Friday, January 23, 2009

Zine Review: Iridia #51

So the day before yesterday I got this envelope in the mail from someone in Beverly Hills, California. “Other than the Clampetts and the gang at the Peach Pit, who the hell do I know in Beverly Hills?” was my immediate reaction. Inside the envelope I found a little booklet with a cover depicting a wounded sword-jockey and a buxom adventuress. Well that looks right up my alley! Turns out that Christian Walker, zine publisher and Gameblog reader, lives up in the Hills of Beverly. Christian very kindly sent me a complementary copy of his zine about RPGs and minis both old and new, as the tagline on the cover says. Thanks, man!

Issue #51 of Iridia contains 20 digest-sized pages of unpretentious gaming goodness divided amongst three articles. The first article is part of an ongoing series called Iron Rations, all about stuff drawn from an old Basic D&D campaign of Mr. Walker’s. This particular installment is a mini-dungeon, a long-abandoned dwarven waystation now serving as the lair of some minions of Chaos. The map is clean and all the room descriptions are straightforward. There’s a little more italicized fluff narrative than warrants an adventure this size and in a couple of places I can’t tell if the sconces on the walls are supposed to have lit torches in them or not. I don’t consider either issues a dealbreaker; the former is ignorable and the latter is easily handled by on the fly by any self-respecting referee. I like this little adventure site enough that I plan on dropping it pretty much as-is onto my sandbox hexmap.

The second article is a well-detailed write-up of an alchemist shop done for D&D 3.5. The neat thing is that I could probably get a lot of use out of this article as well. I’m amused by the slightly perverse idea of putting an alchemist capable of making tindertwigs and thunderstones into a Labyrinth Lord game. Sure, the two lurching statblocks are mostly wasted space for my purposes, but the adventure hooks, good descriptions and detailed floorplan more than make up for the mechanical rubbish. One excellent bit is that Christian tells us where the alchemist goes to empty the ol’ chamberpot. For all the ancient sewer dungeons appearing in fantasy gaming, you rarely get details like that. I’ve long argued that D&D needs more poop in it. Finally, someone who agrees!

The last section of the zine is an introductory adventure for Twilight: 2000. How many of those do you see nowadays? It’s probably been 20 years since I played T2000 and odds are pretty good I’ll never play it again, but I still like what I see here. There’s a couple quick firefights with Soviets, at least one solid role-playing opportunity, stats for a commie armored car, and a couple sound ideas for future adventures. It would probably take me all of ten minutes to change this thing into an Encounter Critical scenario involving a land war between the Ape Sultans and the Steel Warlords or something like that. The AK’s become tommy guns, the armored car turns into a Damnation Van with a protonic spearlaunch turret, the PCs’ humvee transforms into a diabolic ’57 Chevy powered by the crooning spirits of damned lounge singers, etc.

Finally I’m really impressed with the production values. Sure, this is a little saddle-stapled black-and-white amateur affair, but the layout is sound and the artwork better than I’ve seen in some commercial outings. And no typos or grammatical errors leapt out at me as I read. The closest thing to a miscommunication that I found was an NPC in the Twilight 2000 scenario that’s labeled Dr. So-and-so in one sentence, then Lt. So-and-so in the next. The character in question is a both a lieutenant in the army and a medical doctor, but I still had to flip back to previous page to make sure I was following the plot correctly. The only major problem with the physical book itself was that the covers got scruffed up in transit, rubbing a far amount of ink off the cover art.

Even with a scratchy cover, Iridia #51 is well worth the two buck cover price. (And it sure as heck is worth the zero dollars I paid for it!) But there’s not really any need to take my word for it. The official Iridia website has a bunch of stuff you can check out for free, with a PayPal donation button if you like what you see. If issue #51 is representative of the whole, then there ought to be lots of useful stuff over there with very little in the way of padding.

Thanks again for this great little zine, Christian!