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Wednesday 1 June 2016

Fanzine Focus III: Winged Snail Plays RPG’s

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.

Now Winged Snail Plays RPG’s is not about any of those RPGs or indeed any RPG. Rather it is an introduction to RPGs and the hobby published by Sarah E. Hoffman via her Winged Snail Mail, a fanzine dedicated to the sending and receiving of snail mail and the creativity that it engenders. Winged Snail Plays RPG’s was born of the author’s twenty year or so interest in RPGs and then her delving into the hobby, playing, running, and creating games and settings. It is a guide to getting involved and how to be a good player.

The advice starts with finding—or creating, a game and what you will need to play. Then it delves deeply into good player etiquette. This includes having a basic understanding of the rules, showing up on time, bringing snacks, reading and re-reading your character, and making sure that you separate yourself from your character. All of which is good advice, but not all of it may be seen as such. In particular, the advice to ‘Avoid the Negative Player’ and ‘Don’t BE the Negative Player’ is perhaps contentious because the one piece of advice countermands the other. In particular, it advises avoiding the negative player because engaging with said player is likely to reduce your enjoyment of the game, for example, not going with character to explore some caverns. Conversely, the advice of ‘Don’t BE the Negative Player’ suggests that the player should engage with the other player characters no matter what they want to do, for example, burning down a tavern, lest he becomes that negative player by giving negative feedback. Yet what if both players and their characters are undertaking negative actions—going into the caverns or burning down the tavern—surely the other player and his character can engage with the other to dissuade them as to their course of action? Especially if that is what a player character wants to do? Ultimately, ‘Avoid the Negative Player’ and ‘Don’t BE the Negative Player’ are extreme pieces of advice rather than ones to adhere to always.

Physically Winged Snail Plays RPG’s is roughly an A6-sized booklet. It is light on illustration and it feels rough and handmade for the most part. It is well written and clear in its purpose, although the poorly done title—or incomplete title—does let it down a bit.

Winged Snail Plays RPG’s is not really a booklet for the experienced player or GM. Most of the advice will familiar to them, but this does not mean that it is bad advice. In fact, the advice is sound, is clearly born of personal experience, and packaged in a charmingly small fashion.

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