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

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Jonstown Jottings #19: Six Seasons in Sartar

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—
What is it?
Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a short campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It is based on a campaign presented on the author’s blog.

Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a commentary upon Six Seasons in Sartar, an epic poem by Usuphus of Jonstown, which tells of the tragic fall of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan.

It is a one-hundred-and-forty-four 
page, full colour, 79.61 MB PDF.

Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is well presented, decently written, though it needs an edit in places, and includes a decent range of artwork. The front cover is good.


Where is it set?

Dragon Pass in Glorantha, specifically in ‘Black Stage Vale’, a narrow, vee-shaped valley high in the mountains between Mounts Quivin and Kagradus in the lands of the Colymar tribe, specifically between Sea Season 1619 ST and Sea Season 1620 ST. 

Who do you play?

Members of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan, not yet initiated, typically Orlanth and Ernalda worshippers.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?

Six Seasons in Sartar is not just one thing. Well, actually it is just one thing—a campaign, but it also is more than the sum of its parts, for each and every one of those parts stands out on its own. Not necessarily because they are gameable, but together they contribute to the campaign as a very satisfactory whole.

First—and most obviously, Six Seasons in Sartar is a campaign. Much like the vale in which the Haraborn make their home and the events of the campaign play, its focus is very narrow, taking the Player Characters through the travails and tribulations of the last year of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan. It begins with their initiation and takes them season by season through 1619 ST and into 1620 ST. These individual adventures will involve the Player Characters in a mystery concerning the sudden appearance of a ghost, the activities of the rebels holding out against the Lunar Empire’s occupation of Sartar, and the abduction of a guest. Ultimately, the campaign will reveal secrets about the history of the vale which bring it to the attention of Kallyr Starbrow and following a confrontation with an agent of the Lunar Empire, lead to a sundering of the clan at the hands of the empire’s indigent servants. 

In between the six parts which make up the campaign, the Game Master can weave various secondary plots and events—here called ‘episodes’—such as a birth or funeral, a romance or a cattle raid, and so on. Many of these episodes are optional, and whilst including them does lengthen the play of the campaign, they also add depth to its play and serve to involve the players and their characters in the community that is the Haraborn clan. Although their use is given as optional, the campaign will be all the better not just because of the extra added depth, but also because their use gives scope for the Game Master to focus on each of the characters in play, to give them time in the spotlight. 

Second, Six Seasons in Sartar is a description of a complete clan, the Haraborn. This includes the complete history and mythology of the clan, as well as its wyter, the chieftain and his Ring—the clan council, plus the geography of the vale that is the clan’s home. It explains who they are and what their outlook is—that of deeply conservative mountain folk who value tradition, have limited contact with the outside world, and are devoted to the Storm Tribe. It explains their Runic ties, predominately Air/Storm and Earth, though some may be ‘Troll-touched’ and tied to the Darkness Rune. Members of the Haraborn clan are also members of the White Hart ‘spirit cult’, and expected to be useful to the clan—that is, to not go off seeking adventure. This cult is entirely local and provides interesting cervine spells such as Stag’s Crown which enables the user to sprout a twelve-point rack of antlers or Deerbrother which creates a Mind Link with the nearest deer and allow the caster to see and hear what the deer sees and hears, as well as cast spells through the deer.

This description and background support both the campaign and explains the constraints placed on character generation. This is as per the normal process, but the characters have to be of the Haraborn clan, have either the Air, Earth, or Darkness Rune, and instead of having an Occupation, have what is really their parents' Occupation. Occupations such as Bandit, Chariot Driver, Fisher, Philosopher, or Thief are all unlikely, but this still offers plenty of choice. As to cult, no starting characters for the campaign yet belongs to a cult, for their choice of, and their joining a cult will come about through play. All characters are Lay members of Ernalda if female, Orlanth if male. Lastly, each character’s family history will end with their parents in 1618 and none of them will receive the standard skill bonuses. The end result is a youth between fifteen and sixteen years of age, ready to be initiated.

Third, Six Seasons in Sartar is an initiation into the mysteries of Glorantha. This can be seen in various elements of the campaign. Most obviously in two ways. The first of these is the essay on the nature of heroquests, supported by the rules for them later in the book. This includes the three types of heroquest—‘This World Heroquest’, the ritual re-enactment of Myth; the ‘Hero Planes Heroquest’, in which the heroquesters temporarily become gods to gain a boon or blessing, in particular for their community; and the ‘Otherworld Heroquest’, in which the heroquesters travel deeper into the God Plane to create a new of their own! It also suggests rewards for each and the means to begin them. The other form of initiation is the actual complete presentation of two initiation rites, one for Orlanth lay worshippers and one for Ernalda lay worshippers. They each form the two starting parts of the campaign, one for male characters, one for female characters. Mechanically, the process serves as part of the characters’ personal history, but they also work to point each character towards the cult they will ultimately become initiates of. For example, a Lay member of the Ernalda cult might lean towards Babestor Gor as a cult if she favours the Death Rune over the Fertility Rune during her initiation. Playing out the initiation also gets the player and his character involved from the start, forcing him to make choices in play rather than at the start and so make those choices significant.

