Magazine Review: Gygax Magazine #3

From Jayson Elliot’s editorial in Gygax Magazine #3, I knew things with the magazine were hitting their stride. Though the first and second issues were good, it sometimes takes a bit to get everything to jive. From writing style and tone to art and topic selection, a ton of decisions go into not only each individual issue, but the overall magazine. And I think the Gygax sense of identity is firming up beautifully. Funny enough it was the discussion of “sentence case in article titles” that really made me smile… Though I’m a traditionalist when it comes to capitalization of titles and may disagree with Elliot in this case, the fact that he went so far as to not only share this stylistic decision with readers but explain it makes me respect him that much more.

Gygax Magazine #3 CoverThe wide variety of article topics in issue 3 continues to impress, From the solo adventure “How do you stop a space amoeba?” by Stephen V. Cole to Rich Burlew‘s The Order of the Stick cartoon, I was entertained despite the fact that I rarely play any science fiction-based games. From cover to cover, it was written and illustrated well. What were my favorite articles? Let’s see…

“The dwarven rune priest” by James Carpio for Dungeon Crawl Classics was the first one that reached out and whacked me with a warhammer. I’m a big fan of taking classic archetypes and mixing in some wacky magic. The idea of reaching into a bag of runes to figure out your daily spells is AWESOME. It’s like Forrest Gump says in the movie – “You never know what you’re gonna get.” And the addition of runic alignment adjustments is crunchy. I’m a little confused about how a rune translates into a casting, but I believe any rune can be used to cast any spell in the cleric’s list and there are some conditions under which the rune gets lost (spell failure, rune ability used). All in all though, I love the addition of actual runes being used in this way.

“Artifacts to impart ancient lore” by Michael Curtis was similarly brilliant, detailing five separate artifacts for imparting knowledge of various types to characters that may not normally get the benefits of such knowledge (it’s usually left to the scholars, but why should they have all the fun?). Consuming ashes to gain insight or information about various religions is right up there with the use and care of various holy relics in real-world churches. Wearing special vestments or armor. Inhaling invisible gases. Even chasing a dream. All of these are rich realms for storytelling in any world. But what I like most? Curtis offers rules for various OSR systems (Classic/1st edition D&D, AD&D 1e/2e, 3.5e/PFRPG, and Basic Role-Playing) so you can immediately see the benefits of these artifacts.

Jayson, please include more articles like this – the cross-system approach is VERY useful, almost as a “Rosetta Stone” offering examples of how to include items and rules in a variety of systems.

Of course, “The hobby shop dungeon” by Jon Peterson was one of the biggest highlights of the issue, detailing not only an entire dungeon map for immediate use but the history of the original hobby shop in Lake Geneva in those early heady days of D&D. The Dungeon hobby shop sounds like a truly wondrous place filled with creativity and adventure from some of the visionaries of our hobby. Oh to be a fly on THOSE walls during playtesting sessions! (And though I’ve managed to put off picking up a copy of Playing at the World by Peterson, this article has moved it to the top of my list of books to purchase next…)

The fold-out map is a wonder, featuring a little bit of everything – exteriors, water features, giant mushrooms, caves, apartments, and more. All in color! Something tells me I’ll be adapting the map and 10 pages of dugneon description from Ernie Gygax and Benoist Poire for use in a campaign with my daughters soon. It’s too good not to use!

Beyond that I have to shout out to my friend Brian Liberge for his 13th Age article about the “Order of the Knights Incorporeal.” These ghostly knights are not to be trifled with. Though I would rather feature these undead servants of Princess Hristina of Morgau as a NPC threat, the idea of a PC being a conscript leads to all sorts of intriguing story possibilities useful in nearly any fantasy RPG world.

And how can you go wrong with Rich Burlew’s “The Order of the Stick” cartoon showing up at the end of the magazine? Answer: You can’t. These stick figure heroes continue to inspire, entertain, and poke fun at some of the best parts of the gaming hobby. And I wonder what a franchise reboot would have done to some of my own campaigns that fizzled in the past? 🙂

Another terrific issue of Gygax Magazine folks. Plenty of crunch, great art, and ideas to feed on for another month or two while we wait for the next one. In the meantime, maybe I’ll catch up on #2!

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