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

Sunday 25 August 2019

[Fanzine Focus XVII] Midderzine Issue 3

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 how 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

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 line, 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 set the format with a pleasingly cohesive first issue. Midderzine Issue 3 follows that format opening with ‘Meet the Midderlander’, an interview with one of the creators of The Midderlands as a setting. Now this time the interview is with me, because I am the editor on The Midderlands - An OSR Setting & Bestiary and its two sequel supplements. Now the interesting aspect of the interview is not the fact that it is with me, but rather it is the role which warrants the interview and thus it is an editor being reviewed.

Actual content for The Midderlands begins with ‘The Haven Gazette’, a collection of five rumours and news pieces, like reports of the ‘Brigands of the Scaled Skin’ terrorising travellers in the borderlands or how an argument between two friends in the village of Weeshaw escalated into a brawl that split the village and had to be broken up by the local militia. These are really quick thumbnail snippets that the Game Master can use as bits of background colour, rumours, or adventure hooks to develop. It is followed by ‘Hexes & Unique Locations’, a description one hex on The Haven Isles map, this time on the Thames Estuary where a strange obsidian obelisk has been found and there is an old beacon to warn ships of the Swine’s Teeth Rocks below. Again, it is up to the Game Master to really develop these as adventure locations, but the descriptions are good.

The bulk of  Midderzine Issue 3 details the one town—Sixoaks in Kentshire, in the Southeast of the Haven Isles. There is a lovely moment for geographers everywhere with the inclusion of Polg’s Pond, an oxbow lake, said to be home to a wart goblin who once saved the townsfolk from a sudden flood, an event celebrated with the annual Polg’s Flood Festival. Sixoaks is noted for its one inn, for which privilege the owners are heavily taxed by the local lord; the particularly good carrots grown by Boris Picker and brought by a customer from Great Lunden; and Thistle, the prized mudcow bull who is protected against rustlers and the hungry. There is also the Tithe Barn where the local lord, Lord Krust, stores the heavy taxes levied on the townsfolk, and who suspects that one of the guards stationed there is pilfering from. This is the major hook in Sixoaks, an investigation that the player characters will be asked to conduct in order to confirm their employer’s suspicions. The investigation is a slight affair, with really very little in the way of plot, but should provide a session or two’s worth of play.

‘New Monsters’ details the Elemental Gloomium and the Eyeballer. The first is a corrupted Earth Elemental which searches out veins of gloominum to feed its addiction in the deep and the dark, and whose fists are known to inflict a Gloom Punch and a gloom-touched deformity. The second is a scavenger which comes out at night in search of detritus to search through and which has multiple eyeballs giving it amazing, almost magical eyesight. It eyes are prized by collectors, but exactly for what is left up to the Game Master to decide.

Lastly, Richard Marpole writes up another Scottish Class, leading on from his ‘Woad Rager’ in Midderzine Issue 2. The new Class is the Phantom Piper, who carve and play Scrotland’s national musical instrument to guide the souls of the dead into the afterlife, to lay angry spirits to rest, and even play Scrotland’s clan warriors into battle. The pipes are part of a Phantom Piper, supernaturally linked and granting him spells and the ability to turn and destroy the undead. In turn though, as he grows in piping power, the Phantom Piper grows closer to the Other Side and receives a  Mark of Death, like translucent skin or the sound of bones clicking when he walks… This though may bring him to the attention of Witchfinders and Inquisitors and may even end up with him being burned at the stake! The New Oddities are all Phantom Piper spells, like McDonal, Where’s Yer Trousers, which transports the target’s trousers miles and miles away, and Flower of Scrotland, which summons a wrath-filled army of ghostly warriors to fight for the Phantom Warrior. This is another fun, thematic Class, and perhaps the author will return with other Classes for the other regions of the Haven Isles in future issues.

Physically, Midderzine Issue 3 is up to the same standard as the previous editions. This means reasonable artwork and excellent cartography, though it does feel a little rushed in places and could have done with a tighter edit.

If there is anything missing from Midderzine Issue 3, it is perhaps a good adventure with a good plot, but hopefully that will change with future releases from Monkey Blood Design. Overall, Midderzine Issue 3 feels a little broader in its application in that its contents could be used in other settings should the Game Master be prepared to adapt the material. Really though, as with the other issues, the content of Midderzine Issue 3 is very much written for use with The Midderlands, providing further solid support that the Game Master can easily add to or develop for her campaign.

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