP per level. Fighters and Paladin stop getting full hit dice at Level 9. Rangers stop at Level 10. Right there, you know something is up when this new class gets noticeably more Hit Points than the original. The Airlancer gets Illusionist spells, a Hippogriff at fourth level (then a griffon at level nine), special armor (along with penalties for not using said armour), an enhanced version of a Ranger’s favored foe status (or what we’d know as that ability from 2e on), the ability to instill fear (basically turn) in that favored foe and the ability to use and make poisons a la the Assassin. Oh, they can also spend a round to recover from any intoxication or non-magical mind altering substance. Ouch. All while using the Ranger’s XP table. Oh man, this is not well thought out. The class even requires one to stay true neutral although by every bit of descriptor in this piece makes it clear there are anything but the 1eAD&D definition of “True Neutral.” Man this was a stinker. If you want to do an air-based combat class, why not focus on actual things that revolve around that? Jettison out something like the poison and give them a bonus to altitude or low oxygen based situations. That’s more fitting to the concept. Maybe switch out Illusionist spells for animal based Druid and Cleric ones as that would still give them spells but also pare down how overpowered the class currently is. It would also relate back to their mount, being thematically correct. Yep, this is our first stinker in this month’s issue, and it’s a doozy. You might get more out of the article than I did though. 3 for 4.
Artifacts to Impart Ancient Lore. This is a fun little article that talks about five different magic items that can give your character some boosts to skills or non-weapon proficiencies. None of these artifacts impart anything major or game-breaking, which is nice, and no player is going to turn down any new abilities, even if it’s gaining Knowledge (Religion) or a +2 to Craft (Siege Weapons). Sure it might not be that Holy Avenger they were after, but ever little bit helps. Even better, the article gives ways to use these artifacts in Pathfinder, every version of D&D except Fourth and even generic applications so you can use them with something like Chaosium’s BRP. Nice job. 4 for 5.
Master Mariner. I had totally forgotten about Pirates of the Spanish Main until this article. I know fellow DHGF staffer Matt Yeager was really into that game for a while though. This four and a half page article builds off of and replaces much of the old Heroclix rules for this game. Of course ?Pirates of the Spanish Main and its subsequent sets have been out of print for a long time, so I’m not sure who will get much use out of these. That said, the rules are really well done and I loved the art in this article. I tried the rules out with Games Workshop’s Dreadfleet ships and they still worked pretty well. These rules probably aren’t something I’ll ever make use of again and this might be the most niche article out of all three Gygax Magazine issues, especially as you’ll need mini pirate boats and the original WizKid rules to make use of this article. I think I’d be afraid of the Venn diagram results showing the portion of gamers that have pirate ships minis, PotSM rules and this magazine. I’ll be kind though and give this a point although it was touch and go due to usability for a while. 5 for 6.
Nuffle’s Academy. This is a two page article on Blood Bowl league play. I’m kind of surprised Games Workshop didn’t get its feathers ruffled over this. Anyway, this is a pretty straightforward article. Fantasy Football is a popular game and there are Electronic Football leagues, so why not do a Blood Bowl one? I never really cared for the game (and the video game version was pretty terrible) but this article does a great job of introducing the game to newcomers and giving them some ideas for their first team. As a long time Lizardman army owner for Warhammer Fantasy, I was happy to see their Blood Bowl equivalents get a plug. Honestly though I’m so out of the loop on Blood Bowl, I didn’t even remember there was a Lizardman option for the game. Fine piece and the type of article I wish White Dwarf would do. 6 for 7.
Argyle & Crew’s Scavenger Hunt. Holy crap! I never thought I’d see an article about Argyle & Crew in a gaming magazine, much less Gygax Magazine, which tends to talk about older gamers and have an older audience. Argyle & Crew is a rules-lite game designed for younger gamers and it uses sock puppets. I’ve picked up a few of the free pieces Troll in the Corner has put up on DriveThruRPG.com and found it quite adorable. This article lets kids, parents and whoever jump right in and play without any of the core pieces already made for the game. This particular variant of the game revolves around a Scavenger Hunt and trivia content. As such, it’s not an exact 1:1 of the tabletop game, but it makes for a really cute one-shot when there is a big gathering of tots, say a birthday party or as an after-school activity. A&C lets kids gets really imaginative and creative, but it might not be for everyone. I mean, when I was at the recommended age for Argyle, I was playing TSR’s FASERIP Marvel RPG, but I still bet I would have had fun with this too. I’m not sure how much the audience of Gygax Magazine will get out of this piece, but it’s well written and it’s great to see this game get covered. 7 for 8.
How to Split Up the Party. Oh god, another one of those terrible “Dear Abby” style articles I railed against in the review of issue #2. Seriously, who thinks this is a good idea? All it does is perpetuate the myth that all tabletop gamers are socially awkward wimps that can’t handle normal everyday issues. In this case, it’s about dealing with someone in the group they don’t like as a person or a gamer. How sad do you have to be if you can’t nut up enough to tell someone what you think of them in an honest and forthright but respectful tone. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you have to say, “You suck. Die. I hate you.” However, it’s not that hard to say, “I think you are acting like a bit of a putz when you do XYZ. What’s up with that?” Or, “When you do XYZ, you kind of are bringing down the game.” Chances are they might not realize what they are doing is offensive. They might not even be conscious of it. If they are doing it purposely, then you have to realize they are intentionally being a dick and stand up to them. Look at that. A whole paragraph to do what a two page column does – and I did it for free. Seriously, these type of articles are embarrassing to the reader and they drag the overall quality of the magazine down. Yuck. 7 for 9.
