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I just picked up a copy of Gygax Magazine at the local gaming convention held just a few miles from my house. I had no real intention of picking it up, to be honest. Not because I didn't think it would be high quality, but I'm not much of a magazine reader. I even borrowed copies of all the late, great Kobold Quarterly so read through the 23 issues and then return them. But I was at TotalCon. And I had just came out of a series of old-school games with Tim Kask, Frank Mentzer and Michael Curtis. I had also just met Jayson Elliot who is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of the magazine (and someone I remember fondly from the first 50+ episodes of Roll For Initiative). So, when I saw the table of Gygax Magazines I got the strong urge to put up the very reasonable $8.95 cover price. And so I did.

Right away you'll notice the font and artwork on the cover are reminiscent of Dragon Magazine. The page count clocks in at 64 pages - a bit smaller than your typical mid-80s Dragon which often saw page counts in excess of 100. And like most magazines, there are lots of advertisements throughout - including a number of full-page spreads. But in terms of actual content, there is quite a bit here. The standard 3-column layout is featured throughout and the font is small, but clear and readable. So the thing is packed with content. And what kind of content? Surprisingly, less crunch than I was expecting. And that's a good thing! Systems change. But good fantasy articles written to be reasonably system-agnostic is something that will endure. I'm glad to see only a few articles that were specific to any one system (AD&D, Pathfinder, ICONS and the AGE system got some specific coverage in this first issue). And there were no reviews - for something that comes out Quarterly, I think that's a good call. Leave the reviews to RPG Geek where they can be shared within days of a product release

Let's take a look at what we get in Issue #1.

The Cosmology of Role-Playing Games by James Carpio. A nice article about the 1974 D&D as the 'big bang' and all the systems that came out from those core concepts. From direct descendants to the OGL/OSR and the newer Indie/Storyteller games. It's got this real neat almost 2-page spread of the 'big bang' and all the planets, moons and worlds that expanded out from that center (time growing out from the 1974 center on both sides up to 2013). The only real issues I had with this article is in the definition of 'Indie Game' which, as we've seen here on RPG Geek, is really difficult to nail down (and one of the reasons we've done away with the Indie forums in favor of a more inclusive RPG community).

Still Playing After All These Years by Tim Kask is one of my favorite articles in the issue. Whenever you get anything related to being at the gaming table or history of RP gaming from guys like Tim or Frank, you need to listen. It's always interesting. It's always informative. Knowing the history of our hobby is important to me - and I think we can all benefit from the wisdom of "The Great Old Ones" (and there is no disrespect intended in that phrase). Tim talks here about the real reason we play: to unfold a story and to have fun. I couldn't agree more - nothing else really matters. He does suggest the use of a new term for the DM/GM/Judge/etc. presented simply as PbtS (Person behind the Screen) but I don't care for it. I've been GMing for 30 years and I don't use a screen. Frank Mentzer doesn't use one either. I guess we could say there is a 'metaphorical screen' in front of all of us when we run a game... but it just doesn't feel right. I'm sticking with GM for now.

Leomund's Secure Shelter by Len Lakofka. Ah, Leomund brings up memories for any old-school AD&D gamer! Back in Dragon Days, Len did a recurring article called Leomund's Tiny Hut. And a great hut it was! I guess this will be another recurring regular feature for Gygax Magazine. In this inaugural visit to the Shelter we get some history on what Len has been up to and some of the real crunch of the issue: namely AD&D damage vs hit bonuses and which is better and why. The shelter is like visiting a very familiar and comforting place. I liked it!

The Ecology of the Banshee by Ronald M. Corn is a system-agnostic look at the Banshee. I adore ecology articles - this was my favorite part of some of the Dragon Magazines and I enjoyed the expanded ecologies of AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual along with the recent Pathfinder 'Monster Revisited' series which goes into great detail (beyond the numbers) of many of the iconic creatures. Here we get awesome fluffy detail on the Banshee along with some semi-crunch in terms of special abilities (again, not presented for any given system). Good stuff.

Bridging Generations by Luke Gygax is a short article about Luke's quest to obtain an early Dragon Magazine for an article he recalled so he could read it to his two girls. It's a touching article - and worth reading but not something I would return to in a subsequent scan of the magazine.

Gaming with a Virtual Tabletop by Nevin P. Jones lets us know that we're not in 1974 Kansas anymore. Here we've got a short essay on a modern tool for virtual gaming. The tool specifically used here is Roll20. I'd have liked to see a wider treatment of the many tools out there - and more general treatment of how to play virtually (PbF, VoiP, Google Hangouts, etc) and this article is a little to specific to the one tool. But it's short.

Keeping Magic Magical by B. Dennis Sustare is a fine article about keeping magic fresh and mysterious. I tend to play in low-magic campaigns so this article has some advice on things I'm already doing. But I learned a few tricks in here - and if you're in a campaign where magic is so common as to be mundane, you can benefit from some ideas here to bring things back into balance and make magic magical again.

Playing it the Science Fiction Way by James M. Ward tells of a story of an early Gygax campaign where the players were transported to a starship where their fantasy characters were suddenly in a whole new world with new challenges and new adventures. The article is both interesting to get a brief glimpse of Gary's home campaign but also teaches us that we can turn out worlds upside-down and give our characters something wildly different from time-to-time. It's good to shake things up on occasion and even more fun to turn them on their heads!

DMing for Your Toddler by Cory Doctorow was an interesting skim for me. I have no children and don't RP with toddlers so this was the one article that didn't really reach me. From what I skimmed, it did look interesting for parents who are eager to get their 'built-in' gaming group going in the right direction!

