Saturday, 28 August 2021

[Fanzine Focus XXVI] Lands of Legends - Mundane

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. However, not every fanzine—for the Old School Renaissance or otherwise—needs to be for a specific set of rules.

Lands of Legends – Mundane is part of series of fanzines released as part of ZineQuest3 on Kickstarter. Published by Axian Spice, there are five entries in the series—Lands of Legends – Grim, Lands of Legends – Fairy, Lands of Legends – Holy, Lands of Legends – Primeval, and of course, Lands of Legends – Mundane—each of which provides two hundred different entries spread across twenty tables, all sorted by terrain type, including city, desert, forest, island, mountain, swamp, and more. The aim of the series is to provide a toolkit for the Game Master wanting inspiration in terms of worldbuilding and encounters for her setting and campaign.

The entries in the Lands of Legends series are colour-coded and Lands of Legends – Mundane is white and provides thumbnail descriptions of places and situations intended for low fantasy and low magic settings and campaigns, focusing on the natural environment and ordinary events, rather than high fantasy, dark secrets and grim magic, the realms of the fae, the divine and the holy, and so on. It adheres to the format for the series in two ways. First, provides a table of ten Area entries in turn for Civilisations, Deserts, Forests, Jungles, Mountains & Hills, Plains & Valleys, Rivers & Lakes, Seas & Islands, Swamps & Marshes, and Wastelands, and then it does exactly the same for Encounters. Second, it splits the Area entries and the Encounter entries and places them back-to-back so that to use either, the Game Master has to flip the book over and turn it upside down.

So, open up the ‘Mundane Areas’ half of the fanzine and a roll on the ‘Mundane Civilisations’ table would generate the result of ‘The City of Towers’, which details how the merchants of a city that once stood on the banks of a river grew rich enough to construct tall towers as their homes, but refused to move when the valley and thus the ground floor and cellar of every building was permanently flooded, including their towers. In the years since, the entrances to the flooded lower levels have been barricaded off and terraces and arched bridges built between the towers, but what secrets, treasures, and dangers lurk in the waters below? Flip over the book to the Encounters half and a roll on the ‘Mundane Deserts’ table provides an encounter with natives engaging in the practice of ‘sand diving’. Much like pearl divers, these natives dive for natural treasures, but not pearls and not in the sea, but into pools of quicksand to be pulled back up by rope, hopefully with a beautiful desert rose crystal in their grasp!

With a hundred entries for both the Areas and the Encounters, some no longer than two or three sentences, some a little more detailed, there is no doubting the wealth of inspiration to be found in the pages of Lands of Legends – Mundane. For the most part, the entries are systems neutral, so the Game Master can use them for the roleplaying game of her choice, whether generic, like Savage Worlds or something more specific, like Dungeons & Dragons. The latter—and thus almost any retroclone of the Game Master’s choice—is slightly better supported because Lands of Legends – Mundane does use some Dungeons & Dragons terminology, such as ‘Save versus Poison’ or ‘Hit Dice’. This of course eases the adaptation of the content for the Game Master.

Lands of Legends – Mundane is cleanly and neatly laid out. The difference between the two sections—the Areas and the Encounters halves—of the book are nicely delineated, with one being in traditional black on white, the other white on black. Simple line art or silhouettes further highlight the difference.   

Lands of Legends – Mundane is plain and simple in appearance, but its content is anything but. For the Game Master wanting ideas or inspiration, there can be no denying that Lands of Legends – Mundane is rich in both. Plus the fact that it can do both inspire world building and encounters gives Lands of Legends – Mundane a pleasing versatility to both the inspiration and the ideas.


  1. Considering the repeated use of the word "amateurish" in this writeup, it's interesting to see the excellent production quality of the zines in general, compared to the gaudy crap a lot of "professional" companies put out.

  2. "Considering the repeated use of the word "amateurish" in this writeup..."

    It is used *once*. Yes, it is used once at the start of each fanzine review, but that is the format. The point of using "amateurish" is that the original fanzines of the nineteen seventies and eighties were amateurish and the contrasts with the production values those being produced today.