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

Saturday 30 December 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXIII] The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1

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. Then there is also Old School Essentials.

The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1
is the beginning of a ‘Lost World’ setting, detailing a plateau only whispered of lying deep in the southern jungles, Classes for the tribesmen atop the plateau and the surrounding area, Invocations, and a scenario designed to get the Player Characters up onto the plateau itself. ‘The Kalunga Plateau’ opens with an overview of the plateau and some rumours with which the Game Master can seed her campaign. ‘The Setting’ explains a bit more, that the Plateau was once home to an alien civilisation whose presence was destroyed when an enormous sphere hit the planet. The sphere still remains, buried deep in the earth under the plateau that its impact threw up. What ruins remain are regarded by the current inhabitants of the Plateau as having been built by the gods. It then quickly settles down to present the first of three new Classes.

‘The Hunter’ specialises in the hunting and trapping of animals to feed the tribe. It gains points in the skills of Climb, Stealth, Bushcraft, Booby Trap, Sneak, and Tame. The latter is used to domesticate animals, whilst Bushcraft is used to handle survival in the jungle. The Hunter inflicts increased damage as the Class gains Levels, reflecting greater skill at killing creatures cleanly, and gains greater skill when working with fellow Hunters. ‘The Shaman’ can recognise the divine aura of another Shaman, makes for a poor combatant, and can conjure Invocations, such as Animal Spirit, Heal Wounds, Sleep, Feel the Evil, and so on. These are detailed separately in ‘Primal Invocations’. ‘The Combatant’ is the tribal warrior, which gains an attack bonus and can use all weapons. All three Classes are simple and straightforward, with the Hunter being the most complex. If there is an issue with the Classes, it is that they do not offer much in the way of choice to differentiate between one Player Character and the next. ‘Experience’ lists options for gaining Experience, such as killing dangerous enemies and creatures, surviving attacks, and exploration. ‘Gear, Weapons, and Coin’ gives a list of the prices for various items in the South Kingdoms, although without naming actual kingdoms. That and their details are promised for The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2.

Almost half of The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1 is dedicated to a single scenario, ‘Journey to an Unknown Land’. This is designed to get standard type Player Characters from their ‘civilised’ lands of the north to South Kingdoms and from there into the jungle and up onto the Plateau. It presents several hooks to get them interested and then details the journey south to the Last Sip Inn. With the help of a guide—who exacts a high price—they can then follow the Bone Road to the Plateau. Once atop the Plateau, they are first chased by a tyrannosaurus rex and then rescued by a tribesman. His tribe will offer refuge, but in return for gaining its trust, the Player Characters must perform a task for its shaman. They must recover an artefact from the nearby Cave of Pain. It is a fairly deadly dungeon, linear, but if the Player Characters succeed, they will gain the trust of the tribe and be released to explore the Plateau further. Likewise, the adventure is linear itself, without any room for the Player Characters to do anything other than follow the plot.

The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1 does not really achieve what it wants to do. Essentially, there is not enough attention paid to the Plateau itself and too much attention is paid to getting Player Characters from elsewhere to the Plateau with the linear and limited adventure, ‘Journey to an Unknown Land’, whereas attention is paid to Classes, native to both the Plateau and the surrounding jungle, which cannot be used in conjunction with the rest of the content. It leaves the first issue unfocused. For example, only the one monster—the tyrannosaurus rex—is given for atop the Plateau, the rest either being in the cave of the adventure or on the route to the Plateau. Then the description of the Plateau never amounts to more than an overview, so that the Game Master is never really given a good feel for it.

Physically, The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1 is well presented. The artwork and the cartography are both decent. The fanzine is overwritten and slightly heavy going.

As a first issue, The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1 is disappointing. There is good content within its pages, such as the Classes—despite their limitations, and the Invocations for the Shaman, but the rest feels randomly chosen so as not support the other. Fundamentally, the inclusion of the adventure, ‘Journey to an Unknown Land’, was a mistake. It could and should, have been saved for a later issue, when perhaps the author can focus on getting the Player Characters from elsewhere to the Plateau. Instead, that space could have been better devoted to developing and presenting the Kalunga Plateau as a playable addition for the Game Master’s campaign. Perhaps this will change with The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2.

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