Monday 30 August 2021
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 be 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.
Black Pudding is a fanzine that is nominally written for use with Labyrinth Lord and so is compatible with other Retroclones, but it is not a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style fanzine. For starters, it is all but drawn rather than written, with artwork that reflects a look that is cartoonish, a tone that is slightly tongue in cheek, and a gonzo feel. Its genre is avowedly Swords & Sorcery, as much Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as Conan the Barbarian. Drawn from the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ house rules and published by Random Order via Square Hex, Black Pudding’s fantasy roleplaying content that is anything other than the straight-laced fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons, but something a bit lighter, but still full of adventure and heroism. Issues one, two, and three have showcased the author’s ‘Doomslakers!’ house rules with a mix of new character Classes, spells, magic items, monsters, NPCs, and adventures. Black Pudding #4 included a similar mix of new Classes, NPCs, and an adventure, but also included the author’s ‘OSR Play book’, his reference for running an Old School Renaissance game, essentially showing how he runs his own campaign. Black Pudding #5 was more of a return to form, a mix of new character Classes, spells, magic items, monsters, NPCs, and adventures. It did, however, begin to suggest a campaign setting.
Black Pudding No. 6 continues where Black Pudding No. 5 left off. Previous issues of the fanzine have always been entertaining, but primarily felt like collections of new Classes, character sheets, monsters, and NPCs from the author’s ‘Doomslayers’ campaign, but without really presenting what that ‘Doomslayers’ campaign actually is. Now Black Pudding No. 5 did contain its own collection of new Classes, character sheets, monsters, and NPCs from the author’s ‘Doomslayers’ campaign, but it also included something more. This included the mini-sandbox, ‘Standing Stones of Marigold Hills’, but was really seen in ‘Adventures in the North’. This was a small region taken from Yria, part of the ‘Doomslakers’ campaign, beset by arctic temperatures, Ice Witch matriarchs, Ice Wights, and more! Parts of Black Pudding No. 6 carry on directly from ‘Adventures in the North’, but there is new setting material too. Further, Black Pudding No. 6 marks another shift, this time in terms of rules, so that it covers Old School Essentials as well as Labyrinth Lord.
Black Pudding No. 6 is not without its new character Classes. These begin with ‘The Fat Lady’, as in, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” This Charisma-based Class should ideally be clad in armour with literal breast plates and winged helmets, and is all about singing, first to increase her Strength, to heal, to inflict damage, and influence people. Combine this with the Barbaribunny Class from Black Pudding #1 and the Referee will quickly find herself running What’s Opera, Doc?! ‘The Demodyn’ is a wee demon person who constantly radiates heat, can cast Burning Hands daily and any fire spell from a scroll, and ultimately, open a portal to the Infernal Plane daily. The third Class is the Beastfriend, who possesses a supernatural affinity with wild creatures and can calm, befriend, and ultimately call them to come to the aid of the Beastfriend.
One of the best on-going features in Black Pudding is ‘Meatshields of the Bleeding Ox’, a collection of NPCs ready for hire by the Player Characters (or in a pinch, replacement Player Characters). As before, there is a decent range of NPCs given here, such as Malloid the Mage, a Fifth Level Magic-User who knows many things, but if not, can ask the Kosmik Halo that constantly whirls about his head; Totterdun of Udderpeak, a Second Level Dwarf from a poorly regarded family of Dwarves, who likes to work, to get the job done as agreed—and no more, and then getting paid; and the Weird Boatmen, several Zero Level creatures who have access to the Boat of Safe Passage, who speak little, but for a price will safely take you across any body of water in complete safety. Where in previous issues there have just too many entries in this ongoing series, here they are kept to just eight and that feels just the right number.
The monsters in the issue a Monstrous Toad with a mucoid skin—the mucus can be collected and boiled to make a frog and toad repellent, and an unpleasant personality who enjoys giving out insults; Iggy the Husker, a pig-man-thing which can be summoned to hunt and dine on man; and the Nightstalker, a dog-like creature which nightly waits in the shadows to hunt those that be Powers That Be committed a bad act and should be punished. Only the victim can see it and he or she cannot ignore it lest their rolls be made at a disadvantage, the Nightstalker making a single claw and gaze attack nightly, the former inflicting deep scratches, the latter the random loss of Attribute points! The monsters here are more singular than is usual and perhaps all the more memorable for it.
