Wednesday, February 24, 2021

My Current ZineQuest Buy List

 Set a budget, they said. Pace yourself, they said. Learn from past experiences, they said.

I never was any good at listening to things "they" said. These are the zine projects I have backed for ZineQuest3, mostly I have backed in physical form (in that respect I have learned from the past, because I am less likely to really read/enjoy a PDF). All italicized text is copied from each games KS page. For the ones you can still back, I've tried to make quick, digestible notes on each and why I backed them.

Still time to back these...

Kriegsmesser - game setting, written for Troika, low-no fantasy. I like Troika, I like Heironymous Bosch paintings. This doesn't have fantasy, but that could be added. Cool time period, nice previews, neat old art.

The carriage coach is on fire and there’s no driver at the reins. It is the Long Sixteenth Century, somewhere in Europe, or a place much like it. Plague stalks the land, people are rioting against widespread corruption while a monetary crisis is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. 

Courier - solo game, original rules. I may regret this one. I'm a sucker for Roadside Picnic, the novel on which STALKER was based. Also sounds like Zelazny's Damnation Alley.

Deliver packages across a dangerous landscape while building your reputation and becoming a legend. System: . Inspired by some of my favorite games including Death Stranding, Fallout New Vegas, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Mad Max; you play as a Courier. The job: transport goods from one location to another while avoiding delays, hazardous traps and anomalies, dangerous weather effects, and those who would steal your precious cargo. Courier is a solo RPG telling the story of your rise from a lowly single-bag-Courier all the way up to a Legendary Wasteland Deliverer. You will create your own company, logo, and style as you complete delivery jobs across the New North American continent. Along the way you will discover new contacts, jobs, charms, equipment and upgrades to your Courier Rig while growing your reputation as a reliable company.

SIEGE: Pocket Warfare - original rules set, macro/add-on game. I'm working on my own macro rules along these lines. Seems cool. Cheap to buy in.

A modular battle-defense system to fuse with your RPGs. SIEGE is my attempt at helping you build a better siege, or really any sort of major battle. I've hacked into the board game Pandemic to draw out a really simple system that exponentially increases the intricacy and tension of your combats while barely moving the needle when it comes to complexity. It's a big amount of bang with almost zero added prep and minimal math or note-taking. 

Crawler - system-agnostic campaign; back from 1 to 4 connected zines. The art! The concept! Also I loved the creator's personal note at the end. 

In a fantasy world where raw magic is extracted from the earth like a fossil fuel— unsustainably, dangerously,  and for the profit of billionaire death cultists—you are a member of the Black Shields: an order of anti-extractionist resistance fighters. The Shields aren't afraid to get their hands dirty. You've blown up a pipeline before, and you'd gladly do it again because you care about the future of your world. It's not a question of if raw magic will spill from pipelines and freighters to transform local wildlife into bloodthirsty abominations—it's a question of when.

The Void of Thrantar - 5e/OSR compatible campaign. I will probably regret this one. The art is not my style, but they had me at "Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s."

Inspired in part by Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s and with a nod to the work of artists like Frazetta and Moebius, this setting features twisted metal canyons, dinobirds, slimeords, owlbearian warriors, forgotten technomagic, alien beasts and more!

Before Fire - original rules, beer-and-pretzels rpg. I'm a sucker for prehistoric stupidity. A sucker, I tell you. I will regret buying this. Probably.

Before Fire is a comedy RPG designed for "pick up and play" one-shots. During a session, you and your friends take on the roles of Stone Age hunter-gatherers, sent on a great quest to save your tribe. Using your limited vocabulary and teamwork, you must triumph over such terrifying challenges as sabretooth tigers, stampeding herds of megafauna, and the 100% historically-accurate dinosaur riders.

Fresh from the Forge - OSE toolkit. This looks interesting. I'm a fan of d6 damage with a few tweaks, but most people like variable damage. Curious to see where they take this and I play OSE several times a week.

