Kobold Press' Warlock Gaming Zine

I love zines. And, really, who doesn't? Zines are the ultimate expression of the DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic that has always been central to role-playing games. With crowd funding sites like Patreon, zines can become, while perhaps not profitable but at least self-sustaining. Kobold Press is using the site to bring out their print zine for Dungeons & Dragons 5E, Warlock. Let's take a look at the most recent couple of issues.

Note: My camera didn't pick it up, but the cover for Warlock #3 is actually blue.

First, let's take a very brief digression for those who may not be familiar with zine culture. The term "zine" has its basis in the early days of science fiction and fantasy fandom. The term isn't a reference to magazine, but is instead a shorting of the term "fanzine." Fanzines go back, at least as far as the 1930s, and in many cases gave the first publication to many writers in the early waves of American science fiction and fantasy in the 30s and 40s. Comic zines were also very prevalent, and a number of the then new creators who came up in Marvel and DC Comics in the 60s and 70s got their start in zines. It has a long history among the fans of the more geeky media.

I published a few zines myself back in the 90s, after following Factsheet 5, the "zine catalog," for many years. I worked at a pack and ship store with a couple of photocopiers, which helped to make the production of my zines easier. Factsheet 5 was like the internet before the internet as we know it today, and much like checking out certain websites can get you into trouble these days, a subscription to Factsheet 5 back in the day could get you onto watchlists as well.

Why do I love zines? People do them out of love, or a need to share some form of expression with others. Around this time last year, I wrote about some gaming zines that have come out over the last couple of years. I think they are a vital part of the gaming community, hovering somewhere between the hobbyist part of gaming and the more professional aspects. With regular gaming magazines not being profitable (magazines overall having been eclipsed by the immediacy of electronic media and the internet), zines can fill a valuable niche in the marketplace. I think in a lot of cases, blogging has taken the niche that zines would have filled, but there are still those who are stepping into this gap.

So, that "brief" digression brings us to Kobold Press and their Patreon fueled zine, Warlock. Kobold Press always does passionate and original work, regardless of whether it is for the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. Warlock is a general resource for Dungeons & Dragons 5E, set in the company's world of Midgard and often on the streets of Zobeck. Physically the two issues that I have are well produced. Both issues use solid card stock covers, with a heavy weight paper for the interior pages. The interior pages may be a little too heavy weight, as the pages are a little too stiff for ease of use. Both of the issues use good quality line art, with five or six pieces in each issue. Issue three features a cover image by classic TSR-era artist Jeff Dee. Both issues are half letter sized, and stapled. Issue three has 24 pages plus an OGL, while issue four is slightly longer at 28 pages.

Because of their background as publishers, the issues of Warlock are probably a bit higher quality than those done by more amateur producers, particularly in the art department. The writing is equally high quality and features known and knowledgeable fifth edition writers like Wolfgang Baur, James Haeck and Ben McFarland.

While these articles are written with Midgard in mind, they should be easily adaptable to 5E campaigns that aren't set in that world. As with their incredible Tomb of Beasts bestiary for Dungeons & Dragons, the writers of Kobold Press demonstrate their usual creativity with creatures. Regardless of the product, Kobold Press consistently makes some of the most original and creative monsters within the Dungeons & Dragons ecoscape, and their work in Warlock is no different. Issue three features a number of new lesser golems, along with a new magical item called The Manual of the Lesser Golem. Creatures like hair and glass golems are never going to overwhelm a party of adventurers, but they will contribute to encounters that aren't just cookie cutter. The idea of fighting a hair golem made me think of being pulled into a shower drain by a gigantic clump of hair is kind of gross sounding to me, but I think that getting a visceral reaction from a monster is a good thing.

In addition to new creatures, there are some new spells, NPCs and organizations, and a few short adventures. These aren't grand, multi-session adventures, but they are the seeds of what can happen in a session.

There was also a nifty Warloc iron on patch that came with issue four (at least, I think that is the issue it came with, it fell out of the envelope as I took the zines out of it). I'm going to convert this to Velcro-backed so that I can put it on my Bag of Holding from ThinkGeek.

I think that the Warlock zines are definitely worth the money, and I am glad to see Kobold Press using Patreon to help subsidize the production process. Without that step of the Patreon patrons, I don't think that these zines could have had the quality that they do and still be practical from a cost perspective for customers. Warlock also demonstrates how a crowdfunding platform like Patreon can be utilized by the creators of role-playing game content. I also think that publishers like Evil Hat using it to vet and produce settings for their Fate rules is a good use of the platform. Hopefully we'll see more publishers embrace this platform, and upcoming ones like Kickstarter's similar platform, Drip, to produce content for their markets that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to be able to do.

As a fan of zines, I would like to see this mean that we get more gaming zines produced. It would be fun to see bigger names in RPG publishing embrace this format in order to produce quirkier, more intimate products for their game lines. There is also an element of collectability to zines, as their small press runs mean that they wouldn't be available to as large of a customer base. We'll see what happens, but regardless it is good to see publishers trying different things with their releases.

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The Warlock Patreon is probably the best Patreon I back. So far every issue's been really solid. The lair PDFs are going to be seeing a lot of use when I start up a Midgard campaign after I get the core book PDFs.

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I crit!
Much less ambitious and a build it up as it goes business model? Probably more sustainable is my guess. So if there are enough patrons it’ll do ok. And you can SEE the number of patrons. Also it’s a new era with 5e being a huge hit.

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