Later events in the scenario might also be said to further initiate the Game Master into the greater mysteries of Glorantha, notably an encounter with Kallyr Starbrow. Pleasingly, despite her role in the forthcoming hero wars and past events, she never overshadows the efforts of the player characters and interestingly, she never quite comes across as wholly heroic. As to the initiations, these are absolutely fantastic tools for the Game Master to enforce Glorantha’s mysteries from the start, and it would be absolutely fantastic to see further initiations similar to this but for other cults on the Jonstown Compendium.

Fourth, Six Seasons in Sartar is a toolkit. Take the various bits of the campaign and what you have is a set of tools and elements which the Game Master can obviously use as part of running Six Seasons in Sartar, but can also take them and use them in her own campaign. So this is not just the advice and discussion as to the nature of heroquests and how to run them, as well as the initiation scenarios, but also the rules for creating and running streamlined NPCs, the streamlined rules for handling battles, cattle raids, and heroquests, events such as funerals and births, romance, and more. All of these can be separated from Six Seasons in Sartar and the Game Master bring them into her own game.

Fifth, Six Seasons in Sartar is a conceit. Throughout the campaign, commentary is provided by a number of notable Gloranthan scholars and experts in Third Age literature, not necessarily upon the campaign itself, but upon Usuphus of Jonstown’s epic, Six Seasons in Sartar. These often offer contradictory opinions and so mirror that of Gloranthaphiles about various topics on Glorantha. They include excerpts from works such as ‘Usuphus: A Feminist Perspective’ by Adhira Chatterjee and Noah Webber’s lecture, ‘The Symbolism of the Star Heart and Predark in Six Seasons in Sartar.’, and what they do is enables the author himself to step out of the campaign itself and add further commentary, not just from his own point of view, but from opposing views. Beyond that, the conceit pushes Six Seasons in Sartar as a campaign from being a mere campaign into being an epic, because essentially, it is what a heroic poem does.

Of course, Six Seasons in Sartar comes to an end. The climax manages to be both sad and satisfying, but it leaves the Game Master wanting more, the players and the characters wondering what comes next. Possibilities are discussed and suggested, most obviously about reuniting the scattered Haraborn, the aim being for the Game Master to write the next episodes of the campaign (and thus the poem, or perhaps a new one). Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see an official sequel, both in terms of the campaign and the clan, plus of course, to the epic poem, Six Seasons in Sartar. This could easily fit in the period between the end of the Six Seasons in Sartar campaign 1620 ST and the jumping off point for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha in 1625 ST.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a superb treatment of community, myth, and tragedy in Glorantha, grounding the players and their characters in the community, pulling them into the myth, and having them play out the tragedy. Whilst the tools and the discussion are undeniably useful, as a campaign starter it has no equal—it should be one of the first titles a prospective Game Master of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha should purchase from the Jonstown Compendium.
No. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha presents an alternative campaign set-up, one which takes place prior to the default starting date for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, and you may already have begun your campaign. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha also places limits upon character choice and your players may want to play characters who do not fit within its remit.
Maybe. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha includes content which is useful beyond the limits of its campaign—the initiation rites, the notes on heroquests, rules for streamlined NPCs, quick resolution rules for battles, and more. All useful in an ongoing campaign. 

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Jonstown Jottings #18: Vinga’s Ford

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


—oOo—
What is it?
Vinga’s Ford is a short scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a nineteen page, full colour, 12.27 MB PDF.


Vinga’s Ford is well presented and decently written, and is illustrated with simple artwork.


Where is it set?

Dragon Pass, specifically between Oakton and Apple Lane in Sartar. Alternatively, it can be set on any river which feeds into the Upland Marsh.

Who do you play?

Vinga’s Ford works well if the Player Characters include a Vinga worshipper amongst their number, but an Orlanthi works just as well. A Humakti and a shaman may also prove useful.

With some alterations, an experienced Game Master could adjust 
Vinga’s Ford to be played by Troll Player Characters.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary for its information on Trolls and Ducks at the very least. If run at its default location, then the Game Master will also need the information on Apple Lane found in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack.

Alternatively, Vinga’s Ford could easily be adapted to be run using 13th Age and 13th Age Glorantha. This will require some effort upon the part of the 13th Age Glorantha Game Master.

What do you get?