Combat is where heroes go to die. Whether it's a staple of your game or something you avoid, when it happens you'll need a weapon! Fresh From The Forge presents a collection of rules for weapons and combat that can be dropped into and used in any fantasy adventure game! The book doesn't aim to simulate all the intricacies of how weapons work. Armour has not been reworked to be more realistic. You won't find any intricate striking distance measures or precise weapon dimensions in this zine. The goal has been to prioritise something that meets the expectations of adventure game weaponry, while making all options equally valid. 

The Pamphlet of Pantheons - macro, workbook. I listen to James' podcast. He knows his stuff.

The gods, spirits and religions of a fantasy world should be a vital and exciting part of its culture. But how do you create a pantheon that feels rich and real without having to do a lot of time-consuming prep work? The Pamphlet of Pantheons is the lazy GM's solution to this problem: a workbook zine that helps you create a pantheon for your fantasy RPGs, focusing on the bits of the iceberg above the water -- the bits that your players are going to interact with. 

Microvania - hack of Microscope. I dig Microscope. I dig crawling through kaiju guts. This was probably a knee-jerk back. 

A print run of Microvania, a map-making and story-telling game that is a hack of Microscope. Microvania is a game about these kinds of stories, where individuals or small groups explore a dangerous world that becomes a character of itself. In video games, these are called “Metroidvanias,” after the two most influential series in the genre. A common feature of those games is backtracking, with the world recontextualized after unlocking a new item or ability, or in some cases just learning something new about how the world works. Microvania seeks to create an experience like those games, by prioritizing the structure and flow of the world, while allowing players to fill in as many details as they like, and making backtracking central to the game’s mechanics.

Wizard Funk 3 - OSR miscellany. I know Thaddeus and I've got WF1 and 2. I like the spirit of this zine and it's true DIY aesthetic.

My gaming buddies and I have put together a zine for the sheer enjoyment of it.  We love to play Old School RPGs.  Myself?  I was introduced to D&D back in 1981.  I loved the hobby then and love it even more today.   If you have seen Wizard Funk 1 and 2, then you will have a good idea about what you will get for your hard earned money in Wizard Funk 3.  If you love Old School Rules, then you should take a chance on this KS.  It's not much money and I've been able to deliver a satisfying product in the past.  Fight On brothers and sisters of the OSR!


Desert Moon of Karth - A space western sandbox on a tiny moon for Mothership RPG. Harvest the ossified corpses of coral beings and live forever. This one had a clear Mandalorian/Solo spaghetti western vibe. 

The Lighthouse At The Edge Of The Universe - A solo journalling game about running a lighthouse on the edge of the universe. I'm a sucker this year for solo games, but KS3 may knock that instinct out of me. There are so many! This one had a dream quality that I liked. 

Dethroners - Destroy this zine to battle a divine tyrant for control of the story in a stand-alone tabletop game of adventure and revolution. This one had a My Life with Master vibe that interested me.

Bloodheist - A tabletop RPG zine about desperate thieves and despicable vampires. 

Realms of Peril - A classic fantasy adventure game designed for West Marches campaigns, with a focus on old-school, fiction-focused gameplay. 

Colostle - A solo RPG. Discover a world of mountains, valleys, seas and cities, all within the colossal impossible structure of a castle's rooms and corridors. See Lighthouse comments above.

Harrowings #03: MUSPELHELLA Heavy Metal Dwarven Dungeon Adventure to Steal your Soul! Powered by Old School Essentials! OSE, strong flavor, neat aesthetic, I'm in.

Dodeca RPG - Dodeca is a d12 based old school style role-playing game with narrative character creation and world building. 

The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade - a series of short, deadly adventures. Crypts created out of her hatred of tomb raiding adventurers. A product from Tim Shorts/Gothridge Manor. I know he will deliver and it will have good stuff in it. Also great art; nice to see Sholtis involved - who also does quality stuff.

Menagerie of the VoidGuide ancient, unreasonable machines to preserve a strange assortment of alien beings. A #ZineQuest single-player game. Another solo game, and I like the theme. 

The Vaults of Torment: Blood is Fuel - A Sick Dungeon for Mörk Borg. Like most MB stuff, this one sells itself on an aesthetic. I may have gotten suckered, but I know there will be some good ideas in here.

The Drain - A level-0 funnel adventure through an occult battlefield for the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. I have Mothership but haven't played it. This might be a good place to start. 

