Zine Quest 2020: Week Four

We are nearly free from the orgiastic grasp of Zine Quest 2020. I don't know about how y'all like to party for Zine Quest each year, but for me, this is a sadomasochistic display of wallets being beaten like there's no tomorrow while begging for More Zines. That's just how I get down, though.

As before, in Week One, Week Two, and Week Three, herein are some assorted zines that I find interesting. But there's no time now to explain how this is purely a subjective list of stuff I've noticed that fits a very, very narrow definition of OSR-ish and interesting-ish specifically to me. The end is nigh!

Time is precious. Mere moments remain in many of the campaigns to come about in the latter half of Zine Quest. Some of what we kinda informally consider the second wave - released around 14-17 Feb or so - are already over and their cousins are close behind. We're in the home stretch. Let's get right to pointing out what's running out of time and what has just been announced to squeak into the last week of the event!


  • Bunker: an OSR Zine - This comes directly from the monstrous, bloodsucking jerks at Exalted Funeral (or, more accurately, two collaborators and friends of EF, Michael and Matthew, with help from EF for distribution). This is weird sci-fantasy in the post-apocalypse. Think of 1980s fear of the bomb transplanted onto our current fear of our own environmental problems and fill in the gaps with Fallout characters playing D&D in a vault and I think you'll get kinda close to the flavor we have going for us here. I backed this without even reading a damn word of it this morning at the $10 Print level.
  • The Evils of Illmire - A mini-mega hexcrawl is an awful turn of phrase but a terrific idea for a zine. This is a big 64-pager with a cultist-infested central town and all sorts of funky role-playing shenanigans in the surrounding hexes of swamp and forest. Apparently OSR-, DW-, and D&D5E-compatible out of the box! Terrific artwork. I backed this at the $10 Print tier.
  • Beyond the Weird - Christopher Mennell with help from Khairul Hisham, Sam Mameli, Alex Mayo, and Fiona Maeve Geist. If we're lucky, also Michael Raston. Weird sci-fi stuff for Traveller, Mothership, or whatever other spaceships games you play. I don't post about it enough but this is my jam and all these creators are great. I backed this at the $5 PDF level but I'm feeling as though I'll upgrade soon - also, I scored Backer #1 here so there's a big vuvuzela tooting for me somewhere.
  • Depths Unknown - A zine by an old school player from the 1970s and 1980s making a classic fanzine - homegrown tables, maps, and illustrations. It has kinda come out of left field as I've never seen this fellow before, but it's very much the old-school vein and claims to be minimal-stats-OSR-compatible.
  • RPG Half-Sheets - Location stock art and half-page character sheets for classic class/race combos suitable for use as handouts, pregens, or just a nicely illustrated version of the character you happened to roll up. Good to have around, I guess. I plan to print these repeatedly as necessary, so I backed at the $5 PDF level.
  • Swords & Wizardry DARK - A set of optional sped-up, dangerous rules for Swords & Wizardry (or any OSR game). Kind of likely to be the same house rules a lot of us do or have played with in the past, including usage dice from Black Hack and human-only campaigns where demihumans are replaced with variant humans. Common enough, it seems, though there's a Vancian magic replacement of some sort in here too. I backed at the $7 Print level because it's going to be done on super-heavyweight paper and will fit in that S&W Box Set which somebody may have also backed.
  • Goddamn Fucking Dungeon Punks - Would you believe something named this would come out of Seattle? It's Troika, which I haven't yet gone through or embraced but I know a lot of OSR and OSR-adjacent types sure have so I am your humble reporter. It is a crusty, punk-themed take on dungeoneering for your Troika gaming and I imagine there's a lot of nerd crossover there.
  • GLAIVE - Scott Wegener, who made Atomic Robo, has a house-rule system of an OSR bent derived from B/X, Knave, and OGL sources that is broadly compatible (of course) with all of our existing OSR stuff. It's gonna be illustrated by a dude who has raked in Eisner noms for illustrating stuff so I am pretty sure the very charming art here will give a lot of people something to smile at. Glaive is probably a portmanteau of oGL + knAVE or something. If I am right, please mail my reward to me.
  • DELVE: A Solo Game of Digging Too Deep - Analogue Dwarf Fortress is maybe one way to describe this? You randomize things with card draws from a standard playing card deck and draw/map your way through the establishment and progress of a dwarven hold trying to dig ever deeper into dark caverns in search of a Void Crystal to pay a royal tax. Seems neat! Honestly, not strictly OSR, obviously, but playing a doomed party of dwarven miners is pretty much our jam, right?
  • A Wizard - An OSR adventure module in zine format in which you investigate the misdeeds and odd works of A Wizard, who is making life difficult for the locals and who is absolutely not at all actually a wizard. What is he, and why does everyone else believe he's a wizard, and what needs to be done to stop the madness? 
  • Rabid Dogs - This is a DCC zine inspired by heavy metal rock 'n' roll, punk music, and outsider culture as much as it is inspired by classic fantasy dungeoneering and high-lethality gameplay in search of treasure. Marrying the creator's two childhood loves in a zine that pays tribute to both. 
  • Tales from the Smoking Wyrm, Issue 2 - DCC strikes again! Once more we see DCC RPG inspiring an awesome zine with great art, great production, and cool ideas. That game deserves some recognition one day for being so good at that, specifically - incubating vile demons and great zines alike. This one is a collection of a hodge-podge of things for DCC and of course broadly useful for other games in the OSR range with some tweaking, presented as the scuttlebutt told at an adventurers' bar in-universe! I backed this one at the $15 POD/PDF level so I could catch up on the last issue!