The Player Characters are the road travelling between Oakton and Apple Lane in the northern territories of the Colymar Tribe when they have to cross the Swan River at Vinga’s Ford. However, their crossing is impeded by zombies, a strange occurrence this far from the Upland Marsh. When an unexpected ally comes to their aid, they are alerted to a greater danger—a vampire, one of Delecti the Necromancer’s feared ‘Dancers in Darkness’. The question is, what is that vile creature’s interest in Vinga’s Ford?

After some investigation—at either Apple Lane or Oakton—the Player Characters will learn of an annual occurrence at the ford. This is the ghostly appearance of a battle between a Vingan and some Trolls. Of course, this is happening that very evening, so the Player Characters have the opportunity to investigate further, foil the plans of the ‘Dancer in Darkness’, and join the battle themselves!

Vinga’s Ford is an ‘on-the-road’ adventure, which whilst built around a pair of connected battles, further involves the Player Characters in the mystical elements of Glorantha and how that can physically alter the world around them. It can also be used to introduce them to some of the elements of horror—essentially the doings of Delecti the Necromancer and the doings of his servants—though at some remove, found in Glorantha and also to Ducks.

As an ‘on-the-road’ adventure, it can easily added to a campaign to liven up a journey. If run at its default location, then it could be run as part as a journey to or from Runegate, Jonstown, and even Dangerford. This would make it suitable adventure to be run before or after adventures such as The Duel at DangerfordArrows of War, and ‘Darkness at Runegate’. It could also be used to help expand upon the scenarios to be found in the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Starter Set.

One issue with Vinga’s Ford is the attitude of the villagers—in either Apple Lane or Oakton—towards Ducks. Amongst some members of either community it is suggested that it is not positive, and whilst Ducks are not held in the highest of regards in many parts of Sartar and beyond, this is not the case in Apple Lane as portrayed in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack. Here the village has a prominent Duck resident, so the attitudes do not sit well with the descriptions given of the village. That said, not every inhabitant of Apple Lane is detailed and there is scope for them to hold such prejudices. 

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Vinga’s Ford is a solid side quest scenario, easily added to any journey to involve the Player Characters in ancient battles and the doings of both Ducks and Delecti the Necromancer. 
No. Vinga’s Ford will be of little use to you if you have issues with Ducks or are not running a campaign set in Sartar.
Maybe. The ongoing battle at the heart of Vinga’s Ford could be adapted to be between combatants other than a Vingan and some Trolls with some effort and changes to the mythology as necessary.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Friday Fantasy: Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding

Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding is a short and clever, if slightly silly scenario for the fantasy roleplaying game of your choice. Published by Mottokrosh Machinations, it is nominally written for use with Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm, but in terms of mechanics, it is all but systemless. Certainly, it would work with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and any number of Old School Renaissance retroclones or roleplaying games which involve high magic. The set-up is very simple. The Queen has lost her prized possessions—the crown jewels and her beloved poodle, Duchess—and she charges the Player Characters with their retrieval. She may even accompany them! That sounds simple enough, but nothing about this situation is so, for the Queen happened to lose both of them into her magical Bag of Infinite Holding!

Players and Dungeon Masters of a certain age will remember a certain adventure from Imagine Issue Number 15 (June, 1984)—‘Round the Bend’, in which the player characters, all Half-Orcs in the employ of a wizard, are shrunk down into miniaturised size and sent down the drain in order to retrieve various items on his behalf. Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding is not dissimilar in that in climbing into the bag of holding, the player characters are shrunk down in size. What they discover is that the reason it is a Bag of Infinite Holding is because one Bag of Holding has been put inside another Bag of Holding or lost in another Bag of Holding, and then again—and then again. Thus once shrunk, the player characters find themselves inside a Bag of Holding big enough to be room connected to a series of Bags of Holding, each also the size of room. What you have then with Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding is a dungeon, but not just any dungeon. Rather a dungeon made up of bags containing a completely random assortment of things, persons, monsters, traps, treasures, and more. As long as it could end up in a bag, or rather a Bag of Infinite Holding, it can end up being in this ‘dungeon’.

Barring the first three bags—or rooms—none of the actual locations in Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding is described, although they are mapped. Even as mapped, they are simply a series of connected boxes, each box representing a bag or room across three levels—the Early Bags, The Weird Middle Belt, and The Far Depths. It also suggests how the Game Master can set up and map the adventure herself to create a different layout. Primarily though, what the Game Master will be doing is populating the dungeon herself and to do this, the scenario provides tables of random room or bag descriptions, for the Early Bags, The Weird Middle Belt, and The Far Depths. These are backed up with a Random Finds table in the first appendix.

What this set-up means is that Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding could be run with a minimum of preparation—indeed barely any preparation at all. Especially if she has a handy book of ready-to-run monsters just in case the player characters run into them. As to particular system, only is Hypertellurians: Fantastic Thrills Through the Ultracosm is referenced, but no stats are given, for either the NPCs and monsters or the pre-generated player characters given in the second appendix. They include a fop, a Dwarven weremole spymaster, a merfolk skeleton necromancer, an avaricious purple octopus wearing a diving helmet, the queen’s highly sceptical maid, a Dark Elf cleric, and the Queen herself. None have any stats or skills, but all have strengths and weaknesses, a drive, a secret, and some gear, such that the Game Master could easily create them using the system of her choice. Or alternatively, the players could simply roleplay them as written and roll dice as necessary.