Lowlife - old-school tunnel warfare zine. Stuff to learn from this one I think about how to flavor up/run dungeon crawls better. 

In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe - A classic fantasy roleplaying adventure zine for Old School Essentials or other OSR rulesets. OSE based, cool art. 

Planar Compass Issue 2 - Traverse the astral sea discovering bizarre opportunities and dangers in the second issue of this Old-School Essentials zine! Bought this on the strength of issue 1 and on the promised content (ship rules, especially).


Saturday, February 13, 2021

The D&D Arms Race

This is a pretty funny meme, especially the "quote" at the bottom. (Not sure I've ever put air-quotes around the word quote before. Seems very meta.)

Funny as it is, from a more realistic standpoint it is clear that Gary was in an arms race with players from 1974-1980. Given that his players were constantly escalating their game and using (abusing?) magic items, some of the blame for "gotcha" monsters has to go on Gary's players as well. For every rust monster there's a player who loads up a mule with 10 shields and 20 flasks of oil.

You know about the module S1: The Tomb of Horrors, right? We've all seen this beautiful Erol Otus (no relation) image? I have to wonder why this was the back cover instead of the front!

Anyway, this dungeon has the reputation of being a stone cold killer (puns intended). But of course it's not an example of Gary writing a dungeon just to be mean. Or ... well ... it is, but you have to know the context. Gary wrote it specifically to test high level players. He wrote it for convention/tournament play (not to kill off long-lived beloved home-group characters) and he wrote it after his player's boasted they could handle anything AD&D had to throw at them. He did nothing to hide his mindset when planning/writing S1: "I admit to chuckling evilly as I did so." And he designed it specifically to challenge the likes of Rob Kuntz' Robilar and Ernie Gygax's Tenser, characters that had been around, literally, longer than D&D had been in print. 

All of this is to make a point I think we all already knew, but popular, revisionist thinking likes to paint Gygax as a mean-spirited character killer and an autocratic GM. He was some of that, but his players were murder hobos. And it's a chicken-and-egg argument as to which came first or if either cared. I don't hear those players going around crying about Gary being too tough or unfairly wiping out their favorite PCs. Which means all of the reactive games designed around a "non-adversarial" approach to D&D, good as they are, were either solutions in search of a problem and/or set up Gygax and Oe play as a straw make themselves look good. Phah, I say! 

If you go looking for advice from Gary about how to kill PCs or make their lives hell, you will find it. If you go looking for words from Gary about their being only one way to play D&D (his way), you'll find them. But the opposite is also true. I can easily go find places where Gary suggests alternative challenges that are less likely to kill characters and places where he told you to make it up and have fun rather than writing to him for answers. (Both of the ones I'm thinking of right now, by the way, were in volume III of original D&D).

[In case this is starting to sound like a "get off my lawn" rant, please understand that my intended tone is an equal mix of laughing over some of the craziness in early D&D and some of the craziness in modern thinking about early D&D. I don't take this stuff too seriously, but I worry that the jokes and characterization of early play are somewhat misleading. So, I'm also trying to make a point, which is...]

Have your fun, but be careful how you characterize play from the 70s and 80s if you weren't there or haven't done your research. And maybe don't be so hasty to discount adversarial style play if it is conducted in a spirit of fun and fairness. Not all players want to walk trough a heroic story of their own invention or the GM's. Some want to explore, face challenges, and fully experience the outcome of their choices (rather than having them molded back into some predetermined course of events).

Friday, February 12, 2021

Quick Dungeon - The Cellars of Mad Vortigern

I made a quick dungeon (maybe took 30 minutes?) using the method described in this brilliant post: Adrenaline and Spark Tables Dungeon. In short, the method imagines a dungeon as something with a theme, dressing, and rooms - and rooms as having a type with an active and passive element. You make tables for these things. Here are mine, and I will tell you that all of the skill (at least for me) was in making these tables and I could definitely get better at it. These worked, but after making one dungeon I understand better how to make the next tables.

