On the tail of the 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.
Published by Straycouches Press, Crawl! is one such fanzine dedicated to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Since Crawl! No. 1 was published in March, 2012 has not only provided ongoing support for the roleplaying game, but also been kept in print by Goodman Games. Now because of online printing sources like Lulu.com, it is no longer as difficult to keep fanzines from going out of print, so it is not that much of a surprise that issues of Crawl! remain in print. It is though, pleasing to see a publisher like Goodman Games support fan efforts like this fanzine by keeping them in print and selling them directly.
Where Crawl! No. 1 was a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 is surprisingly focused, as announced by the issue’s subtitle—‘The Loot Issue!’. Published in June, 2012, what the issue does is explore the role of treasure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, highlighting the fact that treasure is a relative rarity in comparison to Dungeons & Dragons and other retroclones—its fantasy world lacks the piles of gold and hoards of magical items and gewgaws found in other fantasy roleplaying games. In the first article, ‘Loot!’ the editor builds a means of determining treasure types from one simple table—the ‘Random Loot by Monster Type’ table. This breaks down the treasure finds by monster type, so ‘Humanoids with Weapons’, ‘Dragons’, ‘Demons’, Un-dead’, and ‘Other Monsters’. What a character finds—the roll modified by his Luck bonus—actually does not vary all that wildly, so handfuls of coins, a few gems, and so on, though a character is more likely to find cursed items with the Un-dead. Further tables expand upon the one table, one in particular adding ‘Items of Note’. These are not necessarily magical, but whether charms, bottles, scrolls, books, and the like, they are valuable, at least to someone. Magical items can be found, but they are rare—really rare in comparison to Dungeons & Dragons—and they are anything other then generic. So no mere +1 swords…
Instead, the fanzine offers ‘Lucky Items’. These are items which not only have a Luck bonus or a ‘magical’ effect, they also have a story. They can also be created during a play, such as when a warrior uses a weapon for the first time and it inflicts a critical wound or a wizard carves a staff from a branch of tree that the wizard witnessed being struck by lightning. Now the Luck bonus or ‘magical’ effect may not always work and it can degrade and even be lost over time, but idea is that over time, instead of a player character discovering yet another shield +2 or Dagger +1, he will come to favour certain weapons or items of equipment, and perhaps they might grow with him as the story and legend of his doings are told, becoming Lucky, and ultimately, Legendary as looked at in ‘Legendary Items’. (Though this does not stop him from discovering the Dagger +1.)
All together, these three articles form a trilogy, one that nicely builds upon its subject matter without the reader necessarily noticing until the end. Although the mechanics for Lucky items are slightly more complex than that might be found in standard Dungeons & Dragons, they make such items fickle—rather than unreliable—and thus more fun. Overall, this trilogy is good alternative to the rules given for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, adding depth, but also highlighting the differences between it and Dungeons & Dragons.
This difference is further highlighted in the fourth article. ‘OSR Conversions: Treasure!’ As this series of articles details, there is a great deal of difference between how Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and the Old School Renaissance handles treasure. This details how the Judge can take an adventure for another retroclone and adapt its treasure element to Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. So this extends the utility of the previous trilogy in enabling a Judge to run more scenarios without losing the flavour of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.
Jon Marr of purplesorcerer.com provides the first of several articles by other authors in the second issue of the fanzine. This is ‘Honest Orkoff!’, a personality from his Sunken Cities campaign, a generally trustworthy merchant of Mustertown who if he is not interested in making a purchase from you, then can put you in touch with someone who will be interested. Just three are described in a lovely line of patter from the merchant, each really being a little vignette or encounter that the Judge can develop and bring into her game. Colin Chapman offers new rules for both shields and helmets with ‘Shattered Shields’ and ‘Helmet Law!’. The former suggests that shields can be shattered in a single blow in order to offset damage that might otherwise greatly injure a character, whilst the latter details how a helmet can do the same, but if used in that fashion there might be unintended consequences (as detailed on the accompanying table). Much of this will be familiar from any number of retroclones from the past few years or so, but to be fair, these rules would have been nice additions for a more brutal style of game in 2012 and they still are in 2020.
Lastly, Colin Chapman takes the reader shopping. In ‘Helmets & New Shields’, he adds new rules and new types of armour, such as bucklers which can be used with ranged weapons and as weapons and the check penalty to all actions whilst wearing various types of helmets. In ‘Killin’ Time!’ he lists several new weapons, such as Bullwhip and Maul, and the rules for using them, along with notes and suggestions as to which Classes from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game can use them. ‘Be Prepared!’ covers food and lodging, tools, miscellaneous items, and more—even prosthetic items!
Physically, Crawl! #2 is surprising. The layout is clean and tidy, uncluttered and easy to read. The artwork is good too. Overall and though it is a fanzine, there is a feel of professionalism in terms of how Crawl! #2 is presented. If Crawl! No. 1 was a good first issue, then Crawl! #2 is better. The presentation is cleaner, tidier, and easier to read, making the content more accessible. That content itself is useful, helping to develop a Judge’s Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game campaign in terms of how she handles treasure and how treasure can be made important to the player characters, and then making combat more bruising and battering with the rules for shields and helmets.