Crusader Magazine #1 (2.8 stars)
Except for the cover art and a few high points, I felt that the first issue of Crusader fell short of expectations. Rowena produced a piece of cover art that's at once beautiful and whimsical - the image of a hatching dragon is quite appropriate to the first issue of a FRP Gaming magazine.
But basically, I don't want what's being sold here. It's incredibly difficult to hit the sweet spot on a "general appeal" magazine in the gaming world. The magazine is intended to be a gaming magazine with a broader scope than Dragon. I respect that, but I want a magazine devoted to Castles & Crusades. So there. Lejendary Adventures players, on the other hand, won't like to see too much of a focus on C&C. Now, these two player groups have a joint interest in fantasy, but without reference to some rules, a magazine wouldn't live long, I don't think. I'm sure lots of people won't agree with me in terms of this reading preference, and that's why I'm stating up front what my prejudices are. I don't see the magazine surviving without a more narrowed focus and considerably more rules "crunch." Yes, that's what the magazine is trying to avoid, because Dragon has taken narrow focus and crunch to an extreme. But WotC also knows what they're doing with Dragon. Taking a different tack is going to be hard. Hard isn't a bad thing, but quixotic, on the other hand, is a problem when you're trying to turn a buck. We'll see if it succeeds.
The magazine opens with "My corner perspective" by Nicole Leigh. It's a nice piece of nostalgia, but I didn't know who Nicole Leigh is, which kept preoccupying me. The Editor? A writer? An FRPG writer? I didn't have a context for this - at the least it needed a brief self-introduction.
Next came the Steve & Davis article on Castles & Crusades. I liked this one a lot (I'm interested in C&C, and I like stories). I turned happily to page 28 to continue reading, and discovered the first of a series of layout errors. The page references are all wrong, all the way through the magazine. I located the right page and continued reading, enjoying myself.
Then there's a piece by Casey Canfield called "Winging It." I thought this was a good, generally applicable article - it was well chosen for inclusion, although it would have read better if it has been more condensed.
Then, the Theurgist's Lethe, by Dan Cross, a short story. It might be excellent - I don't know, because I don't read short stories in gaming magazines. I didn't even read them in Dragon when I was devouring all things fantasy at the age of 12. I read gaming magazines for gaming, not for fiction. I can see why fiction has a place in this sort of magazine - inspiration is always nice. I happen to be someone who gets inspiration from images, not from stories.
Then, an article by Darlene. This was fun to read, and more guest-star articles from the old days of D&D would be a very nice feature for the grognard set. Probably boring as all get-out for any non-grognards, though.
Next came a series of pictures and poetry by Rowena. ALl the pictures were pixellated, and the poems so badly so that I couldn't read them. The next turn of the page got worse. Babylonian poetry. This might have been good, if it had been in a more readable font and if there had been some sort of introduction.
Mike Stewart's article was good. Well written and concise. However, after reading the Chenaults' article, the d20-bashing was starting to get a bit tedious. I'm no longer a big fan of d20 for exactly the reasons mentioned by the Chenaults and by Mr. Stewart, so it's fun to read a little of this. But perhaps not two articles.
The article on R.E. Howard - very good. Who wrote it?
By the time I started to read Rob Kuntz's article, I was ready not to read anything more on the topic of game design. Unfortunately, it was the third article about using lighter rules.
All in all, the issue contained some very fun-to-read articles, but as a whole it was badly damaged by having three articles on the same topic, and by lacking crunchy material that's actually applicable in a game. Theory is nice to read, but it's the spice of a gaming magazine, not the main dish. I was hoping to see a couple of C&C monsters, perhaps an NPC with a nice backstory, and other such items. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't what I was expecting. Given the name of the magazine, I expected a ton more C&C material (not theory, but stuff).