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Freak Out In A Moonage Diedream, Oh Yeah!
Wyrd Science 5 art reveal! A super sale! Cool games!
Barring the moment I hold a new issue in my hands and see I haven’t made an almighty mistake, few things here give me as much joy as seeing our writers and artists transmute my base ideas into creative gold.
So you can imagine the paroxysms of euphoria I experienced when Łukasz Kowalczuk sent us the above illustration. Commissioned to accompany Shannon Appelcline’s feature on the history of dystopian role-playing games in our next issue, I have to say it really is quite something.
Anyway, this retina scorching reveal means that we are edging ever closer to Wyrd Science 5 hitting subscriber’s doormats probably early October now. If you’re not part of that select group and want to be amongst the first to get the new issue head here to pre-order or here to grab a rolling subscription.
It’s another packed issue filled with great features on games such as Paranoia, Blade Runner, The Doomed, Barkeep on the Borderlands and lots more, including a brilliant piece by Dan Thurot making the case for more, yes more, politics in tabletop games.
And, since we're in a revealing mood, we can also say that work’s well under way on issue 6 too, which in a most un-Wyrd Science like fashion we hope to have out in fairly short order, hopefully December.
This sudden rush of activity though does mean that we need to some clear space in the warehouse for the arrival of several thousand new magazines and so we’re having a sale, with up to 50% off back issues. Go on, treat yourself, I think we both deserve it.
Right, we’ll be hearing a lot more about the new issue over the next month, so let’s get on with the newsletter as we have a couple of really interesting games I wanted to highlight this week that give us a decent snapshot of just how disparate the indie RPG scene is today and some of the challenges is covering it in a semi-coherent way.
As different as they may be the compressed nature of the non-D&D gaming space means these seemingly unrelated titles must, in some manner, rub up alongside each other in a way that barring outlandish Black Swan Events the likes of Taylor Swift and Cabaret Voltaire are rarely expected to.
Were the scene larger it might be more peaceful, and almost certainly profitable, but I’m not particularly interested in a world where everyone lives in splendid isolation, clinging to small differences and where interactions beyond our carefully curated niches extends to occasionally asking the OSR to turn the noise down a bit or wondering where lyric games are off to as they barrel past on a unicycle.
Personally I’ve always viewed tabletop games as a spectrum rather than a series of discrete boxes. As kids we fudged together games from whatever we had, the living roomcarpet a jumble of Top Trumps, charity shop board game finds, scrawled upon pieces of paper and more that would somehow come together to create joyful experiences.
For that reason I’ve always thought that the most interesting things happen on the edges where the lines get a little blurred, games like Dread, Forbidden Psalm and *checks notes* MÖRKOPOLY, before the best ideas slowly filter back and reinvigorate the centre. So for all the annoyances it can throw up I’ve come to see the chaotic nature of this community as a strength rather than a weakness.
Let us try and embrace the messy contradictions and those creative frictions with good grace. Let’s see what marvellously unexpected directions they lead us just as much as they can create bristling cliques. Find space for both the uncompromisingly artistic and the unapologetically ‘fun’, and make space for games that both seek to illuminate the human condition and dunk it in radioactive slime. After all, what’s the worst that can happen*…
Till next time when, for sangria related reasons, I promise to be brief(er)…
*Well, apart from the occasional weirdly dispiriting evening role-playing as something like an anxious goldfish or suffering through Talisman.
A project that has been in the works for almost a decade, Gavin Norman’s Dolmenwood is a fantasy adventure game set in the titular forest, a fairy tale and British folklore inspired setting filled with mossy ruins, long forgotten barrows, crystal caverns and much more besides.
Norman is, of course, probably best known for Old School Essentials, the gussied up Dungeons & Dragons B/X retroclone that in recent years has firmly established itself as the OSR’s system of choice. Where OSE was, in Norman’s own words, more of an ‘archaeological’ project, an attempt to refine the text and layout of B/X and produce a definitive yet faithful edition, Dolmenwood builds upon that 40 year old chassis to become it’s own, if still very much classic fantasy, game.
Dolmenwood as a setting has appeared in various forms over the years, first detailed in Norman’s own Wormskin zine and subsequently in his acclaimed OSE module Winter’s Daughter, but it now arrives on Kickstarter fully expanded and complete with it’s own holy trinity of core books.
As is tradition that starts with the Player’s Book which features all the game rules and the setting specific ‘kindreds’ and classes available to players, including the likes of goat headed breggles, feline fairies and the curious mosslings alongside your everyday humans.
The Campaign Book then details the setting itself and the 200+ hexes that it comprises of, here you’ll find the factions who rule over it, their major settlements and the notable NPCs you’ll encounter. Finally we have the Monster Book, a bestiary of the strange creatures you may be lucky, or of course, unlucky enough to meet under Dolmenwood’s enchanted bowers, some twists on familiar fantasy faces whilst many completely new to the game.
And that’s just the start of it as the campaign is packed full of - horribly tempting - extras for those who want to go all in, from sprawling hex maps and a range of miniatures through to a vinyl soundtrack with new stretch goals both appearing and being crushed every time I check back.
So, if you’d like to explore what looks likely to be one one of the OSRs most developed settings and tread lightly, or indeed fully encumbered with arms full of swag, through the fungal glades and haunted paths of Dolmenwood head over to Kickstarter now…
Campaign Ends: September 9
From one end of the indie RPG spectrum to the other with Alfred Valley’s Diedream. One a million dollar Kickstarter featuring hundreds of pages spread across three lavish books and complete with maps and miniatures, the other a free to download game on Itch, you play alone in bed and almost certainly features less words in total than this review.
