Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Knights of the Road: Capsule Review



This tripartite micro-zine takes the bones of Electric Bastionland and fleshes them out with a vague, early 20thc weird west setting. Sound cool? It is. (You can get it here.)

When I first heard about this zine I got the impression that the player characters were hobos, partly because the GM was called a "Conductor" (as in train conductor) and partly because they are roaming around 1920s (?) America on rails. But the characters aren't just tramps looking for a handout. Instead, they are part of an order of vagrant-knights who move around undoing evil-wrong-bad things. Also, America isn't really America; the setting is a fictional analogue of America. The time is equally hard to pin down because of inconsistent references to technologies. Even so, the result is a charming (and liberating) mass of ideas. Vampire lords run the rails. Cryptids like chupacabra and bigfoot infest the darker corners of the world. The landscape is peppered with haunted abandoned movie sets and alien crash sites. Great stuff.

I'm going to pick at the product a little in the next few paragraphs, but let me make it clear that I think this is a brilliant little zine and fills a niche you rarely see filled.

The product itself is readable and mostly clear. For $5 (digital) it's a bargain. The art is a little sparse but cool and proper for the setting/overall feel of the zine. There are quite a few typos and grammar gaffs, but nothing that would really throw you for a loop. I don't have the physical product (yet) but I hear they are quite small. The title fonts are nice, but I found the body text font a little clunky. 

One other thing I want to note that is both a positive and perhaps a negative - the zine includes an example of play. This kind of thing is rare for zines, so I applaud the inclusion. However, the example is almost laughably condensed. It's basically a whole game session (or at least a major encounter), start to finish, in two micro-pages. Even so, it gets the idea across, including the fast-and-loose nature of conducting a light RPG like this. 

For a zine-game, KotR is surprisingly complete. A full book of monsters, quite a few story hooks, GM advice, examples, etc. It really covers the bases. I highly recommend it and would love to run it for one of my gaming groups. 

I'll leave you with a tiny bit of the awesome, full-color map included with the KotR. 




Monday, June 28, 2021

Agramabug Capsule Review

Federico Volpini recently shared his very cool bug-centric mini-setting for Troika! with me. The writing is great and the art reminds me of the Tenniel illustrations from Alice in Wonderland. The world is full of crazy, flavorful details: freon zombies, punk foodies, dust monks, a bug pope, a weird landscape of human refuse... great stuff. (You can pick it up on itch.io.)



A few very minor criticisms. The introductory paragraph is a bit of a cold start, throwing you right into the setting. So just to state the obvious: Agramabug is an RPG setting compatible with Troika! in which communities of insects scrabble over the discarded wastes of humans hoping to attain power, security, and prosperity. The text is also a bit tightly-spaced, but then I think my 53-yo eyes are just always craving a little more white space these days. My 23-yo self probably would have loved the denseness of the design. 

Is there such a thing as too many poo jokes? I feel like the setting is scatalogical to a degree that would get a little old. What else matters to bugs -- water, pollen, seeds? It bears thinking about before you throw players into the setting.

Back to the good stuff. The lists. Oh my gawds, the lists. I have a soft spot for lists because a designer can pack so much setting into them, and that's just what Fredrico did. The classes are great too, and if you know Troika!, you'll know that this is its other primary tool for communicating setting.

The world is both comical and dreary at the same time, if that's possible. It could be played as grimdark or wildly comic, or both. My first addition would be some hippy-granola bugs who live on a sunny hill filled with dandelions, just to give a bit of contrast to the extensive landfill that Fredrico provides.

Perhaps the highest bit of praise I can give to Agramabug is that I want to play it. My default reading stance after a few paragraphs was "how I would run this" not "is this any good?" So clearly I made up my mind on the latter pretty fast.

Gygax 75 Now Available in Italian

I'm excited to announce that Roberto Bisceglie has translated the Gygax 75 Challenge zine into Italian. Check it out here, for free. 



 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Names of D&D

 A self-admitted frustrated grognard posted on MeWe today that he was unsatisfied with the label "Original D&D" for the early brown and white box editions. He was partly making fun of himself and partly grasping for a better term, as a fan of the original. It set me on a track of thinking that resulted in this:

All editions and variations of D&D are "D&D" - that is the collective. When making a clarification, we should use 

  • '74 D&D (three books)
  • '76 D&D (seven books, for all practical purposes this is just an earlier, messier version of AD&D)
  • Basic D&D (further clarified as Holmes, BX, or BECMI)
  • Advanced D&D (further clarified as 1e or 2e)
  • Modern D&D (further clarified as an edition 3.5, 4th, 5th)

Here was my train of thought.

