Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 8 April 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXI] Loviatar No. 2

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 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. However, not every fanzine has to be for the Old School Renaissance.

Loviatar No. 2 was published in September, 2011. Written and published by Christian Walker, it follows on from, and expands upon, Loviatar No. 1, which was written as a response to the Old School Renaissance, but rather as a means to focus the author’s mind when it comes to running fantasy games. That initial issue was not written for any of the then available retroclones, such as Labyrinth Lord or Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay. Instead it is a hybrid between Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, First Edition. Not mechanically, but rather between rules and setting, the author’s campaign being set in the Dungeons & Dragons setting of Forgotten Realms using Pathfinder, First Edition. If that sounds like Loviatar No. 1 was a mongrel of a fanzine, there might be some truth in that, but that is the author’s choice, and anyway, the point of the early gaming fanzines of the nineteen eighties which the modern fanzine revival so heavily draws from, was to present content from the editor’s own campaign world. Which is what the author is doing in the pages of Loviatar No. 1. However, Loviatar No. 2 goes further than simply continuing support for author’s fantasy gaming by providing support for other roleplaying games in fashion not often seen in today’s fanzines, let alone those of 2011.

Loviatar No. 2 carries the tag, “a zine about tabletop role-playing games”, as did the first issue. It did not really apply to that first issue, focusing as it did upon the one roleplaying game, but it certainly apples more to Loviatar No. 2, although this second issue begins where the first left off—with a scenario set in the Forgotten Realms city of Baldur’s Gate, but written for use with Pathfinder, First Edition. ‘Number Three Pigeon Street’ describes another building in the fashion of ‘At the Corner of River Street and Craft Way’ and provides a number of reasons why the Player Characters would want to visit the rundown down dwelling which stinks of bat guano. The first reason is that neighbours of the occupant of the house, the wizard, Thaddeus Blythe, have complained about the bats and the Player Characters have been hired to rid the house and thus the neighbourhood of them. It is simple enough set-up, but the local thieves’ guild has an interest in Thaddeus Blyth and because he refuses to move, then in the house. So it will take an interest in what the Player Characters are doing. The house and its occupants have a seedy, run down feel to them that adds another slice of life to any city-based campaign. Perhaps a bit long, ‘Number Three Pigeon Street’ would work well with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar Boxed Set too. The location includes full stats and descriptions of the NPCs as well every room in the house.

The fanzine then makes a radical change of tone and game style with ‘A Lonely Dance on the Cold, Northern Shore, Part 1’. Inspired by Saint Fina, this is a setting article for the World of Darkness, so specifically designed for storytelling play. It describes the city of Santa Fina, a California town on the Pacific coast astride the mouth of the Russian River, combination of Victorian-era architecture and blue collar industrialisation in decline, it has been designated a sort of retreat for the Kindred of San Francisco. It is also used as a dumping ground for members of the other factions which do not fit with the coteries found in San Francisco or further south in Los Angeles. Often cold and drizzly, the town is only accorded an overview here, the reader having to wait for future issues to explore any of its secrets. Nevertheless, a good start and hopefully worth the wait for the revelations.

The third and final piece in Loviatar No. 2 is ‘Eclipse, Lord of the Mountain’ and it is written for Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS! It describes the giant-like creature called Eclipse whose masters grew him in a vat and assigned him to watch over the small village of Silent Vale and its human inhabitants in the mountains and ensure that they do not explain why. He has no idea why and neither does the article really explain. Nor does it explain who the Masters are. Complete with full stats and details as you would expect for GURPS, Eclipse is and is not a monster. The task he has been set curtails the activities of the humans, but he only follows the rules as he has been programmed to do, so he is not necessarily a monster—though if the rules are broken he does do monstrous things. Eclispe is a really nicely designed NPC and should make for an interesting encounter for the Player Characters, their being none the wiser until the villagers explain how to live under the aegis of the giant so as to not antagonise him. Much like the earlier ‘Number Three Pigeon Street’, this situation is easily adapted to other settings, but the Game Master will need to supply the missing explanation as to who the Masters are.

Physically, Loviatar No. 2 is neat and tidy, and in general, well presented. Artwork is very light, but is fairly heavy in its style, as is the cartography. Photographs are used for the World of Darkness article. The oddity is that again, like Loviatar No. 1, the fanzine does carry a number of adverts for roleplaying games and things, many of them long out of print, even in 2011. These include the Dragonbone electronic dice device, Gen Con XI (from 1976!), and Car Wars. There are far fewer of them this time, so they do not give the fanzine a weird, out of time feel as they did with the first issue.

Loviatar No. 2 is better than Loviatar No. 1, reaching for a surprisingly broad audience. After all, there are few groups who would have played all three of the roleplaying games catered for the pages of the issue. ‘Number Three Pigeon Street’ is still the standout, a run down, slice of life in a seedy city that could still be run today and nobody would question it. The other entries are not as useful, but serviceable in themselves. Overall, Loviatar No. 2 is a good little read.

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