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Saturday 30 December 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXIII] The Chaos Crier, Issue #0

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 and Old School Essentials. However, other fanzines serve as a vehicle for direct support from the publisher.

The Chaos Crier: An Aperiodical Zine for Black Sword Hack and Other Swords & Sorcery Games, is like the name suggests, a supplement for Black Sword Hack. This is the adaptation of The Black Hack, designed and published by The Merry Mushmen, to emulate the fantasy tales and style of the Eternal Champion—Elric, Corum, et al, by Michael Moorcock.

The Chaos Crier, Issue #0 was published as part of the Kickstarter campaign for the Black Sword Hack. It is a dense, black and white affair, which really provides two items—a pair of scenarios. In the process though, it also details new monsters and a new threat, a dark and evil cult, and a complete city. There is here, enough content here for multiple sessions of gaming, all of which can easily be slotted into the Game Master’s campaign. It opens with Alexandre ‘Kobayashi’ Jeanette’s ‘A Sky Full of Swords’, the first of the two scenarios in the issue. It is a tale of greed and death, as the Player Characters come across the town of Pardesh, where a group of miners have gathered as meteorites crash to the ground in them. The meteorites contain cold iron, each enough to make a brittle weapon that inflicts maximum damage on ghosts, spirits, and the undead, but also enough to make plenty of coin if sold. There is tension in the town because a local astronomer did not warn the townsfolk, but she complains that they did not pay her for the information. If the Player Characters save her from a possible lynching, she might tell them where the next cold iron meteorite will land, but that has its own problems. ‘A Sky Full of Swords’ is a nicely balanced affair, offering a session or two’s worth of play, in which the Player Characters will need to tread carefully as throwing their weight around could get them into trouble.

The two articles that follow specifically support the issue’s second scenario, but can easily have a wider influence upon a Game Master’s campaign. All three are by Olivier ‘Nobboc’ Revenu and all three are of a Lovecraftian bent. ‘The Sons of Dagon’ (also known as The Deep Ones) is a treatment of H.P. Lovecraft’s amphibian fish-like creatures, which gives stats for the Hybrid, Deep One, and Deep old One, as well as detailing the horror of the life of the Hybrid. This is followed by ‘The Black Sun of the Deep’, a nihilistic or apocalyptic faction or cult which serves the forces of Chaos by proliferating the earlier detailed Sons of Dagon, and hiding behind a façade as a conventional cult dedicated to a sea god. It is favoured by sailors and fishermen, the latter benefiting from the bounteous catches of fish. The primary means of spreading its influence is by abducting healthy male Humans, using them as part of their effort to spread their Hybrids, and breeding and substituting them for ordinary Human babies. Full stats are provided for Black Sun cultists, Templars, Deep Infiltrators, Priests, and so on. All of which as the Sons of Dagon appear in the scenario that follows.

‘The Darkness over Nijmauwrgen’ presents a complete city and scenario for the Player Characters to explore. Sat in a cleft on the coast with a reef just off the shore, Nijmauwrgen is a port and fishing city that has fallen into the clutches of the Black Sun of the Deep cult. Designed for Player Characters of Second to Fifth Level, they may be drawn to Nijmauwrgen by a request for aid by Alcantor of Zysifus—who appeared in the scenario, ‘The Blood God’, in the Black Sword Hack—or they might even be hired to find him by the Black Sun of the Deep cult. Other hooks are provided, but for the most part, the scenario is plotted around Alcantor’s desperate need to find a lost weapon. What the Player Characters discover in the free-state city is a port known for its abundant fishing, the sullenness of its inhabitants with their bulbous eyes, scaly skin, and webbed hands, gloomy by day and worse by night, its streets bustling by day, but empty and haunted by night by ghastly fish-eyed creatures that come from the harbour and skulk in the long shadows. There is a distinct Dutch feel to the city, especially in the names used for possible NPCs, each of the various forty or locations being described in some detail, with the two places important to the overall plot being fully detailed. This is backed up with a big table of events and encounters and events during the day, and a smaller table for during the day. Then to push the plot along, the scenario adds an ‘Anonymity Die’, a Utility Die which is rolled whenever the Player Characters investigate and ask questions that might attract the attention of the Black Sun of the Deep cult. As it is rolled and stepped down, it brings the Player Characters ever closer to being hunted and it also triggers other events too. It is a clever timing mechanic. Overall, there is a lot for the Player Characters to do and explore in Nijmauwrgen even they do not engage in the actual plot. In preparation, the Game Master is advised to give ‘The Darkness over Nijmauwrgen’ the one single, thorough read through, and then run from the page as it goes along. However, she does decide to run it, the combination of the Eternal Champion meets H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is gloom-laden, fish breath delight.

Rounding out The Chaos Crier, Issue #0 is ‘Shanizar’s Bazaar’, also by Olivier ‘Nobboc’ Revenu, adds a strange establishment down a dead end street, where the voice of the proprietor can guides the shopper through his merchandise, weird and wonderful, like the Mantle of the Stars, a shimmer cloak of stars as good as any armour—under the night sky only, and a Ceramic Parrot capable of repeating everything said to it in the last hour. Shanizar offers other services too, but at a much, higher price. Then on the last page is Tales of the Dull Lotus #247, James V. West’s comic highlighting the worst that runic weapons have to offer…

Physically, The Chaos Crier, Issue #0 is ably presented. It is busy in places, but artwork is excellent.

The Chaos Crier, Issue #0 is a very good first issue of ‘An Aperiodical Zine for Black Sword Hack and Other Swords & Sorcery Games’. It provides excellent support for the Black Sword Hack and every Black Sword Hack Game Master should have this, and The Merry Mushmen should definitely publish more like this.

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