[In response to the root post.] Everything else has a name. Basic D&D (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5). I'd say that Oe should just be called "D&D", but that's not realistic. All Corvettes are Corvettes. But then we add a year when we want to talk about a specific model (and sometimes other labels, like Stingray). So I guess this version has to have a label. I've seen Original D&D, Three Little (Brown) Books (TLB or TLBB), Whitebox, etc. I kind of like 1974 D&D, but even then there are distinctions. Three-book 1974 D&D is quite different from seven-book 1976 D&D. I guess maybe that's the answer for me: '74 D&D, '76 D&D, Basic (Holmes, BX, BECMI), Advanced D&D (1e or 2e), or a modern edition (3.5, 4, 5).

Am I missing something. Do I have all the right bays designated for the Corvettes? My only dissatisfaction with this scheme might be the slightly pejorative connotation of the word "Basic."

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Zinequest 2021 Progress Report

This is just a quick progress post related to the Zinequest 3 projects I backed and am watching. Big thanks to the zines who have already delivered. I'll note that no project is, as yet, "late."

STILL OUT

  • Courier
  • Crawler
  • The Void of Thrantar
  • Before Fire
  • Fresh from the Forge
  • Wizard Funk 3
  • Desert Moon of Karth
  • The Lighthouse at the Edge of the Universe
  • Dethroners
  • Bloodheist
  • Realms of Peril
  • Colostle
  • Harrowings #03: Muspelhell
  • Dodeca RPG
  • Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade
  • The Vaults of Torment: Blood is Fuel
  • The Drain
  • Lowlife
  • Planar Compass Issue 2
  • Not a Place of Honor

RECEIVED

  • Siege: Pocket Warfare (print)
  • Pamphlet of Pantheons (digital)
  • In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe (print)
  • A Bug's Guide to the Shimmer (digital)

& REVIEWED

  • Kriegsmesser (print)
  • Microvania (print)
  • Menagerie of the Void (print)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Menagerie of the Void: Capsule Review

 Menagerie is a solo, zine-sized, journaling game I backed during Kickstarter's Zine Quest 2021. You are on board an early starship when an alien zoo abducts you to serve as its keeper. The game revolves around creating, housing, and caring for bizarre creatures. It uses index cards and playing cards, and is something that you could pretty easily play in short stretches. The game ends when you master all of the robotic systems of the zoo (unlikely) or when your character gives up hope.

The book is 28 pages (included the covers) and is layed out beautifully and well-written. The art, though a little inconsistent in feel, really gets across the alien nature of the game and the zoo's organisms. Illustrations of the cards (thank you!) help you figure out how the game works. A number of random generators and outcomes for various events assure lots of replayability.

Overall this is a really solid little game book. I can't wait to try it out for real, and will be sure to write about my experience when I do.






Saturday, May 29, 2021

Microvania Capsule Review

I backed Microvania, by Tyler Magruder as part of ZineQuest 3. It is a hack of Ben Robbins' Microscope.

I'll give Microvania props for high production values (at least in choice of paper and finish) and a few interesting twists on the idea of Microscope: mainly that it reduces the scope of the game to the size of a computer/video-game environment, and makes use of recursion by means of obstacles which can only be resolved from exploring other parts of the index card map you make during play.



Now for the bad stuff, unfortunately. This game is poorly explained. The rules are vague at best, and often outright skip over elements. New card types are introduced without explaining how they come into play. There are no illustrations of a game in progress that would help you piece together what the author is saying. You could play it, but only if you are willing to fill in the very significant gaps and answer your own questions.

It's not like the zine format hurt this game. The author had plenty of space to make his ideas clear; he just failed to do so. Why do I say that? Because the font size and choice of art is cringeworthy. The font is huge and the copious negative space is given over to random images (really, there's no clear connection at all between text and image). This game is one page of hastily sketched out ideas stretched over 32 pages. SEVEN of those pages are given over to listing the names of KS backers, double-spaced, and an additional two are blank for "notes". 

What. The. Fuck. !?

I don't like to give negative reviews, but this lackluster effort seriously pissed me off. I used to teach composition at a university and I feel like a freshman just handed me a 10-page research paper with 3" margins and an 18 pt. font.


A typical spread. 

KS backers, 22% of the zine by page-count.