FROM WEEK ONE AND TWO (Many of these are ending Soon!)

those ending within THE NEXT LITTLE BIT (this is the final update, after all) at the time of this writing are prefaced by *** to indicate urgency; those already done are struck-through
but even the things without the *** are ending very soon in most cases, yo!
  • ***Kozmik Objects & Entities - Nate Treme is a clever little fox with an outstanding eye for design. His work here on strange and weird sci-fi stuff is up my alley both for Traveller and for stealing and repurposing with a paper thin reskin here and there. I backed this at the $5 PDF level.
  • Wizard Funk, Issue 2 - It's so earnest and straightforward in its brevity that I clicked to support it almost on autopilot. An old-timer and his pals are putting together a real-deal old school amateur fanzine in the fashion of the 1970s circulars. I want it, so I backed it at the $1(!) PDF level. How can I lose? It could be 24 pages of an author leaning on the F key and I'd probably be fine with it at that price point. I've sure spent my time reading worse for more.
  • Octhorrorfest RPG Zine - Appendix N Entertainment, a ZQ2019 alum who produced Lost Classes & Cannibal Corpses last year, is putting together a project this year for a spooky Halloween zine due in summertime. 
  • ***Creature Feature Quarterly, Issue 2 - Jeremy Hart brings us his second OSR-statted bestiary; the first was in ZQ2019 last year. Jeremy is a skilled illustrator whose work can be found in a ton of role-playing stuff, including packs of stock art on DriveThruRPG. 
  • ***A Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City - A mini-setting for fantasy games to be used whole cloth or piece by piece as the DM needs. It's got very charming woodcut-style art and uses a very old font family for ye olde authenticity. The location is a waterlogged city at the end of days, where weird-ass wizards keep strange secrets in a suitably precipitous town. I think it's based on Vancouver, BC, but legally I cannot prove that. Americans would think it's Seattle but I have it on good authority that Vancouver is better and the so-called Wizards of the Coast in Seattle are actually just pretenders borrowing the name (they do not cast ANY spells; I've asked). Red herring.
  • ***The Skovd Chronicles - I don't have the button for the funky European o in the real version of this title, but rest assured that it should go there. This promises "Everything is a quest," as its central design tenet, pitting immigrant player-characters against an incredibly content-dense world of vicious, selfish, nefarious crooks. Several OSR/DIY artists of renown and appreciation guest star in this one!
  • Barrow Keep - Big one, this. This is B/X-compatible (and SS&SS-compatible!) interpersonal intrigue and treachery in the Game of Thrones/YA literature/generally dramatic fantasy school of fun, including a frankly ludicrous amount of content for a zine. Several "playbooks" akin to class templates, scenarios, mechanics for independently-generated local play versions of the titular Barrow Keep, and more. Highly recommended by playtesters I like and trust. I backed this at the $11 Print level.
  • ***The Ioun Codex: Zine of Wondrous Power Issue 3 - An entire zine about one of those classic magic items of D&D: ioun stones. Not satisfied to just list simple floating magic rocks, this includes histories, alternate abilities and uses, and more. Bonus points: the print zines are limited edition: one hundred copies only!
  • Akashic Titan - This is another wild and interesting Dungeon Crawl Classics zine. This time, we're talking about giant magical mecha from space, a fabled secret spaceport city location, adventure hooks to get there and to make use of it, random tables to take part in this new world, and of course rules for the namesake Akashic Titans themselves.
  • The Watching Book - Diagetic artifacts unwound through the text of a book translated into the modern tongue by those who sift through the remains of a lost culture. The book is akin to the Field Guide to Hot Springs Island in that it is both a players' guide and an in-universe artifact. The zine can be handed over whole cloth to the players, if you so choose!
