Warning: The following post is nothing more than a nostalgic whine. Proceed with caution.
Well, what can I say? I really miss Shadis magazine.
In case you missed it, Shadis: the Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine was this tiny little fanzine started in the early 90′s by one Jolly Blackburn, which eventually transformed into a small circulation magazine. It won the Origins Award three times, and perhaps most famously, it was the magazine in which Jolly, needing to fill in a couple of empty pages at the back of one issue, debuted his Knights of the Dinner Table comic strip as nothing more than a silly joke. KODT is still going strong to this day, and as far as I’m concerned remains the only humorous RPG-related comic worth a damn (sorry Dork Tower fans).
But this is not really about the Knights, although every time I do see a strip today it does bring back memories of seeing them in the back of the early issues of Shadis. I really just miss the magazine in general. It’s been gone for ten years now, so you’d think I’d have come to terms with its death, but alas, I think I’m still in a state of denial. Each issue was packed with useful subject matter for your games, thought provoking articles by a number of now more famous writers still involved with the hobby, and some really cool short stories of varied genres.
Of course, it didn’t have the production values of the more sleek rival Dragon, but the ‘homegrown’ look of Shadis only added to the charm. I always got the sense that Shadis readers didn’t gravitate towards it for the pretty pictures, anyway. I personally liked it because it gave off the perception that it wasn’t a loyalist to any one game company; it reviewed and covered the new products on the market equally and fairly. That, and it seemed to feature content for damn near every game under the sun. While I still read Dragon at the time and loved the D&D content, without Shadis I probably would have never been introduced to a heap of games — Shadowrun, Call of Cthulu, Vampire: The Masquerade, Castle Falkenstein, Toon, Cyberpunk 2020, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Middle-Earth Role Playing… the list goes on. The ‘little zine that could’ really broadened my horizons as far as the role-playing hobby is concerned.
I vividly recall an article from issue # 20.5 (a special wedged between 20 and 21) about a generic setting, the ghostly town of San Diablo, intended for use in a western RPG of your choice (too bad Aces & Eights was about eleven years away!). This is perhaps the only western RPG feature I’ve read that really, truly nailed the genre without tacking on silly science-fiction or horror elements for no good reason. Hell, I can’t even remember any other gaming magazine even attempting to go near the Old West.
This was also back before the rise of the internet, when play-by-mail games were all the rage for gamers who couldn’t get a proper fix in their location, so there was usually half a dozen ads in each issue promoting the latest play-by-mail game to hit the market. In fact, a forum page eventually developed (‘Market Platz‘), where folks could advertise whatever they wanted, those searching for a group, buy/sell/trade requests, convention promotion, or quaint little ads for a fledgling FLGS or two. Some issues came with free bonus content, like CD-ROM’s or small packs of Magic: The Gathering cards. Great incentives to buy the magazine (I realize that if you live in the UK, where a free CD is glued to the front of every other magazine on the rack, this is not such a big deal, but to those living in the States, outside of the computer mags, we are sadly deprived of these free gifts).
Ultimately, reading Shadis felt like a good substitute for yakking it up with folks at your FLGS (especially if you didn’t have one in town). There was a swathe of house rule articles that popped up in the ‘zine over the years, but it wasn’t just that. It was something organic, like you had a finger on the pulse of the hobby. It was a undefinable feeling, but you know what it reminds me of? The RPG blogosphere of today. Take a look around: you’ve got authors from the old and new schools (and some in-between) ranting and raving about many different games in many different genres, house rules left and right, campaign and convention reports, books, comics, films, nostalgia, humor, art… it’s turned into a great little community.
You can still buy select issues from certain RPG sites and the old ebay, but some of the prices, especially for the early issues, can be a little steep. Thankfully, RPGNow.com has some of the early issues for sale as PDF’s for very reasonable prices.