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

Saturday, 24 August 2019

[Fanzine Focus XVII] Extinguish the Sun Vol. 2

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.

Extinguish the Sun is a fanzine published by Apollyon Press, best known for the somewhat underdeveloped Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay supplement, On the Shoulders of Giants. The inaugural issue presented a pair of settings, one fantasy, one post-apocalypse, that were worthy of further development and detail. Unfortunately, Extinguish the Sun Vol. 2 develops neither of the settings, but does at least announce that the ‘Knights of the Road’ setting will instead be developed and published by Necrotic Gnome Productions, an Old School Renaissance publisher best known for the Wormskin fanzine. Instead, the second issue, published in August, 2018, presents a wholly new setting, one which seems timely considering the imminent release of both Cyberpunk Red and Shadowrun, Sixth Edition.

‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ reskins the rules of Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay to present a Cyberpunk setting in just sixteen pages. It provides four new Classes, a simple equipment list, a guide to the Matrix, and a setting. Unfortunately, it is missing one element which makes Extinguish the Sun Vol. 2 a complete roleplaying in and of itself, but we will come to that… Making use of just Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay’s Rules & Magic, it mixes and matches various parts of character design to present four new Classes. So for example, ‘The Mercenary’ uses the ten-sided die for its Hit Dice, saves as an Elf, and gains Experience Points as the Specialist Class. Notably, ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ uses the Skills system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay to model the various abilities of three of the four Classes rather than giving specific abilities. So The Cyborg is given access to five skills—Guidance (navigation and digital mapping), Knowledge (encyclopedic), Vision (thermal, X-ray, et cetera.) Maths, and Strength (raw), each rated between one and six, and each working whenever the player rolls under the skill. So, instead of adding to the Cyborg’s base Strength attribute, the player is rolling it and improving it as a skill.

The other Classes are just as simple. Thus, The Lowlife has the skills of Acquisitions and Offloading, the first for finding and acquiring goods, services, and employment, the latter for selling or getting rid of things. The Phreak has latent psionic abilities which enable him to plug into the Matrix via a data jack and so explore computer systems with his mind. The Phreak does not have any skills or abilities as such, but rather this one ability to connect to the virtual world. The Mercenary differs though, focusing on abilities rather than skills. Each Mercenary has a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and a special ability to reflect a fighting style. So a Mercenary with a Monosword primary weapon, Unarmed combat secondary weapon, and the Martial Arts Special might be a Ninja-style assassin, but replace the Monosword with the Pistol, and the Mercenary becomes a bodyguard. Take pistol, baton, and the Savage Special which increases weapon die types and the Mercenary might be a murderous enforcer.

Curiously, although ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ comes with an equipment list, what it lacks is cyberware. Instead, it subsumes these elements into the characters, most obviously in the Cyborg Class, but also the Phreak Class. The Matrix where the Phreak mostly operates is described as a mass of interconnected nodes, each node designed and styled by its owner. Some are designed as rooms and complexes of rooms, but secure areas it is suggested are like ‘dungeons’. Although all Classes can access the Matrix, here the Phreak comes into his own, having more—if virtual—Hit Points and a greater bonus to hit, though really, perhaps the Class should also have been given proper Specialist skills to reflect their larcenous intent inside the Matrix.

In terms of background, ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ describes a world dominated by five mega-corporations, a world of extreme haves and have-nots, and so on. This is a fairly standard Cyberpunk world, one in which the player characters are freelance mercenaries, perhaps working for the corporations, perhaps cultural-counter terrorists, perhaps both. 

Unfortunately, what ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ lacks is an adventure. It suggests that a heist in the Matrix is a replacement for the dungeon of other Old School Renaissance roleplaying games. How exactly that works is not quite explained, leaving the Game Master to develop the idea herself. To really pull the ideas of ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ together, it would have been good to see an example of a dungeon as heist works… Instead, what Extinguish the Sun Vol. 2 gives is an interview with Daniel Sell of the Melsonian arts Council. Now it is a decent interview, interesting and informative, but it does not make the issue, instead it brings it to a shuddering halt, such is the abrupt change of subject.

Physically, Extinguish the Sun Vol. 2 is nicely laid out with art, which although cartoonish, gives it a singular look. There is plenty of potential in ‘Fulminations of the Cybernetic Punk’ and it is an interesting attempt to do a Cyberpunk with a retroclone, it is just a pity that the author does not complete it with an adventure, making it all but ready to play, instead leaving the Game Master with more effort than is really necessary...

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