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Friday 7 April 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXI] Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01

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. Same fanzines though are not written for a specific roleplaying game or roleplaying games, but are instead about roleplaying and the hobby.

Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 was published in September 2019, originally by Highmoon Press, but now by Lightspress Media. It comes with the tag line, “Play / Design / Create/ Discuss Roleplaying Games” aims to provide short essays, small games, new rules and settings, fiction, and ideas, emphasising roleplaying games as a hobby and art form. The issue does include some gameable content in the form of ‘1d6 Items Found in the First Room of a Dungeon, Six out-of-the-ordinary items found right as adventurers enter a dungeon to fuel further adventures.’ This is a table of items to be found in a dungeon and so would work with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition as much as it would Old School Essentials or The King of Dungeons. There are some entertaining items on the list such as a burning lamp still found gripped in the hand of a dead adventurer which is actually fueled by the wielder’s life force or the constantly talking skull of a goblin which promises to guide the Player Characters to where the goblin tribes have hidden their hoards of gold and gems. These are inventive, seriously play affecting items that will influence and change how the opening scenes and more are likely to be played out as the Player Characters begin their exploration of the dungeon… They are all systems agnostic so easily adapted to the rules systems of the Game Master’s choice. However, this table and its contents are not only the issue’s only games content, but they do also feel like afterthought, tucked away at the back of the issue.

The bulk of Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 instead very much focuses on t0he ‘Discuss Roleplaying Games’ part of that tag line with the lengthy, ‘31 Days Thinking About Games’. This is inspired by #RPGaDay, the annual event first run by David F Chapman in 2014. Throughout the month of August, Chapman asks a question—or in more recent times sets a prompt—intended to encourage people to think and discuss roleplaying games and their ideas and thoughts about them. In the almost a decade since it began, Chapman has asked over two hundred and fifty questions. ‘31 Days Thinking About Games’ in particular, is inspired by #RPGaDay2019. Rather than asking questions, Chapman posed prompts, beginning with ‘First’ and ‘Last’, but taking in terms as diverse as ‘Space’, ‘Ancient’, ‘Guide’, ‘Vast’, ‘Love’, and more along the way. ‘31 Days Thinking About Games’ collects the author’s answers.

The author begins with ‘First’ and his first Gen Con, reflecting upon his time there, and it is a subject he returns to, not as an attendee, but rather experiencing Gen Con 2019 vicariously through social media. He highlights the similarity between this and his last experience, in games such as Dungeons & Dragons, but focuses on the changes between the two, how much was unfamiliar to him—cosplay, the role of Critical Role, yet comes to conclusion that this is a good thing. In response to ‘Mystery’ he discusses its role in fantasy games, how the role of the Dungeon Master made him powerful because she held all the information that she could reveal to her players little by little almost as if they had to earn it. That was the past, whereas now he disagrees with this method and wants to see how the players and the characters use the information they learn. For ‘Guide’ he suggests that the role for Game Master is similar to that of the tour guide, drawing parallels between the roles after having done research on how to become a tour guide. This is more interesting in discovering what the role of the tour guide is, because as gamers, we have a good idea of what the role of the Game Master entails.

Elsewhere ‘Door’ allows the author to explore a little of the city of Cincinnati with its stairs that go up hills to nowhere, castle tower-like water towers, and doors on the side of hills and wonder what it would be like as a setting for Changeling: The Dreaming, a roleplaying game that is a personal favourite. It would be fascinating for the author to follow up this one entry in the fanzine with articles dedicated to a version of Cincinnati for Changeling: The Dreaming, or indeed, an urban fantasy RPG. There are some lovely memories too, such as for ‘Surprise’ when a player flummoxed the author by running away from an encounter with a dragon and working out how to get the player involved in the adventure, and for ‘Love’, how a love triangle played out in a campaign. These memories are the longer pieces in the fanzine and given the range of prompts that the author is responding to, the entries can be hit or miss, but these are certainly the most engaging.

Physically, Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 is decently presented. The layout is clean, tidy, and very lightly illustrated. The wraparound cover is thematically appropriate.

Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 is a ruminative affair that does not really offer very much for the casual gamer. There are some nice ideas in here for Changeling: The Dreaming, for example, but this a personal fanzine about a gamer coming out of the ‘deep freeze’—the long period when a gamer is not playing—and finding his way back into the hobby. What makes it interesting is that it is inspired by a global roleplaying event, that is, #RPGaDay. The responses of most participants are posted online to be lost to the churning morass of social media. Consequently, it is rare to see such responses written and even in a small way, recorded for posterity. Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 records the almost random thoughts of a gamer coming back to the hobby and responding to what he finds. In doing so, Zine of Wondrous Power Volume 01, Issue 01 captures an experience that many a gamer goes through, but rarely write down.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to do a review. I hope you also check out three other issues of the zine.