Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Fanzine Focus XII: Black Dogs Issue 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 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 & DragonsRuneQuest, 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.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry.

Black Dogs: Unofficial house-rules and material for Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a new fanzine, which as the title suggests provides support for Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Published by Daimon GamesBlack Dogs Issue 1 was released in December, 2017 and introduces the publisher’s home setting, provides some house rules, a scenario, and some new monsters.

The issue begins by highlighting the differences between the setting for Black Dogs and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. The setting is historically based, primarily in Europe, but in the late medieval period rather than the early modern period of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and most of its adventures. So the late fifthteenth century rather than the early to mid seventeenth. There is less horror at the heart of the Black Dogs setting although it remains very much a dark fantasy world. Fights are meant to be uncommon and the player characters are ‘good guys’, members of the Black Dogs, an informal network of monster hunters, which was once a religious warrior order excommunicated and wiped out by the church. The church and the peasantry remain fearful of the Black Dogs, but sometimes respect what they do…

The world of the Black Dogs is divided between the urban and the rural. Knowledge, medicine, and science of an advanced nature are to be found in universities and monasteries, and the cities, but the rural areas are some thirty years behind in all three terms. The military is split between those who would wield sword and musket and those who wield lance and wear plate armour. The wild between the towns and cities remains fearful and untamed, perhaps waiting for the Black Dogs to make a difference.

The most notable fact about a Black Dogs campaign is that both the players and the Game Master create more than one character and play the campaign troupe style, switching characters as necessary, including the players taking control of those created by the Game Master. Black Dogs characters look like Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay characters, but have three secondary attributes for each ability. These are Luck, Talent, and Save. The first is burned for re-rolls of the associated ability; Talent is burned to increase the related ability or Save by a point; and Save replaces Saving Throws in the game, being rolled on a single six-sided die. All three are rated between one and six, and once points of Luck and Talent are burned, they are permanently lost. Rolls can be made directly against abilities for various actions and the Game Master is encouraged to opt for a ‘yes, but’ outcome for failed rolls. Other changes at this stage—there will be more in future issues—include basing starting monies off Charisma and rolling two dice for any action or save to handle Advantage or Disadvantage. Overall, the changes are a move away from the lethality of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and towards the more player facing mechanics of The Black Hack, catering to both contemporary and Old School Renaissance.

The centerpiece for Black Dogs Issue 1 is ‘Flussburg’, both a location and a scenario. It is a small village of farmers and fishermen on the banks of a river crossed by a ramshackle imperial bridge. The village is highly conservative, the informal council of head farmer, chief fisherman, and village priest resisting all attempts at change, but a family of skilled blacksmiths is fomenting for change—repairs to the bridge, greater taxation, more people and trade, and increased prosperity—and sooner or later the village will come to blows. Besides this, there are threats just lurking beyond the limits of the village, out in the Wild, including mercenaries, trolls, and strange flora and the fruit they bear… Accompanied by a nice map and a decent description, ‘Flussburg’ builds on its set-up with a series of timed events for each of the various factions which starting on day one serve to pull the player characters into what is going on in the fractious village. Supporting ‘Flussburg’ are write-ups of the various NPCs and monsters involved in ‘Trees and Trolls’. ‘Flussburg’ is a pleasing small if ambitious scenario with a good mix of combative, investigative, and roleplaying opportunities.


Physically, Black Dogs Issue 1 is clean, tidy, and well laid out. The writing is good and is an enjoyable read. The fanzine is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent enough. The contents of Black Dogs Issue 1 can really be divided into three—setting, rules, and scenario. The least interesting of the three are the rules, but really they are only a start to new rules and mechanics which will be developed in future issues. The setting gives the background to the scenario and lays the groundwork for the scenario and possible campaign which extends out from it. The scenario though, ‘Flussburg’, is a fresh take upon the traditional ‘village in danger’ set-up—and that without a hint of a dungeon—and does a good job of balancing threats internal and external. ‘Flussburg’ is also easily adapted to the Retroclone or rules system of your choice. Black Dogs Issue 1 is an impressive first issue and hopefully future issues will maintain the same standard.