White Dwarf helped to shape the ‘zine scene in many different ways. Usually, it provided something for upstart teenagers to push against. Often challenging the orthodoxies of the war gaming luminaries such as Lew Pulsipher: DragonLords is notable for its mockery of the authoritarian views on ‘how to do D&D right’ in the early editions of White Dwarf.
Others were happy to ape its style and content to create their own unique variations on the themes that circulated in those early years. The Beholder is an example of this approach, seeing itself as a resource for AD&D Dungeon Masters. Edited (and mostly written by) Michael G. Stoner (Mike) and Guy Duke who tried to pitch their zine ‘to everyone, from the rank amateur to top-class pro.’
It’s hard to date stamp these issues, but it seems that they appeared monthly from about April 1979, featuring reviews, new spells, tips on how to make encounters more interesting and scenarios with a ‘significant’ map presented in the centrefold.
They also included lots of monsters, Fiend Factory style, which they had ambitions of spinning out into publications in its own right; a ‘mini-Monster Manual’ is suggested in the editorial. They are neatly produced, efficiently written and still retain a sense of purpose as a quirky addition to the more professional DM resources that were emerging at the time.
Were you a subscriber or a contributor to The Beholder? Did they spin out and create other publications? Have you confronted any of these beasts?
Thanks to Doc ‘Con’ Cowie for the loan of these ‘zines from his collection
15 thoughts on “Fanzine Scrapbook – The Beholder”
Ah yes, Beholder. Still kept as many as I could because they were often different/quirky and innovative.
About six months ago I ran one of their scenarios in 5th ed! Everyone enjoyed it for it’s fun setting and new monsters.
I had that issue 4, but i’m pretty sure it would have been bought a year or so after release. As I wasn’t massively into DnD at the time, it was probably bought as part of a job lot from a fanzine stand. Even then it felt quite old school compared to the new journalism of DragonLords or of Brian Dolton’s various projects.
I only became familiar with The Beholder and other UK D&D zines after getting online and meeting up with collectors from The Acaeum. We’ve had a few good discussions about The Beholder, including one in which Mike Stoner spoke to the history of the zine at https://www.acaeum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=3846.
One of the prominent UK collectors, David Witts, posted a cover collection of the entire run of The Beholder at one point, I think including the later printings as the prices slowly increased, but I can’t seem to find it….
I have all but one of the issues before it was moved over to Scale Designs. Not sure what happened to it after that. I think the scenarios deserve a mention. They started off using the competition dungeon format but soon switched to a more traditional format but taking a different approach, especially those that used a geographic area for the setting. And they also pushed against the zoo dungeon concept, championing the living dungeon approach where there was an internal logic and the creatures had lives to live rather than sitting in a darkened room waiting to be slaughtered.
Hey, thanks for this. I love reading about this sort of stuff, and was quite active myself as an editor back in the 1980s-90s — Amulet, Cerebretron, Dark Elf, Eh?, Underneath the Mango Tree (aka Mango), etc. all had my grubby fingerprints all over them. Ben Goodale and I used to write the Zine Review column for Adventurer Magazine. Ironically, truly, that despite all the amazing RPG mags that were around at the time — Balrog Banter, Dagon, Danse Macabre, Dancing At The Edge of Time, Demon’s Drawl (before it went all religious and turned into Telegraph Road), Space Operations, Imazine, Ivory Tower, Lankhmar Star Daily, Die Rubezahl, etc. my biggest regret from that time, is not keeping all my copies of FLAGSHIP – a magazine dedicated to Play-by-Mail games. That said, the late 80s was certainly the ‘right’ time to be an active zine editor and roleplaying gamer (and PBMer) — the fanzine scene at the time seemed HUGE, when in reality there was probably only a core group of about 300-400 readers and 40-odd editors… lol It was an exciting and thriving community to be a part of, though. Alex Bardy.
