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

Saturday 29 August 2020

[Fanzine Focus XXI] Kraching

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.

Kraching is a little different. Penned by Zedeck Siew—author of Lorn Song of the Bachelor
and drawn by Munkao, it is the second title published by the A Thousand Thousand Islands imprint, a Southeast Asian-themed fantasy visual world-building project, one which aims to draw from regional folklore and history to create a fantasy world truly rooted in the region’s myths, rather than a set of rules simply reskinned with a fantasy culture. The result of the project to date is four fanzines, each slightly different, the first of which is marked with a ‘1’ and is MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom. This described the Death-Rolled Kingdom, or the Dismembered Land, which sits on the lake and was once the site of a great city said to have been drowned by a thousand monsters, located far up a lush river. It is ruled by crocodiles in lazy, benign fashion, they police the river, and their decrees outlaw the exploration of the ruins of MR-KR-GR, and they sometimes hire adventurers.

What set MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom apart from its setting is the combination of art and text. The latter describes the place, its peoples and personalities, its places, and its strangeness with a very simple economy of words. Which is paired with the utterly delightful artwork which captures the strangeness and exoticism of the setting and brings it alive. Kraching is just the same and like MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, it is systemless, having no mechanics bar a table or two—MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom has more—meaning that Kraching could be run using any manner of roleplaying games and systems. Where MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom described a kingdom though, Kraching—marked with a ‘2’—details a village and its forest environs.

Kraching lies five days to the west on foot, the route lined with wooden posts carved with cats—snarling tigers, sulking tabbies, and sleepy tomcats, each of them watching you warily. Cats are found everywhere in Kraching, on the streets and in the houses, worn as hats, on the seat of the local ruler such that he has to perch on the edge of his seat, and of all sizes—from kittens to tigers, and carved everywhere. Even the local god, Auw, a six-legged panther with a human face has been carved as a statue which stands at the centre of the village, scratched by many cats and burned by many offerings. The villagers are famed for their skill in woodcarving, the wood they take from the surrounding forest possessed by spirits so bored their want is to be carved into masks and worn in the theatre. Thus, they will get to see the world, and many have gone on to have illustrious careers!

Both the details and the secrets of Kraching are revealed at a sedate pace. The Player Characters may encounter Neha, a Buffalo-woman who sells silks, fine tools, and pearl jewellery in return for crafts, forest goods, and the occasional adventuresome youth; priests who come to Kraching to commission idols of their gods in the forest’s holy rosewood—blasphemous acts cannot be performed in the presence of such idols; and whether a tabby or a tiger, no cat in the village is tame, all are wild and can only be distracted. This can be best done with a magical wand, ball, or chew toy, that is, a cat toy! Along the way, the relationship between the villagers and the cats they revere and honour is explained through the stories of Auw, from ‘Auw the Woodworker’ who carved cats to drive out soldiers who had come to cut the forest down and so filled it with felines of all sizes, to ‘Auw the Suitor, who would have cruelly taken a woodcarver, but she cleverly carved a tigress with which to capture his ardour and so force him to reign in his cruelty. It all builds a simple, but beautiful picture of the village and its surrounds.

Unlike MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, there are no the tables for creating encounters and scenarios in Kraching. Instead a handful of scenario seeds are scattered across its pages, such as Neha the Buffalo-women having lost her Ari the Bookkeeper, her counting spirit, in the village or Mahi needing adventurers to escort her apprentice who has been sent to deliver an idol to a distant temple whose priesthood has suffered a schism. None of the seeds amount to more than a line or two, so a Game Master will need to do some development work, and further their number fits the sparseness of the descriptions and of the village itself. Kraching is a quiet, sleepy place and to have fulsome encounter tables might have made it feel too busy. Plus of course, it leaves plenty of room for the Game Master to add her own content.

Physically, Kraching is a slim booklet which possesses a lovely simplicity, both in terms of the words and the art. Together they evoke visions of a very different world and of a very different fantasy to which a Western audience is used, but the light text makes it all very accessible as the art entrances the reader. For the Game Master wanting to take her campaign to somewhere a little strange, somewhere warily bucolic in a far-off land, Kraching is a perfect destination.


As much as it would be fantastic to see MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, Kraching, and the other two—Upper Heleng and Andjang—collected in volume of their own, they are currently available here.

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