Of course, a Bag of Infinite Holding is a very Dungeons & Dragons thing, but the set-up need not involve that signature magical item at all. The third appendix suggests various alternatives, such as Fae Door Portals and Wells, even gives one or two ideas as to how the adventure could be used in different ways. The book also includes notes on roleplaying the various inhabitants of the labyrinth of bags as well as possible epilogues, including one suggestion that the complex of Bag of Holding upon Bag of Holding is actually not unlike a certain Christopher Nolan film. 

Physically, Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding is a slim book. Whether cartoony or realistic, the illustrations are excellent, and the writing decent, if perhaps succinct. Overall, the adventure should provide a session or two’s worth of slightly silly, tongue-in-cheek fantasy roleplay, with very low preparation time. If you wanted to adventure to find out what is at the bottom of the bag, then Brutal Imperilment in the Bag of Infinite Holding lets you fall in and go beyond its limits.

Monday, 25 May 2020

[Fanzine Focus XX] Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1

On the tail of the 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 Dungeon Master 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. As popular in the Old School Renaissance as the genre is, not all fanzines are devoted to Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games.

The world of Glorantha has had any number of fanzines dedicated to it over its forty year or so history, most notably, Wyrm’s Footnotes and Tales of the Reaching Moon. Published by D101 Games, Hearts in Glorantha is a more recent fanzine, having been published on an irregular basis since 2008. A total of seven issues have been published to date, with the first five collated as Hearts in Glorantha Vol 1 Collected. The inaugural issue, Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 Summer 2008 was subtitled ‘Mythology & Glorantha’ and its focus is very much on the mythology and bringing it to your game. As well as the ‘Mythology & Glorantha’, it comes with two region guides, duck tales, an interview, and more.

The issue opens with John Ossoway’s ‘God Fall’. This details a location in north-eastern Prax, at least a week’s waterless journey from anywhere, a location where a century ago, a new star blazed across the sky and fell to earth. Hailed as a fallen god, its worshippers are known to receive prophetic visions and healing from him whilst they wait until the time he awakens, reveals his identity, and rewards them for their devotion. Both location and cult are described, and there are also notes for shifting God Fall to the Second Age. What is missing here is a scenario seed or two, something to give the description some application to help the Game Master include it in her game.

Publisher and editor of Hearts in Glorantha, Newt Newport, contributes several pieces to this first issue of the fanzine. The first is ‘Prologue Method For Character Generation’, which breaks the character creation process in HeroQuest into three steps—Childhood, Rites of Passage, and Early Experience, and has player and Game Master together explore what happened at each stage. This rewards both with enhanced character creation and background and experience of how the character works in play. He also details a frontier country in the Eastern Wilds of Ralios in two articles—‘Karia’ and ‘Karia Mythology and History’. The first is a gazetteer for Karia, a rough land and only separated from Dorastor Land of Doom by the Kartolin Pass, barely populated by settlers from the Kingdom of Delela, exiles from the Dukedom of Naskorion, and Trolls from the Queendom of Halikiv. The second provides context and background, not just from one point of view, but multiple points. This includes the Orlanthis, the Trolls, and more, before bringing the region up to date at the dawn of the Hero Wars.

‘Homeland: Kralori’ by Mark Galeotti explores Kralorela, the Kingdom of Splendor in Eastern Genertela. It details this very traditional, caste-bound culture, their common faiths, and the Kralori pantheon. This is supported with particular Keywords for use with HeroQuest and nicely captures the conservative nature of the society. Elsewhere Stuart Mousir-Harrison describes Aweke, a low-growing ground herb found across Pralorela and elsewhere for ‘Flora of Glorantha’. It details how although difficult to cultivate, it has stimulating and endurance-enhancing properties.

The ‘Mythology & Glorantha’ focus gets underway with David Dunham’s ‘The Tale Theft’. This is a ‘do-it-yourself’ means of creating heroquests, using words and ideas on cards as elements which players can tribute towards both creation and play of a heroquest. By implication, it is written for use with HeroQuest and supported by a full example or two. This emphasises the storytelling aspects of HeroQuest and would actually work with the next article, ‘Location Mythlets’. Here Jane Williams looks at how to take the two-line myths from the Dragon Pass Gazetteer and by answering a few questions—what the Game Masters wants, how to build the myth, how it might differ from the myth’s norm, and how it might all go together. Again, it comes several examples. How a heroquest might differ from the norm is entertainingly illustrated in the first of three pieces of fiction in the issue. This is in Jane Williams’ second contribution to the issue, ‘Lookout Hill’, telling how a heroquest to ensure that the Thunder Brothers burned off the darkness at the foot of the Quivini Mountains became something more. The second piece of fiction, Jeff Richards’ ‘The Seduction of Tarahelera’ tells of what is perhaps a more straightforward heroquest, but is no less entertaining. The third is ‘Using a Charm’, an instructive piece on the nature of dealing with spirits by Greg Stafford.

