Greetings, readers! Before I get into the meat of the blog post today, I want to quickly point out something cool: my article on Free RPG Day went live at Critical-Hits.com! You can read it here
I was recently going over my posts about Palladium Books, and it struck me that I’d left something out: the company’s magazine known as the Rifter. However, I didn’t want to go back and edit the posts, and I didn’t really feel like doing an entire blog post just about the Rifter. Instead, today’s blog post is all about RPG periodicals in general.
Actually, I owe a lot of my overall enjoyment of RPGs (and games in general) from various magazines—and e-zines—that I’ve collected over the years. Many… in fact, most gaming magazines were actually “house organs,” in that they were created by and for a particular publisher and focused nearly exclusively on that publisher’s games. Some of the magazines listed below did their best to stay current by keeping track of other trends, but in general each magazine had its own niche.
Let’s start out by looking at the gaming periodicals of yesteryear!
The Golden Age
In my opinion, the golden age of RPG Periodicals lasted from around 1980 up until 1999—roughly 20 years of awesome.
Cover art by Larry Elmore.
There is no other periodical that I could point to that had a greater impact on me than Dragon Magazine. Back when I was first starting out as a gamer, Dragon was freaking awesome.Although Dragon was essentially a house magazine for Dungeons & Dragons, it did cover quite a few other games as well—even if many times it was simply in advertisements! I got my first exposure to Citadel Miniatures by looking at the glossy full-page ads for Warhammer’s “Gob-lobber” and “Screaming Skull Catapult.” Naturally, the Dungeons & Dragons material was good, and it was enough to hook me in right away. I fondly remember reading quite a few of Ed Greenwood’s early Forgotten Realms material, plus the “Ecology of” series, and plenty more nifty articles and editorials. And then there were the comics at the back! I’m talking about Wormy, Yamara, and lots of little one-shot comic panels that were usually quite funny and brought a big smile to my face. The magazine expanded in the mid- and late-80’s with a sci-fi section called “Ares” that introduced me to (among others) Marvel Super Heroes, Champions, and Traveller. Every so often, the magazine would include something really special, like a small board game from Tom Wham or a full set of cards to make your own Deck of Many Things!
Dragon also had some truly great cover art during this period, including a lot of fantastic artists who really helped shape my vision of what fantasy gaming could be all about. It’s fair to say that one of my lifelong dreams was to be published in Dragon—and I have some rejection slips to prove that I tried—but alas, the magazine as I remembered it folded long before my writing career really took off.
This is my favorite issue of Dungeon, period.
What was interesting about Dungeon Magazine is that it was essentially the best value you could ever find for a D&D fan. Every month, the magazine contained between three and six full adventures for just a handful of dollars.
At the same time, mind you, you could go to your local store and find a single adventure (admittedly a longer, more well-developed and produced one) on the shelf for roughly two to three times the same price. Several Dungeon Magazines contain some truly amazing, imaginative, and well-developed adventures. One that particularly fired up my imagination was the adventure known as “Out of the Ashes” in issue #17, a brilliant adventure authored by Grant S. Boucher.
What is really interesting is to go look at the authors of various adventures published in Dungeon and see where they are now… some familiar names include Elaine Cunningham, P.N. Elrod, John Nephew, Nigel Findley, Thomas M. Kane, Scott Bennie, Christopher Perkins, James Jacobs, Carl Sargent, Wolfgang Baur, Ann Dupuis, Allen Varney, Lisa Smedman, and many, many more. Seriously, I’m just scraping the surface!
Much like Dragon Magazine, I always hoped I would get something published for them—alas, it was simply not to be, as the magazine is now defunct (along with its sister magazine).
White Dwarf, then and now.
In the early days of White Dwarf, it was much like Dragon in that it encompassed many different games and types of games within its covers. White Dwarf was always a very British magazine, and you can definitely see that it had its own niche with “Thrud the Barbarian” and its vaguely (to my American eyes, anyway) “Heavy Metal”-ish covers.
However, as the publisher—Games Workshop—began to narrow its focus towards its own miniature games, so too did White Dwarf. There have been many criticisms that the magazine transitioned over the decades until it is nearly unrecognizable, essentially becoming a catalog for GW’s miniature games. What I believe is that the magazine has managed to stay relevant to many of its readers, but I think that White Dwarf is encountering significant challenges since the advent of the new millennium.
My own experience with White Dwarf started in the 90’s when I was first exposed to Warhammer 40,000. A good friend of mine, Daniel Barnard, gave me a full shelf-load of old White Dwarfs, and I was instantly hooked on the grim darkness of the far future. I’m very pleased to say that I did end up actually working on the US edition of White Dwarf from 2003-2005, and I directly contributed to the landmark 300th issue.
Shadow Hawk, baby!
Ah, Battletechnology! This magazine focused entirely on FASA’s Battletech game, and it was a fan produced magazine initially created and edited by one of my all-time favorite authors, William H. Keith, Jr.
The magazine featured small bits of short fiction (several of them quite enjoyable), new ‘mech designs, scenarios, and some neat in-character/in-universe insights into the state of the constantly-evolving Battletech universe. It may not have had the slickest production values, but I loved it fiercely, and I have quite a few issues tucked away in my collection. One thing to note is that the magazine often used pictures of kitbashed and converted Battletech models, and often these pictures were altered to look as if the model was actually in the midst of combat—quite clever stuff in the days before Photoshop.