Great power for ICONS by Steve Kenson brings in some specific crunch for the ICONS super-powered role-playing game. This article is a preview of some of the powers of an upcoming supplement for the game that expands and extends powers in the base game. As such, it was a bit disappointing - this material will be released in more full form when the Great Power supplement comes out - rendering this article of little value. I'd rather have seen a different article here.

The Future of Tabletop Gaming by Ethan Gilsdorf was one of my favorites in this issue. It is one part history of the hobby and the change that took place over the years where focus of gamers shifted to Video Games and Internet. The article is very familiar to most of us who started with the boon of RPGing in the early 80s through the early 90s and then we saw the shift away from the 'new shiny game' to other forms of entertainment. The article finishes strong - with lots of hope from the self-publishing community of enthusiasts along with an older generation who are willing to pass on some of that 'magic' to younger generations and get them to steer away from their digital and mobile devices and get back to the table. Even a few date anachronisms ("In the late 1990s came the Internet. Then came Nintendo") doesn't dampen the overall message of this lengthy and well-written article.

The Gygax Family Storyteller by Ernie Gygax is another glimpse into the life and times of Gary. I don't think I'll tire of these - learning history of our art and craft from those who were there is always inspirational and enjoyable. Here we find tales of Gary storytelling to his children and involving them in the story-creating process. Great read.

Talents Off the Front Line by Dennis Detwiller gives us three new options for the superhero-WWII mashup Godlike. It reads more like WWII history and probably would serve well for anyone playing in a WWII era game. I don't so this didn't have too much use for me. It was, however, well written.

D&D Past, Now, and Next by Michael Tresca is a lengthy article about how converting from one flavor of D&D to another isn't just a matter of numbers. There are major philosophical changes between editions beyond a few hit-dice, use of grids and minis and the lethality of a campaign. It ends with a warning (at least I saw it that way) that D&D Next may allow a person to design a character to roughly equate with different D&D editions, that it is far more than a matter of scaling mechanics.

Gnatdamp: A Sanctuary in the Swamp by Michael Curtis is my favorite article in the issue. I got a chance to game with Michael as my GM for the first time this past weekend. He has great imagination and his The Dungeon Alphabet is hugely recommended reading. Sadly, Michael is only credited on the table of contents page for this packed 7-page layout of a small village which can serve as the 'home base' for any part of a fantasy campaign. It's laid out with a nice map, population of roughly 200 souls and just enough detail that you can run it as-is or use it to flesh out even more details depending on how engrossed you want to get in the area. This will definitely see use at my table in the future!

The Kobold's Carvern by Wolfgang Baur is a special area of the magazine where smaller articles from the Kobold Press crew will appear that might have otherwise gone in future Kobold Quartely issues had that magazine continued it's run. These pages are set in a light grey color to indicate they are part of the special Kobold Cavern section. It was so cool seeing a few pages of KQ type content! Included here is Magical Miscellany by Randall K. Hurlburt detailing a number of new and interesting magical items for the AGE system. An AGE of Great Inventions by Rodrigo García Carmona goes into inventions and gadgets that are not specifically magical but still fantastical creations that can serve a similar purpose to magical items. Again, this is written for the AGE system. Finally, Scaling Combat Feats by Marc Radle gives us an alternative to the standard Pathfinder "feat chain". As Pathfinder is my current system of choice, I was happy to see some PF specific content! These newly presented 'Combat Scaling Feats' are a neat idea - if I don't use them as-is, they have at least served as inspiration for some feat modifications for my home game.

The issue finishes up with some great comics in true Dungeon style. Marvin the Mage by Jim Wampler, What’s New with Phil & Dixie by Phil Foglio and The Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew. I'm a sucker for RPG and gaming-related comics so it was great to see such a fine selection here.

The artwork throughout is varied but great. Mostly black-and-white and while there are different styles, some of it is very reminiscent of the artwork I loved from the early AD&D books and early Dragon Mags.

Overall, I'm impressed. More than I thought I would be. Issue #1 was at least as good as the best of Kobold Quarterly and probably, as a whole, better than any single issue of KQ I've read. Where as KQ had articles that were pretty specific to various systems (most notably Pathfinder, AGE and D&D 4e) we've got a magazine here which has a different focus on more system-neutral and more timeless articles. If they can keep up the high quality set by Issue #1, I'll be happy!

Good work, new TSR crew. Kudos.
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Paul Dale
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Great review. On the strength of it I've subscribed. Even though the postage to Australia costs the same as the magazine shake

- Pauli
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angelia
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I was so excited when Gygax Magazine decided to come to TotalCon with their first issue. I had watched the magazine launch on line. It looked good then, it was even better once I got my hands on it. Good reading! And I thought it was reasonably priced as well. Bonus was getting Tim Kask, Jayson Elliot, Michael Curtis, and James Carpio to sign my copy on-site at the con Looking forward to more issues.
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Dave Bernazzani (@rpggeek)
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Something I wanted to add. After hearing Vince on the RFI podcast mention that his binding wasn't holding up all that well, I checked mine. Magazine only read through once - and flipped through by all members of my game group and I am seeing visible wear on the outside cover binding (especially at the corners - but also just wear along the sharp spine).



(click images for full-size)

Kobold Quarterly had a flatter spine - and after much more rugged handling had no visible problems.
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Sorry but I beg to differ. Gygax magazine issue 1 is terrible. A poor start to a possible great magazine. Nevertheless, I didn't give up on them and bought issue 2.

This current issue definitely sets the bar for something great. I'm going to write a review on it
 
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