Perhaps the most fun piece in Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 is ‘Rymes & Ribbolds Royall – The Kings and Queens of the Durulz’. Written by Stewart Stansfield with Keith Nellist, this presents idea that a chronicle of the kings and queens of the wereducks of Dragon Pass was written as a series of comedic poems, most notably by the skald known as Waddlewit. This is supported by three sample excerpts and histories for a particular monarch, as well as the full stats in HeroQuest for the artefacts associated with them. So for example, Holgreema the Rotbane, Queen Starbolt, wanton despot who wooed the river god, performed the Cutting of the Zombie Chain, and cast her left eye into the swamp to watch its borders is accompanied by a write-up of the Chariot of the Gods, Spirits, and Essences of the Creek-Stream River, a water-chariot made from a giant Dragonsnail shell. Typical spirits associated with the chariot are also described. All together a highly entertaining piece of lore.

The interview in Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 is with Jeff Richard. ‘Newt Talks to Jeff Richard’ is a fairly lengthy piece covering a number of subjects, including the then development of HeroQuest 2, as well as Pavis: Gateway to Glorantha, Cults of Sartar, and more. It highlights in the main the intended ease of play of HeroQuest 2 in comparison to the first edition of HeroQuest. As interesting as the interview is in capturing the then state of roleplaying Glorantha—after all, 2008 was a very different time with different publishers—it is not particularly interesting in itself.

The single scenario in Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 is Newt Newport’s ‘Fixing the Wrong’. Set in Dragon Pass, it casts the player characters as either Lunars or Heortlings. Since published in Gloranthan Adventures 1: New Beginnings, it takes place in the former lands of the Hazel Owl clan, which was all but obliterated by the Lunar Empire following an uprising. The Lunar Empire was not without compassion and established a mission house to attend to the refugees who survived, including the then beautiful daughter of Hazel Owl chieftain, Jalhena the Gentle. Driven mad by the experience, in the years since, Jalhena the Gentle has become Jalhena the Hag and a Lunar convert, so when she approaches the neighbouring Birch Shaper clan in order to claim the hand of the chief’s son in marriage, mediators are required. Which is where the Player Characters become involved. The scenario comes with a full cast list, location descriptions, and scenes, including a heroquest. Of course, timewise, this is now a slightly difficult scenario to run, but it could certainly be run as a flashback.

Physically, Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 Summer 2008 is decently presented. It needs a slight edit in places, but is in the main, very readable. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is good—or even excellent in the case of the ducks! Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 Summer 2008 is twelve years old and it shows very much in the choice of gaming systems referenced—though this is generally down with a little touch—and of course, the time frame. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the contents are invalid or useless, the discussion on the nature and construction of heroquests is thoughtful, the fiction entertaining, and the background interesting if not immediately useful. Overall, Hearts in Glorantha Issue 1 Summer 2008 is a solidly thoughtful first issue.


Sunday, 24 May 2020

[Fanzine Focus XX] Gamma Zine #2

On the tail of the 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. As popular in the Old School Renaissance as the genre is, not all fanzines are devoted to fantasy.

Gamma Zine carries the subtitle, ‘A Fanzine supporting early post-apocalyptic, science-fantasy RPGs – specifically First Edition Gamma World by TSR.’ This then, is a fanzine dedicated to the very first post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, Gamma World, First Edition, published by TSR, Inc. in 1978. Gamma Zine #1 was published in April, 2019, following a successful Kickstarter campaign as part of Zine Quest 1. Published by ThrowiGames!, it came as a black and white booklet, packed with content, including adventures, equipment, monsters, and more. Published as part of Zine Quest 2, Gamma Zine #2 was published in February, 2020 and promised more of the sameadventures, equipment, monsters, fiction, and so on.

Where Gamma Zine #1 began with a short interview with James M. Ward, the designer of both Gamma World and its predecessor, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma Zine #2 starts with ‘An Interview with Luke Gygax’. This is not just because his father is E. Gary Gygax, but also because he is listed as the co-author of GW1 Legion of Gold, the very first scenario for Gamma World. What is interesting about the development of the module is that Luke Gygax was just nine or ten years old at the time the adventure was written. Thus we we read about his influence over the design of the module as well as the time he spent as a child with his father. Which adds a more personal touch to our views of the man who co-created Dungeons & Dragons and began the hobby.