Alkahest is awesome.
In the 80’s and 90’s, Autoduel Quarterly was one of two quarterly gaming periodicals that was published in an odd, smaller size format (the other being Adventurer’s Club). AQ, as it was often abbreviated to, contained some excellent short fiction, additional vehicle designs, and sometimes new equipment. AQ always expanded on the world of Car Wars, adding information about various locations throughout the world. I really liked AQ and looked forward to each issue, even though I never really was much of a Car Wars player—the magazine just was that cool. Of particular note is one of my favorite pieces in my collection—volume 3, #3, the Autoduel Champions story “Alkahest” written by John M. Ford.
The magazine often featured some great articles by talented writers like Scott D. Haring and Aaron Allston.
Cover art by Ben Dunn.
Adventurer’s Club, like AQ before it, was published on a quarterly basis and used (for many issues) a smaller-sized format. Some of the later issues, however, are printed at normal magazine size. Adventurer’s Club was a showcase of something near and dear to my heart—the Hero system! Each issue contained new characters, discussions on how to represent certain powers, house rules, and adventures for the Hero system (mostly Champions). Featured writers included Scott Bennie and Aaron Allston amongst others.
Adventurer’s Club influenced and inspired many fan-created APAzines that followed it, such as Rogue’s Gallery, Haymaker! and EZHero, as well as the (now discontinued) official Hero Games periodical, Digital Hero.
Cover art by Larry Elmore.
There’s not much I can say about Challenge magazine—I rarely encountered it during my early years as a gamer. I do own a few select issues, and it was quite good. I would say that Challenge’s biggest claims to fame are that it contained some good fiction pieces, decent cover art, and encompassed a wide variety of different games over its run, albeit most of the articles were about Traveller and other GDW games. Mike Stackpole is one of the featured writers that I can personally remember.
I’ve talked above about the magazines that made the biggest impact on me as a gamer, but there were a few others out there during the golden age that deserve mention: Shadowland, White Wolf Magazine, Shadis, and Polyhedron were all going concerns during this period. I have no doubt that there’s quite a bit of quality to be found in these magazines, but I personally was never a collector.
After around 1999, there weren’t many gaming periodicals left who were still publishing on a regular basis. Between 1999 and 2010, I can only think of a couple of gaming magazines that really kept the torch burning.
Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine
I waste it with my crossbow!
Although most folks think of KODT as a comic book, the fact is that each issue is an actual magazine, with articles, reviews, and game content (mostly for Kenzer & Company’s settings and games, such as Hackmaster and Fairy Meat). While I agree that the main focus of each issue is the KODT comic itself, I’ve come to appreciate that the magazine is making an effort to keep the legacy alive of predecessors like Dragon Magazine and Shadis.
I myself am proud to have been published in KODT six times, and I would definitely recommend them as a great way to get your work published when you’re starting out in the industry. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they pay a decent wage for freelance writing, and I never had any trouble getting paid on time.
Plus, the comics are awesome.
Just in time for Flag Day.
Palladium Books has their own in-house magazine, the Rifter. It’s been running strong for nearly 60 issues now, and while it is not quite a monthly publication, it has continued slow and steady for several years. The Rifter is where many young writers for Palladium get their start (often with short fiction or new game content for Rifts, Nightbane, or Palladium Fantasy), and it often showcases some nifty black and white art. The Rifter is not immune to the production issues of other Palladium products (specifically in the layout and overall production values) but they are much more forgivable in the Rifter than anywhere else. Quite a few of Palladium’s current and recent crop of writers began by writing articles for the Rifter, and I definitely appreciate its place in the world of gaming periodicals as never giving up on producing quality content for their lines.
In the last few years, only a handful of magazines have brought anything new to the gaming periodical market. Of course, the publishing business in general is a much different place and publishing a magazine for tabletop gamers is an extremely risky move, so the real surprise is in those magazines that manage to survive!
I think I own this issue, actually…
A bold newcomer to the gaming magazine world is Kobold Quarterly, run by industry (and magazine) vet Wolfgang Baur. KQ focuses on fantasy gaming in general, and has featured many articles for both Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. Kobold Quarterly is notable for its great production values, good cover art, and solid content.
Cover art by Andrea Uderzo.
Privateer Press has grown immensely since their start in the RPG market with the Witchfire Trilogy. Now, they have their own “house organ” magazine, No Quarter. NQ mostly focuses on the company’s miniature game lines (Warmachine and Hordes), but it also occasionally contains some material for the Iron Kingdoms RPG setting. It is likely that the magazine will also support the upcoming core Iron Kingdoms RPG as well.
Eldar ships in sight sir… torpedoes locked on!
This final entry is a strictly personal favorite of mine, focused on the capital-ships-in-space miniature wargame, Battlefleet Gothic. It’s not a published magazine it all—rather, it is a “netzine” published exclusively as a downloadable pdf. Warp Rift is run entirely by volunteers and has produced over thirty issues to date, each one containing discussion on tactics, fiction, new fleets and ships, and some exceptional fan art and painted miniatures. If—like me—you love Battlefleet Gothic, check out Warp Rift
Last Minute Edit: If you know of a gaming magazine that I didn’t mention here, by all means, let me know about it! I love finding out about other RPG and gaming periodicals. 🙂