Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Knockspell Magazine

Over the last month or so, although it's been building ever since Calithena announced that FightOn! would be closing shop, I've had lots and lots and lots of people asking me to get moving on another issue of Knockspell. All that time, I've basically given people answers that are patently attempts to stall the decision. Knockspell is a really huge investment of time on my part, and it's only worth doing (a) well, and (b) with something that provides added value over the free or at-cost materials that currently exist. In case you're not familiar with Knockspell, I won't list all the links to the issues, but you can scroll through my online store at lulu to find them if you want.

Let's review for a moment what is already out there, and how I see it in terms of what it delivers:
1) Footprints. The editorial team on FP has started rolling again after a long hiatus. Footprints is high quality and is focused primarily on the First Edition approach. It's downloadable free. As far as I know, you can't get it print-on-demand, and I think that the pdfs are at a web-level rather than a print-level of detail. In general, I think Knockspell reached a slightly higher quality level than (most of the) Footprints issues, but only just. However, what Knockspell delivered was that it was more OD&D in feel and content than Footprints, which is very AD&D in feel and content.

2) Zines. There are several mail-at-cost (or pretty much at cost) zines out there. True zines, not just digital, and others that are digital-only. Production values are not slick, but they rock it with the DIY feel. Which I tend to prefer, myself. Knockspell always turned out a bit slicker in feel than I meant it to. I'd like to make a list of the 'zines, by the way. There is The ManorZogorion, Delve!, and I know of Oubliette as well, off the top of my head. What are the others? Crawl! is one I forgot. I'll also add Open Gaming Monthly to the list as soon as I know where to link to.

3) Green Devil Face. Professionally produced with deliberately DIY feel by James Raggi of LotFP. This is really sort of where I would prefer to be with Knockspell, although I like the letter-size page more than a digest-sized page. I don't know when the last one of these was issued, but it's apparently at #5. I only own #1 and #2.

4) Gygax Magazine. This one is branching way out into the mainstream (with Pathfinder, etc.) and covering non-fantasy games as well, so it intersects only slightly with what Knockspell does. KS is basically the niche of old-school, fantasy-only writing, which makes it harder to fill a magazine with content, but more on point for the readers who want exactly that mix. The problem with Gygax Magazine is that it can suck the wind out of the availability of good writing, and damage the perception of the more DIY periodicals. Most likely, people will send their manuscripts to GM first, and others only after rejection (or delay in review). This will cut the availability of manuscripts, it will cull out the best, and it will create the perception that what's left is the dregs. Perceptions, even when they are untrue, are very important.

So that really leaves me with the question of whether Knockspell would deliver something that's unique enough to be worth the tremendous effort required for it. With Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day coming, if I decide to re-open Knockspell, I can ask bloggers for permission to use their material, and that would go a long way for the magazine's beginning.

What is really needed, though, is a steady supply of authors and a steady supply of color art for the covers. That's the long term. So ... although I'm definitely tending towards it, and definitely hearing the requests, I want another few days before I come up with a true plan for this, or else abandon it (or continue to stall).


  1. The problem with Gygax Magazine is that it can suck the wind out of the availability of good writing, and damage the perception of the more DIY periodicals. Most likely, people will send their manuscripts to GM first, and others only after rejection (or delay in review).

    I would not assume this. I think the markets are sufficiently different. Gygax Magazine feels more mainstream to me.

  2. Brendan - I completely agree that GM is more mainstream, but what I'm tracking here is the effect on manuscript-availability, not the effect on the market. Even though GM will only contain, maybe, 25% oldschool material, and might only accept manuscripts for, again just say 25% of what's presented to them, I think that 75% of manuscripts will go to them first.

    I could definitely be wrong about this, and I see your point; but I just wanted to point out here that the effect on manuscript availability might be completely decoupled from the sales market that GM has.

  3. I think that involving S & W bloggers
    in Knockspell should provide enough material.

  4. Zine wise there is also Crawl! dedicated to the DDC system, Dungeon Crawl just came out with their second issue, Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols is on their 4th issue and I know there are a couple of others in the hopper. Jason Sholtis and Jonathan Bingham both has excellent zine style adventures out, Zogorion and Delve! respectively. No need to add both of them have killer art inside.

    Personally I always like Knockspell the best. It always seemed more focused for what I like. There are so many angles and opinions and cool stuff out there as long as its worth your time I would love to see more issues.

  5. I'm a big fan of Knockspell, but I certainly understand where your cost/benefit analysis is coming from. I had a literary zine / magazine a few years back that I eventually abandoned. It became a bit bloated, the layout and proofing took longer and longer, after a while it was hard to find authors (such that I ended up producing more and more material myself), etc. If the effort is greater than the pleasure / satisfaction, then by all means put Knockspell out to pasture.

    That said, I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to "lower your standards" a bit. I'm putting that in quotes, because you already mentioned wanting something that was more like a zine. Maybe that means limiting page number, having fewer visuals, encouraging things like a "comparison of session reports" or a more eclectic mix of articles (e.g., articles from bloggers who aren't necessarily in the rpg world).

    For me, the main issue would be one of relevance. For example, over time I grew less enamoured of Fight On! because it seemed to be the same-o, same-o, didn't seem to add anything to what was going on in the blogs, lost its voice, ...I'm not sure. I just didn't get as much creative juice from it. I never felt that about Knockspell, but I'm not sure why exactly.

  6. "This will cut the availability of manuscripts, it will cull out the best, and it will create the perception that what's left is the dregs."

    I really don't think this holds water. In fact, the first issue of Gygax Magazine has been a disappointment; lot of name recognition but the majority of the articles were filler. This may change since it is an inaugural issue and probably not representative, but it does not fill the same niche as FO!/Knockspell did.

    Of course, don't pressure yourself. Do it if you'd love to do it, but don't do it out of a sense of duty. Don't let it become a chore.

  7. I agree with Melan---if Gygax Magazine is paying (and I haven't seen anything stating that they are, yet), then it may cause some folks to publish there first, but I don't think that necessarily makes it the first choice for publication for OSR authors. I think that has always gone to FO! and KS, but my perceptions may be somewhat skewed. (I'd also argue that KS was more AD&D-focused than OD&D-focused, with FO! being more OD&D focused).

    For a quite comprehensive list of OSR (and more) mags and zines, see


  8. I'd be concerned about the Open Gaming Monthly mag, and am surprised not to see it on this list. That said, I wonder if there's not a place for Knockspell that's a little more...DIY, to use your phrase.

  9. DIY, it's the way to go. Very much in the original spirit of the game (at least pre-AD&D DMG) and just fun and liberating. S&W is my go-to game for rules I don't want to make up myself, and my zine Crawl! uses S&W as the basis for converting OSR to DCC RPG.

  10. Nathan, I would have mentioned Open Gaming Monthly, but I couldn't find a specific page to link to. Is there a splash page somewhere for the magazine?