I accidentally deleted this whole article once on the eve of posting it early, so let’s just try to get right back into it. Sigh. Anyway.
It’s the most wonderful, wallet-hurting time of the year – Zine Quest 2020! What’s Zine Quest, you ask (because you live under a rock with an ogre named Gezelnorp)? It’s an event put on by Kickstarter, two years running now, to promote the creation and dissemination of the old-school lifeblood of the early role-playing game scene – zines. Zines were around in the formative days of the role-playing game hobby; like so many other subcultures, amateur creativity and communication buoyed the spread of ideas. Role-playing games especially benefited from the zines created by dedicated fans throughout the years, from the 1970s through to today; being inherently a scene full of publishers, authors, artists, and ideas, we’ve seen some of the best and brightest of this hobby and industry get their start in the world of amateur zines. Zine Quest aims to promote this rich past, present, and future.
History lesson over.
Last year I kept up with weekly posts throughout the month of February, tracking the zine campaigns that appealed to me and which I thought would appeal to others who read this blog. I included super-brief, largely inaccurate elevator pitches for each one alongside a link. This year, I aim to do the same. As before, I will be focusing on zines I want to read and, more importantly, which I want to use. Personally. So it’s purely subjective, and it’s in no particular order at all. This isn’t an exhaustive, definitive list. This is just my particular flavor, friends; no slight intended to anyone in the Zine Quest arena whose work isn’t featured here; I will do my best, though, to inform everyone of anything old-school (or close enough) so y’all can pick for yourselves. For the purposes of disclosure, I am including also which zines I backed and at which level with boldface text.
So, on with it!
- Ten People You Meet in the Undergarden – Fabulous indie artist Sam Mameli and author Kari Aldrich produce a Troika-related zine full of charmingly weird storybook sorts of characters with hooks galore, couched within a misleadingly lo-fi form of graphic design classic to the zine aesthetic. Ive backed this at the $5 PDF level to push Sam over the Funded line from $1999 (it was painful to look at).
- Gamma Zine, Issue 2 – This zine’s first issue came about last year during Zine Quest and I am glad to see another! I am a fan of Gamma World (old-school TSR 1st Edition stuff, mind you!) and it is well-represented here. This very short campaign is over – I backed it at the $4 POD level just like last time.
- Willow – Shane “Lazy Litch” Walshe, author of Woodfall, back again with a creepy mini-setting for your preferred old-school games. It’s a town plagued by spooky issues, and I love the art. I backed this at the $14CAD Print level.
- Terror of the Stratosfiend, Issue 2 – Of course Sean is back again with more Terror of the Stratosfiend, a science fiction/horror spin on Dungeon Crawl Classics, where orbiting satellites rule the mutated horrorscape below with arsenals beyond imagination. This was a big success last year and Sean has carried it through the year with more hard work. I backed this at the $20 Print level.
- Mudharbour – Classic hand-made zine stuff, but instead of being about normal old-school D&D stuff, this is giant crab Shaw Brothers kung fu in the Black Hack with a neon cardstock cover, contrasting thread stitching done by hand, and further personal touches beyond that. Awesome.
- The Waking of Willowby Hall – Questing Beast’s own Ben Milton, author of Knave and Maze Rats, has put together a terrific old-school zine adventure he promises is going to be very high-density game content. The story? A giant’s golden egg-laying goose has gone missing, and he is pissed. Pure fairytale, via OSR play. I can’t wait to see it – especially with art by Sam Mameli! I backed this one at the $15 Print level.
- Beak, Feather, and Bone – As I’ve mentioned over on Twitter, one of the things I really love is making a game out of as much of the “margins” of running role-playing games as possible. I like old-school play because it’s heavily randomized and outside-the-box, meaning it’s full of discovery on the DM’s side of the screen too. This zine is a minigame to generate a kenku/birdfolk city, composed by an editor who works with Chance Philips. Should be really cool! I backed this at the $5 PDF level.
