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Friday 30 April 2021

[Fanzine Focus XXIV] Crawl! No. 8: Firearms

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 & 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. Another choice is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Published by Straycouches PressCrawl! 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 something of a mixed bag, Crawl! #2 was a surprisingly focused, exploring the role of loot in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and describing various pieces of treasure and items of equipment that the Player Characters might find and use. Similarly, Crawl! #3 was just as focused, but the subject of its focus was magic rather than treasure. Unfortunately, the fact that a later printing of Crawl! No. 1 reprinted content from Crawl! #3 somewhat undermined the content and usefulness of Crawl! #3. Fortunately, Crawl! Issue Number Four was devoted to Yves Larochelle’s ‘The Tainted Forest Thorum’, a scenario for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game for characters of Fifth Level. Crawl! Issue V continued the run of themed issues, focusing on monsters, but ultimately to not always impressive effect, whilst Crawl! No. 6: Classic Class Collection presented some interesting versions of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style Classes for Dungeon Crawl Classics, though not enough of them. Crawl! Issue No. 7: Tips! Tricks! Traps! is a bit of bit of a medley issue, addressing a number of different aspects of dungeoneering and fantasy roleplaying.

Published in November, 2013, as its title suggests, Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! is another focused issue, and that focus is on guns and adding guns to your Dungeon Crawl Classics roleplaying game campaign. Guns are something of a difficult subject when it comes to Dungeon Crawl Classics because it is a fantasy roleplaying game and guns, whether because of their history or their technology, do not belong in a fantasy roleplaying game. Much like firearms historically negate the degree of training necessary to wield a bow effectively on the battlefield, in fantasy, they negate the years of study and training necessary to become a wizard, as well as being easier and faster to reload. They are in the main, the province of roleplaying games and campaigns set in the modern day or the future, although historically, the modern day begins in the seventeenth century when armies and individuals wield arquebuses, flintlocks, wheellocks, and the like. Historical precedent aside, this does not mean that a Dungeon Crawl Classics Judge cannot include or add them to her campaign, and well as providing rules for their use, Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! gives at least one way in which they can be added to a campaign.

Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! opens with Reverend Dak’s ‘Firepower!’. This gives a quick discussion of how and why firearms might be introduced into a campaign before providing rules for their use. Should they be powerful and rare or mundane and not much pop? The advice for power and rare at least is to build limitations into their use, whether that includes limiting them to black powder or non-automatic, or using the optional rules included. The basic rules include their being fast and that they can be aimed, so that the user gains Die Bump up to a bigger die for the initiative, attack, and damage rolls. Damage is always the one die, except when it is doubled for aiming. Taking cover is an action and increases Armour Class, and duels are extremely deadly, inflicting a number of dice’s worth of damage equal to the Level of the Player Character or NPC. Since the duellists will be standing facing each other, this seems fair enough—if nasty! 

Optional rules include making Critical hits deadly, firearms complicated—giving users a negative Die bump to rolls until they are properly trained, and automatic weapons can be used to attack everyone in a ten feet area. Actual stats for guns are given in ‘From Gold to Guns’ by Mike Evans with the Reverend Dak. This covers weapons across four eras—of powder and smoke, gear and bullet, destruction and calamity, and lasers and rockets. The latter group is where the article strays into the realms of Science Fiction, but its contents are very easy to use.

Reverend Dak provides a reason for the inclusion of firearms in a campaign with ‘Invasion!’. This sets up an invasion by an alien species, the reasons why it is invading, and so on, with a series of tables. Thus, who they are, where they are from, what they want, and who and what they brought with them, whilst stats are provided for all of the given invaders in a separate appendix. This is the first of several appendices which round out Crawl! No. 8: Firearms!. ‘Appendix R: References’ lists other roleplaying games where firearms play a role, whilst ‘Appendix S: Submissions’ collects the best submissions to the editor’s blog, and notably adds explosives and bombs to the mix. Lastly, ‘Appendix T: Firearms Critical table’ and ‘Firearms Fumble Table’, both by S.A. Mathis, provide exactly what you expect.

Physically, Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! is decently presented. The writing and editing are good, and artwork, if not of highest quality, is all very likeable. The wraparound cover is a nice touch. The subject matter—and thus the whole issue—is going to be a hit or a miss for most Judges, players, and campaigns. It all boils down to whether or not they want to include the use of firearms alongside their fantasy. If they do, then everything is here in a handy fashion to include it. If not, then the issue will be of little interest, though this does not mean that the issue is by any means a bad one. Even if a Judge has no plans to add firearms to her campaign, there is nothing to stop her reading the issue to find out how it might be done, and Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! certainly provides that. Overall, Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! is a solid, serviceable treatment of its focused subject matter which is easy to bring to the table if that is what a Judge wants for her game.

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