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Saturday 4 September 2021

Magazine Madness 7: Parallel Worlds #22

 The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickstarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


Parallel Worlds
 feels a little old-fashioned. By which Reviews from R’lyeh means that it supports the gaming hobby with content for a variety of games. So an issue might include new monsters, spells, treasures, reviews of newly released titles, scenarios, discussions of how to play, painting guides, and the like… That is how it has been all the way back to the earliest days of The Dragon and White Dwarf magazines. By which Reviews from R’lyeh means that it can be purchased, if not from your local newsagent, then from your local games store. Just like The Dragon and White Dwarf magazines could be back in the day. However, Parallel Worlds, published by Parallel Publishing can also be purchased in digital format, because it is very much not back in the day. 

Parallel Worlds #22 promises, as with previous issues, ‘The Best in Escapism’. It offers a mix of scenarios and support for various roleplaying games as well as interviews with creators and reviews of a number of books and games. Once past the editorial from Chris Cunliffe—less interesting than that in the previous issue—Parallel Worlds #22 opens with an interview with Science Fiction author, Peter Hamilton. Short but informative, this only focuses on his new book. A longer piece might have explored more of his previous works, which would have been interesting. Other media is thrown under the spotlight in Sam Long’s Thinkpiece, ‘The Pay-off’. Subtitled, ‘When character arcs… aren’t’, this both celebrates the adroit handling of pay-offs in the stories of films, in particular, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and laments their poor handling in a number of films and television series. This also includes the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the author includes the work of Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe too. The series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, is placed under a similar spotlight in ‘Let’s talk about…’ by Ben Potts, Chris Cunliffe, and Sam Long. Both it and ‘The Pay-off’—which covers Wandavision—are good pieces, but do rely very much upon the reader having watched either and thus have access to Disney+. Not everyone will have and so spoilers abound.

Ben Potts engineers a crossover between gaming and other media with ‘The New D&D Movie – What We Want To see’. This looks at the forthcoming Dungeons & Dragons film and speculates what traps it needs to avoid and suggests what it needs to include to really shine as a film adaptation of the world’s greatest roleplaying game. So of course, no chainmail bikinis, racial stereotypes, love story, or planar travel, but definitely split the party, include iconic monsters, keep it medieval, and more. It is of course, tongue in cheek, but there is no doubt that we want to see a Dungeons & Dragons film which puts the previous ones behind us and very much to shame.

In terms of gaming, Parallel Worlds #22 continues its support for the roleplaying games Black Void and Chivalry & Sorcery. For the former, there is a preview for the forthcoming supplement, Under Nebulous Skies, which showcases a new character background, the Djinn-Kin. This is all decently detailed, with some variation built in, and presented in a way that it could be added to the game straight off, and comes with an excellent illustration. For the latter, the designer of Chivalry & Sorcery, Stephen Turner, presents ‘Leganti, the Capital of Solda’. This details the ‘City of the Silver’ and its long history, its layout and districts. It is a serviceable description in just a few pages and a reasonable addition to a Chivalry & Sorcery campaign.

In terms of gaming, the most interesting article in the issue is ‘We Played… Cyberpunk RED’, R. Talsorian Games, Inc.’s 2045-set iteration of 1990’s Cyberpunk (developed from the earlier Cyberpunk 2013). It provides an overview of the setting and the campaign run by Angus McNicholl, one built around the Night City Police Department, for his three players. All four participants are given space to give their opinion on both the campaign and Cyberpunk RED as a game system, their opinions on the former wholly positive, whilst on the latter, their opinions are less effusive and more nuanced. In general, they agreed that the rules and combat system of Cyberpunk RED’s Interlock System were playable, they also said that the game had too many attributes and too many skills, and that perhaps the system was not as gritty as they were expecting. Overall though, the combination of the game set-up and feedback is engaging and informative.

The world of Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls receives not one, but two articles in Parallel Worlds #22. The first, by Thomas Turnball-Ross, ‘The Worlds of the Elder Scrolls’ examines the setting as a whole through the many computer games which have been set there over the years, whilst the second, ‘Skyrim in 2021’ by Ant Jones examines the ground-breaking computer roleplaying game and asks if ten years on, it is still worth playing despite its flaws. The issue with the first article is that it lacks a degree of context and whilst it is liberally illustrated, it is just with images from the various computer games. It would have been better if covers from the various computer games had been used as illustrations and a timeline included. The second article benefits from a better focus and actually makes this player want to go back and play again.

Reviews in the issue cover the Swords & Sorcery roleplaying game, Beyond the Black Sea, the Civilisation-style time travel Science Fiction board game, Anachrony, the novel Rachel’s Story (author Leigh Russell was interviewed in Parallel Worlds #21), and Byrony Pearce’s novel, Raising Hell. These are decent, though as with the earlier article on computer games, the covers of the items being reviewed could have been shown. Lastly, the issue is rounded out with ‘No Kisses Goodnight’, an enjoyable piece of fiction by Toshiya Kamei.

Physically, Parallel Worlds #22 is professionally presented and written. The layout is clean, strong, and easy to look at, and in general is easy to read. The previous issue, Parallel Worlds #21, did feel as if it needed more gaming content that would appeal to a wider audience, the focus on Black Void and Chivalry & Sorcery, perhaps a bit too narrow. Especially given that the magazine is sold in gaming stores. ‘We Played… Cyberpunk RED’ does expand it a little, just not enough. Similarly, the handful of reviews does not feel enough either, whether of roleplaying games or novels. Again, more of those might increase the appeal to a wider audience.

Parallel Worlds #22 is an enjoyable read, but two articles involving the Marvel Cinematic Universe and two articles involving The Elder Scrolls is two too much in either case. Certainly the second article in either case could have been bumped to Parallel Worlds #23. The best gaming article in the issue is ‘We Played… Cyberpunk RED’ and surely that could have been paired with something else, a review, a scenario… It seems as if the magazine missed an opportunity there to bring the reader further into that roleplaying game and perhaps set up a regular format, that of, ‘We Played…’ with content the reader can use. What this means is that as before, there are a few good articles within the issue and it needs to build on those to bring readers back to it on a regular basis rather than their simply checking out an issue to see if there might be something good in its pages, because ultimately, Parallel Worlds #22 just has its fingers in too many worlds to really get a handle on them and its gaming content is neither mainstream nor interesting enough for the reader to be either useful or adaptable.


An Unboxing in the Nook video of Parallel Worlds #22 is available here.

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