‘New Horrors from the Wasteland’ provides two new monsters. One is the Chog, a canine creature which seems to adsorb radiation and expell it in its bite. The bad news for the Player Characters is that the stronger the intensity of the radiation it has adsorbed, the worse its bite! The other creature is the Dizard, a lizard-type known for its tenaciousness when attacking—it likes to get a grip and keep hold, forcing a Player Character to try and break that grip! Leather taken from the Dizard is also known to be sturdy and all but fire proof.

Gamma Zine #2 also continues adding something not found in Gamma World—a Class. Classes are not a feature of Gamma World, but ‘Class Option — The Wasteland Blacksmith’ shows how they could be added to added. Following on from Artificer from Gamma Zine #1, in Gamma Zine #2, this is the Wasteland Blacksmith who makes and repairs things from the wasteland junk, earning Experience Points for doing so, but does not gain as many Experience Points from mere combat. The rules are fairly basic, but it adds flavour and enables a player to add a skill and round out his character a bit more. ‘Artifacts of the Ancients’ in Gamma Zine #1 concentrated on weapons, but ‘Artifacts of the Ancients’ in Gamma Zine #2 focuses on tools and survival aids. So the Stimpack Drone is designed to be used to deliver doses of a healing agent by remote, but others have adapted it to deliver poisons and radiation and more! The Hop-Pack provides the wearer with short jumps, the collapsible axe is a handy tool, and the Survivor Armband is perfect for anyone wanting their Gamma World adventures to be a bit more like the computer game, Fallout!

Gamma Zine #2 comes with three adventures. The first is ‘Adventure #1 — The Millionaire’s Vault’ describes the vault where a millionaire from before the apocalypse hoarded his most valuable possessions. Unless the Player Characters are looking for the reputed  ‘Cure All’ said to be hidden in its depths, there is little reason for them to visit what is actually a converted missile silo. It is more of an adventure location and as an adventure location, would work well with ‘Adventure #2 — Paradise Island’. The island of the title is home to farmers and fishermen and is known to trade in foodstuffs, but when the Player Characters arrive they discover that the island has been attacked by pirates and their mercenary island. In comparison to ‘Adventure #1 — The Millionaire’s Vault’, and even though it is quite simple, there is a whole lot more plot in ‘Adventure #2 — Paradise Island’. The vault from ‘Adventure #1 — The Millionaire’s Vault’ could easily be moved onto Paradise Island, and ‘Adventure #2 — Paradise Island’ enlarged and expanded, perhaps to form a hexcrawl of its very own also using the three adventures in Gamma Zine #1

‘Adventure #3 — Rescue!’ likewise includes a bit more of a plot. It describes a pre-apocalypse, advanced detention facility and the idea in the scenario is that the Player Characters need to rescue someone held in one of its cells. It is quite detailed and should present a challenge to any Player Characters attempting to break or con their way into the facility. The map is a little cramped and difficult to read, and it does feel as it could have been better orientated on the page.

The issue also includes two pieces of fiction. The first is  ‘The Hunted, Chapter Two’ which picks up from the cliffhanger that ended in ‘The Hunted, Chapter One’. In the first part, Whyla and her faithful cybernetic hound, Arnold, were ambushed by bandits and this gives the payoff. Again it is nicely written and with the resolution of the first cliffhanger sets up another. Unfortunately, the other piece of fiction, though again decently written, is not just as engaging. ‘Opportunity of Lifetime, Prologue’ really sets everything up for the next part, detailing how a student is selected for an important scientific mission. Set before the apocalypse, not a great happens and at three pages in length, it is too long a read. Hopefully the next chapter provide a better payoff.

Lastly, Gamma Zine #2 gives the Game Master another ‘Artifact Use (Solution) Flowcharts’. The focus of this set is guns and ammunition. So there are flowcharts for identifying revolvers and semi-automatics, along with standard and advanced ammunition types. It splits ammunition types because they are easy to get mixed up. Of course, some groups will find them fiddly and annoying, but they are part of the mechanics to Gamma World, so having more of them is fun.

Physically, Gamma Zine #2 is neat and tidy. It is decently written and nicely illustrated with good art throughout. Each of the scenarios is accompanied by excellent maps.

If you enjoyed Gamma Zine #1, then the likelihood is that you will enjoy Gamma Zine #2. It provides excellent support for the first edition of Gamma World, as well as for post-apocalyptic roleplaying games with a drier, slightly less fantastic tone, such as Free League Publishing’s Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. It is not perfect though, there being a bit too much fiction and the adventures being more encounter locations than actual scenarios. This does not mean that they are not useful and the Referee can easily pick and choose how she uses the content. Certainly the adventures could be used to populate a hexcrawl of the Referee’s own devising. Overall, Gamma Zine #2 is continued solid support for Gamma World.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

[Fanzine Focus XX] Wormskin No. 7

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 Dungeon Master 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.