- Dice Roll Zine, Issue 3 – Another OSR Anchorite podcaster, Steve is back with a new issue of his irregular Dice Roll Zine full of old-school content. The art is on point, as always, and I am sure the content will have the familiar charm of his other work. This is very much the archetypal OSR zine.
- Safe & Sound – Fantasy lairs, bases, and homes for parties and NPCs. I love the art and I think the rich purple ink will look incredible. If you need pre-generated locations, this is the one for you.
- Sinister Red – Gorgeous red single-color zine full of treasure hunting adventure on a vampiric world’s coagulated blood sea, hounded by deadly threats with a taste for heartjuice. I was hooked the instant this dropped. I backed this at the $10 Print level.
- The Beloved Underbelly – Exploited serfs create their own capitalist free market insanity in an underground network of tunnels far from the laws and clutches of their oppressors. The Beloved Underbelly seems utterly hilarious, but it’s also promising to be a clinic in faction play, which I adore in old-school games. Check it out. I backed at the $5 Print level.
- Hunters in Death – Tim over at Gothridge Manor is well-known to the OSR folks, especially the Anchorite podcaster crew out there. This here is pitched as a window into his 40 years of DMing, and for that alone I wanna see it. That the zine is absolutely loaded with gorgeous old-school artwork and a swampy hexcrawl full of the undead is icing on the cake. I backed this at the $8 Print level.
- The Phylactery – Classic old-school content, through and through. Meant to evoke the olden 1970s/1980s heroic fantasy; Warduke and Heavy Metal Magazine and the Trampier Lich art and all that kind of stuff. Full of OSR tables and other gameable stuff like that, this tries to bring back the great work of Hargrave et al with the Arduin Grimoire stuff. I backed this at the $10 Print level.
- Old School & Cool – Knight Owl Publishing got right down to business with their title and I appreciate it! They are doing an absolute bevy of gameable content in there and promise it’s gonna have hand-lettered title cards and pages within. I backed this at the $10 Print level.
- Tempting Tephra – Mike Lombardi, who ran the big Beneath the Canals campaign last year, is now running a super-short mini-zine campaign with a unique gimmick: outside of costs, almost all the money is going back into Zine Quest via funding an absolutely bonkers number of zines anywhere from $1 each token donations all the way up, and nearly everything pledged results in a community copy donation of his zine to someone who otherwise may not be able to afford it. Very neat. His zine is a high-density list of tables, NPCs, treasures, and locations presented under the conceit of consulting the auspices for a fortune in his high-magic bronze age game/setting, Pentola. Heavily stealable for other games. I am biased; I helped him figure out a name in the middle of the night while bored in a hospital, and I think the community focus is absolutely awesome. I backed this, naturally, at the $12 Print level to provide one such community copy for someone to claim.
- Harrowings: The Exalted Hours – This bills itself as old-school gaming with a poetic tilt attempting to see the overlap and juxtaposition of fantasy and horror. Sounds cool! Looking at it, I would describe it as what would happen if a moon-worshipping elf made an OSR zine, and I mean that in a nice way. Very atmospheric in a specific way.
- The Artefact – This is easily one of the biggest break out hits of Zine Quest, and I think the physical tangibility of a pledge level that includes a box set full of the author’s favorite model of pen, pencil, eraser, and notebook has a hand in that. I was momentarily enthralled by that, myself (but I have too many such things of my own already!). This is a very cool game that, hearkening back to Beak, Bone, and Feather above, gamifies a marginal part of running D&D – this time, producing magical artifact weapons with unique histories as a solo game. Very neat!
- What Happened at Wyvern Rock, Issue 2 – This launched its inaugural issue last year at Zine Quest. It has a cool premise: treating ancient aliens as real things which exist in your medieval fantasy world much as the art for ancient astronauts exists in the dubious archaeological record of many cultures in the distant past of the real world.
