Opponents Wanted: forgotten gaming mags find new life on the net

Oh, those glorious gaming magazines! From Ares, to The General, to The Dragon, the original thrill and excitement of pen 'n' paper gaming is there to be experienced at the Internet Archive and other online haunts.

The Internet Archive is one of the great treasures of the internet, housing content in every media; texts, video, audio. It’s also the home of the Wayback Machine, an archive of the Internet from 1996. I thought I had explored the site pretty thoroughly—at least according to my own interests—but recently came across runs of some of the great gaming magazines of the 1970s and 80s; The Space Gamer, Ares, Polyhedron, The General, and—temporarily—Dragon Magazine. These magazines represent not only the golden age of gaming, but expose the thrill and excitement of gaming when it was still new, still on the margins. It was a time when gaming still felt a little, dare I say, punk.

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Today, finding members of your particular community of interest is a Google search away, but in the 1970s the only way to be in contact with others who shared interests was through magazines. For many gamers, even finding the games could be difficult. Discovering the gaming magazines revealed an active gaming industry that still maintained a sense of being on the vanguard.

The earliest issues show off their newsletter origins. The Space Gamer and The Generalstarted off on plain paper in black and white. Even the first issues of Dragon look like a teenager’s fanzine, but the enthusiasm and energy are infectious. Who couldn’t love the introduction of new monsters for your campaign such as the Gem Var, a creature composed entirely of gemstone and that cannot take damage from bladed weapons. The artists, editors and letter writers were the best friends you had never met. Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock. You knew it was offbeat, knew that outsiders didn’t get it, but you also knew that this was cool. Even the advertisements and listings of conventions expanded the universe of gaming a thousandfold. Not unlike ordering 45s of unknown bands from punk zines, was sending away for microgames, miniatures and supplements from tiny game publishers.

Browsing through them now using Internet Archive’s terrific “read online” feature, it’s clear how important these magazines were to a fledgling hobby (and how wonderfully awful some of the artwork was). The amount of new gaming content these magazines offered is astonishing, and it was this very malleability of the rules that created a sense within the community of gamers that it was perpetually new, always reaching out towards the next idea. The first issue of Dragon Magazine from 1976 (then called The Dragon) admitted in its editor’s note that it was entering new territory, but managed to fill that pioneering issue with a story by Fritz Leiber, new spells, a discussion of science and magic in D&D, and introduced a regular section called “Mapping the Dungeons,” which was a list of the names and addresses of gamemasters looking for players (David Mumper of Henniker, New Hampshire, where are you now?).

Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) put out Ares Magazine, and each issue offered a complete game including a map and a rack of punch-out counters. The PDFs currently at Internet Archive include scans of these elements and it’s painful to not be able to press out those beautiful little counters. The Space Gamer focused mostly on publisher Metagaming’s own properties. By issue #27, the magazine came under the auspices of Steve Jackson Games (SJG) and offered a much greater variety of content, with material for AD&D, Call of Cthulhu and computer games.

The General , published by Avalon Hill (makers of PanzerBlitz and one of the great war games of all time, Starship Troopers, among others), was geared towards the historical with smatterings of science fiction, but later issues had quite a bit of fantasy fare as well. The Generalalso offered articles on strategy and tactics employed during actual wars and a classified section called “Opponents Wanted” where lonely gamers posted messages in the hopes of finding other players: “Adult player looking for opponents (female players welcomed) to play AH non-wargames, especially RB, KREM, DIP, CIV. RB fanatics. Write me!”

Having these magazines up at Internet Archive—or other easily-found online locations—corresponds perfectly with the old-school renaissance taking place in the world of role-playing games, as well as an overall nostalgia for ’70s gaming in general. The recent Kickstarter to republish Steve Jackson’s Ogre netted $923,680 (they were looking for $20,000). Wizards of the Coast recently made PDFs available the original rules and modules for AD&D, as well as a limited edition boxed set reprinting the impossibly rare “White Box.” And Gygax Magazine was just launched this January by Luke Gygax, Gary’s son.

Those of us who gamed in the ’70s and ’80s are hitting middle-age and have kids of our own who couldn’t draw a dungeon map if their life depended on it. We are looking back at our lives, remembering fondly the things we deeply loved.

When I was 12-years old, my older brother drove me down the mostly depressed Sterling Avenue in Hollywood, Florida to a nondescript storefront where there was a small variety store, a dry cleaner, and a shop called The Compleat Strategist. It was 1979 and I was just about done with my Legos and tragically losing interest in my Micronauts. We were there, of course, to check out Dungeons & Dragons. My brother chipped in and I walked out with the D&D Basic Set in the blue box, along with the Dungeon Geomorphs and the Monster and Treasure Assortment. I left with something else: a sense that I was about to be initiated into a secret order. Yet is was those magazines that created an idea of fraternity that would finally bring together so many aspects of my pre-adolescence: a love of fantasy and science fiction, an anxious imagination, and an almost righteous identity as an outsider.

Published 5:55 am Thu, Mar 28, 2013

About the Author

Peter Bebergal is the author of Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood recently published by Soft Skull Press. He blogs at mysterytheater.blogspot.com.

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22 Responses to “Opponents Wanted: forgotten gaming mags find new life on the net”

  1. TheKaz1969 says:

    Man, I miss Wormy…

  2. Anoz says:

    Dragon link doesn’t appear to work, at least for me, sadly.  I was just reflecting on these old mags last week.  I have a copy of the final Dragon still untouched carefully packed on my desk. 

