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

Friday, 23 August 2019

[Fanzine Focus XVII] Crawl! No. 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 & 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. Another choice is Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Published by Straycouches Press, Crawl! is one such fanzine dedicated to Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Since Crawl! No. 1 was published in March, 2012 has not only provided ongoing support for the roleplaying game, but also been kept in print by Goodman Games. Now because of online printing sources like Lulu.com, it is no longer as difficult to keep fanzines from going out of print, so it is not that much of a surprise that issues of Crawl! remain in print. It is though, pleasing to see a publisher like Goodman Games support fan efforts like this fanzine by keeping them in print and selling them directly.

The current version of Crawl! No. 1 is a ‘Special Edition!’. Like the previous version, it presents five articles, but here presents one article that includes everything that was subsequently written for it. This is ‘Van den Danderclanden: A Patron from the Imminent Future’, which previously only contained a description of the patron. It is actually one of five articles in the fanzine, of which ‘Wizards & Warriors! Part 1’ is the first. Inspired by the fiction of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, it suggests ways of doing the Swords & Sorcery fantasy subgenre using the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. First is eschewing demihumans in favour of man, offering new starting occupations to replace of Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings on the Occupation table in the core rules. Next, it takes the radical step of giving all characters Thieving skills. In other words, they are all thieves! To support this suggestion, it provides two options. One is to give every character all of the skills of the Thief, bar the ability to backstab. Now this does mean that the Thief Class is emasculated in comparison to the other Classes, so instead the article also provides a simple alternative skill system based around their Level and their attributes bonuses. These are all quite difficult to achieve, but they do allow any character to attempt to thief-like actions, whilst still allowing the Thief Class to be better. The other major change is to drop the Cleric’s ability to heal, even the Cleric Class, but certainly to replace the need to heal with more Hit Points or faster standard healing. To make this yet more harder, the article suggests that a character can also have a Hit Dice pool equal to his Hit Dice and his player then roll dice from that pool to recover his character’s Hit Points. 

Mechanically, ‘Wizards & Warriors! Part 1’ takes Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game in a grittier direction even as Swords & Sorcery, the subgenre it is emulating is regarded as not a little pulpy in tone. It will be interesting to see what Crawl! No. 2 does with this.

Brett Miller’s ‘Van den Danderclanden: A Patron from the Imminent Future’ lies at the heart of Crawl! No. 1 and collects all of the details about this patron and his complete spells and spellburn. The first third-party published patron for Dungeon Crawl Classics, Van den Danderclanden is the Supernal Archmage of Empyreal Aptitude in a distant, but parallel future. Driven by a thirst for power, he now reaches across the parallels and back to his previous selves to manipulate their actions and so lay the groundwork for him to ascend to godhood! Which includes of course, one of the player characters. When invoked as a patron by his player character ancestor, he grants temporary gifts such as Slow Time or Transdimenaional Assistance. Yet as the Invisible Shepherd, he is an Unholy Patron, and so when invoked, those that call upon him can be tainted by his influence, so that they may be plagued by the ghost of they have slain or constantly losing and finding things—and the effects of this taint can get worse and worse…

Van den Danderclanden also delights in the chaotic effects of Spellburn and several effects are given for any spellcaster who has him as their patron. He also grants them several spells, such as Van den Danderclanden’s Hateful Blemish which inflicts the corruption of heavy magic use upon a target and Snafufubar, which focuses and inflicts bad luck upon the target of the spell. ‘Van den Danderclanden: A Patron from the Imminent Future’ is perfect for the Judge who wants to inject more chaos into the life of a Wizard in her campaign. Van den Danderclanden is likely to have an insidiously corrupting influence upon a campaign and so add a ripe dose of darkness.

‘Save of Die!’ gives an alternative to the Bleeding Out rules from Dungeon Crawl Classics. It enables a character with less than one Hit Point to stay conscious with a successful Fortitude Save and perhaps do something to save himself, such as cry out or crawl away. ‘Variable DCs’ is written to add some depth to the Skill Checks system in Dungeon Crawl Classics, basically giving a wider range of Difficulty Checks rather than the given Easy, Routine, Moderate, Hard, and so on. It also discusses Occupation skills, Class skills, and Passive Ability Checks. Whilst it may add more depth, it may also add, if not complexity, then an extra step in the process of determining whether a character has been successful or not in his actions. 

One of the aspects of magic in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is that casting spells is not automatic, and can lead to spell failure, corruption, loss, or all of that… Not so in other retroclones. ‘OSR Conversions: Spells’ provides a means for spells from other Old School Renaissance roleplaying games, including a player having to roll a spell check for his Wizard, there being a chance that the spell is not cast, fumbled, or cast with variable effects. It is not an exact science, since there are a lot of spells in the Old School Renaissance, and the Judge will need to adjudicate the exact effects from spell to spell. ‘OSR Conversions: Spells’ is a nice little tool that opens up the wider world of the Old School Renaissance and its numerous spells books to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Physically, Crawl! No 1 is simply laid out with reasonable art, including one which apes Van den Danderclanden as the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley! Of the articles, ‘Save of Die!’ and ‘Variable DCs’are dry and mechanical and are likely to appeal to those Judges that like to tinker, whereas ‘OSR Conversions: Spells’ opens up lots of potential for the Judge who likes other retroclones. ‘Wizards & Warriors! Part 1’ is a good start to a series though, and of course, ‘Van den Danderclanden: A Patron from the Imminent Future’ has the potential to be a lot of fun in any campaign. Overall, Crawl! No. 1 is a good first issue—obviously updated—but good nonetheless.

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