  • Them's Monsters! - Josh Burnett, who rules deeply and who gave us Draugr & Draculas last year during Zine Quest 2019 (easily one of the most polished and most enjoyable of the ZQ2019 projects), is back again with a bestiary for use with DCCRPG and other d20-using games. You can mangle a DCC monster into any OSR or probably any 5E game if you felt so inclined, and you'll have his awesome art and humor as added bonuses. I backed this at the $5 PDF level.
  • YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE!! - An OSR mini-setting on a giant garbage barge where space and time seem a bit weird, raccoons steal goats, chemicals have feelings, and treasure lurks beneath the leftover trash tossed out by the cities the barge has visited. This is amazing, with a super cool art style full of trash vermin to boot. Very cool maritime setting that I instantly backed. I have backed this at the $12 Print level.
  • Vallakia - This came out of nowhere. A dark, spooky, dangerous micro-setting for OSR games that I found entirely by chance in the middle of the night while up late. Inexpensive, interesting, thematically up my alley. I gave it a back! I backed it at the $3(!) Print level.
  • Disk Horse, Issue 1 - Remember the Satanic Panic? Remember everyone saying D&D books were portals to hell just like ouija boards and tarot cards? This game is a game about a game within a game or some weird variation of those words: Disk Horse has you sit down and embody players who are playing Mazes and Monsters and attempting to prove whether or not the DM is in fact a Satanic evildoer - while also playing the game within a game. It's meta. It's by our very favorite Fiona Maeve Geist, who has edited everything good you've read in the past year or two, and it comes along with help from basically every cool OSR (and adjacent) luminary whose work you love. It's gonna be wild. I backed this at the $16 Print level.
  • ***Marsh Goons & Tempered Legacy - Two zines (package deal!) by David Schirduan. Finally. I have been waiting for this to launch since before ZQ2020 even began. Every day without it has been a bummer. Marsh Goons uses the Tunnel Goons ruleset to provide a complete hex crawl and rules in a grimy, disgusting wetland where there are literally mud-based magics. Tempered Legacy is a tricky magical item generation zine based around his terrific web tool. Or maybe vice versa. Either way, I backed this immediately at the $20 double Print level. 
  • Casket Land: Cruach - Casket Land was a popular PbtA western zine last go-round. Many noticed it because of it's amazing style and production value and interesting hooks. I am not so much into westerns or PbtA stuff and it's not the focus of this blog, but it was so popular last year I felt compelled to mention it here anyway. It looks like a sequel is up. I skipped the first one because oh my god how much can I possibly spend; I think I may have to do so again this year.
  • Corruption of the Black-Hearted - This is a take on the classic OSR adventuring premise - what if adventurers weren't brave (or at least curious) seekers of secrets and riches, but rather corrupt, greedy, vice-ridden bastards? I mean, to be honest, that's how every OSR campaign I've ever played has always treated the material, but this game is really damn open about it. This isn't OSR-compatible per se, so it's more like meta-commentary on the games we all love and play; it's a standalone rules-lite thing built to explore this specific concept.
  • The Bone Age - Billing itself as "weird school role-playing" and literally taking place in a neolithic world where stone age tribes must combat the sudden appearance of bug-eyed aliens. Their ships spew mutagens all over, slumbering ape-turtles and turtle-apes emerge, shit gets wild, and you need to Tarzan swing on over to your pterodactyl mount to save the day. I'm not even kidding or scratching the surface of this zine or its amazing art. You already know I backed this at the $16 Print level. 
  • 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!

I'm so glad Zine Quest blew up so hard! I can't believe it was as huge as it was and with such an amazing variety of truly high-quality, imaginative ideas. This hobby will never stop boggling my mind with how it never seems to run out of ideas for fun. To all the Zine Quest creators, featured herein or otherwise, in all segments of our hobby: thanks so much for putting your hard work out there, and congrats on your campaigns!

