Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: & Magazine, Issue 11

Issue 11 of & Magazine came out at the start of the month.  I'd put it on my reading list but hadn't intended on a review until &'s PR Director Ron Redmond somewhat hesitatingly asked me for one on Reddit.  He shouldn't have worried - I like the big quarterly and the ideas behind it.  Although community blogs and social media are a very "agile" means of discussion, periodicals like & provide a stable point of reference.  Bryan Fazekas' policy of announcing a theme for submissions keeps the magazine focused, while in theory allowing for diverse views on the topic to be expressed in the same document.

In Issue 11, the theme is humanoids (aka. the "giant-class", goblinoids) and the views in the special feature articles and the regular articles following theme are very much along the same line - that there is a problem with the assumed vanilla presentation that needs to be corrected, generally with new gaming content and complexity.  Most likely, this is a result of self-selection.  People who feel that the assumed vanilla presentation is largely fit for purpose and only needs a certain degree of expansion would be less likely to write in to &.  I'm not sure that there's anything that the staff could do to correct this trend, and in fact there's no pressing need to solicit contrary opinions.  Speaking just for myself, I disagreed with a great many of the views expressed in this issue - and may lay out my differences in later posts.  But don't mistake that for a condemnation of & Magazine.  Reading opposing views helped to clarify what I think about the topics addressed in Issue 11, providing entertainment on the day and (hopefully!) a better-developed milieu for my future RPG campaigns.

Outside of the specials is a fantastic array of extra content.  The issue is also packed full of magic items, not all of which I'd use but all of which were worth a look.  Leomund's Long Coats were particularly interesting and I can certainly see them being added to my treasure tables.  There's an alternate Ranger class without magic spells, an engaging article on the Sphinx and related monsters by David A. Hill, a some drinking games, a couple of wilderness hexes, a recipe for chicken that I skipped past for vegetarian reasons, a lovely map of a small castle in TSR-style azure, and a pair of little adventures.  Given the nature of this blog I have to go into a bit of depth on that pair, Dan Rasaiah's Blues for the Red Sun and Andrew Hamilton's Grym Grove.

Blues for the Red Sun is for 4-6 fourth-level adventurers and could just about have been a one-page dungeon, coming in at three pages with a 10 location map.  It has a lovely situational hook, really good enough that Rasaiah didn't need to include any suggestions for getting the PCs to the starting point.  The scenario is perhaps a little intense but could easily be dropped into a campaign at the drop of a hat.

Although twice the length, Grym Grove is more of an adventure location than an adventure in its own right.  There's some suggestions on why the party might get mixed up in this place, but all of them take a bit of preparation.  I think that's why Hamilton doesn't pitch the grove at a particular party.  The ideas are somewhat interesting, but this is a resource for a DM with the time to work out how to use it rather than a plug-and-play game aid.

As a last note, I found the "Further Reading" section in this issue of & to be very informative.  Although I'm not rushing to sign up to a score of Facebook groups, their inclusion in the magazine was a great touch and a sign of how seriously & takes its role as a focal point for the OSR community.

I don't feel that a magazine issue is the sort of thing that can get a numerical rating - but I heartily recommend picking this one up.  Even if you find yourself disagreeing with the views in Issue 11 of &, there's plenty here to get you thinking!

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