‘Adventures in the North’ is continued from the previous issue and as well as adding soft, lumpy, and magical Snowmen who might come to the aid of of unwary travellers in the region, perhaps with healing magic, perhaps with messages written in the snow, it provides a table of things to be found upon the Frozen Victims of the Ice Witches. Found along the road to the north is Trence the Troll’s Roadhouse, owned by a hard man said to have troll’s blood in his veins and be capable of walking naked in the snow for miles, and claim that the weather was no more than, “a bit chilly”. For a good enough tip, he might impart some important piece of information that will help the Player Characters whilst they are in the north, but otherwise he will remain as cold and as tightlipped as his welcome—and he certainly will not explain why he has his mother in the cellar! Beyond lies the Domain of the Snow Witches, which Dembellina Rue, the Matron Prime rules with a cruelly icy grip and breeds goblins from filth and refuse. The two parts—in this issue and the previous one, provide a nicely done and particularly wintery north (barring the Ice Camels which feel silly), that can easily be dropped into a Referee’s campaign.
The feature article in Black Pudding No. 6 is ‘Underground Down Below: An Old School mapcrawl adventure for PC levels 3-6 or so’. This is a wilderness style adventure, but located underground, an underground into which the Player Characters have been cast, perhaps randomly, perhaps not. Down below, the Player Characters will find animated cave mouths capable of chomping them to bits, a shrine to the war goddess Hilda built from dung; mounds—some home to grumpy ants, some ambulatory and home to Granny Naga, other of soft stone upon which to fall asleep and fall prey to their hungry denizens; the remains of a once great, but long dead empire; a mighty palace crumbling under the care of decrepit, aging staff who await the return of their long lost leader; and walking villages home to tiny people who will also try to eat the Player Characters, though their attacks are like insect bites. If attacked the villages flip over and hide under thick shells.
There are almost forty locations in the ‘Underground Down Below’, all of them odd, even creepy. This feel is aided by the map and the intentionally scrappy presentation which pulls apart the map and provides a closer view of each location to accompany the description. This is necessary in part because the main map is cramped on the page, but this is not the real issue with the locale. Although there is plenty of ideas and imagination here, unless the Player Characters are cast down into it at random and thus need to find a way out, it does lack a hook or two for them to want to visit. This may necessitate the Referee combing through the various locations to derive such a motivation from them, which given the format is not as immediately easy as it should be. Overall, there is a lot of imagination to work with here, excepting motivations, and so ‘Underground Down Below’ is not as good as it could be.
‘A Trolling We Will Go’ provides a ready-to-play location, a play upon the idea of rolls being found under bridges. The Troll itself, an Urnt Troll, is a combination of the classic goat-hating Troll and the Dungeons & Dragons Troll, complete with powers of regeneration. The location is built and illustrated around a set of random tables which provide random finds, the Urnt Troll’s treasure, Trollish reactions, and more. Again, this is nicely detailed and easy to drop into a campaign.
Elsewhere in the issue, ‘A Curious NPC Approaches the Party’ provides a ready source of NPCs and their goals, whilst ‘Unfinished Puddin’’ adds numerous untested and undeveloped rules, such as Saving Throws being based directly on a character’s Attributes, better Armour Class for a barbarians if they actually wear less armour, and a more narrative-based Initiative order. All of these are workable to some degree, but adding these will change the retroclone of the Referee’s choice. Lastly, ‘Armour Class Hack: AC is Negative Only When Protection is Magical’ provides another alternative to Armour Class, this one limiting non-magical Armour Class to zero (or twenty, if ascending). Beyond magical armour is required and magical armour should be special, much like weapons can be special. This is a nice touch and has the potential to make armour much more interesting than it typically is in a Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game.
Sunday 29 August 2021
The first, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, described the Death-Rolled Kingdom, built on the remains of great drowned city, now 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. The second, Kraching, explored the life of a quiet, sleepy village alongside a great forest, dominated by cats of all sizes and known for its beautiful carvings of the wood taken from the forest. The third, Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, takes the reader into a forest where its husband Time moves differently and the gods dictate the seasons, Leeches stalk you and steal from you that which you hold dear, and squirrels appear to chatter and gossip—if you listen. Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain, the fourth, explores a vampire kingdom desperate for trade.