  3. Eliot Lyons says:

    I was one of the lucky few that managed to buy the CD-Rom collection of dragon 1-250+TSR magazine when it was available.

    Unfortunately, WOTC didn’t clear the republishing rights for the KODT strips from Kenzer and it got yanked off the shelves fast.

    (It’s especially entertaining to know that almost all of the torrented PDFs of those issues are file-size identical to the legitimate copies I bought so many years ago :P)

    I think my best memories of these magazines were the mini-games that came in them (no one would be foolish enough to actually cut up their magazines to play them, would they?)

    The Comic Shop in Fairbanks Alaska is co-incidentally right next to a kinko’s, so… you know.

  4. Stefan Jones says:

    I’ve got the real thing — The Dragon, The Space Gamer, Sorceror’s Apprentice, White Dwarf, Ares, Wyrm’s Footnotes, Different Worlds, countless short-run fan mags — in boxes in my basement.

    Edit: One thing I need to do is re-unite the bound-in games (from The Dragon, Ares) with the mags they came with.

    Really, it is astonishing how elaborate some of those included games were.

  5. That top issue of Dragon is one of my favorites, was a Valentine’s special (iirc) and the guy on the cover is trying to romance a beholder. Sadly I think all of my issues vanished into a wormhole.

  6. Scott Elyard says:

    I remain an avid collector of Dragon. I keep a list in a spreadsheet on my iphone in case I wander into a store with old or used stock. It is one beautiful magazine, with covers that seemed to be about the art first and foremost (contrast those older covers with magazine covers of today, which looks like chaotic mess of type and imagery in comparison). Living in Alaska sometimes makes it difficult to really collect these like I want to though. 

  7. Jorpho says:

    The entirety of Foglio’s “What’s New With Phil and Dixie” (from the back page of Dragon) is also online, if you missed it.
    http://www.airshipentertainment.com/growfcomic.php

  8. Peter says:

    I’ve still got a bunch of old Dragon magazines within easy reaching distance.  Of course, I haven’t reached for them in quite a long time.

    • oasisob1 says:

      You could probably find every issue of Dragon and Dungeon in a torrent if you searched. Probably.

      • Peter says:

        Probably, but that runs into the issues that prevent me from reaching for the issues I do have… while it might be fun to drift off into nostaglia for a bit, I have other things to do (theoretically, anyway, though I’m probably not doing any of those, either).

        • oasisob1 says:

          I prefer sitting in the basement thumbing through my physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon. Purely for research purposes, having searchable issues online would be fantastic.

  9. Reggie Rock says:

    It’s not a mainstream article on D&D without calling it and it’s fans pre-adolescent. You have to make sure the cool kids see you talking down to us.

  10. Quentin Frost says:

    I have a lot of Dragon magazines from #58-100 that I would LOVE to sell.  Nobody seems to want them.

  11. bibulb says:

    I found the Space Gamer collection, and grabbed the Metagaming issues that were available – the SJG years are for sale on their website, and I do feel a bit bad about ganking those sans renumeration.

    As for the Dragon issues, I’ve got a bunch of PDFs, and I’ll still occasionally read up until sommat like 13X or so. The span right around 100 was full of some great stuff right before Gygax’s ouster. (And a bunch of Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes stuff right at that time, so HELL YES.)

  12. geeks says:

    I remember tht as a lad (13 or so) I was supposed to be cleaning my room when my mom came in unexpextadly. I quickly put the magazine I was reading away. She demanded to see it, thinking it was porn. It was White Dwarf (or maybe Dragon, it was a long time ago). She was relieved. In retrospect I guess it was a form if porn…

  13. Halloween_Jack says:

    WRT your saying that this was before people could find other gaming enthusiasts via the internet: an interesting project would be to see just how much the early gaming and computer communities overlapped and even encouraged each other. Given the early popularity of proto-roguelikes, I’d expect there to be quite a lot, and even without access to BBSs, I could see where there would be a lot of synergy. (This was when print computer magazines could fulfill communications functions for a lot of users; I wonder how many people realize that magazines like Byte wold print entire programs in BASIC for users to enter manually into their microcomputers.

    P.S. Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the White Box, albeit in a somewhat altered form.

    • Fnordius says:

      The reprinting of the “White Box” is mentioned in the third to last paragraph, albiet unlinked. It kinda is hidden by the mention of the OGRE reprint Kickstarter acheiving 8x its goal, and Luke Gygax bringing back Dragon.

      Oh, and I totally agree with you, and regret tossing out my old copies of Compute! magazine, or the time my mother tossed all of my D&D stuff into the trash because I got an F in English (for never turning in homework). Still have the Commodore 64 that I bought in 1982 with lawn mowing money, though. And my 1st Edition AD&D books.

      (Edit due to hitting “Send” too soon, oops)

  14. matisse says:

    I worked at SPI in the ’70s and I do not recall a magazine named “Ares” – I do recall (and have several issues of) Strategy & Tactics, which SPI published for many years, with as you say, a game in each issue.
    Also notable at that time was SPI’s use of a feedback form in every issue where readers would rate new game ideas on a 1 (will not buy) to 9 (will buy) scale. SPI would take the number of responses for each idea, 1x the 7s, 2 x the 8s, 3 x the 9s, and if the total was higher than some number that Jim Dunnigan liked, then we developed the game.

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