The Wormskin fanzine, published by Necrotic Gnome is written for use with Labyrinth Lord and issue by issue, details an area known as Dolmenwood, a mythical wood, an ancient place of tall trees and thick soil, rich in fungi and festooned with moss and brambles and rife with dark whimsy. Wormskin No. 1 was published in December, 2015, and was followed by Wormskin No. 2 in March, 2016. Both issues introduced the setting with a set of articles rich in flavour and atmosphere, but lacking a certain focus in that the region itself, Dolmenwood, was not detailed. Fortunately, in March, 2017, Necrotic Gnome Productions released Welcome to Dolmenwood, a free introduction to the setting. Further, Wormskin No. 3 and Wormskin No. 4, published in July, 2016 and Winter 2016 respectively, improved hugely upon the first and second issues, together providing a better introduction to Dolmenwood, giving some excellent answers to some very good questions about the setting before delving into what is the biggest secret of Dolmenwood. Published in the winter of 2017, Wormskin No. 5 looked at how the region might be explored, whilst also presenting the region around ‘Hag’s Addle’. Wormskin No. 6 focused on the area around Prigwort, as well as detailing ‘The Fairy Lords of Dolmenwood’ and the ‘Unseasons’ that beset the region.

Wormskin No. 7 was published in the autumn of 2017. The issue opens with two almost mundane, but actually very useful articles. The first, ‘Common Names in Dolmenwood’ lists thirty names each for men and women, Elves, Moss Dwarfs, Woodgrues, and Grimalkin—all given as Classes in earlier editions of the fanzine, plus liturgical names for Clerics, and then Honourifics for Clerics, Fighters, Thieves, and Magic-Users. The second, ‘Henchmen of Dolmenwood’ gives rules for locating and creating henchmen and then equipping them according to Class and Race. These obviously work together, but whether in combination or apart, they fill another part of Dolmenwood’s jigsaw puzzle. Especially the ‘Common Names in Dolmenwood’ which allows the Referee to easily name common NPCs.

The bulk of the issue though is dedicated to detailing another twenty-one hexes of Dolmenwood. These include seven hexes in the north around the hamlet of Drigbolton, seven hexes in central Dolmenwood to the east of the town of Prigwort, and in the south, seven hexes around the road from Lankshorn to Dreg. So ‘Drigbolton and Surrounds’ opens with the description of ‘The Hall of the Formorian’, a domed hall atop a marble slab which is home to a blue-skinned immortal giant bound by duty to await the arrival of an unknown man named Jack, a cottage of full of ghosts ready to trade secrets, whilst near the ghost town of Midgewarrow lies the manor home Lady Mariejay Haeroth, local noble and reclusive witch. The town of Drigbolton is mentioned, but not detailed, a full description being given in the scenario, The Weird that Befell Drigbolton.

Near Prigwort is the Ravine of the Stag Lord, a lonely natural amphitheatre where the Stag Lord manifests from the Otherworld to receive homage, though sadly without his head which has been stolen! What boons might he and his stag allies bestow should someone return the lost head to him? South of the ravine on the road is the Refuge of St. Keye, a stopping point on the old pilgrimage to the abandoned Abbey of St. Clewd. Here travellers can find a night’s rest and food if they are willing to listen to a sermon or two. Before that stands the Wenchgate—from the local name for Dryads, an arch of living trees and branches carved with faces that said to welcome travellers to Dolmenwood. Northeast of Lankshorn, not far from the Ditchway is a curiously formed hillock, which will radiate strongly should any magic that detects undead be cast upon it. This is because it is actually the skull of giant of a prodigious size no longer seen in these ages. With a skull that big, what could be inside it? Travellers looking for entertainment might want to visit the Port of Dreg and Shantywood Isle, the former a seedy haunt of thieves, smugglers, charlatans, and more, the latter a cliff-sided island upon which sits Chateau Shantywood. This is a ‘manor of ill repute’, but one which is an independent state of its own! The owner, Madame Shantywood is as much a repository of rumours and pillowtalk as she is ambitious to increase her influence.

The last part of Wormskin Issue Number 7 is devoted to ‘Monsters of Dolmenwood’. This presents some nine creatures native to the Eldritch region. The format for the monster entries has been shortened into a more concise fashion by excising the lair and encounter details which were included in previous entries in the series. This is disappointing because these added detail and examples which made the monster entries easier for use by the Referee. Nevertheless, these are good monsters, many of which have appeared in this and previous issues of the fanzine, either as known denizens of Dolmenwood or as playable character types and Races. They include the Drunewife, the womenfolk of the Drune known for their enchanting songs, and their herbalism and pottery, who are often accompanied by Kilnlings, the clay figurines that serve them. The Giant Psionic Snails are gargantuan denizens of the Otherworld who feed on the energy of Dolmenwood’s Ley Lines, who are often sort out for their knowledge of the Otherworld. One is thought to reside near Lankshorn, where its thoughts manifest as a tea tent that serves the mostly refreshing of brews.