- They all Died at the International Space Station. Wow, talk about bringing back a dead system. I’ve never known anyone that played Metamorphosis Alpha. Hell, I belong to some pretty active online gaming communities (especially ones for old fuddy duddies like myself) and I never even see this game get brought up. That said, it’s pretty cool that the creator of the game, James M. Ward, penned a full length adventure for the system this mag. DriveThruRPG.com has a few MA items, including the core rulebook (1st and 4th Edition), but this magazine is really rocking the lesser known/played games this issue.
So I’ve mentioned I don’t really do Sci-Fi but this was a pretty neat adventure. I’m totally ignorant of the games’ rules, so I had to do a lot of inferring and educated guessing, but the plot sold me on the adventure, if not buying the game. In a nutshell the ISS goes a little HAL and tried to kill the PCs. How the ISS became alive (or if it even is…) is one of two problems the PCs have to solve. The other is trying to stay alive as the very thing keeping them alive is also trying to murder them. There’s no set solution to the adventure and the author doesn’t even try to write one in. it’s merely a set of problems and solutions which the GM will have to string together until the PCs figure something out or they all die horrible. 8 for 10.
The Hobby Shop Dungeon. This is a one page essay about the history of the Hobby Shop Dungeon which sees print next year. It’s short, entertaining and crammed with a lot of information. 9 for 11.
The Marmoreal Tomb of Garn Pat’uul. This adventure for first edition AD&D not only takes up eleven pages of the magazine, but it also include a very nice gatefold map showcasing just how vast (and deadly) this location is. The adventures is designed for characters between 1st and 3rd level, but there is no mention of how many should be playing at a time. The adventure is primarily a hack and slash dungeon crawl where you’ll roll-play rather than role-play, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t be looking for some grandiose plot or overarching mystery to solve. PCs are going into a tomb for adventure, riches and danger and that’s just what they will find. The adventure is very solid and although it might be too simplistic for those that like a little more intrigue or investigation (Say CoC or V:TM gamers), old school D&D fans will really enjoy this piece. Heck, including a Horla pretty much won me over. 10 for 12.
Order of the Knights Incorporeal. Although I know a few people who love 13th Age, the system hasn’t really done anything for me, similar to how Fourth Edition D&D hasn’t captured my interest. That said, this article about a new set of antagonists for the game was pretty interesting. Although obviously heavily influenced by ring-wraiths and death knights, these undead have a pretty cool backstory and there are even rules for allowing PCs to play as Ghost Knights. Neat. 11 for 13.
- Savage Charms and Monstrous Fetishes. This is an article for Pathfinder and I really wish it wasn’t in the magazine. It’s not bad – just that we already have multiple Pathfinder publications and it’s space that could easily be out towards a different game that already doesn’t get much time in the sun. If I want to read a Pathfinder piece, I could pick up Pathways or literally dozens (maybe even hundreds) of other options. I get this is Kobold’s section and Pathfinder is primarily what they do but I’d rather see some systems covered with this space like Shadowrun, BRP, Cryptworld, and other systems that don’t have regular articles written about them elsewhere.
Anyway, this article talks about the fetishes used by primitive cultures and barbarians. It tells how to make them and also gives mechanics, feats and a list of nineteen sample fetishes. It’s interesting and I can definitely see some Druid, Barbarian, Kobold and goblin players using these, but I don’t see many people actually following through. Still, it’s well thought out and is an interest option to flesh out your Pathfinder PC. 12 for 14.
Full Frontal Nerdity. Eh. I just didn’t find this comic funny. I generally like it, it’s just this particular strip did nothing for me. Sorry. 12 for 15.
- The Order of the Stick. A nice one shot by Rich really ripping on the reboot trend in comics, as well as the “No More Marriage” trend we’ve seen hit characters ranging from Superman to Spider-Man. It’s a few years late to be topical, but still funny. Plus V has a gender change. Cute. 13 for 16.
So this was a pretty good issue. 81.25% quality rate compared to issue 2 being at 74%. That’s a nice jump. Interestingly enough, while issue #3 has the least amount of content pertaining to the games I actively play, I do think it’s the best overall issue yet in terms of article quality. This is a great sign for the magazine as each issue gets better in all ways. We’re seeing better editing, faster turnaround on issues, better customer service, a wider range of articles from all aspects of gaming and more. I’m more than happy with what this magazine contained for the $8.95 cover price. Now that it’s obvious the magazine is sticking around for the foreseeable future, I’m hoping more systems from throughout tabletop gaming’s history get to show up here. Chill, Earthdawn, Spellfire, All Flesh Must be Eaten and many other games could stand to have an article in Gygax Magazine. I’ll definitely be renewing my subscription to Gygax Magazine but as always, reviews are a matter of opinion. Mileage will vary based on your interest in the games talked about in this issue. If the only thing you like to play is Savage Worlds, you’re a bit out of luck here.