Yes, you read that right, where Dolmenwood’s setting seeks to evoke a dreamlike, fairy tale ambience, Diedream takes that even further, designed as it is to be played, swaddled in your duvet as you drift into a hypnagogic state, slipping between our mundane reality and the psychedelic world of dreams.
Were I in possession of both a degree and YouTube channel I’d be tempted to say that Diedream bears more relation to the ‘pure psychic automatism’ of Breton’s surrealist manifesto than anything inspired by E. Gary Gygax. Luckily for us all I possess neither.
Anyway, Valley is no stranger to solo games, altered states or indeed more experimental titles, with the likes of acclaimed Mothership solo adventure Thousand Empty Light and oracular storytelling tool Lay On Hands to his credit. Diedream is, at first glance at least, even more out there and likely to prompt some shaking of heads but we think it’s a fascinating premise.
The essential idea is that as you lie in bed, your mind gently unspooling, you start to create some kind of adventurous story and use the game’s simple oracles and mnemonics to guide your way. As and when you come up against a complication you choose a couple of 2 digit numbers, perform some -thankfully- simple maths to arrive at a number between 1 & 9, which in turn equals some degree of success or failure.
There is a little more to it than that, and Valley and several enthusiastic fans have already created new starting scenarios and variations, but not much and everything you need to know fits on 2 sides of A4 with plenty of space still left over for some nice graphic design touches.
Whilst Diedream may seem far removed from what many might think of as a game, when you break it down it’s actually not that outré an example. Compared to something like Riverhouse Games’s We Are But Worms, it’s a veritable crunch fest, tyrannically didactic in its approach even and certainly not too far from how many of us entertained ourselves as children.
Indeed beyond the wild, unfettered imaginations of kids there’s a rich tradition of artists, writers and even scientists from Dali to Tesla, Wagner to Isaac Newton making use of hypnagogic states to unlock new ideas, so I’d suggest it’s never a bad thing to occasionally try and reconnect with that state of mind and play, lie back and see what dreams may come, even if - as in the game’s example - they’re full of shambling zombies.
A collection of other things, both interesting and inspiring, gaming related and not, culled from around the web...
Dicebreaker have an update to the year’s funniest tabletop game story with police announcing they’ve recovered the $300,000 worth of Magic: The Gathering cards stolen from Gen Con. The hilariously rogue rival game designers who are the prime suspects in the case remain untapped (I think that pun works, Magic remains an absolute mystery to me…)
Great set of pics over at The Guardian by artist Matt Stevens, whose Good Movies As Old Books projects does exactly what it says, creating vintage 60s/70s style paperback covers based on films ranging from The Fly to Guardians of the Galaxy. Great stuff.
I promise I do occasionally read other newspapers but staying in N1 this is a good look at the influence of Bruce Lee on beat-em-up games, 50 years on from the martial arts star’s untimely death.
There’s an interesting report over at EN World looking at current freelance rates of pay in the TTRPG world. Great, but actually let’s be honest awful, to see that Wyrd Science currently pays our writers around a cent more than the mode rate of pay of our “industry leaders”.
You know we love a bit of linocut art here at Wyrd Science and we’ve long loved the work of Oklahoma based artist Kathleen Neeley, whose latest print The Game is both beautiful beyond words and goes on sale next Monday.
Between Two Cairns is fast becoming one of our favourite RPG podcasts, especially their Gamer Blast From the Past episodes where they reevaluate classic modules. In the latest show hosts Yochai Gal and Brad Kerr are again joined by Sam Mameli (aka Skullboy) to look at the first ever Dragonlance module, DL1 - Dragons of Despair, the series that inarguably changed the direction of D&D forever.
Speaking of Sam Mameli, apparently his car has just expired, which obviously isn’t great but does mean that this week you can pick up his entire itch catalogue for $25, which incudes the incredible/incredibly odd Adventure RPG (In Need of Translation).
A happy 40th birthday to our favourite blue skinned genetic infantryman, Rogue Trooper, who first appeared in the pages of 2000AD this week back in 1983. To mark the occasion Rebellion are offering 40% off the first collected edition of his adventures and have put together this free primer.
A couple of weeks ago we mentioned puzzle company Le Puzz, whose fresh look had caught our eye. Since then we’ve been following the graphic design team responsible for that, Little Troop, and we love this campaign they've just worked on for/with Billie, a company specialising in razors and body care products for women, which involved creating a board game and frankly amazing advert to go with it.
Annoyingly for us, the game itself was ridiculously limited and sold out in minutes but aside from such material concerns we think that it’s super interesting to see tabletop games being used more in campaigns like these, especially ones aimed directly at women. Good stuff all round.
Fans of facehuggers, eldritch abominations and the like, rejoice! as a new absolute horror in the shape of this 20 armed abyssal terror just dropped. Nature, ain’t she great. Now can we kill it, please?
Whilst we’re on the subject of creatures of the deep, illustrator Rob Turpin who provided the amazing art for issue 3’s horror in space feature just worked on a new trick taking card game, Enemy Anemone. Full disclosure we have no idea if the game’s any good but Rob’s art is, as ever, on point and always worth checking out.
Far removed from the world of gaming is one of my current favourite newsletters, How Things Work, which focuses on the intersection of ‘labor, politics and power’ (*insert monocle emoji*). Anyway, if you too like getting yourself riled up about stuff then it’s well worth checking out but for obvious reasons this week’s guest post looking at how AI/Tech companies are somehow doing even more damage to journalism particularly caught my eye.
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