I always rated The Beholder, even if it was almost the anti-DragonLords, and I still have most issues in one of my archive boxes. They were totally committed to having top-quality content, good scenarios and monsters and spells every issue, rock solid D&D content that gave their fans just what they wanted, an AC/DC to our more punkish racket 😉 Mike and Guy were really nice people too, even after we started beating them to Best Fanzine. AS shame they ran out of puff, and passed it on to the folks at Scale who only managed to put out a couple of scrappy issues in an unusual format, before it folded. Good times.
Marc G sums it up nicely. Mike and Guy were probably the most organized fanzine editors of the time, putting out great content and hitting their own publication deadlines (not something you could take for granted in late 70’s fanzines). I wrote several scenarios and some other things for them after Mike called me having seen some of my stuff in Brian Dolton’s Demonsblood. Guy would rework my maps, vastly improving the quality.
I posted cover scans and content lists from the first twenty or so issues to rpggeek, and you can access them here if you’re interested: https://rpggeek.com/rpgperiodical/2462/beholder
As to first publication, I dated the first issue of The Beholder to April ’79 and you can find my forensic justification in the “Additional Information” section at the link above. I wrote for them a bit later, issues 9 -12 or thereabouts.
I remember that period very fondly. The thrill of getting those manila envelopes in the post is something you just don’t get these days with instant communications. I wrote a geeklist about my experiences in the UK scene here:
Dirk’s comment about challenging the orthodoxies of people who were insisting there was a ‘correct’ way to play D&D is also spot on. There was definitely a more punkish and anti-authority vibe in the fanzine community and you can see that in some of the letter columns.
Totally agree with Andy — it was probably about 4 or 5 years later, but as a relatively active fanzine editor of the time (and Play-By-Mail gamer), I used to live for my post, and got to the point where I was getting brown paper envelopes almost every day (ooh-err, missus!) — at the age tender age of 14/15 this was exciting stuff, especially ‘cos mum and dad would only ever seem to get official-looking envelopes compared to mine. I recall that the PBM games “It’s a Crime!” and I think “Vorcon Wars” (John Nicholson?) were the only things that seemed to come in white envelope, everything else was A5 and fanzine-shaped, and usually in brown manila envelopes, although sometimes in fancy colours like pale yellow (usu. from the US), and a weird shade of cream (a specific zine I can’t recall). I received a few garish coloured envelopes, too, but these were usually from NERTZ (William Whyte?) and WEIRD which were two of the weirdest and most ‘off-the-wall’ gaming fanzines for the time — I distinctly recall that one of the issues of NERTZ was taped into a moebius strip, which was typical of the effort the editor used to go to just to really show everyone else how committed he was to his readership… lol Amazing times, them, and never to be repeated of course.
I have 24 of the 25 original “The Beholder” fanzines. Never going to let them go, as I still roll out some of the scenarios ever few years, as few people have seen them, and the good ones are GREAT!.
They ran a competition to design a dungeon which I won while I was still at school. I can’t remember the issue number though.
Martin – I think the your dungeon was the “Mines of Mentorr” in issue 4. I know I have run that scenario, as my copy has annotations I put on it showing which characters were used, and also the remaining hit points of monsters (including a couple of ogres called Franki and Trance) and mercenaries. Chris.
Chris, well spotted, the ‘Mines of Mentorr’ was the one!
I was an am a big fan of the Beholder
Fanzine and have 25 or the 26 Stoner/Duke issues. Played a scenario from one last in 2019.
Used to religiously trot off down to Shazam in Pokesdown, Bournemouth to get my copies. Still have them all apart from 13 (borrowed and never returned, unlucky for some). Great dungeons and played Legend of Leshy in issue 5 recently with the family over lockdown. Those green, yellow, washed blue and off orange covers colours still send a shiver of anticipation down my spine.
Yes I really loved the Legend of Leshy. One of the first great wilderness adventures that I ever ran.