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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.

2 comments:

  1. Do they accept submissions? Asking for a friend. Pay no mind to the fact that I've published 200 article in 3 different fanzines.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Worth contacting ThrowiGames to find out?

    ReplyDelete