- Thirty-Six Stranger Chambers – With a Wu-Tang reference as a title and a book full of really cool rooms, traps, gimmicks, tricks, and dungeon denizens to cut and paste into my own dungeons, I couldn’t help but back this immediately when it first launched a day early. But then Harrison, ingrate that he is, rejected my money and canceled the Kickstarter to relaunch one day later in order to correct his accidental early launch and to play fair and honorably. So I had to back it again immediately. I backed this one at the $8AUD PDF level.
- PARIAH – It bills itself as old-school psychedelic neolithic animist role-playing so you know I immediately hammered the pledge button. Reading further, it turns out this has some wild ideas going on that I want to explore and possibly rob for my own game. Short elevator pitch: troupe play (like a DCC funnel with many PCs per player), high lethality in a young world where everything has a sentient spirit with an agenda (rocks have plans, streams have needs, grass has schemes) and your actions can and will shape the development of human civilization as society is so new. I backed this at the $4GBP PDF level.
- Delayed Blast Gamemaster, Issue 3 – Another zine which launched last Zine Quest (and which apparently funded a second issue sometime last year between the two ZQs). This is a tightly-illustrated, roll-table packed book suitable for helping out DMs needing inspiration or wholesale game-ready results. I backed the first and frankly was very impressed with the production values and imagination, but I haven’t jumped on this just yet because Oh God ZQ Hurts.
- Best Left Buried Zine Quartet – Where do I begin? Zedeck Siew! Luke Gearing! Brian Richmond! Maps by Pat Eyler and art by Ben Brown, Best Left Buried vets both. SoulMuppet Publishing aimed high for Zine Quest 2020 by launching four different zines in one Kickstarter, together, giving players of the fantasy horror game (which plays very OSR-y and is tangentially related in its distant lineage, but not directly compatible mechanically) a ton of material here. I haven’t backed, but only because I haven’t decided which to opt for. Paralysis by analysis. At least, I am told, the other zines I may not back now will be available stateside via Exalted Funeral later!
- Butchery – D G Chapman, who worked on a great Mothership adventure and several supplements for fantasy games including Bastard Magic, brings us his own home table system suitable games emulating Monster Hunter or The Witcher. Not OSR, but vaguely adjacent.
- Adventurer’s Guide to the Yol’najj Forest – A fantastic mini-setting of a magical forest full of dangerous foes and even the crystalline remnants of a lich’s castle. Very cool art, lots and lots of content, with living/mutable scenarios and locales derived from player activity within the forest. I backed this instantly at the $10 Print level.
- One of Us: Sideshow Salvation in a Dustbowl Dystopia – Do you want to play Dungeon Crawl Classics but you wish it took place in a terrifying carnival traveling across a depressed nation where even the elements seem to oppress the strange people coming to see your show? Look no further. The art in this campaign is awesome. Just incredible stuff. Something about DCC zine campaigns and great art, every damn time. I like the game, but damn, do I love the art it attracts.
- Passages of the Living – A sort of surreal fairytale horror adventure for OSR games which seems to me like a scary Alice in Wonderland with death and existentialism dialed up to 11. It claims Ligotti and Temple of the Blood Moth as influences, which is a terrific pedigree.
- The Grind, Issue 2: Mistvale – Torchbearer fanzine The Grind returns for a second round, which should be great fun for fans of that system. This zine introduces a small, remote village haunted by classic terrors of the night – and also a commemorative Lich Lord shirt and a custom dice set!
It’s not as pretty as it once was, or as well-written, but it’s there, and it’s done, and it’s live one day early, so maybe we can all appreciate those little bits. I hope this list helps folks discover new zines or perhaps to see what tastes we may share to hopefully help folks make easier choices of where to throw money at Kickstarter.
Please do not count what I’ve spent because it’s hazardous to my health.
If you wanna talk to me about zines, D&D, Zine Quest, or anything other than what Zine Quest costs me each year, please give me a shout over on Twitter @dungeonspossums!