I won't quite halt the wallet-bleeding for a week or two yet but at least the worst is over! As always, I am ready for commiseration; it is better to weep for our immense ZQ expenditures together than to weep for them alone. I can be found over on Twitter @dungeonspossums!


ZQ2019 Review: The Demon Collective, Vol. 1

Writer: Camilla Greer, Mabel Harper, Comrade Pollux, Dai Shugars
Art: Lauren Bryce, maps by Shay and Odysseus Jones
Design: Dai Shugars
Editor: Fiona Maeve Geist
Publisher: GMDK
Length: Approx. 56pp
First Edition, First Printing 2019
ISBN: 978-0-578-55698-7

Another wildly overdue review is finally ready for the site! The Demon Collective, Vol. 1 was one of the projects I was over the moon for during ZQ2019 last year - I was unbelievably excited for the joining of this particular all-star cast of creators. Honestly, with this crew, there's almost no chance they could produce a bad book. There are four adventures by four writers, with all the art, layout, and editing by the same team besides; therefore as I review this zine I will reference each in turn.

1. Art Lauren Bryce is responsible for the illustrations, including the internal splash images, throughout The Demon Collective, Vol. 1, and she did such an amazing job of it that I can't help but heap the praise on. She shows a tremendous eye for the importance of negative space and light. It's like how you can tell the old black and white filmmakers truly understood and demonstrated mastery of lighting and composing a scene, and why film classes will convert modern films to greyscale to show how we don't? She just really rocks at sharp contrast and great use of both the black and the white in all of her illustrations here. Nothing was unclear, nothing needed color or greyscale to be read. All of her art just leaps off the page and feels crisp and vibrant without losing that sort of old-school energy I love. I can't say enough nice things about her work here. If you need an artist for your project, hire Lauren. That's the best accolade I can give.

The layout is clean. It's clear that there was a lot of attention given to ensuring readability and truthfully it seems like there was a foundational appreciation for the limitations and strengths of black and white internals (no colorful boxes for text, no text in highlight colors, not even greyscale!) that I really like to see - thoughtful, simple layout. It's nothing that will shake foundations or make anyone rethink layout design, but it's extremely clean and has a comfortable visual language throughout the book that makes it feel like a cogent anthology. Overall, Dai did good work here and the attention paid especially to the splash images and making good use of Lauren's art is really nice to see.

As far as cartography goes, I was left wanting a little more, both in style/detail and in amount. The book is already really pushing the limit of "zine" and probably had Mixam breathing heavily as they lined up the staples, so I can imagine that excess cartography would be a difficult addition to juggle. However, I did feel like a little more map stuff would have been nice, and I almost feel like the styles present would be amazing in a lot of zines but don't match up with the horror themes here. It's not easy to explain why - I think I can just picture these maps in any OSR zine but I can't see the scary factor in any of them, stylistically. I know that what matters most is that they're clear and illustrative (they are) but sometimes the style counts too, y'know? I'd have to say my favorite map is in She's Not Dead, She's Asleep for the treasure vault illustrations!

2. Content The first adventure is Night School by Camilla Greer. It is a spooky journey through a moldering village dying on the vine, its commerce and populace largely stripped away by neighboring towns, where a once-prestigious academy once again seeks students. Children sent here for an opportunity at education are instead subjected to horror and danger in the grips of a cult of the brainwashed and devoted who seek to acquire more and more knowledge as their founder once did. This is a really cool, creepy premise with lots of room for classic horror hooks. Camilla does a great job of setting it up and it has some really amazing touches; the Scarecrows and the Bookmites are terrific and having the latter appear in groups of three called trilogies was just great wordplay. The adventure starts with lots of bold and gripping hooks and there's ample opportunities for the horror movie notes to land throughout. Strongest features are big hooks at the start and the infernal force driving it all.

