Thursday, 5 June 2014

OSR FANZINES! In Review


With the rise of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) has come the rise of Fanzines and Magazines. I've had a read of Fight On!, Gygax Magazine, Footprints, & Magazine, Nod Magazine, Knockspell, Crawl!, AFS, and Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad. In this post I’m going to give a quick run down and critique of each of these.

Fight On!; I start with Fight On! because its my favourite and I think probably the best. Edited by IG with the help of Calithena and others, this fanzine gives you between typically 80 and 130 pages devoted to Old School roleplaying mostly focused on D&D Basic and OSR games that use a similar rule set.  About 70% of the content is material such as dungeons, cities, monsters or adventure hooks you can drop straight into your game.  Of particular note is the material from Gabor Lux who writes these vivid heavily appendix N adventures. There are on running features such as community mega dungeon that is added to with each issue. The other 30% or so is opinion articles and nostalgic history. I really like this content. Each Issue is dedicated to one of the genres forefathers, Gary Gygax is issue 1, Tom Moldvay is issue 10 etc. Somewhere in each issue is an article written about these individuals. One of the things that grips me about this zine over the others is this sense of will to survive and this notion that the forefathers are dying (quite literally) and what will happen next. Along with the range of authors, both well known such as Tim Kask, and lesser knowns and the art style which ranges from OSR staples like Peter Mullen to numerous amature but brilliant cartoonists the zine has a strong community vibe. Reading it makes me feel like part of this old school rather than just a spectator. The magazine had a hiatus for about 2 years but appears to be up and running again now with the release of the 12th issue.


Rating; The Return of the King





Gygax Magazine; This is a quarterly profession magazine with Luke Gygax at the helm. Unlike every other zine on this list it is professional and this shows in its layout, higher profile authors, and prolific advert content. There are a ton of adverts in this zine. Fight On! has some, as do the others but Gygax goes top. Of course they do have to actually pay their editorial staff. Of the first two issues (the only I've read) about 50% of the content is opinion and reminiscing pieces from back in the day, or speculation on where D&D goes from here. This is interesting, but a bit overwrought. I liked memories Fight On! shared with me, but in part because it was just a little with each issue, here there seems to be little else of substance at times. The first issue has no dungeons, and but one mapped adventure location, a village in a swamp by the notable Michael Curtis. There is an article on Banshees but most of the rest of the magazine is opinion or GM advice. Whilst there is nothing wrong with opinions, too often they seem to be set against my own. An article on D&D next and the evolution of D&D over time is at pains to explain that miniatures were a major part of D&D from the start and that Old school dungeons were deadly because they were designed to be competitive. Possibly true but it doesn’t really gel with me. Gygax isn't actually focused on D&D although this is clearly the core, the second issue opens with a strategy article for the board game Samurai Battles, a game I have reviewed here;http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/853166/a-review-focusing-more-on-the-art-of-tactic-system. There are also articles dealing with roleplaying generally and non D&D games. It gives the magazine an individual feel but also makes it seem scattered, consequently there are more likely to be articles you aren’t interested in. I’ve beat on this zine pretty hard I guess, but there are some real quality articles in here such as Jeff Talanian’s Weird Vibrations an article on weird fiction inspired Bard class.


Rating; Louis 14th, the Sun King.

Knockspell is nominally the magazine  for Swords and Wizardry, a D&D basic clone, but does cover 1st edition AD&D material too. Its edited by Matt Finch and in many respects is very similar to Fight On!, so much of my praise for the aforementioned can be reattributed here. It does run more articles focused on additional rules for Swords and Wizardry, extra classes etc and feels more focused than Fight On!. It has some great adventures by Gabox Lux, Talanian, Curtis and others. There is also a wealth of Items, spells, GM advice, tricks and world detail to forage from. What Knockspell doesn’t have though is many reminiscing on the past or questioning the future articles, this a purer game content zine. Also it only has 6 issues and might have run its course.


Rating;  Mangonel

Nod Magazine is written entirely by John M. Stater, and is published at around 80 pages on a bimonthly basis! This is a hex crawl magazine. Each issue is a map with several hundred hex locations on it. Most of the magazines content is descriptions of these hexes. The early editions use the Sword and Wizardry rules, the later focus on John’s own OSR rule set. I’ve read 3 issues, and its pretty impressive. Some of the locations are very imaginative and worth stealing if you don’t want to run John’s campaign settings wholesale. There are also monster manuals other other detail articles often included. I recommend having a look at the two free issues. Its a bit dependant on public domain art, but John is only one person with a limited budget.


Rating; National Geographic


Footprints; Footprints is free! and written by the dragonsfoot community for primarily 1st edition AD&D / OSRIC. This is campaign content, extra classes, items, house rules, the works for your 1st edition campaign. It really is focused on 1st edition, expect most articles to contain tables and specific rules with 1st ed in mind. However you can still easily adapt the content for other editions. The quality of the art is good, but its fairly sparse, again this is free so no complaints. I need to read more of Footprints (we are upto 21 issues, and I’ve read bits of 3) as I do like it. I would say it feels a bit too vanila D&D in terms of its imaginative content when compared with some of the other zines.


Rating; Lake Geneva

& Magazine: Is another free zine, also with a focus on 1st edition, but more system neutral in presentation than Footprints. Each issue has a theme like spells, or otherworldly plains. If Footprints is dominantly vanila material, this is less so. There is a rule set for converting AD&D rules to the Doom (the FPS by ID) setting and other nuts stuff. In a similar fashion to the other zines there is a lot of GM and player advice, extra rules, community interviews and a few small dungeons boot. I am probably more attracted to & Mag than Footprints, but again I need to read quite a bit more of it.


Rating;  ‘Can I play Daddy?’

Crawl!; We move from the world of D&D in general to a specific Zine. Crawl is a Dungeon Crawl Classics fanzine, and mostly deals in extra classes, patrons, rules and Judge advice. Its a solid product that retains the art style and ethos evoked so well by Goodman and Doug Kovacs in the game rule book but i’d say this is strictly for DCC fans.


Rating; Chuck Plympton

Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad; This is also a DCC exclusive. Its a smaller a5 desktop published booklet of a few more than a dozen pages. MGoU focuses entirely on the writers campaign setting, the city of Ur-Hadad. Whilst it has limited scope, this is a cool zine. Theres a sub title on the front cover that states “This zine is to be played at maximum volume” which sums up the products attitude well. The whole thing has a feel of a garage bands tape demo. The writing is actually rather good. There is a short piece on the history of the city, an article on assassins and another mercenaries all written in a colloquial manner. The signature piece is probably the street kids funnel adventure though. Its an interesting spin on the funnel system and has some great tables. The art is also great, very off the wall, very heavy metal.


Rating; Metallica; Ride the Lightning


AFS magazine; What on earth does AFS stand for? I have no idea. This is a print only weird tales focused fantasy rpg zine. It has the lowest production values of the printed media covered, but there is a case for it being the best mag. It's run by one guy on a tight budget so its a ring bound 30 page ? (there are no page numbers!?) a4 booklet and uses a lot of public domain art. Issue 3 contains one of the best dungeon adventures I’ve read, a foray into a laboratory near a beach in the Astonishing Sorcery and Swords of Hyperborea system (a good AD&D variant). It really is hitting for the weird tales angle, and actually includes some examples, issue 3 has a short story first published in 1910 or something about celtic gods. There’s also the usual spate of item lists, extra character classes etc, but mostly with an OD&D or an ASSH focus.  In many respects this is like a trimmed down version of Fight On! and consequently really hits the right points for me.


Rating; Clark Ashton Smith



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