The great news is that is Upper Heleng: The Forest Beloved by Time, MR-KR-GR The Death-Rolled Kingdom, Kraching, Andjang: The Queen on Dog Mountain, Stray Virassa: The Lost and Fourteenth Hell, and the others in the Thousand Thousand Isles setting are now available outside of Malaysia. Details can be found here.
Echoes From Fomalhaut is a fanzine of a different stripe. Published and edited by Gabor Lux, it is a Hungarian fanzine which focuses on ‘Advanced’ fantasy roleplaying games, such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Labyrinth. The inaugural issue, Echoes From Fomalhaut #01: Beware the Beekeeper!, published in March, 2018, presented a solid mix of dungeons, adventures, and various articles designed to present ‘good vanilla’, that is, standard fantasy, but with a heart. Published in August, 2018, the second issue, Echoes From Fomalhaut #02: Gont, Nest of Spies continued this trend with content mostly drawn from the publisher’s own campaign, but as decent as its content was, really needed more of a hook to pull reader and potential Dungeon Master into the issue and the players and their characters into the content. Echoes From Fomalhaut #03: Blood, Death, and Tourism was published in September, 2018 and in reducing the number of articles it gave the fanzine more of a focus and allowed more of the feel of the publisher’s ‘City of Vultures’ campaign to shine through, whilst Echoes From Fomalhaut #04: Revenge of the Frogs drew from multiple to somewhat lesser effect. Lastly, Echoes From Fomalhaut #05: The Enchantment of Vashundara focused primarily on smuggling town of Tirwas and the caves underneath it through which the contraband is taken.
An unboxing of Echoes From Fomalhaut #06: The Gallery of Rising Tombs can be found here.
Saturday 28 August 2021
Once per year, The Grognard Files, a North of England podcast dedicated to the games of the late seventies and early eighties, in particular, RuneQuest, hosts Grogmeet a one-day convention in Manchester, again in the North of England. As The Armchair Adventurers, the podcast also publishes its fanzine, just once a year, and typically timed for release at Grogmeet. The first issue, The Grognard Files – Annual 2017, is available as a ‘Pay What You Want’ PDF available to download with the proceeds of the sale of the fanzine will donated to continue the running of Yog-sothoth.com, the best site dedicated to Lovecraft and Lovecraftian investigative horror. More recent issues, The Grognard Files – Annual 2018 and The Grognard Files – Annual 2019 have sadly not followed suit, but for members of the ‘Grog Squad’ and attendees of Grogmeet, both issues continue to serve up thick, syrupy wodges of nostalgia and gaming inspired by their youths in the nineteen eighties. Of course, worldwide circumstances means that there has been no Grogmeet since 2019 and thus no issue of The Grognard Files, but The Grognard Files – Annual 2019 was not the only fanzine to be released at Grogmeet in 2019. Further, that fanzine has gone on to be expanded following a Kickstarter campaign and unlike The Grognard Files – Annual 2019, is still available.
Grogzilla #1 is published by D101 Games, best known for the OpenQuest roleplaying game and the Glorantha fanzine, Hearts in Glorantha. It is undeniably a showcase for what the publisher does and is full of ideas and bits and pieces, some of which are silly, some useful, and some interesting. The issue starts with the silly—‘A Question of Ducks’, which is a poll of Twitter and the Grog Squad—as fans of The Grognard Files podcast are known—and their feelings about Ducks in gaming. The questions are mostly related to Glorantha, the answers varying from series to silly, depending upon how the respondent feels about Ducks. ‘Four Faces of Grogzilla’ is almost as silly, presenting four versions of the not-kaiju for D101 Games’ different roleplaying games—OpenQuest, Crypts and Things, Monkey the RPG, and River of Heaven: Science-Fiction Roleplaying in the 28th Century. Thus, Grogzilla for OpenQuest is a half-dragon, half demonic reptile thing which slumbers deep under the earth, but which cult priests can summon him to rampage across the land once again, whilst hysterical mobs sacrifice to him in order to avoid such a fate! Then for River of Heaven, Robozilla is a giant robot originally intended to be used to help terraform the world of Terrosa, but since stolen by terrorists! More fun perhaps is Monkeyzilla, for Monkey the RPG, the ten-storey high, fire breathing lizard which the Monkey King transformed into to fight the Pagoda Throwing General, which nobody talks about because of all the destruction wrought in the ensuing battle!
