GAMES UNPLUGGED #1
Author: DYNASTY PRESENTATIONS
Company/Publisher: DYNASTY PRESENTATIONS
Page count: 64
Capsule Review by Colin D. Speirs on 08/05/00.
GAMES UNPLUGGED #1 DYNASTY PRESENTATIONS 64 pages including adverts $3.99, £3.00 http://www.gamesunplugged.com
This is the first issue of the only US RPG magazine, apart from Dragon, that I've seen since Shadis shut up shop. Like Shadis and the later Dragons it is printed on lightweight paper, but it seems sturdy enough for the purpose to have survived three weeks in my possession. First impressions are reasonable, the layout is adequate, and the printing of colour under text is restricted to boxouts and in no place detracts from the text itself. There are a few typos here and there, but not so much as to hit the reader in the eye.
The magazine is news, reviews, articles and one cartoon strip. No scenarios, campaign hints, encounters or anything actually related to the playing part of roleplaying. This is an rpg related magazine rather than an rpg magazine as we know it, a contributor has compared it to "Entertainment Weekly" and one industry insider (i.e. a guy I know) told me that they are happy to leave that kind of market to any other magazine that wants to try it. They even have an "Ask the Pro" section so that us drooling fanboys can ask designers the sort of questions we usually reserve for actors in long running SF/F series.
Living too much of my life on-line I recognize many of the news items as stories that have floated around mailing lists and newsgroups recently, but the items are fairly up to date given the nature of magazine schedules and the off-line folk won't have seen them anyway. As I write events have already rendered some information obsolete, as Last Unicorn Games (producers of the eagerly awaited "Dune" RPG) have been bought by Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) and the status of that game placed in some doubt.
The "Entertainment Weekly" approach is evident as soon as you start reading the articles, the first, by Editor-in-Chief Tony Lee, concerns Wizard of the Coast's new D&D 3rd edition. This is not written by a WoTC employee but it is nevertheless a very favourable and mostly uncritical article in the style of a film magazine article rather than a RPG preview. As a long standing non-player of TSR/WoTC products I don't demand a hatchet job, but more of a mention about some of the controversy surrounding this new release, the OFFICIAL return to a more hack 'n' slash related game and the D20/Open Game Licence debate, even if only mentioned in a boxout would have been, I feel, more balanced as a piece of news, as it is it reads more like an infomercial.
This "inside and positive" Film mag approach is continued in a design note section later on by Robin Laws, but when you know its the author talking about his own game you can make allowances for it. The list of "Hot Products" for GenCon has a rating NOT by how good a product is expected to be, but by how popular a purchase it is expected to be. This section is interrupted by adverts, not least of one is a two page spread from Chessex about Dice, extolling their virtues as a source of dice and their commitment to quality. I was going to mark Games Unplugged down for this, I mean perhaps a half page or one page with picture but a two page spread, until I noticed (because I was looking for it) teeny tiny lettering (so small it made C&S 1's font look like large print) at the bottom of each page declaring that its true advertising status. The fact that a true infomercial like this does not seem out of place with the D&D 3 article was slightly worrying.
Film magazines like lists of the top whatever, actually many magazines do but I'm continuing an analogy here, and this is no exception with the top 50 "most influential people in the Adventure Game market". Despite the fact it allows me to see the impish and not unappealing features of Dynasty's boss, Ken Whitman, I'm not so sure that this article was worth it, or if some of the people (R.A. Salvatore, Weis and Hickman, the VP of WoTC Books and Novel's Division. WoTC Convention Services Manager ?) deserved their spot. I think they could have used some of the same biographical information and pictures to better purpose by instead giving an insight into how the RPG industry actually works. The difference between the big boys and the marginal outfits of one person, a dream and an email account that exist.
If I'm wrong and the authors/commisioners of RPG game world related books and Convention managers DO make a difference, then such an article would have helped, if only to explain to gamers the margins involved and the hassles in writing, editing and distributing the books they buy, although a little of that is seen in the TSR company history column by E. Gary Gygax, an interesting read and one that I'm sure will be read to see what he doesn't say as much as what he does.
The reviews are good, ranging from slightly over a full page to a couple of column inches with a Report Card (A to F with '+' and '-') marking system. The products reviewed include Board Games (wargames and more abstract), Card Games, these new fangled Disk things and even RPGs and support materials. Whilst I don't agree with all the reviews they give enough information for most people to make up their mind whether or not they want to investigate the products further.
The cartoon is the venerable SnarfQuest from Larry Elmore, a long running staple of Dragon Magazine. Not being a long running reader of Dragon I don't have the emotional attachment to this strip that others seem to have but, stereotypical gravity defying skimpily clad cheesecake female character aside, the artwork is good and the story shows possibilities, though I assume that I'm missing out on subtle nuances of long established characterisation. Or something.
Although I seemed critical of the tone of the magazine, I actually think that within the parameters this magazine has set itself it's a worthwhile buy. If money is short, you can only buy one magazine and you want those adventures and you don't just play WoTC games, then it looks like your only recourse is the British Valkyrie magazine.
The addition of a clear and interesting website, in the same style as the magazine at http://www.gamesunplugged.com is a bonus to the web based folks, though I haven't had time to see if there is much new there, that doesn't feature in the magazine. Issue 2 will tell.
However if you are looking for something well presented, a bit different with some gossip, reviews and hopefully some direct lines into RPG companies then this looks like it might be it. It doesn't have adventures or ideas that harassed GM's can quickly shoehorn in when they've been too busy to write a scenario, but you do gain some insight into the thought processes of people who are writing and distributing the games you buy.Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)