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

Saturday, 25 May 2019

[Fanzine Focus XVI] Midderzine Issue 2

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 showcased 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.

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.

Midderzine, which promises ‘More green for your game’, is a fanzine devoted to The Midderlands, the horror infused, green tinged interpretation of the medieval British Isles flavoured with Pythonesque humour and an Old School White Dwarf sensibility, published by Monkey Blood Design and first detailed in The Midderlands - An OSR Setting & Bestiary. Also published by Monkey Blood Design and like The Midderlands, this fanzine is written for use with Swords & Wizardry and adds new flora and fauna, locations, oddities, and more. This is much more of a house publication and so is cleaner, tidier, and more consistent in style than the average fanzine. This includes the artwork and cartography of designer Glynn Seal as well as the artwork of Jim Magnusson.

Midderzine Issue 1 set the format with a pleasingly cohesive first issue. Midderzine Issue 2 follows that format opening with ‘Meet the Midderlander’, an interview with one of the creators of the Midderlands as a setting. This time it is Edwin Nagy, a New England author who has is currently adapting the City of Brass scenario for Dungeons & Dragons to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition for Frog God Games. Again, short, but nicely highlighting members of the team who work on The Midderlands. Actual content for The Midderlands begins with ‘The Haven Gazette’, three pages of expanded rumours and news sheets entries which the Referee can expand upon for her campaign. For example, ‘The Lucky Bazaar’s Golden Lionman’ details a great gold statue with a lion’s body and a man’s head which looks around on the hour. Located at an indoor bazaar, this entry ties in with the third book for The Midderlands, which details the city of Great Lunden, Havenland’s capital. Other entries detail the blood being drawn from the well in the hamlet of Fetterstone or the fact that Lord Beron Mung has lost a valued, supposedly magical tankard and is willing to reward the person who returns it with turnips! These are of course hooks which the Game Master can develop for her game, but look closely at the front of the article and there is a joyously grim list of all the ways in which people have died over the last month and how many. 

‘The Vile Sign’, a new cult which is growing in influence in Staffleford as it tries to return a long-banished demi-god, Froggathoth, to the mortal realms once again. Again, this is really more of a hook which the Game Master will need to develop, but unlike the entries in ‘The Haven Gazette’, there is more detail here from which she can work from. There is some potential here for crossover between the existence of the cult and Lord Beron Mung’s missing tankard, since they take place in the same county, but again that is something for the Game Master will need to connect. Next there are three similarly themed tables. One is ‘Slightly Less Shit +1 weapons’, the second is ‘Slightly Less Shit +1 Armours’, and the third is ‘Slightly Less Shit Containers of Liquid’. With entries like the spear which summons a block of cheese at the wielder’s feet with every successful hit and the suit of leather armour decorated with skull iconography and with a skull shaped helmet, but when worn, makes the user like a skeleton, all of these are really fun and bring a degree of weirdness to any Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy game. The Game Master though, does need a thirty-sided die for these three tables.

The issue’s ‘Hexes & Unique Locations’ presents Port Mulhollow, a refuge for thieves, smugglers, brigands, and more, located beneath the ground. It is also an illicit trading post known also for its surprisingly good tavern and as a jumping off point for expeditions which want to delve further into the Middergloom below. It is accompanied by a good street plan, but nothing in the way of hooks or reasons to engage the player characters here. Now of course, there is nothing to stop the Game Master from creating her own and ideally any party of player characters will help generate that.

Three entries are given in ‘New Monsters’ and one in the ‘New Flora & Fauna’. The later is the Gloak Tree, which is native to the Upper Middergloom and sways in a fashion which is known to beguile those who watch them. Then unfortunately for the beguiled, the Gloak Tree eats them! The first of the monsters is the Pigseer, a debased pig-man form which of late has been seen in Norfolkshire slaughtering sheep. They are armed and they do seem to have some kind of magic. The Pigseer nicely ties back to a new story in ‘The Haven Gazette’. The Biledog is a large malevolent black dog which often vomits luminous, acidic vomit on its victim and the Dungling an impish creature that operates in packs and which has long fingers which it uses to steal things out of the bags of its victim. It is more of a nuisance than the threat that the other monsters are.

Pride of place in Midderzine Issue 2 goes to Richard Marpole’s ‘Woad Rager’. This new Class is a Scrottish warrior who takes the Woad Path and thus becomes increasingly immune to fear, charges into battle for extra damage and scariness, and paints himself with Woad patterns that are extra scary, make him extra vigilant, protects him against all magic. It takes time for a Woad Rager to learn his first pattern and he learns more as he gains more Levels. The ‘New Oddities’ are also of a Scrottish nature, like Laird MacCrae’s Prime Haggis, a delicacy which not everyone can stomach, but which does seem to grant miraculous protective powers, and Iron-Beer, which might give the imbiber a cast iron stomach or it might do something else. All of these items are fun too and will be desired by just about anyone playing a Scrottish character in The Midderlands.

Physically, Midderzine Issue 2 is very nicely produced with excellent artwork and cartography. In terms of its production values, it feels a bit tight in its binding and so is not quite as easy to reference.

Again, there are some nice connections throughout the pages of Midderzine Issue 2, though not quite as many as in the first issue. Also, this is issue is a little lacking in hooks to help the Game Master get her players and their characters involved in a situation or place, so it does leave her with a little more than it really should. That said, there is a much that is actually quite good within this issue, much of if which would work as well outside of The Midderlands as much as in it. Overall, not quite as good an issue as Midderzine Issue 1, but Midderzine Issue 2 still adds to The Midderlands.

1 comment:

  1. Great read! I have the Midderlands core book but haven't decided on these zines. The world needs more long form text reviews!

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