Title: (first thing that came to my head) The Cellars of Mad Vortigern

Theme: Failed Experiments

Dressing: suggestive goo, magic wards/seals, timers (didn't use this, switched it to tiles and light), building materials (I was originally thinking more "Rube Goldberg" machines)

d4 Room Types (set)

  1. Encounter - something is happening in the room
  2. Hazard - a dangerous area, probably a trap
  3. Travel - one way forward is assumed, a travel room adds choices/passages, often hidden
  4. Treasure - not easy, quick, and/or safe to acquire
d6 Active Elements
  1. Mutants
  2. Machines
  3. Seals
  4. Wild Growth
  5. Toxicity
  6. Cage
d8 Passive Elements
  1. Pooled
  2. Charged
  3. Explosive
  4. Feral
  5. Sterile/Dead
  6. Slanted
  7. Interwoven/complex
  8. Sweet
Here is the result - don't bother trying to read my notes, I included a key below. The ideas kind of took on a life of their own as I detailed the rooms. I ABSOLUTELY used the tables, but as a jumping off point. A few new table/dressing words occurred to me as I wrote.

Upstairs - you find the body of Mad Vortigern. He is slumped over his desk, on which is a kind of logbook with watering schedules, measurements, strange arcane formulae, etc. Sketches of strange flowers, and in one instance something that looks more humanoid (but definitely isn't human) make your skin crawl. Vortigern's body is covered in ulcers. If cut open his body is filled with a fibrous material and cysts/pods instead of organs. (It should definitely be burned!)

The overall feel of the dungeon -- er, cellar complex -- is brightly lit (magic), glazed tiles, crumbling.

Room 1 - This room is at the bottom of a set of stairs leading to the house "cellar." Upon touching the bottom step, magic, flickering white light issues from a square in the ceiling. (I'm imagining ever-burning torches in a recess with leaded glass panes below them?) This room is covered in red tendrils like veins or thin plant roots. A sickly sweet smell hangs in the air. If PCs dally or lean against the walls, tendrils will try to attach to them and drink blood. Pulling away makes a terrible "velcro" sound. This isn't a significant threat unless someone passes out here - just a hint of things to come. There is a hidden tunnel behind the thickest mass of tendrils, It is a tunnel leading to room 3, but you would need to burn it out or hack through it to travel the distance.

Room 2 - This is a disinfecting room. Brightly lit, glazed blue tiles, odd pipes/nozzles along either side. The floor tiles contain pressure plates that will spray the characters with acid. The acid degrades nonmagical metal; Amor loses one step of functionality (e.g. Plate to Chain). With care, PCs could move against the wall and not trigger the spray.

Room 3 - As soon as PCs open the door, they will se a giant pitcher plant. They may indeed hear "sucking" noises before opening the door. The giant plant is in the process of devouring something. All that is left is a kind of goo, but it has an eyeball in it and maybe a hand? The red root tendrils clearly come from this thing and they fill half of this room as well. The other half is filled with tables, pots (many broken), sacks of dirt... There's a door at the other end.

Room 4 - This is a room of doors, six of them in fact. Three are closed and sealed with wax as well as arcane marks drawn in grease pencil. There is an ozone smell in the room and a soft humming (the wards are leaking). 

Room 5 - (sealed) This is a green slime breeding vat. It is dark, light only coming from 4. A vat in the center of the room holds spores that have fallen from the ceiling above. It looks like bodies might have been thrown into the pit to feed the slime. Might even be some treasure down there, stuff the bodies were wearing, but one might also presume they were stripped first. Occasionally a soft squelching or a popping sound from the pit.

Room 6 - (sealed) A naked human (?) is chained to the opposite wall. It is nearly starved to death. It's body is small and weak, especially compared to its giant bald head and large eyes. The room is unlit. Dried feces, bad smells, and all the other yucky stuff you might imagine from someone imprisoned without care for a few days. The human is harmless, but he has been altered. His touch negates magic (magic items get a save). 

Room 7 - (sealed) A second 'seal' on this room is a blue, floor to ceiling, interwoven vine. Behind it are treasure chests and barrels. This is Vortigern's vault (might even be inventoried in his logbook). The plant is charged with electricity (like a vegetable version of an electric eel). If touched with skin or metal ... Zzzzzt. 

