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Friday 22 December 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXIII] Crawling Under A Broken Moon Issue No. 3

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 1970sDungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Travellerbut 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. 3 was published in in October, 2014 by Shield of Faith Studios. It followed on from Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 1 which introduced the post-apocalyptic setting of Umerica and Urth, and Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 2, which added further Classes, monsters, and weapons. The setting has, of course, gone on to be presented in more detail in The Umerican Survival Guide – Core Setting Guide, now distributed by Goodman Games. The setting itself is 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. Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 3 is direct and simple. It contains three articles, one the means to create Player Characters for Umerica and Urth, the second a scenario for them to play, and the third a bestiary. What the Player Characters created by the first article in the pages of the fanzine will be is Zero Level characters and they will be used to play is the Character Funnel in the second article, which will be populated by the contents of the third.

The Character Funnel is a signature feature of Dungeon Crawl Classics, a scenario specifically designed for Zero Level Player Characters in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. Creating such Zero Level Player Characters is the point of the first article, ‘Radioactive Wasters’. For this, each player rolls four sets of attributes, birth augers, and lucky rolls as normal for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, but then rolls for Occupation, Race, and Random Equipment for each Zero Level character. So the Player Character might end up being a Biker with a Length of Chain and a Leather Jacket as his equipment, wandering around the post-apocalyptic world of Umerica, equipped with an insulated thermos, a cast Dutch oven, and a citronella candle. He can also be Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Mutant, or Robot, although this is optional, and the Game Master will need access to Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 2 for details of the Mutant character Class. Apart from perhaps wanting a bigger table of equipment, ‘Radioactive Wasters’ does exactly what it supposed do, which is to provide the means to provide Player Characters suitable for the Character Funnel and provide background details for Player Characters in the setting in general.

The second entry in Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 3 is much longer. The Mall Maul’, as its title suggests, is a scenario set in that most classic of post-apocalyptic American settings—the mall. After all, think of the films, Logan’s Run, which is filmed in the Apparel Mart at the Dallas Market Center, and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the survivors hole up in a shopping mall following a zombie uprising. The mundane setting of the scenario means that it feels not too dissimilar to that of ‘Rite of Passage’, the scenario found in Gamma World, Second Edition. The background to ‘The Mall Maul’ is that the inhabitants of the village of Neuqua finds themselves in a desperate situation. Due to a mixture of bad decisions and bad weather, the village lacks the sufficient resources to pay tribute it owes to a nearby settlement. With nowhere else to go, its leaders suggest that they turn to the one last place they have not yet scavenged, but have to date been warned against venturing into and nobody has ever returned from exploring—a nearby ancient mall.

Designed for a party of sixteen to twenty-four Zero Level Player Characters,
‘The Mall Maul’ is two things. First, it is a big dungeon, running to some forty or so locations on the upper level and another seven on the lower level. The mall is occupied by two factions. One is the inventively named Mallocks, whose aversion to bright light means they rarely leave the mall and who are very good at laying traps and handling bugs to use as weapons and as part of their traps. The other are the Pigtipedes, boar-like creatures with a hundred legs and a voracious appetite. They are not the only denizens of the mall, but in the main, the Player Characters will be facing a mixture of traps, bug-traps, and bugs, as they rummage through the ruins. The aim for the Player Characters is not to confront the denizens and monsters, but to scavenge enough goods and items to be able to pay off the tribute owed by their village. This will take a lot of work, especially for Zero Level Player Characters, and only become harder as they sustain loses from the traps and encounters in the mall.

The mall also has its secrets—or rather, one secret, and another which the Judge could develop if she planned to use ‘The Mall Maul’ as the starting point for a campaign. The adventure is rough in terms of its plotting, what with the set-up of the bad decisions upon the part of the leaders of the Player Characters’ village and there being no means for the Player Characters to interact with any of the monsters, bar one. There really are no NPCs in the adventure and no other to get through bar exploration and combat. The author does have some fun with the design and naming of the various stores and outlets in the mall, which does add a certain ‘tongue-in-cheek’ tone to the scenario, though in places, the Judge is left to determine various effects and the like.

The third entry in Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 3 is ‘Twisted Menagerie’. This presents the five monsters that appear in the previous ‘The Mall Maul’. Thus there are full stats for the Mallocks, Pigtipede, Trapdoor Toadspider, and the Vendibeast, the latter a soda vending machine distorted into a predatory engine of hunger and rage, which although difficult to kill, actually contains several cans of soda pop that each have a different potion effect. The big monster in ‘Twisted Menagerie’ is the Theszolokomodra, an ancient multi-dimensional being who might hinder a Player Character or help a Player Character depending upon how he interacts with it. There is a possibility that Theszolokomodra could become a Patron for a Player Character. However, details of Theszolokomodra as a Patron are detailed here, but in Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 4.

Physically, Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 3 is serviceably presented. It is a little rough around the edges, as is some of the artwork, but overall, it is a decent affair.

The problem with Crawling Under A Broken Moon Fanzine Issue No. 3 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 and superseded by a cleaner, slicker presentation of the material. Unfortunately, the roughness of the presentation is joined by the roughness of the scenario, and the Judge may want to tailor it to suit her campaign and play style rather then leave as is. Nevertheless, having a first adventure in Umerica, especially a Character Funnel—and tough Character Funnel at that—is a bonus.

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