Gaming Zines And You

There has always been a history of amateur publications in role-playing games, going back as far as Lee Gold's influential APA zine Alarums & Excursions started in the 70s. With the resurgence of zine publishing there has been an explosion of people publishing zines again, and the RPG field isn't alone in this. There is even a local record store that hosts workshops on zine production, and networking events.

For a while, blogging scratched the same itch that zines used to, but for some people there is an interest in returning to the medium. I did a couple of zines back in the 90s, before I started doing blogging, and occasionally I feel the desire to give them a try again. I wrote a Fate Accelerated hack for the Randomocity zine that Stacy Dellorfano did a couple of issues for, but outside of that I haven't scratched that old itch.

Over the weekend, when the once a month group that I game with locally got together, one of the others in the group gave me a set of Gongfarmer's Almanac zines. It was a big stack of zines, and I haven't had the chance to completely dig into them yet. The community around the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is one of the more creative gaming communities that I have seen, and the gaming zines that have popped up from that community are one of the examples of that creativity.

It makes sense that the low tech approach of zines would appeal to fans of older games. Zines can be rough and tumble, but in the case of the good zines there is an energy that overcomes the roughness of them. With the Gongfarmer's Almanacs you get all of the usual things that you would expect: new character classes, new spell options, monsters, mini adventures and other game fillers that would be of use to DCC GMs and players.

The new monsters are always my favorite. Volume #2 of the 2015 Gongfarmer's Almanac has some neat monsters in it. The "Anti-Matternaut" is an interesting riff on the old Micronauts toys from the 70s. Fans of those toys, and the many comics based off of them, will probably see the influence of a certain time-travelling toy from that line. This is one of the things that I like about fan creations, they can look at things from angles that the official designers may not get to do and come up with takes on the game that you wouldn't see from official channels.

This is the energy that I talked about above. True, sometimes fans can cross lines with their enthusiasm and produce things that bend the rules of copyright and trademark, but as long as that enthusiasm doesn't cross those lines it can produce some great stuff.

Another of my favorite gaming zines is Tim Callahan's Crawljammer, also for the Dungeon Crawl Classics game. Sadly, Crawljammer is mostly retired (Callahan does create new issues and special modules periodically for conventions and subscription boxes), but you can find most of his stuff in PDF through the DriveThru sites. With Crawljammer, pushed the fantasy aesthetic of the Dungeon Crawl Classics game into space. The name Crawljammer is an homage to the old AD&D campaign Spelljammer published by TSR.

The idea of Crawljammer is less old school space opera than Spacejammer was, with more of a 70s SF Grindhouse feel to it, combined with more than a little cyberpunk. Callahan has been working on official Dungeon Crawl Classics material for Goodman Games these days, so I am obviously not the only one who liked what he was doing with his zine.

Now, I don't play Dungeon Crawl Classics. I have the core rules sitting on my shelf and, while the aesthetic of the game appeals to me, the crunch is a bit more than I like in my fantasy games. That said, there is a lot of material for it that can be squirmed into my fantasy games of choice. Yes, it does take a little bit of work, but it pays off. My favorite part of the Dungeon Crawl Classics aesthetic is the idea that monsters should be unique. As much as I like monster manuals, I like that the monsters that characters face should be surprising (and sometimes frightening) to players. This idea is baked into the design of Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Much like with blogging, zines can be a good way to break into the professional ranks of game design. Unlike blogs, which can be difficult to convince publishers to look at sometimes, having something physical that you can put into the hands of a publisher, or designer, can be a good way to get people to see your skills. Be sure that you have clearly marked contact information, because in this case you're using your zine in the same way that you would use a business card.

I know that not everyone is 100% behind fan-produced material, or even material produced by third party publishers, and that is fine. People have gotten burned by using material in their campaigns from old Dragon magazines that was grossly over-powered, and they avoid unofficial material because they think that there is more of a chance of material being problematic in their home games. That's a valid view point.

As a GM, I never allow things into my games that I haven't myself vetted. It is always a good idea to read through and check out any third party material before allowing it to be used in your games. However, cutting things out of the loop just because it was made by a fan, or an amateur, can result in missing out on a lot of exciting gaming material. Not only that, but everyone who is now a professional game designer was once an amateur one.

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