Sunday, 24 January 2016

Review: Wormskin No. 1

Wormskin No. 1 (Autumn 2015)

Author: Norman & Gorgonmilk
System: Labyrinth Lord (or similar)
PDF/Print: $3.00 / $5.75

It has been a solid three months since I last posted anything. Nonetheless, I have been busy on a number of projects, both gaming related and otherwise. It is shaping up to be a good year.

Before Wormskin was released I remember +The Real-ish Greg Gorgonmilk posting some compelling WIP shots of the cover and interior maps. That, combined with the professed tone and inspiration of the work — folklore and the fairy tale — sustained my curiosity. Consequently, when it was released recently as a print-on-demand product I decided to purchase the first issue of the zine.

The back cover of Wormskin ostensibly claims to explore:

"...the mythic forest called Dolmenwood, a setting for use with B/X campaigns or similar tabletop systems. Each issue will look at various elements of this eldritch realm situated on the leafy verges of Faerie, where austere Drunes rub elbows with weird elf-lords and talking beasts, where witches wander skyclad and armed with sinister magicks to bind the spirits of hapless adventurers. Be wary."

While in a very abstract sense this is true, much of the 41 pages are dedicated to two new race-as-classes (Moss Dwarf and Grimalkin), detailing thirty variety of fungi within Dolmenwood, and presenting a new monster. There is a two-page map of the area, but it scarcely describes anything canonical of the actual setting — "Drunes", "weird elf-lords", or indeed anything much about the kingdoms or environs within the setting. Personally I would like to see more of the pages of future issues dedicated to exploring this very thing.

With that quibble confessed let me tell you about the things that Wormskin does well. While the text may not explicitly say a whole lot about the setting of Dolmenwood it does imply a lot through the articles within the zine. Overall I appreciated the mood; it fits well with the assumptions of my own campaign world, and there was enough within its 41 pages that I can borrow or transplant to the gaming table.

The zine is attractively presented; Gorgonmilk (I presume) has managed to curate the content in an attractive and legible manner. The (public domain?) illustrations fit the theme of Dolmenwood and +Matthew Adams provides a number of pieces, quintessential of his offbeat and slightly creepy style. Andrew Walter is credited with a coloured piece of the moss dwarf which I really enjoyed. The whole work is latticed with small decorative flourishes, like pictures of 'shrooms and the occult-inspired title page.

The contents provide a reasonable bang for buck. The moss dwarf is an interesting class; I am unsure whether they would be better suited as an NPC (indeed, the "Moss Dwarf NPCs" table is rather inspired), but I can also imagine them being fun to play in a wilderness campaign. The Grimalkin class is imaginative too. It seems to draw upon a similar mythological antecedence to my own Werecat class, but fits within the implied assumptions of the Dolmenwood campaign very tidily. 

The section on fungi is an entertaining and practical addition because detailing specific flora is something I frequently overlook in my own milieux. Providing a wide selection of edible, poisonous, and psychotropic mushrooms adds a compelling layer of realism and richness to any world, and I will probably use this section more or less verbatim at the table. Within these three articles the reader catches glimpses of Dolmenwood: witches, woodsmen, poisoners, "demi-fey", "dank woods", and a relationship with the ephemeral Otherworld. As noted previously, this is something I would like to have seen developed more explicitly, or most certainly in future issues.

In sum, Wormskin is worth the money. Whether you are picking up the PDF or a physical copy, there will probably be something of interest if you enjoy new rules and a zine whose setting is seeped primarily in folklore and fable.