Friday, January 24, 2014

Looking At & Magazine

Every now and then I'll nose around what the people in my Google+ circles are doing outside of that site. A kind of recent follower of the last few months has been the +& Publishing Group. They do a zine (electronic only, it seems) about AD&D. Not OSRIC, or any of the many retroclones. They talk about AD&D and their AD&D games.

I downloaded the first issue (they're up to seven issues at the time of this writing) and gave it a look. You can see the cover to it in this post. This zine is geared towards the OSR fan, and those who might want to become fans of the OSR.

The layout of this issue of & Magazine is simple and utilitarian. I don't consider this a negative, on the whole, but in this case it does make the reading a bit monotonous on the screen. I will have to look at some other issues another time in see if this has improved. The issue about the Inner Planes does look like it would be right up my alley.

The focus of this issue is low level and starting characters. This is something that I would like to see tackled more often because the fragility of old school D&D/AD&D characters at low levels can be a hurdle for some, particularly those who have never played old school games. Advice from those experiences with play of the game is even more handy.

The article "Tactical Studies Reviews For Novices" has some practical advice for creating low level parties. Combined with the "Keeping 1st Level Parties Alive" article, you get some great advice on how to put together a group of adventurers that will survive (at least their first level) and at least survive to another day. The advice ranges from weapon to spell selection that will optimize your party's chances of survival. Since not every group may have that special player who can do this for the group (as +Josh Thompson does in our weekly group), having someone explain these procedures will really help a lot of starting old school players. Obviously, some may not like some of the advice (like "pull your punches against the characters") but, honestly, this is an activity where everyone is gathered to have fun. I doubt that "fun" for a lot of players entails the wholesale slaughter of their characters over and over. When we were playing Swords & Wizardry I kept things from getting fatal on a number of occasions. or I would at least provide the tools for recovery (if the players saw fit to use them). Of course I have also been gaming for almost 35 so I know when to fold up, and when to hold up, in a game.

Death happens in role-playing games, but I am of the opinion that when it does it should be because of heroic sacrifice or something similar, and not because of stupidity or randomness. I am, however, weird in this regard.

However, as I said, I really liked giving this advice to players and GMs. I would like to see more "primers" on old school play that address survivability in this manner.

One flaw, particularly in the "That Savage Kobold" article, is something that is much too prevalent among elements of old school gamers. That is the whole "grognard" (a word that I don't use in a positive way) idea that "these new kids don't know what they are doing." Combined with a fundamental lack of understanding of how businesses work (which is at least missing from this article) can create a toxic environment. Change is good, my friends. While this article is well enough written, it seems to take its entire basis from a number of misconceptions that could otherwise be done away with.

The article on point buy character creation was also a good one, and fit well into the theme of making survivable first level characters. I like the handling of purchasing high ability scores, it seems like it would help fight min/maxing at that level of the character creation. Balanced? Well, we know my feelings on "balance" in role-playing games. Balance is really just a myth, and a lot of what gets bandied around as being a discussion of balanced character creation has a lot more to do with spotlight time than anything else. There are always going to be occasions when a character is better at something, this is part of the nature of niche protection in games of the D&D stream. Despite this, the article is a good one, and has some interesting ideas that can be integrated into people's games. For people who do not like random ability score generation, point buy can be a good alternative to that, when handled properly.

The rest of this issue is rounded out with the usual fun things: equipment. new magic items and monsters. In this regard, the magazine does not disappoint. I enjoyed the ecology (even though I rarely use these sorts of things in my dungeons) and writeup for the carrion crab. From a GM's view, it seems like a fun little monster to bedevil characters with. I loved the idea of the equipment packs. This is something else that more old school games should embrace. There is nothing as tedious as combing through the equipment lists trying to find the right pieces of equipment and balance out the encumbrance. Bam! Buy a know what is in it and get a pre-figured weight. Your character is ready for spelunking.

Over all, this was a solid issue and a good start. I look forward to browsing through the site's archives and seeing what else & Magazine has to offer. With solid writing, backed by the experience of play, this magazine has a good foundation to start from, and the few shaky philosophical misconceptions can be worked around. You definitely need to check & Magazine out and download some issues.