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

Saturday 30 March 2024

[Fanzine Focus XXXIV] Grogzilla #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 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 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, there are still fanzines being published which cover a variety of different roleplaying games, such as Grogzilla. This is published by D101 Games, best known for the OpenQuest roleplaying game and the Glorantha fanzine, Hearts in Glorantha. It is undeniably a showcase for what the publisher does and is full of ideas and bits and pieces, some of which are silly, some useful, and some interesting.

Grogzilla #2 – Son of Grogzilla! was published in October, 2021, as part of ZineQuest #3 and following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Its tone is distinctly less silly than Grogzilla #1, and its pages contain a good mix of the playable and the interesting. The issue opens with ‘A Slight Return’, a scenario for Monkey: The Role-Playing Game, the action-packed storytelling roleplaying game based upon the Chinese Classic, The Journey to the West, and of course, the television series, which tell of the heroic journey of the Monkey King and his companions, Pigsy, Sandy and Tripitaka through the vibrant world of Chinese folk religion. Monkey: The Role-Playing Game is a lot of fun and allows the players to both roleplay the Monkey King and his companions, or create characters of their own. ‘A Slight Return’ is designed to be run with the latter rather than the former. It is an introductory scenario, which can be used as a one-shot or a convention scenario. It opens with the Monkey King having made a mess across all of Creation in his rebellion against the Heavenly Authorities. It is the job of the Player Characters as disgraced minor Immortals and the appointed inter-Ministry clean-up crew, to tidy everything up and put it back as it was. The Player Characters will find themselves cleaning up the trickster’s poo left on the Register of the Dead, rescuing someone sent to Hell, fix a mountain whose top he lopped off, and more. It is a fun, picaresque little adventure and should be fun to both play and run.

Monkey: The Role-Playing Game is also the subject of the second entry in the fanzine. ‘The Ten-Minute Monkey Setup’ is designed to work with ‘A Slight Return’ or any time that a Game Master is running Monkey: The Role-Playing Game at a convention. It is written in response to a comment from the doyen of Games on Demand, Lloyd Gyan, that the designer’s explanation of the background to Monkey: The Role-Playing Game prior to running it at a convention was too long. It distils the background and set-up to just two pages as well as suggesting what to leave out. Clear and concise, it is the sort of thing that every roleplaying game should have.

‘Summerset: The Heart of Angland’ introduces a setting for 13th Age, the roleplaying game from Pelgrane Press which combines the best elements of both Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition and Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition to give high action combat, strong narrative ties, and exciting play. The setting takes place in Summerset, between the Red Castle in the north and Glasteenbury in the south, the most magical area in all of the Kingdom of Angland. It combines Arthurian legend with elements of the War of the Roses and the dark Satanic mills of the North some six centuries after the Romanous Empire withdrew from the country, five centuries after King Arthur I united the peoples of Angland, and five years after the end of The Rose War between the Nobles of Lankshire and the Nobles of Yirkshire in the Grim North. It gives a short history of the setting, a guide to its leading notables—they are the Icons of Angland which the Player Characters will be associated with, for good or ill, and its various locations. There is actually quite a lot of detail here and this is a solidly decent introduction to the setting. All that is really missing is a page or so of hooks that the Game Master could develop into scenarios.

The second scenario in Grogzilla #2 is ‘More Metal Than You’ll Ever Live to Be!’. This is designed for use with three to six Player Characters of Second and Third Level, for use with either Crypts & Things or Swords Against the Shroud. However, it would work with any number of other retroclones. It describes a crypt that was once the metallic body of the dead insect god, Anack’doska, hollowed by his evil cultists, who then developed amazing arms and armour before turning on themselves and wiping out the cult. There is said to be a great still left within the complex. Located under a volcano means that the tunnels and caves have a sulphurous quality and scattered throughout the complex are a number of metallic statues and ‘constructs’. The dungeon is serviceable and playable, but nothing more than that. It is the least interesting entry in the fanzine.

‘Welcome to Slumberland’ is the first of three entries in Grogzilla #2 devoted to Slumberland, a proposed roleplaying game of ‘Sleepy Horror’ using the mechanics of Liminal. It has a roughly Elizabethan feel and distinct North of England tones combined with a rural distrust of outsiders and especially anyone from the South. In Slumberland, the Player Characters are Wanderers, rootless adventurers sent by a Merciful Monarch, Queen Nell, to the edge of her Queendom to help the residents of Slumberland. The mistrustful inhabitants refuse to accept the interloping Wanderers as ‘locals’, restricting where they can sleep or what residence they can own, until they have earned some ‘Respect’. This is done by carrying various tasks and jobs too dangerous for ordinary folk. In other words, doing the typical adventuring things. ‘Respect’ is included as a new stat in Slumberland, representing the Wanderers’ interaction with the locals, whilst ‘Rest’ replaces Will in Liminal. A Wanderer with a high Rest is calm and collected, but with a low Rest is irritable and unpredictable, yet is at an advantage when interacting with the Dreaming, the magical realm that pervades Slumberland.