The second is Mabel Harper's She's Not Dead, She's Asleep. This is classic dark fantasy, and, like many classic high-lethality dungeons, it will probably kill you badly and the real test is how far you make it moreso than can you complete it or not. Only the best equipped and most skilled will survive this tomb of horror. Mabel sets the scene for a classic Bram Stoker sort of Transylvanian flavor of eerie, giving players a small town near a cursed forest which plays home to the storied, treasure-filled grave of a vampire goddess. The dungeon is filled with thematic undead and the various accompanying creatures that you'd expect in the final resting place of an ancient evil vampire empire - Beelzebub the mosquito mount is especially adorable. There is a really intricate and cool history of the vampire queen's court told in little fits and starts and environmental clues that I found fascinating but which may not translate at the table clearly enough for the players to get intrigued and uncover all the secrets - unless the DM leans into it hard and makes sure the subtle tidbits are really laid out there for them; this is one of those things that's especially fun for inquisitive DMs reading through the adventure but requires some work to make sure players get the full benefit (and a party lucky enough to survive and cavalier enough to risk danger for clues and details for the sake of pure interest). Speaking of risk, She's Not Dead, She's Asleep would be perfectly at home in any horror campaign, but would also fit the needs of most very deadly old-school tournament-style convention games! The quality of the imagination here is terrific and the ambience created by Mabel is on-point every single page. Best of all, a unique mechanic borrowed from Dread makes for an incredibly tense experience.

Our third adventure is Bad Faith by comradepollux, an encounter with a cult who has moved into a miserable little town to complete their plan to extinguish the sun to bring about the release of an evil god and an age of slaughter and horror. The cult is motivated by an immensely valuable ruby which, like the green alien orb in the Heavy Metal movie, goads humans towards heresy and violence. It's a classic premise and it usually lands well with players who know what to expect. Except, it rapidly descends into the gory and grotesque, and DMs well-equipped with a thesaurus and gleeful, gross descriptions of horrific scenes will unnerve their players easily. This is not the subtle kind of horror; this is the inescapable dread of madness and murder and blood every-damn-where. Once that lands it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse with a slasher flick bad guy, and you're only about halfway through. Parties who survive countless encounters with devoted, maniacal cultists and their specialized murder contraptions contend at last with a finale against the root of all this evil and even in victory face great danger. Hits of fantasy land between all of the horror movie nastiness, making it suitable for your D&D table, but they're going to know they've fallen into a really bad place when they take up the cause of venturing into the cult's inner sanctum. Strongest feature here is Zedekaiah and his Eviscerator and cat-and-mouse slasher movie mechanics.

Hush is the final adventure found in The Demon Collective, Vol. 1, and it is by the organizer of the whole project, Dai Shugars. The adventure follows the party entering a long-lost dwarven library to deal with a basilisk and return to the kin of some dead dwarven hunting party members with news of their fate. Hush takes on the mantle of the monster movie, in many ways, and presents a classic fantasy bent on the genre where a terrifying, alien monster lurks in the pitch black shadows and picks off the weak and slow. The adventure relies on two big components to build horror and tension. First, the basilisk stalks and doesn’t even necessarily need to enter into protracted combat to peel the party to ribbons bit by bit. The danger mounts constantly as limbs are petrified and supplies are drained and the shadows themselves hinder the party as they try to find or escape the basilisk. Second, the party can’t speak. Straight up. The library takes silence very seriously, like that ghost from Ghostbusters. It isn’t here for talks and chatter. An enchantment forces parties to communicate their fears, plans, and basilisk sightings in gestures and hand signals, and guess what gets more difficult when your hands start getting petrified? The romp sounds like a classic fantasy dungeon but quickly turns into a horror movie.

Editing across the whole of this zine is even-handed. A few typographic errors sneak in here and there but none which impact the understanding or enjoyment of the book. Given the insane workload Fiona Maeve Geist has spent the past year or two under, while also gaming and being a thought-provoking discourse disaster on Twitter, it's probably understandable. If there's ever a Vol. 2, I imagine the crew will look a little closer, but the Mixam print quality kinda tricks you into expecting hardcover amounts of work out of a zine you paid zine prices for. Overall I would of course appreciate perfection but none of us can claim it so here we are - you'll find a half dozen typos in here, and you'll get past it. Or maybe you won't even notice them.

3. Overall This is one of the most wonderful zines I've ever owned. In truth, I think it really toes the line between zine and book, and I think that this collection could have been a hardcover any day of the week if it hadn't been launched during ZineQuest 2019. It's really, really good. Dai did an amazing job on organizing it and laying it out and retaining an incredible look and feel throughout. The management of tone (horror is very hard to be even with) is great and each piece is different style of horror without being wildly higher or lower on the scary factor yardstick. The contributing authors all did terrific work here and it speaks to their credit that when I finished going through and rereading each piece for this article, I wished there were more works I could read and interact with. Lauren Bryce's art is bar none some of the most polished, sharpest, compelling stuff I've seen in recent memory and if she were in many, many more books I read I would not complain in the slightest. She's just skilled as heck.