The scenario in Grogzilla #1 is ‘Wigan Pigs’. Written for use with Swords & Wizardry, but therefore adaptable to the retroclone of the Game Master’s choice, the scenario is a sequel to The Road to Hell, which is also set during Elizabethan times. It is a mixture of Tudor fantasy and horror, the Player Characters sent by Doctor John Dee to England’s northwest to locate a consignment of missing pigs which should have been delivered to the Irish butcher and purveyor of fine sausages, Mrs Figgins. Such a mundane task hides a nasty secret and a moral quandary for the Player Characters and for Game Master a moment to reflect wonder if the scenario should not have been called ‘The Road to Wigan Pig’ instead. The scenario is also easy to adapt to other systems, but perhaps the most obvious in the two years since the fanzine’s publication is The Dee Sanction.
There are multiple Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying games, but Grogzilla #1 offers one more with ‘Outsiders’. This is a game design document, suggesting how the author might design his own Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying game were he to do so. First to avoid what Call of Cthulhu does and use those elements of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction which are in the public domain and then… The result is a scaled down concept, using a simple mechanic with just two six-sided dice, skills which can damage and are therefore harder to use. The Player Characters are actual outsiders, punks and rockers, radical scientists, drifters, hackers, and more, with talents such as Athletics, Science, Gobsite(!), and the like. The opposition consists of Horrors, similarly scaled down, Deep Ones, cultists, and the like, whilst deities—or alien intelligences—are ineffable, unknowable, working their way through their proxies. It would be fascinating to see this developed further by the author, but with access to the fanzine, there is nothing to stop the reader from developing it further.
‘The Six Traveller’s Culture – Magical Questing Gypsies for Mythras’ presents a Culture and its faith for use with The Design Mechanism’s Mythras. A preview of a forthcoming supplement from D101 Games, there is a danger here in presenting gaming content based on other cultures, but this very much appears to have been sensitively done. It provides for their skills—standard, combat styles, and professional, cultural passions, and more. The Six Travellers constantly journey in wagons following routes long established by their heroes and gods, many in the footsteps of the Six, searching for the magical Way Stones, long lost, but capable of fostering trade and safe passage. In their way are the agents of a malevolence known as the Ignorance. Accompanied by notes on the social castes amongst the Six Travellers this culture would make an interesting addition to a fantasy campaign.
Further previews follow. ‘Lost Fools of Atlantis’ is a preview of a roleplaying game about conspiracies and the ridiculousness of conspiracy theories, more a black comedy than a serious game. Again, the game is yet to appear, but the fiction is sufficiently intriguing to wonder what it might be like and actually be about. Lastly ‘The Barbarian at the Gate’ is a preview of Swords Against the Shroud, a rewrite of the Barbarian Class from Crypts and Things for use with The Black Hack, Second Edition. With a high Constitution, a certain fearlessness, initial ferocity in a fight, outdoor survival skills, it is exactly what you would expect in a classic fantasy treatment of the Barbarian. It is well done, with plenty of mechanical flavour and would certainly be fun to play. Between the two, is ‘Pitbull’, a sample NPC, a street ronin, for the Cyberpunk roleplaying game, Reboot. It seems decent enough, but not having seen the roleplaying game, it is difficult to comment further.
Physically, Grogzilla #1 is a ‘rough cut’ affair (note, the version available on Drivethrurpg.com will be different), not quite the ‘deckle edge’ feel, but definitely something with a ‘put together by hand’ feel. Black and white throughout, the cover has pleasing linen finish and the roughness continues throughout the fanzine. Not necessarily to its detriment, but it gives it the amateurish feel of fanzines of old.
Grogzilla #1 is a medley of ideas and previews, not necessarily useful, but nevertheless interesting. The scenario though, ‘Wigan Pigs’, is the exception and easily adaptable.
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. However, not every fanzine—for the Old School Renaissance or otherwise—needs to be for a specific set of rules.
Friday 27 August 2021
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 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 & 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.
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! was a bit of bit of a medley issue, addressing a number of different aspects of dungeoneering and fantasy roleplaying, whilst Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! did a fine job of giving rules for guns and exploring how to use in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Crawl! No. 9: The Arwich Grinder provided a complete classic Character Funnel in Lovecraftian mode.