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Monday 6 May 2019

[Fanzine Focus XV] Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism

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.

Echoes From Fomalhaut is a fanzine of a different stripe. Published and edited by Gabor Lux, it is a Hungarian fanzine which focuses on ‘Advanced’ fantasy roleplaying games, such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Labyrinth. The inaugural issue, Echoes From Fomalhaut #01: Beware the Beekeeper!, published in March, 2018, presented a solid mix of dungeons, adventures, and various articles designed to present ‘good vanilla’, that is, standard fantasy, but with a heart. Published in August, 2018, the second issue, Echoes From Fomalhaut #02: Gont, Nest of Spies continued this trend with content mostly drawn from the publisher’s own campaign, but as decent as its content was, really needed more of a hook to pull reader and potential Dungeon Master into the issue and the players and their characters into the content.

Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism was published in September, 2018 and consists of just four articles. The first of these is ‘People of the Great Wheel’, which presents an unstoppable much in the manner of Broodmother Skyfortress. The great wheel, fifty feet high and fifteen feet wide, impervious to damage and allegedly all influence, rolls on and on, unimpeded by geography—manmade or natural, crushing all that fall in its path. As the legends of the Great Wheel have grown, so has the retinue around it, from the Outriders of the Great Wheel who ride ahead and forage and pillage and the Penitents of the Great Wheel who run before it shouting out great prophecies to the Magi of the Great Wheel who ponder and pontificate upon the Great Wheel and its direction and the Merchants of the Great Wheel who scavenge from the ruins left in its wake and sell what they find. These Disciples of the Great Wheel, along with the accompanying legends bring 
a delightful sense of the manic to this set-up and the Great Wheel is essentially its an ecology of its very own in perpetual motion. Adding this to campaign is another matter, but that is up to the Dungeon Master to decide and then handle the damage it would literally do to the fabric of her campaign.

‘Terror on Tridentfish Island’ is an adventure module for characters of Third to Fifth Level. It takes place on the eponymous island, once the exotic resort for the nobility, but its pleasure palaces, wildernesses for safe hunting and exploration, decorative gardens, and more, have long been abandoned. Now though four parties have taken an interest in the island—a feckless noble looking to make his name, a garbage scow whose pariah crew wishes to plunder the island free of valuables, a second nobleman wanting to uncover the island’s secrets and wealth, and of course, the player characters. The latter are free to act on their own or work for one of the other interested parties, but either way, they will find themselves having to deal with the whims and desires of said parties. This has potential for some interesting encounters and the scenario supports this by indicating what the various NPCs will do at any one location of note on the island.

Whether it is encounters with Winged Apes or Nightgaunts, there is a weird atmosphere to both the island and the scenario, one which threatens to just let it slip in H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. In fact, there is more of a science horror feel to the scenario once the adventurers begin to uncover the island’s secrets which are intended to feed into the publisher’s ‘City of Vultures’ campaign. The scenario though, is not example of what previous issues of the fanzine have aimed to provide, that is, ‘good vanilla’ fantasy. It is better than that, for rather than vanilla, the fantasy in this scenario is slightly weird and exotic, far from that of Western Europe and traditional
Dungeons & Dragons. Overall, this is a nicely done exploration scenario, one that could easily be dropped into the Dreamlands or even on Tékumel connected by Tubecar.

The issue reflects the publisher’s personal interests with ‘Monsters of Wizardry’. This adapts nine monsters from his favourite computer roleplaying game, Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, for use with the retroclone, OSRIC. Fans of the computer game will probably appreciate this. Some of these monsters appear in setting described in the next article.

The remaining half of Echoes From Fomalhaut #03 is dedicated to one article, ‘Erillion, East’. This is the first half of a gazetteer detailing the island of Erillion, previously described in Echoes From Fomalhaut #02, the second half to be published in the next issue. This issue though, includes a separate map of the island for easy reference. Thus, there is some crossover between the gazetteer and the overview, but here the gazetteer goes into more detail, taking both Dungeon Master and her players away from ‘Gont, Nest of Spies’ detailed in the previous issue and out into the island proper. Numerous locations are described such as the Forest of Death at heart of which stands a poisoned and bitter Treant; a sacred grove whose trees may give prophecies, open a portal, or curse intruders with sleepless nights; and a high mountain garden protected by the ghost of a hermit. In general, the island has a feeling of age and increasing decrepitude, of a realm where lawlessness is not quite rife, but the accepted all the same. Many of the places are locations that might be passed through or discovered rather than necessarily visited with any purpose and the Dungeon Master will want to create that purpose or use the scenarios published in the previous two issues which are set on the island.

Behind a fun cover, what is readily apparent about Echoes From Fomalhaut #03 is that it has benefited from it containing fewer articles. None of the issue’s content feels as if has been cramped in together and it gives the issue a stronger focus than the previous issues. It is lightly illustrated, but much of the artwork is really quite good, especially that depicting the secret at the heart of ‘Terror on Tridentfish Island’. The cartography is also good, both in the issue and on the separate map. Overall, there is a pleasing sense of professionalism to the issue—and not just in terms of the presentation, but also in terms of the content. In particular, the first two articles standout, ‘The People of the Great Wheel’ bringing a sense of community and ecology to an ongoing mobile apocalypse, and ‘Terror on Tridentfish Island’ beginning to hint at the dark weirdness to come in future issues from the publisher’s ‘City of Vultures’ campaign as well as providing a solid scenario. Lastly, ‘Erillion, East’ continues laying the groundwork for the island setting which will hopefully be further supported with scenarios in future issues.
Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism pulls away from the ‘vanila’ fantasy of previous issue and in doing begins to give the fanzine more of a focus, more of an identity, and more of a reason to want to read future issues. That can only bode well for future issues.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! Good to see the EPT connection came through - that campaign was strongly influenced by it (although just as much came from Fritz Lang's paranoid visions).