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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Fanzine Focus III: The Blasphemous Tome #1

On the tail of Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed how another DM and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

In the years since, fanzines have appeared to support various RPGs, such as tHE bIG pICTURE for S.L.A. Industries, Warpstone for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and Sholari for SkyRealms of Jorune. In many cases, such fanzines became a vehicle for the RPG itself when there was no official support or even an actual RPG in print. Yet barring Carl T. Ford’s Dagon, which ran from 1983 to 1990 and Mike Mason’s The Whisperer from the turn of the millennium, fanzines devoted to Call of Cthulhu have been few and far between. The publication of The Blasphemous Tome does not change that, for although it is about horror and horror roleplaying, Lovecraft and Lovecraftiana, it is about the Call of Cthulhu RPG, but not for Call of Cthulhu RPG. In other words, it is not an official licensed Call of Cthulhu publication, although fans of the RPG will find much to interest them within its pages.

The Blasphemous Tome is published by The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, an English podcast dedicated to horror and horror roleplaying, Lovecraft and Lovecraftiana, and the Call of Cthulhu RPG. Indeed, of the three hosts of the podcast and thus the three authors of the fanzine, one co-designed Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, another edited it, and all three write Call of Cthulhu scenarios. Available only to Patreons of the podcast, the inaugural issue of The Blasphemous Tome is a humorous affair, much of it drawing upon the authors’ experiences co-hosting the podcast.

So in ‘A Memoir of the Shed’ looks back to original recording location for the podcast—a potter’s shed, ‘Cocktail Corner’ explores the hosts’ love of cocktails and includes recipes, one author reviews a Mythos-themed plush despite his dislike of such things in ‘Plush of the Month’ whilst having fun poked at him in ‘A Guide to Beard Care’. Perhaps more interesting in terms of the podcast, its history and its links to Call of Cthulhu is ‘The Secret History of Attract Fish’. One host’s rabid dislike of what is perhaps the least liked, if not the most useless, spell in Call of Cthulhu, is examined to explain how it went from a simple dislike to a tee shirt and an internet meme.

Neither games nor horror are ignored in this mix. There are reviews of RPGs that they have played in ‘The Ludomancer’—a rare occurrence since the trio prefers to referee than play, notably that of A Red and Pleasant Land, as the trio are fans of Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying and have interviewed the RPG’s designer; the hosts’ favourite Lovecraftian films in ‘The Popcorn Resonator: Our Top Three Lovecraftian Films’; a retrospective of 2015 horror films in ‘2015: A Year of Horrors’; and more. Perhaps though, the highlight of this first issue is ‘The Horror from the Shed’, a system-less scenario with an easy to adapt setting. Inspired by the history of the original recording location of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast, the scenario combines grief, gossip, and something nasty in the woodshed for a tale of small village horror and misguided hope. It Lovecraftian in tone and although system-less, it is easy to see where the numbers and the stats have been filed off, such that a Keeper could easily run it without the need to add them back in. Although set in Buckingham, England, ostensibly in the here and now, it would be easy to relocate the scenario both in terms of time and place. So it would work in the 1890s of Cthulhu by Gaslight, the 1920s of classic Call of Cthulhu, and the 1930s of Trail of Cthulhu, just as it would in USA or Sweden. It would work easily as well under other rules. The authors suggest using it with a weird fantasy RPG and give a note or two to that end. So it would easily work with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, though perhaps what the authors really mean is Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying… However the Keeper—or GM—uses ‘The Horror from the Shed’, it serves up a rich breakfast of spores and fungal horror.

At forty-two pages, The Blasphemous Tome #1 is longer than most fanzines. On the whole, it is a clean, unfussy affair. It is though a little scrappy and rough around the edges, but this is intentional, the design being meant to invoke nostalgia for the fanzines of before the advent of desktop publishing.

Definitely a horror and a Lovecraft fanzine, The Blasphemous Tome #1 is not really a gaming fanzine despite its gaming content. It is though much more of chat fanzine, a collection of thoughts and reminiscences of the hosts of The Good Friends of Jackson Elias that is in parts informative and in parts silly, but mostly fun (especially if you like the podcast).