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Friday, 5 February 2016

Fanzine Focus: Skullfuck #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 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, such as The Undercroft and Vacant Ritual Assembly. The latest fanzine to join Old School Renaissance is Skullfuck.

Published on the Blood Moon of October 2015 by Necropants'd Publishing, Skullfuck #1 is an eight-page sampler for what it describes as a ‘Dungeon Slime ‘Zine’. In tone and style, Skullfuck #1, as its title suggests all about being in your face. There is a metal/punk attitude to the issue, one that apes that of the 1970s, so in places—indeed multiple places—it is rude and crude, so it feels more like the author is writing a punk rock ‘zine than an RPG one. This is carried over into the content, so in a very great many cases, the content of Skullfuck #1 is unlikely to translate into the average campaign with any ease.

The content opens with ‘Black Würm Deathcrawl’ in which the adventurers have been captured by the Mad mage Oakez and miniaturised before being sent on a medicinal procedure up his colon into order to excise it of the Black Wurms that infest it. This mini-scenario echoes ‘Round the Bend’, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Team Competition Module from Games Fair ‘84 that appeared in Imagine #15, but ‘Black Würm Deathcrawl’ is a thin affair with none of the invesntion of  ‘Round the Bend’. It is does indeed live up—or is that down?—to its own description of being a “shitty solo scenario”.

It is followed by ‘The Marshmallowy Tomb of the Yummy Mummy’. In this the characters are sent into the dark basement of your house to fix the fuse box. Unfortunately, the basement is populated by the leftovers of your childhood thirty years ago—a ‘pissed off Barbie doll’, the ghosts of breakfast cereal mascots past, GMO-fortified Frankenroaches, and Uncle Nuncie who has been hiding down there from the Mob for a decade. It is too silly to be a satire and too modern to be used other than as a one-shot Halloween style, roll up new characters and watch die affair. It does promise to be a “Guaranteed Sweet Ass TPK”* and is okay I suppose. 

*TPK—Total Party Kill.

Perhaps the most practical piece in Skullfuck #1 is the interview with the author and designer Rafael Chandler. This primarily discusses his Dracula: The Modern Prometheus and his love of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay and is the only piece in the issue to be typeset. It is perhaps the most readable section of this first issue. Rounding out Skullfuck #1 is ‘Flesh Hook Death Trap’, which is not actually a trap as such since it is a character has to be physically put into it and stretched akimbo before he is affected by it. The effect of the mechanism is triggered when others step onto the checkered roundel surrounding the victim. It could be used, but it would take some effort...

The majority of the eight pages of Skullfuck #1 have a hand drawn, counter-culture punk style that echoes the punk publications of the 1970s. This when combined with the push to use as much of the page as possible, gives it a cramped often difficult to read look.

When it comes to summing up a review, you have to ask how good a product is and how useful it is. Answering both questions with regard to Skullfuck #1 is difficult. On an entirely practical level, Skullfuck #1 is neither useful nor is it good. There is little, if anything here, that could be brought to the average fantasy game. It is too weird, too wacky, and too in your face for that. Now this is not to deny the effort and the artistry that the author has put into this first issue, and perhaps if he can combine this with content that others will want to use, then there is promise in Skullfuck. At the moment though, all Skullfuck #1 is doing is poking its tongue out and nothing more.

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