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Monday, 26 August 2019

[Fanzine Focus XVII] The Hobonomicon #0

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 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. Another choice is Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

The Hobonomicon #0 is the inaugural issue of a fanzine written for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, launched on August 2nd, 2018 at Gen Con. Unlike other fanzines, it comes not in A5 format, but letter size. Written and drawn by many of the some writers and artists who work on titles for Goodman Games—whether Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game or Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & MagicThe Hobonomicon is the book of the void and of unbelievers, a legendary shadow tome of doom architects and fallen chaos martyrs. Or rather, it presents ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’, a full scenario based on Doug Kovacs’ after hours game at Gen Con.

‘Escape from Planet Punjar’ is actually a character funnel. One of the features of both the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is that is possible to play Zero Level characters going out on their first adventure to hopefully survive and return as First Level adventurers. In a character funnel, each player roleplays not one character, but several, ultimately going on to play whichever one of them survives and so achieves First Level and attains a Class. In Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Zero Level characters are likely to be peasants and in Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, they are simple tribal folk ready to undergo their Rite of Passage, but in ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’, the Zero Level characters are citizens living in the lightless, lawless bowels of the ecumenopolis that is Planet Punjar. It is the year 50,000 and the collision of the Doom Planet with Planet Punjar is iminent, and so it has been decreed by the High Lords of Punjar that the planet be evacuated.

Starting with ‘Escape from Planet Punjar Introductions’, which provides ways to introduce the characters, the main feature of The Hobonomicon #0 takes the Zero Level characters step-by-step through their increasingly desperate efforts to get off planet. This includes ‘Zero Level Occupations’, and goes on through a map of the shattered levels of the city, ‘Planet Punjar Encounters’, ‘Gangs, Cops, and Cults’, ‘Chance Happenings and Random Shit’, and lastly, ‘Escapes From Planet Punjar’. This is presented in a rich mix of table entries and pictures. So the map presents a cutaway view of the lower depths of Punjar marked with locations, none of which are given illustrations. Instead, the Dungeon Master is expected to work from the illustrations which are good enough to inspire any Dungeon Master. ‘Planet Punjar Encounters’ work on the same principle, although some details and stats are given, whilst full stats and thumbnail descriptions are given for the ‘Gangs, Cops, and Cults’. ‘Chance Happenings and Random Shit’ works slightly differently in that sometimes the Dungeon Master interprets the results and sometimes a player does. Lastly, ‘Escapes From Planet Punjar’ provides fuller, but no less random final encounters in which the player characters have the opportunity to get off the planet.

Fingle Woznekki
Zero Level Citizen (Mutant)
Gender: Female (Pregnant)
Occupation: Anarchist Rabble Rouser
STR 15 (+1) AGL 11 STM 13 (+1)
PER 13 (+1) INT 06 (-1) LCK 16 (+2)
Hit Points: 5
Saving Throws
Fortitude +1 Reflex +0 Willpower +1
Mutation: Sensual Tail (master key for all meat kiosks)
Equipment: Fire bomb, protest flag, gas mask, pepper spray

‘Escape from Planet Punjar’ is a lot of fun. It has a surprisingly British feel in its humour and style, echoing the gonzo ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ comic strips of 2000 AD as well as the grim feel and grit of the Warhammer 40,0000 universe. It is primarily a sandbox, the players free to have their characters wander they will in their desperate efforts to escape their dying world. Since it primarily consists of random tables, ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’ is also highly replayable, or rather, highly rerunnable, because the Dungeon Master can run this again and again and the results will be different almost every time. It does call for a high degree of improvisation upon the part of the Dungeon Master, but plethora of tables help, as does the format. The format and rerunnable also makes ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’ suitable as a convention scenario.

The problem though with ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’ is that there is no Science Fiction equivalent of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game or Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game—no Star Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. So there are no rules for running quite this sort of game and that will require some further improvisation upon the part of the Dungeon Master. Not a huge amount, but this in addition to the improvisation already required. Thus it really needs a Dungeon Master of some experience rather than a novice as it is a toolkit rather than a fully written out scenario.

Rounding out The Hobonomicon #0 are a pair of comic strips. Doug Kovacs’ ‘Death of a Reaver’ is the first part of a series and sees a lone warrior encounter a trio of bandits who bar her way over a bridge. It is well drawn, but does leave the reader on cliffhanger and really does not tell much in the way of a story in its four pages. ‘Dreams of a Klartesh Fiend’, drawn by Stefan Poag and written by James MacGeorge is a drug induced nightmare that although well drawn feels at home on the inside back page.

Bar the cover—which is done in colour, front and back, inside and out—The Hobonomicon #0 is heavily illustrated in black and white throughout. The artwork is excellent, ranging from grim to gruesome, from daft to disturbing, but it all fits. The writing is also good too, perhaps a little underwritten, but enough to nudge the Dungeon Master’s imagination.

The Hobonomicon #0 is scenario as fanzine. And in that scenario, ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’, The Hobonomicon #0 showcases how the Star Crawl Classics Role Playing Game might start. If that is what you are looking for, or a scenario which can be semi-improvised at convention after convention, or perhaps you like Doug Kovacs’ (and others’) art, then The Hobonomicon #0 is perfect for you. Hopefully, The Hobonomicon #1 will see the characters escape to the stars after they have made their ‘Escape from Planet Punjar’.

1 comment:

  1. The Hobonomicon scenarios (culled from events at DougKon) are pure id gaming. When you're done, if it went well, you feel like you dreamt it, not played it.