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Friday, 19 April 2019

[Fanzine Focus XIV] Midderzine Issue 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 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.

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 opens with ‘Meet the Midderlander’, an interview with one of the contributors to The Midderlands, in this case, Swedish artist, Jim Magnusson. This is nice and short, but to the point, doing something that a house organ should do, that is, highlight those involved in the creative process. 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 Leper Knights of Saint Corrobin in Helm’s Ford’ were recently granted the right to establish a monastery in Helm’s Ford despite local objections; Edmund Fester won the deeds to an old keep near Darlow as told in ‘Gambler Priest ‘Wins’ Keep’; and Mulch Fertwiddle gives his best tips on growing turnips slug free in ‘Garden Goblin’s Corner’. There lots of these and if perhaps the gardening tips are really filler, they do add colour and flavour, whereas the rest work as good hooks for the Referee to develop and help draw her players further into the setting.

‘Hexes & Unique Locations’ detailed several new places. They include the ‘Plinth of Dullen Fields’, a strange set of grave markers at the site of a battle six hundred years ago; ‘The Ruins of The Cock & Pocket Inn’, now a sinkhole and the last known sighting of a missing tax inspector as mentioned in ‘The Haven Gazette’; and ‘Ratdog Tor’, a monster-infested rock outcropping previously mentioned in The Midderlands. More detailed is a new village, ‘Stonecastle’, which is surprisingly quiet, but of course hides a secret or two. Interestingly, neither the local lord—Sir Uriah Fellchurch—nor the villagers are aware of them, so it will be down to the player characters to become aware of them. ‘The Eyeless Harrowers’ details a New Cult of monastic brewers, all blind and eyeless, whose beers and ales are brewed in secret, but sold across the Midderlands. Again, this is something for the Referee to develop from the description given here.

Fully written up are the two entries in ‘New Non-Player Characters’. The first of these ties back to the rumours and news given in ‘The Haven Gazette’, being a write-up of the gambling priest, Edmund Fester, whilst the second links to the setting of Stonechurch and the issue’s ‘New Class’, the Crowmaster. ‘Corlin Lackcraw’ is a Crowmaster who quietly serves Sir Uriah Fellchurch by collecting the news brought by the crows across the Midderlands and beyond. The Crowmaster is even quieter about the fact that he serves more than the one master… ‘New Monsters’ describes three new creatures, the Gloomrat, a dog-sized, three-eyed creature with a poisonous bite and possibly a nasty sting/mace/claw in the tale; the Catvile, a hairless, black cat whose skin can be cured to make light absorbing cloaks; and Devil’s Goat, a vile goat’s head thing with tentacles that spreads nasty rumours!

The Crowmaster is a new Class which is based on Druid, but which specialises in communications and dealings with corvidae of all types out on the moors and in the forests. They can understand and speak with crows and will come to build a network of corvidae spies, fly like a crow, and even take one as a steed. This is a nicely avian-themed variation of the Druid Class which lends itself to fun roleplaying. The two entries in ‘New Spells’ are self explanatory, Cover in Shit doing that to a Magic-User’s target, whilst Bag of Crap summons a bag containing ‘Crap You Find on Folk’ as detailed in The Midderlands - An OSR Setting & Bestiary, which the caster can pull things from. Hopefully the caster might something useful, but this does feel like a slightly silly, slightly useless spell. Rounding out Midderzine Issue 1 are ‘New Oddities’ and ‘New Flora & Fauna’. So the former includes a ‘Catvile Cloak’, which as the description of the creature details earlier, improves the wearer’s ability to Hide in Shadows, whilst the latter gives a range of minor creatures and plants.

Physically, Midderzine Issue 1 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.

Initially, it feels as if Midderzine Issue 1 spreads its focus far and wide, but delving into the fanzine and there is a pleasing number of connections between the articles and the content so that the Referee does not need to refer to other supplements to make use of its contents. This gives the issue a sense of cohesiveness that enforces the sense of Midderlands as a place even if the Referee was to take that content out of the setting and use it in her own. In fact, extracting this content would be quite easy. Overall, Midderzine Issue 1 is a solid first issue with gaming content that any Referee running a campaign set in The Midderlands will want to add and develop for her game.

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