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Monday 10 April 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXI] Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules

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 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 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. Another popular choice of system for fanzines, is Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, seen in titles such as Crawl! One notable feature of the range of fanzines for Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game is that they often support and showcase the settings and campaigns created by their authors. Crawl Under a Broken Moon, for example, details a post-apocalyptic setting which would be collated in the pages of the Goodman Games distributed The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide, whilst Ghostlike Crime #01, One of Us, Ninja City, and Black Powder, Black Magic: A ’Zine of Six-Guns and Sorcery Volume 1 all explored familiar genres of their own for the mechanics of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game.

Similarly, Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules supports a very familiar genre, one that has much in common with Ninja City. One of the cultural hits of the eighties was the indie comic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then for roleplaying, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness roleplaying game, published by Palladium Books. Bronx Beasts provides the rules to create and play bizarre mutant animal characters in wild eighties urban action, much in the mode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but written of course, for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. In fact, not so much in the mode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, but exactly like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness. R
epublished via a Kickstarter campaign as part of ZineQuest #3 by Bronx Beasts, Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules provides the rules to create anthropomorphic animals and mutate and modify them, and then the rules for playing them.

Character creation in Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules is built around a series of tables. Beast Origin is random mutation or deliberate experimentation. Determined randomly, if the former, the player rolls on the Random Mutation Experience Table’, but if the latter, he rolls on the ‘Deliberate Experimentation Origin Table’. The results for this are further tables for ‘Biological Research Origin Experience’, ‘Military Origin Experience’, ‘Criminal Origin Experience’, or ‘Special Interest Origin Experience’. None of these add stat bonuses or other benefits, instead simply creating elements of the Player Character’s background. The ‘Beast Type’ table provides a hundred entries, from aardvark, alligator, and ape to wolf, wolverine, and zebra. None are described, so the player will need to do some further reading, but in the main, these animals are all familiar and easy to read up about. ‘Beast Size’ does modify the character, adjusting Armour Class, Strength and melee check die, Hide and Sneak die, Hit Dice, Movement, and weight. Bigger creatures will have lower Armour Class and Hide and Sneak die, but everything else will be higher.

The player is then free to adjust the ‘Beast Form’ of his animal character, shifting his speech, legs, hands, and looks to be more human-like or more animal-like. Either full, partial, or none, these are randomly determined and adjusted by expending Evolution Points. These can also be spent to change a Beast’s size, for example, to play a larger mouse or smaller elephant, add abilities such as a prehensile tail, natural weapons or natural armour, and better movement. These are not hard and fast rules, so instead the player and Judge will need to work together to create Beast-type character that fits the style and setting of the genre. Otherwise, character creation follows the standard rules for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, although Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules does have its own ‘Lucky Signs’ table.

Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules does not provide any new Classes. In fact, a Beast has no Class, and instead, a player can choose between increasing his character’s Base Attack Modifier or Saving Throws Level by Level. In terms of game play, Beasts are Lucky. They always have a bonus on the Lucky Sign and they both benefit and suffer from Fleeting Luck. One way of gaining Fleeting Luck is for the Beast to give into his animalistic urges, typically in socially or intellectually challenging situations. If the player declines the offer of Fleeting Luck in return for his Beast succumbing to his urges, a Beast Check against Personality or Intelligence is required to overcome them. A Player can also do ‘Fur Burn’ or temporarily burn points of Personality or Intelligence to gain a modifier to die rolls. The last big change is to the rules for Armour Class, which is based on Reflex, Beast Size, and any shield carried. Armour is represented by a die and is instead rolled to soak damage. The armour worn is damaged and steps down a die size any time a one is rolled on the Armour Die. The rules for armour use are similar to those for The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide, but not as developed.

Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules ends with an announcement of what is in the next issue. This includes an adventure against a criminal ninja gang and ‘Natural Weapon Crit Tables’ amongst other things. It would have been useful to have had the latter in the pages of Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules to make it more versatile.

Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules is well presented. The artwork has a certain rough quality, but is as cartoonish as you would expect.

As standalone product Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules can be played as is, but it feels incomplete. Certainly, the ‘Natural Weapon Crit Tables’ would have rounded it out. However, plug the pages of Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules into another setting or genre and the content comes alive. Take it into the post apocalypse of The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide for possible mutant action or throw it down alongside Ninja City for some real new York eighties action, and
Bronx Beasts Volume 1: Games Rules feels right at home.

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