All of this long-ass review of a "short" book just to say:

I give The Demon Collective, Vol. 1 an easy eight terrified, hollow-brained Scarecrow possums screaming all night out of ten possible terrified, hollow-brained Scarecrow possums screaming all night. If you're asking what the difference is between a normal possum and a terrified, hollow-brained Scarecrow possum screaming all night, you'll be happy to learn that there really isn't one, but the latter is tied to a tree and having a great time of it. This zine rocks. It could be a hardcover. I hope, one day, that it is a hardcover, or part of a hardcover, so I can buy it again.

Did you back this zine? Did you not back it, but buy it later? Do you want to chat excitedly with me about it and tag the authors into the conversation so they can blush because of our praise? Hit me up on Twitter and we can be pals: I am over there as @DungeonsPossums!

Zine Quest 2020: Breaking Possum News



A couple weeks ago, while I was in the hospital with my wife, I received a Twitter DM from Amanda Lee Franck asking if I'd write up some possums for YOU GOT A JOB ON THE GARBAGE BARGE (which has a ZineQuest Kickstarter campaign ending in like 40 hours as of this writing), which I had already backed the very first second I saw it because it's an OSR adventure sandbox in a weirdly-grounded gonzo mini-setting centered on trash and if that's not incredibly on brand for me and this blog I don't even know what is. She even gave me the work-in-progress manuscript (which is ridiculously full of content already and ABSOLUTELY AWESOME) to give me a feel for the content she's already produced for the book.

Naturally, I said no.


She offered me way above the Big Company per-word pay rate (and above the indie darling "pay your writers this much!!" mantra, too, because she's a saint) and gave me free rein to produce whatever content I felt like producing (as long as it was about possums). That was straight up her opening gambit, no begging or negotiations needed. Just a direct offer. 

And I said no, because I was and am in the midst of a bit of a real life garbage fire and I didn't want to take a chance having her promise something I couldn't deliver and damage her project or her reputation. It's no surprise to readers that I was wildly late giving the unbelievably kind and wonderful Michael T Lombardi the completed zini for Beneath The Canals because last year was also a garbage fire for me; I didn't want to do that again. So I said no.

But I couldn't stop thinking about possums and laughing, which is genuinely and sincerely totally normal for me, so I started to write about a passel of possums for the garbage barge in my spare time.

When I was done, I had a few frantic possums. I didn't want to dominate her project or put too much of my dumb voice in the midst of her unique sound and ideas, or overflow her layout or anything; I had no idea how much room she had for my dumb possums. So I just kept it small and fun.

And then I sent them to her anyway like two days after she asked me and I said no because I couldn't help myself. 

And, graciously, she excitedly promised to put them in the book and even illustrate them - and to announce it as a surprise when the time was right and the blood moon hung low in the house of Saturn (I may have taken liberties with the retelling of that last part).

I am ecstatic! I really, truly am. This is a real highlight for me and brings me an immense amount of joy and pride. I can't stop smiling.

A word for full disclosure purposes: I (hopefully politely) declined to be paid. Again, to her credit, I must stress that Amanda opened with a big and generous offer, unprompted and completely sincerely, which is a tremendous reflection on her kindness and obvious confusion as to the quality of my work. But I said no, because I'd rather she keep those dollars for herself after all the hard work she's doing, or give it to a charity, or put it back into art or ZineQuest somewhere or something. I was flattered and astounded and I have nothing but the kindest things to say about her offer, but I really wasn't gonna do it at all initially and I also wrote very little and it's better this way. Next time, I'll rob her blind, like the barge raccoons would do.

Therefore I feel utterly justified in demanding that you back this book that my dumb words are (briefly) in:


I'm not above torture for those of you who fail to back this Kickstarter.  

Above all, though? I really hope anyone who backs this book enjoys my tiny contribution of horrible little disaster possums. Amanda's book is going to be completely amazing, I am utterly in love with everything I've seen in it, and I really, truly hope you all like the possums as much as I enjoyed writing them. 

But no matter what, if you want to yell at me for this blatant promotion or just dance in a giddy craze with me about the fact that my idiot possums are gonna be in a fantastic book, you can always find me on @dungeonspossums on Twitter, where I cannot hide from your mockery or invitations to dance.