‘Welcome to Slumberland’ includes a guide to the area, its places, including the River Slumber, which sends anyone who falls into it asleep and an Underworld of failed routes under the mountain now filled with monsters. Important things include Tea and Slow Gin, and horrors include undead horrors like the Barrow Wrongs and night horrors found under the bed and in the closet. There is also a lengthy guide to Slumberish, the dialect of the region. ‘Welcome to Slumberland’ has an intentionally odd bucolic feel, set in Tudor England, but it does veer into regional stereotypes at times.

‘The Slumberland Hack’, the middle article presents the changes to the Liminal rules to run Slumberland as a setting. This includes rules for Rest, weapon and armour as Slumberland is a fantasy setting, and new skills, concepts like the Royal Guard, Spy, Templar, and Field Magician, and Limitations such as ‘Servant of the Crown’ meaning that the Player Character has sworn an oath to serve Queen Nell and takes it very, very seriously. The new Limitation, ‘Royal College Field Magician’ grants access to a handful of spells, which cost Rest to cast, whilst ‘Order of the Solemn Temple Liturgist’ provides divine powers. Of note is the magic spell, Slumber. Which specifically affects a target’s Rest and can put a mob to sleep. Overall, the changes make sense, though there is no mechanical explanation for ‘Rest’.

‘The Tunnel to Slumberland’, the third article dedicated to Slumberland, is an introductory scenario designed to get the Player Characters there. Every thirty years the monarch of the Realm is obliged to send aid to the North, ‘Agents of Mercy. In this case, it is the Wanderers, or Player Characters, who are sent north from Crystal City by good Queen Nell. Their route will be via a tunnel to avoid Spider Wood which has been taken over by the Darkness. Built by Dwarves and managed in part by Master of Royal Works in the north, Bob Dibner, the southern tunnel entrance is in Cheese Gorge. The adventure is a series of linked encounters in the tunnel and will get the Wanderers to the North at the least. After that, the Game Master will need to develop her own adventures.

Overall, Slumberland is fun if slightly silly, British readers of a certain age being able to spot the jokes and references. There is a lot more to be revealed about Slumberland—if it ever appears—but this trio of articles is an enjoyable, if slightly messy introduction. Were it not for the use of the Liminal rules, Slumberland feels as if it could be slotted into the Midderlands setting from Monkey Blond design.

The last article in Grogzilla #2 is one last bit of silliness. ‘The Secret of the Grogdice’ is inspired by Grogmeet, the annual convention organised by The Grognard Files, a North of England podcast dedicated to the games of the late seventies and early eighties. Specifically, it is what the author uses his ‘Grogdie’—a six-sided die given to Game Masters for the event, which has The Grognard Files icon on the number six face of the die—for in play. Essentially, it provides a quick and dirty table to roll on for spicing up play. It does not actually require a Grogdie and would work with any die with a different face to the usual six.

Physically, Grogzilla #2 is clean and simple. It is easy to read and the illustrations are decent. It is a little rough around the edges in places and it does need an edit in others.

Grogzilla #2 has a lot of playable content. The scenario for Monkey: The Role-Playing Game is excellent and a lot of fun, whilst with ‘Summerset: The Heart of Angland’ and ‘Welcome to Slumberland’ the fanzine introduces a pair of interesting settings that do leave the reader wanting more. However, it is disappointing to see neither of them yet fully developed, so the Game Master is on her own until they are. Nevertheless, Grogzilla #2 is an entertaining read that captures a certain Englishness.


  1. Thanks for the review. If I didn't have a Grogzilla mug, courtesy of Redbubble) I think it would get overlooked in favour of my bigger releases.

    Out of interest if I was to fully develop one of the settings you lament not being more fleshed out, which would it be? Slumberland or Summerset?

  2. Thank you for taking the time to both read and comment on the review. Grogzilla #2 got list in the mix of fanzines, otherwise I would have got to it sooner. Of the settings, I like Summerset more than I do Slumberland, but Slumberland is the more interesting and so that would be my choice for development.

    1. Slumberland it is, or Slumberfield as its going to get renamed (there's a big studio film now).

      Plan is to work up the game (which is 75% there), have the adventure Grogzilla as an intro/lead in, and present Slumberfield and the surrounding lands as a hex-crawl - or should that be a sleepcrawl ;)