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

Saturday 30 March 2024

[Fanzine Focus XXXIV] The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 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. Then there is also Old School Essentials.

The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2 continues the description of the ‘Lost World’ setting begun in The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1, detailing a plateau only whispered of lying deep in the southern jungles for use with Old School Essentials. Unfortunately, the first issue of the fanzine was an unbalanced affair, dividing its attention between some evocative Classes for Player Characters and NPCs residing on the plateau and a adventure to get Player Characters from the lands of civilisation to the north onto the plateau. The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2 presents the various social groupings atop the plateau. These consist of ten tribes, six humanoid tribes, and four kingdoms. The ten tribes are hunters and gatherers, and fairly small. Each is given a page that lists their (Present Social) Structure, Relationships, Weapons, and Cultural and Ethnic Aspects. The Present Social Structure breaks down their numbers, the Relationships notes connections to other tribes, and the Cultural and Ethnic Aspects. The descriptions vary wildly in length and thus detail. For example, ‘The Aasai’, skilled hunters and trap makers, is only accorded half a page, and note the tribe is dominated by a shamanic council, number roughly thirty, and its members paint their hair red, stretch their ears, and make statues to various dinosaur deities. The Hazda tribe is give three quarters of a page. They are skilled scouts and explorers and know the plateau very well, its members include eight scouts, and they believe that after death, the soul transforms into a tree, so worship the whole jungle across the plateau as their ancestors, believe that the world was created by a giant Megaloceros known as Ksitu and build bone towers in their camps to him, and use a flower extract as eyedrops to increase tribe members’ physical and spiritual perception. There is this constant fluctuation from one tribe to the next in terms of content and detail or lack of it, including the relationships between tribes. In too many cases, it is simply stated that a tribe is in an ethnic conflict or has problems with another, but not why. There is a lot of variation between the tribes, but too many feel underdeveloped, especially if the Game Master and her players want to use them in conjunction with the character Classes given in The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1.

The six humanoid tribes are all treated as monsters rather than Player Characters and NPCs which could use the Classes given in The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2. Like the human tribes, they are given a page that lists their Social Structure, Relationships, Weapons, and Cultural and Ethnic Aspects. Added to this is a table of names. This is done for each of the six humanoid tribes, leaving the Game Master why something similar was not include for the ten other tribes? There appears to be greater numbers of them, and they include Neanderthals, what could be apes, and what could be Orcs. Unlike the description of the ten tribes, which includes an illustration, few of the descriptions of the humanoid tribes do. This is a fundamental failing, because these are essentially monster tribes in the Kalunga Plateau setting and the Game Master has no idea what they look like.

‘The Four Great Kingdoms’ presents a similar treatment of the organised kingdoms in the south of the plateau, one of which is found underground. Each is given a two-page spread, which lists its Crops and Livestock, Language, Social Structure, Economic Structure, Religion, Population and Hierarchy, and war Technology. The entries are longer, but typically most of the second page is taken with a single large illustration. To call them kingdoms is a misnomer, since each only has the town. That said, why not name that town and mark it on the map? Also, why is there no description of the towns? No simple description of what the kingdom is? No mention of the relationships between the kingdoms or between the kingdoms and the various tribes—both human and humanoid? For example, the Anuunaki have vertical farms in the black dirt walls of cliffs, where they also having breeding huts for the pterodactyls which they ride, but this is listed under Crops and Livestock. Okay, yes, the pterodactyls are technically livestock, but surely one of the leading facts about the kingdom is that it raises pterodactyls which are then ridden? That should be upfront and not buried in a section on farming, and ignores the fact that the entry on the Anuunaki does not tell the reader what they are used for. It does show in the accompanying illustration, but that is not the point. So, whilst there is a lot of good description given for the four kingdoms, the fundamentals are still missing and the information is poorly organised.

Although the four kingdoms described, there are no guidelines on creating either Player Characters or NPCs from any one of the four. This partly negates their use until more information is provided, but certainly space could have been made in the pages of the fanzine given that so much space is devoted to artwork that takes up almost whole pages.

Lastly, in ‘Creed’ examines some of the gods and spiritual beings attracted to the plateau and worshipped there. That worship is more formalised in the Southern Kingdoms, but in each case gives the entity’s Spiritual Form, Physical Form, Behaviour, Interests Over the Plateau, Offerings, Shaman’s Clothes, and Symbol Made on the Floor. The latter describes how the symbol is made, for example, that of Agwessu, ‘Master of the Lakes and the River’, must be made with the powder of dried fish scales, but not why. Where the tribes see them as animistic beings, the shaman of the southern kingdoms call them ‘Baghvãs’ and allow them to manifest in their own bodies. Besides the main pantheon, there is a list of minor ‘Baghvãs’ too. What really is not explored is what the shaman gets out of all of this.

Physically, The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2 is well presented. The artwork and the cartography are both decent. The fanzine is overwritten and slightly heavy going, and in need of a good edit.

The problem with The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 2 is not just that its contents vary between the not very interesting, the poorly explained, and the unanswered questions, but that it avoids the interesting parts of the setting. The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 1 described how 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. This, plus the combination of dinosaurs and the Lost World, is what is interesting about The Kalunga Plateau as a setting. Yet two issues in and none of that is explored or examined, leaving the would-be Game Master waiting for what is essentially, the good bits. Hopefully, some of that will be explored in The Kalunga Plateau – Issue 3, but in the meantime, The Kalunga Plateau as a fanzine is beginning to feel like a partwork in which all of the interesting and playable content has been saved for much later issues.

No comments:

Post a Comment