Room 8 - There is a crazy machine in here. It hums away. A bed of dirt grows wiggling mandrakes. As PCs watch, one pulls itself free of the dirt and wanders around. On one side is a pit, and when the mandrake falls into it there is a sharp clipping sound and a horrible scream. The head rolls into a basket that is half full of heads already. The rest is ground in a chipper shredder thing and sprayed back out onto the growing mandrakes. Something like that. Add details to suit. Do the heads do anything? The fresh one will probably try to bite anyone reaching in. 

Room 9 - This room is full of dead tree-like plants in giant pots. There is a giant stick bug or chameleon in here. It is hungry. Probably came in through room 10. 

Room 10 - This room has a bedroll and chest with some meager personal treasures in it. A crumbling wall leads out to a small cave near a babbling brook, the entrance well hidden behind trees. There's an 80% chance a rogue is here. He wandered in from the outside, looking for a hideout. But the place has twisted him. He is part mushroom man and has grown huge. It's hard for him to go out of the tunnel even, but he stays here, preferring the dark. Is he violent? I dunno. He's moody. Roll reaction, he will either attack, cower, or ask for help. 

General - most things are potentially infectious. A lot of stuff might be valuable to the right buyers. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Vaults of Vaarn by Leo Hunt

I only have one real problem with this zine, the cover didn't really communicate to me the nature of the awesome stuff inside.

[Twitter response to this comment from my pal @yochaigal1 I disagree. The cover is badass. 12:56 PM · Feb 10, 2021] 


There are two issues of this zine. I have the second but I just started reading it, so I'm restricting my comments to the first. 

Vaults of Vaarn 

VoV is a 52-page zine. I hesitate to use that word; while the aesthetics are 100% zine (in a good way), the content is a full fantasy adventure game in a weird, post-post-apocalyptic world inspired by books like Dune, The New Sun, and Hyperion, as well as the art of Moebius. So it's a zine, but it's also a game. 

Those are the works named by Leo as points of inspiration. I would add that it feels very much like the weird futuristic fantasy of Vance's Dying Earth. It also finds itself echoing some things established by early post-apocalyptic games like Gamma World

Physical Product

The book is 52-pages, staple-bound, with a full color cardstock cover and black and white interior. A perfect amount of cool line-art helps break up the text-dense pages and all hangs together, fitting both the setting and other art in the book. As I said, the cover throws me just a bit, but it does have a really sweet 80s synth vibe to it. (Oddly while I feel like the cover is 80s, I feel like the interior leans a bit more 70s. Not sure if I can defend that feeling; it may be about font choices for header vs. text.)

The System

According to Leo, the game utilizes a lot of Ben Milton's Knave mechanics. I've only skimmed the latter, but I did recognize the way stats work. You get the standard six, with WIS and CHA renamed. You roll 3d6 for each, "down the line," but don't get caught up in that. You aren't summing the result, you find the lowest die and make that the + bonus as well as a 10+x defense. Meaning if your lowest die is a 2, that stat has +2 for rolls and a defense of 12. Most of the time you are rolling a d20, adding your bonus by stat, and comparing it to a target of 15. Contested rolls go against armor value (by equipment) or the relevant stat's defense. Interestingly, the math works out the same whether the rolls are made by the GM for the monsters or by players to react to monster attacks; meaning you can choose to roll dice or have rolls player-facing. 

It's a good system and has a lot in common with the simplicity of newer OSR products like The Black Hack. But let's take the book in sections from here.


  • 1 page of credits
  • 1 page of world lore in 9 points (outstanding!!)
  • 1 page overview of chargen
  • 2 pages of basic rules
  • 1 page on advancement
  • 13 pages covering 5 character types: mycomorphs, cacogens, synths, true-kin, and newbeasts – a huge amount of the space is devoted to awesome "spark tables" that help you create a flavorful character. There are so many possibilities!! 
  • 2 pages of equipment
  • 4 pages of spark tables covering mystic gifts, exotica, and cybernetics
  • The remaining pages are for the GM. They are heavy on inspiration in the form of spark tables and light on text. Perfect! They cover:
    • NPCs, Names, and more Exotica
    • Books, Drugs
    • Oases, Ruins, Arcology Domes
    • Nomads, Bandits, Trade Caravans
    • Petty Gods
    • Desert Encounters and You Found a Corpse
    • Beasts - with about 30 examples
    • Transport types - 7 examples

