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Friday 29 April 2022

Magazine Madness 12: The Warlock Returns Issue #01

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s
White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickstarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


Back in the nineteen eighties, at the height of the popularity of the solo adventure books which had begun with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Fighting Fantasy in 1982, there not one, but two solo adventure magazines. Warlock, published between 1984 and 1986 by Penguin and then Games Workshop, ran for just thirteen issues. Its counterpart, Proteus, was published by IPC Magazines Ltd. and then Wimborne Publishing between 1984 and 1988, and ran to nineteen issues. Although both published solo adventures, Proteus was not a Fighting Fantasy-oriented magazine, but a ‘A Complete Fantasy Adventure Game Magazine’, whereas Warlock definitely was. The focus of Warlock was fantasy with an emphasis on the Fighting Fantasy adventure gamebook series. The focus of its successor is much broader. Published quarterly by Arion Games, The Warlock Returns is devoted to Advanced Fighting Fantasy, the full roleplaying game based on the Fighting Fantasy solo adventures series and its Science Fiction equivalent, Stellar Adventures.

The Warlock Returns #01 was published in September, 2020. It presents a medley of things, from monsters to scenarios, from weapons to cartoons, from advice to settings, and more. It opens with Andrew Wright’s entry for the ‘Denizens of the Pit’ column. He details three types of Chaos Dragon—the swamp-dwelling, acid-spitting Yellow Dragon; the wilderness and ruin-dwelling, superheated wind exhaling Orange Dragon; and the jungle and ruins-dwelling, green slime breathing Purple Dragon. These are nicely detailed and tied into the history of Titan—the setting for Advanced Fighting Fantasy—when Death walked the lands and breathed Chaos into the hidden places where dragons were sleeping, mutating some of them into these three forms. They suffer from mutations today. All three are fearsome great beasts and not something that an unprepared adventurer would want to encounter.

The issue includes two lists of equipment. The first is ‘Jungle Mania’, by Stuart Lloyd. Just a page in length, it lists the sort of equipment that adventurers’ might want to prepare themselves with before setting out into the jungle. They include mosquito netting, mosquito repellent, the machete, blowpipes, darts, and poisons. All fairly serviceable, but with little tweaks here and there. For example, the machete is treated as a shortsword which is more effective against plants rather than creatures. Similarly, the weapons listed in Terry d’Orleans’ ‘Chinese Inspired Weapons for the Isles of Dawn’, are also tweaked. They range from the Gong (bow) and the flexible Qiang (spear) to the Liuxingchui (meteor hammer) and the Hudie Shuangdao (butterfly swords). For example, the Liuxingchui can be used to disarm an opponent rather than inflict Stamina damage and the Shengbiao (rope dart) to inflict a penalty to all physical actions rather than damage.

Terry d’Orleans also offers advice for the Director—as the Game Master is known in Advanced Fighting Fantasy—in ‘Sizing Up Monsters’, which explores ways of making encounters and combat more interesting and enjoyable by unbalancing them for and against the adventurers. The aim here is not to make them extremely easy or extremely challenging, but appropriate to the situation, perhaps to make a fight against minions slightly easier and that against their villainous master or mistress that much harder. It is a well thought out article, and solid advice for the new Director and experienced Director alike.

Adrian Kennelly provides two lists of twenty things to be found and read. ‘For the Bookworms’ is a list of books which can be used to flesh out bookshelves, so as to hide that all too important tome which the Player Characters might need to find, which ‘Notes and letters from Arion’ is a list of notes and missives which might be found in pockets (whether their owners are dead or alive) or dropped on the floor, and which might spur an encounter or adventure. There is a certain mundane to some of the latter, but both articles, written for the setting of Arion, would an extra degree of verisimilitude to any Advanced Fighting Fantasy campaign. They could easily be adapted to other settings if necessary.

The Warlock Returns #01 contains two specials. One is a new character sheet for Advanced Fighting Fantasy designed by Dyson Logos, whilst ‘In Their Element’ is a one-page dungeon designed around the elements and their alchemical symbols, along with those for the metals copper, silver, gold, and platinum. By Peter Endean, it is the first of two adventures in the issue and is serviceable enough, emphasising puzzles as much as combat.

Calfiero Risaliti’s ‘Welcome to Arion’ is the second and much longer adventure in The Warlock Returns #01. It takes low-experience adventurers from Allansia and the Old World to Arion, from where they plan to explore Khul. It is not suitable to more than the single magic user, and requires Travels in Arion as well as the standard rulebooks as necessary. It takes a while for the adventure to get going in which the adventurers, along with the rest of the city, find themselves under a curse. To solve the curse, the adventurers have to race round Arion to find and solve a series of riddles. It feels rather lengthy and could have done with editing for clarity. One notable issue is that it does not actually state what is going on for the benefit of the Director until three pages in, which is just too late.

The Warlock Returns #01 has its own comic strip in the form of ‘The Legend of Gareus: The Hero of Karn’. Written and drawn by Shaun Garea, this tells of the adventures—or rather, not-adventures-of the cowardly anti-hero, Gareus. This is quite fun and nicely done, and Gareus is a chancer and a git. Hopefully in future issues, he might even be loveable! Gareus returns at the end of the issue as ‘Agony Aunt Gareus’ with the sort of useless titbits and pieces of advice that you would imagine that only he could offer.

After all of that fantasy, Martin Proctor offers some Science Fiction with a setting for Stellar Adventures. ‘Tora’ is the first part in a series describing the desert world of the same name. Most of its inhabitants reside in clusters of cities where they toil in a strict class system maintained by the wealthy and the Enforcement, which imposes law and order. Travel between the cities—even the clustered ones, is limited; protests and riots by the poor are common; and any potential rebellion made all the difficult by limited access to arms and armour. However nomads do survive in the desert wastelands and smugglers conduct trade off world and between the cities. Guidelines are suggested for finding a home base for the Player Characters, hiring followers, income and prices for vehicles and other equipment, and multiple group combat. The inference here is that the Player Characters establish a base on world and then attempt to overthrow the various cities’ governments or become a criminal network, and so on. It is an intriguing campaign set-up, although not fully realised in terms of the setting here as descriptions of the world’s factions are saved for the next part of ‘Tora’. This though is a solid introduction which has a Mad Max/Blake’s 7 feel and it should all come together with the next part.

Physically,The Warlock Returns #01;is a bit rough around the edges. Although the layout is okay, much of the magazine would benefit from better editing—why every occurrence of the letter ‘l’ is in bold boggles the eyes, let alone the mind. The artwork is decent though.

The Warlock Returns #01 sits at that point between fanzine and proper magazine. It is more a ‘prozine’ than a magazine. There is a certain scrappiness to it and much of it needs an edit to really make the contents easier for the Director to use. It is though a first issue, and its problems can be put down to that. Hopefully, The Warlock Returns #02 will be better in terms of design and presentation. Nevertheless, The Warlock Returns #01 is worth the time to read through and check out its content if you a fan of Advanced Fighting Fantasy and especially so if you are a Director of Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

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