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Friday 7 April 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXI] Crawling Under A Broken Moon Issue No. 1

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. Another popular choice of system for fanzines, is Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, such as Crawl! and Crawling Under a Broken Moon. Some of these fanzines provide fantasy support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but others explore other genres for use with Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game. One such fanzine is the aforementioned Crawling Under A Broken Moon.

Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1 was published in in June, 2014 by Shield of Faith Studios. It introduced the post-apocalyptic setting of Umerica and Urth, which would go on to be presented in more detail in The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide, now distributed by Goodman Games. This provides the setting’s first details of a world brought about after a rogue object from deep space passed between the Earth and the Moon and ripped apart time and space, leaving behind a planet which would recover and it inhabitants ruled by savagery, cruel sorcery, and twisted science. ‘Welcome to Umerica’ introduces the setting and the ideas behind it properly, exploring its themes—the world is fragmented and strange, very little is new, and advanced science is as rare and as frightening as powerful sorcery, and presents the setting’s first table. This is ‘Table DDD: Found Item Condition Table’, which enforces the idea that very little is new. Then it quickly leaps into the first of the setting’s character Classes. This is the Technologist, which is good at Tinkering, including with weapons, robots, computers, and other devices. He gains different bonuses for tinkering with each depending upon his Alignment. For example, the Class has better bonuses for Weapon Tinkering rather than Computer Use, Vehicle Repair, or General Tech. The Class also receives a ‘Use Alien Tech’ Die which works similar to that of the Action Die in Dungeon Crawl Classics, and again, this varies according to the Player Character’s Alignment. The Technologist Class is rounded out with a set of tables to roll on whenever a Tinkering check is fumbled.

Part-engineer/part-repairman/part-scientist, the Technologist is a really good Class. It gives the Player Character a great deal to do and the player lots of ways in which to interact with an aspect of the setting. In general, Player Characters in the setting know what technology is, and even if not everyone knows how any one item actually works, they often have an idea of how it is operated. The Technologist takes this a step further and embraces it fully.

‘Weapons of the Wastelands’ draws from articles previously presented in Crawl! No. 8: Firearms! to provide rules for their use in the Umerica setting. It breaks guns down into four eras—primitive, Western-era, Modern-era, and Futuristic—and provides rules for gunsmithing for each era as well as a table of weapons in the game. Like much of the rest of Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1, these will work in most Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game settings.

The ’Twisted Menagerie’ is a short bestiary of creatures and species for the setting and has four entries. The Sharkhana are descendants of humanoid shock troops engineered by an alien race and since abandoned after their creators were wiped out by a virus. They now live a nomadic existence, driven by hunger rather than anything else. So, their reaction to anyone else will depend upon whether or not they have fed lately! The ‘Debris Elemental, Lesser and Greater’ is a Trash Titan, comprised entirely of rubble and rubbish, which can be several storeys tall and stalk the ruined cities of Umerica hunting the living. They have slightly different abilities depending what rubbish they are made of. For example, if rubbery, they have extra reach for their melee attacks, whilst if wrapped in wire, can lash out with it. Sentrybots can be programmed for different purposes, such as pest control or crime patrol. The most fun use is as a programmed bodyguard, the Sentrybot attaching itself to a random Human and protecting that person at all costs, but refusing to take orders. Imagine the fun the Judge can have with this? The last monster is the Lobstrosity, an alien crustacean which eats processed wood (which is one way to get rid of MDF!) and is difficult to stop given its size. However, if one of them can be killed, its meat can be turned into a stew that grants a special ability, which depends upon the colour of the Lobstrosity. For example, a Lobstrosity with a black carapace can spray acid, but a stew made from its meat is the equivalent to imbibing a potion of Giant Strength. All but the three of the four entries in this section are relatively easy to use and introduce to a post-apocalyptic setting, lending themselves readily to Player Character involvement. The Sharkhana are suitable for a post-apocalyptic setting, but the Judge will need to work harder to bring them into play.

Lastly, ‘Interesting Places To Die’ presents locations for the Player Characters to explore. Here there is just the one, ‘Blooms Fashions: a store with clothes to die for’. It describes a fashion store where the mannequins are actually undead underneath the plastic of their bodies, or rather ‘Mannekills’ created by a necromancer operating out of the shopping mall. It is a fun, dark little encounter which is easily added to the campaign and further developed by the Judge.

Physically, Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1 is serviceably presented. It is a little rough around the edges, but overall, it is a decent affair.

The problem with Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1 is that much of its contents have been represented to a more professional standard in the pages of The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide, so it has been superseded. There are several ways in which the Umerica setting can be explored and the fanzine on an individual and thus piecemeal basis is probably not the best. However, this is where the setting has its origins and from here future issues whose content has not been included in the pages of The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide can be looked at—and often looked at in more detail than can be done in a review of that book. Nevertheless, Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1 is a tentative, yet promising beginning to the author’s exploration of Umerica.

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