My First Character

Here is an example character I made while reading the rules (always a good way to check to see if you understand them). I'm not sure I did inventory correctly; I'm going to re-read that part. You have inventory slots equal to your CON defense. Small/like things can be grouped together (not sure smoke bombs and rations can be grouped, probably a judgment call). Also your gifts/cybernetics take up PSY inventory, as I recall, so I probably need to track that. Everything here was rolled randomly. I want to play this guy. If anything, I feel like he might have too many "things" going on, but some of them are one-use, so...


There's a lot to be said about this zine. More than I have said, certainly. But I hope this is more than enough for you to make a decision. In fact, why are you still here? Haven't you ordered your copy yet? Did I mention the PDF is PWYW? You can find it, and places to order the physical copy (you should do that) at  

Monday, February 8, 2021

Slowquest I & II by Bodie Hartley

I bought a number of tiny zines from this creator, Bodie Hartley, through Etsy. The best ones, in my opinion, were these two little choose-your-adventure style "slowquests." 

Here is an example of a choice page.

And here is one of the possible ends.

These things take maybe 15 minutes to read through if you browse down various paths. It's kind of a nice experience, even though nasty things can happen to you. 

The first quest is essentially about getting past a cute but quixotic goblin guard. The second is about interviewing for a job with a wizard and successfully navigating her tests. 

Great art and an interesting distraction. That being said, it's one of those sizes that is hard to store effectively and it's hard to justify the $ for 10-15 minutes of reading without much re-read value. 

Low Country Crawl by John Gregory

John Gregory's Low Country Crawl zine presents a small fantasy setting inspired by the geography and folklore of the coastal, southern United States. In a word, it is excellent.

The physical product is 32 pages (counting the cover). The color cover and black & white interior feature period-appropriate public domain art, with a few extra pieces contributed by Charles B. F. Avery. I really like the overall feel and layout by David Schirduan. My only complaint about the book is the thinness of the cover (same as the interior paper weight). On the other hand, it seems to be holding up well (no dinged corners yet) and it gives the zine a nice flexible hand feel that a cardstock cover does not. I bought my copy from Spear Witch

The zine is close to system-agnostic, with only fairly broad pointers at something akin to Oe or Basic D&D. For instance, creature stats list defense by comparative armour type and damage by comparative weapon type. The only hard number I see is Morale. 

The first section is a really nice overview of the geographical nature of the barrier islands - a coastal where fresh and salt waters meet and islands come and go due to erosion or agglutination of material. This section includes a generator for islands by size/type and ends with a nice encounter table that cleverly divides the day into six four-hour shifts.

The second section is an 'island crawl' featuring a few islands and sites on them. There isn't a lot of detail here, just quick descriptions of places, each with some goings-on and story hooks. A small site-map or two would have been nice here, but it has plenty to go on for a number of sessions, given a reasonably creative GM.

The third section is filled with creatures and items. This, and the opening section, are my favorite parts, with the middle section really being an example of how the two go together in an adventure context. I love the folkloric nature of the monsters: e.g. the gray man, rawbones, and boohags. Really, really well done, atmospheric, and "different" in a way that we don't really see much of. I mean, there are a million bestiaries out there. Many of them stem from the gooey, weird, Geiger-ish drawings that fascinate people and are just shooting to be weird or shock. Nothing wrong with those, but as many GMs will tell you - the real world is weirder than anything you can make up. And here we have an example of really strange monsters with interesting motivations that are drawn straight from the collective subconscious of a group of people. Very much nails the southern gothic vibe. Ditto for the items, like a pouch of sticky chewing tobacco that can be spit as a type of web-weapon.

All in all, a great zine and a great read with a really authentic geographical vibe. I suppose I should note two things. 1) The book isn't really divided into three sections, the table of contents lists four and it feels like there are more headers than that. Three sections is just how I perceived it when reading. 2) Though this really nails the feel of a region, it is divorced from actual historical, named people or places in such a way that it could be used with nearly any world or system.