Physically, Wormskin Issue Number 7 is as well presented as previous issues. The layout is clean and unfussy, the tables of ‘Common Names in Dolmenwood’ and ‘Henchmen of Dolmenwood’ make subtle use of colour and are so easy to read. As per usual, the issue uses a mix of publicly available artwork and commissioned pieces, the latter capturing the quirky nature of Dolmenwood. The issue’s use of colour is judicious and so stands out where it appears.

Wormskin Issue Number 7 is a solid issue, detailing yet more of Dolmenwood’s weird locations and inhabitants. Of course the issue suffers from the ‘Part Work’ format of Wormskin so putting it all together is all a bit daunting. It gives Dolmenwood a patchwork feel, the issue lending itself more to parts which a Referee can pull out and add to her game rather than Dolmenwood. 

Friday, 22 May 2020

[Fanzine Focus XX] Crawl! Issue Number Four

On the tail of the 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 PressCrawl! is one such fanzine dedicated to the 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.

Where Crawl! No. 1 was something of a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 was a surprisingly focused, exploring the role of loot in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and describing various pieces of treasure and items of equipment that the Player Characters might find and use. Similarly Crawl! #3 was just as focused, but the subject of its focus was magic rather than treasure. Unfortunately, the fact that a later printing of Crawl! No. 1 reprinted content from Crawl! #3 somewhat undermined the content and usefulness of Crawl! #3. Now Crawl! Issue Number Four is just as focused as the second and third issues, but the good news is that its contents remains its own. It also differs in content from earlier in presenting the one thing—and that is a scenario.

Published in September, 2013, the whole of Crawl! Issue Number Four is devoted to Yves Larochelle’s ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’, a scenario for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game for characters of Fifth Level. From the start, you can tell that Crawl! Issue Number Four is an Old School Renaissance scenario, since it comes with a loose cover on the inside of which the scenario’s area map is printed. The village of Thorum has recently suffered a rash of strange occurrences—the holy symbols of the Goddess of Justice have been stolen, damaged, and destroyed; bodies have been stolen from the village graveyard and been found disfigured in the nearby river; the brother of the local head cleric has been kidnapped; and a group of bandits is known to operate near the village. The question is, are these facts and events all connected? The Player Characters are asked to investigate and determine exactly what is going on.

Essentially ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ does the traditional ‘Village in Peril’ set-up, but for mid-Level characters rather than low-Level characters. It presents numerous avenues of  investigation for the Player Characters to look into and follow up. The Player Characters should be able to grab a lead or two and perhaps gain an ally or two whilst in Thorum. The village itself is lightly detailed, so the Judge might want to develop it some more herself. Certainly, the Judge may want to provide floor plans of the local Church of the Goddess of Justice, but for the most part, she can make it up as the Player Characters conduct their investigation. Ideally, they should find the leads pointing towards the perpetrator of all of this, though there is the possibility that they circumvent much of the investigation and cut to the chase—the dungeon!

Consisting of just fifteen locations, Macrobius’ Dungeon’ is fairly linear and for the most part, fairly uninteresting. The maze in its midst is really superfluous and some of the locations really deserved  more description. There is a nasty deathtrap though—well, what would be the point of a deathtrap if it is not nasty?—which the Judge will have fun with, as she will with the scenario’s antagonist, Macrobius, a wizard whose ambition and greed has led him to turn to evil. As is traditional.

‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ is slightly oddly organised in that the scenario’s major NPCs are kept separate from the locations and potential scenes where they are encountered. What this means is that the Judge will need to flip back and forth from locations to NPCs, and although that may not slow the running of the adventure down too, it is slight awkward. In addition, the scenario includes its own ‘Appendix H’ and ‘Appendix N’. The first details a river dragon which the Player Characters may encounter and is likely to be more of a hindrance for them if they engage with it, whilst the latter details a couple of magical items both of which play an important role in the scenario.

Physically, ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ and thus Crawl! Issue Number Four, is neat and tidy. It is light on artwork, but the few pieces are rather nice, and the writing is generally clear and easy to read. The two maps feel a bit heavy in their style and the dungeon map feels rather cramped, especially given how little information it has to convey. The format with separate is a very knowing, lovely touch.

‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ is reasonable enough adventure, with some good investigative links and some accompanying NPCs who should be fun to portray. However, the scenario feels underwritten and underwhelming in places—the dungeon in particular—and the Judge may want to develop just a little bit further. Even without that development, ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ should provide a session or two’s worth of play, but with that development, the scenario may be a little more flavoursome and a little more engaging. Overall, ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’ is an okay dungeon, which means that Crawl! Issue Number Four is an okay issue of the fanzine.