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RPG Magazines – Essential or Outdated?

December 26, 2011

I knew of Dragon and Dungeon magazines when I was growing up, but didn’t own any issues and didn’t subscribe. The dad of our regular DM had a subscription, and I remember thumbing through an issue or two, but mostly we were too busy playing nintendo to be bothered. When I came back to D&D in 2008, Dragon and Dungeon had gone digital. I had just missed all the gnashing of teeth about the transition, and never had a proper example of the old magazine to feel a sense of loss that so many did when they transitioned to their digital format. At the time, I was only playing 4e, so at the end of the month I was thrilled when they compiled all the articles into a PDF and I had a digital magazine full of new character options and adventures, not to mention great art and maps!

I was really upset when they stopped compiling the issues at the end of the month, and further enraged when the amount of content started to drop off at an alarming rate. I voiced my displeasure in the forums and cancelled my subscription. Most of the articles that I have any interest in reading from Wizards of the Coast are now free, so I don’t regret my decision.

I’ve been doing some research on the roots of D&D and role-playing games in general. After asking around, I discovered some of my gaming buddies had digital versions of the old Dragon magazines. Digitally paging through these issues was like finding an old bookshelf in a library filled with forgotten lore. As a fascinating side activity, I googled the companies in the ads, and a surprising number still exist. Reading the old articles, it was surprising to me how little has actually changed when it came to what gamers were arguing about, and the controversies of the day. Some of the letters were seeking clarification on rules for a particular spell, or how something should be resolved given a conflict between two rules. Others felt that PCs were becoming too powerful, and dragons were getting stomped without being a big enough threat to the party. (Power-creep, anyone?) It was really surprising how similar the conversations were in the old issues as compared to what people are discussing on blogs and twitter today. Are we all just rehashing the past? Has everything worth being said on the subject of RPGs already been written? While a lot of the issues are similar, the evolution of game mechanics, trends, and advances in the hobby make a really entertaining read.

The thing I liked most about the old magazines was that they were filled with interesting games from other companies and ideas from all over the gaming spectrum. The old ads were amazing, and some of the products I had purchased when I was a kid, not ever seeing how they were marketed to the gaming population as a whole. I was hooked. I’ve poured through issue after issue, including early articles from industry giants. Its been really informative, and hugely inspiring.

Enter the Kobold. I had downloaded a free issue of Kobold while it was still available, and decided it wasn’t for me. At the time I was only playing 4e, so I didn’t feel a lot of the content was applicable to me. After reading the old issues of Dragon and Dungeon and realizing what space KQ aimed to fill, I have developed a new appreciation for it. As I have grown in both depth and breadth of games I play, and experience as a Game Master and player, Kobold Quarterly captures the old feel of the Dragon and Dungeon magazines. If you only play one game, you may not find it as valuable as if you are a RPG fan in general. However, if you frequently GM homebrew games and are running out of inspiration, seek out the Kobold. Its full of interesting ecology articles that detail iconic foes, thorough interviews with fascinating figures in the gaming industry, and has ads that actually may appeal to you. Normally I just flip right past ads in magazines, but the majority of the ads in KQ are for products I’m actually interested in, and probably wouldn’t have stumbled across otherwise. I’m ready to subscribe.

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  1. December 27, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I’m a stickler for physical reading materials, whether that be books or magazines. While I think the best bet are deals that let you have one of each (one to read at leisure, the physical; another to search for a specific entry, the digital) I’ve got to say that given a choice between one or the other I always go for the dead tree route.

    I like the paratextual elements such a product confers. There is something relaxing about flipping through pages, something familiar in the smell of that newstand ink. I remember getting lost in the non-damaging glue they used to use to place inserts, much like a child with bubblewrap.

    The choice between physical or digital aside, I think gaming magazines are great. The problem arises in what you get for your money. I feel the best sorts of magazines are those that deal with a certain product (as Dungeon did for Dungeons and Dragons) or a theme (as The Space Gamer did for Sci-fi).

    I’ve purchased a few issues of Kobold, ones that had particular articles I wanted, but a subscription isn’t something I’m interested in. I thought Level Up (Goodman Games) was great–a shame it was so short lived.

    While I may think gaming magazines are great, and that they certainly seem to beat the pants off digital content offers, the market seems to disagree with me.

    • December 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      I certainly agree that those offering both a physical and digital copy provide the best value, I care less and less about a physical copy of something as magazines tend to clutter the house a bit. I personally would rather have a digital archive I could effectively search for inspiration to a particular challenge if only offered one or the other. Great points, and thanks for commenting!

  2. January 2, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    Reblogged this on INN3R G33K.

  1. November 26, 2012 at 12:18 pm
  2. February 26, 2013 at 4:41 pm
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