The #ZERO issue of the Night Soil ‘zine for DCC clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, laid out in approximately 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), meaning that you can theoretically fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this.
As the editorial page makes clear, the theme of Night Soil as a ‘zine would be art – or, to be more precise, the art of the 4th printing of the DCC core rules. Basically, we get rules that correspond to the artworks in that book. Thus, content herein is not governed by type of material, but instead, in its sequence of the artworks that inspired their respective creation. While I do get the notion here, from a purely practical point of view, I am not particularly happy with this decision, as it ultimately makes finding a specific bit of content harder if you’re e.g. looking for a magic item. On the other hand, if you’re skimming through the DCC core rules for inspiration and flip this open right next to you, well, then it works as intended…but still is, at least in my book, somewhat inconvenient.
Anyhow, I will attempt to structure this review by content, not be the sequence of the art that inspired it. All right? Great! So, another thing you have to know, is that this ‘zine follows the tradition of e.g. many articles in Gongfarmer’s Almanac and similar ‘zines (Yep, do own those – however, as they’re free/at-cost for print compilations, I won’t review them unless tasked to do so by my patreon supporters) for DCC, in that it employs a quasi-type-writer style font. While this obviously is intended as a draw for nostalgia, as a callback to the old days of DIY-‘zines, it’s not a decision I am particularly fond of. While DCC is not exactly intense and hard to grasp regarding its formatting conventions, the adherence to this typewriter-style font means that even basic formatting conventions like bolding and italicization of certain rules-materials, are not properly implemented within. In essence, the pdf chooses nostalgia over convenience, and while DCC is not as reliant on such formatting conventions, they do exist for a reason. They make processing information simpler and quicker. For me, this is a definite drawback.
Anyhow, the first piece of content within would be a monster, the terrordactyl (guess what that fellow is), which has a nasty stench and can actually insta-gib you on a natural 20. Not a fan of that one. As an aside note – the movement ratings throughout the ‘zine tend to lack the feet-indicator, presenting only the number. I know. I’m nitpicking. Phlogiston elementals are more interesting – pretty powerful at between 6d6 and 10d6 HD, they have act 1d20 + 1d14 and are more vulnerable versus wooden weapons, while metal ones are less efficient. I like this type of design paradigm. We also get somewhat unremarkable stats for unicorns, that are primarily relevant due to the notes on using them as mounts. The coolest creature herein, both conceptually and mechanically, would be the lobsterclops: Beating the fellow on initiative isn’t necessarily beneficial, and its tongue-lick can cause freakouts on a failed Will-save. Cool! Stalking demons are pretty creepy, and can wreck your movement until there literally is no escape.
The pdf also has brief notes on dogmen, who can only advance to 3rd level in cleric, thief, warrior and wizard. These fellows are Small, have a 1d3+Strength modifier bite attack, get a keen sense of smell, and bones they discover that are used for magical effects get a whopping 40% increase when employed in the presence of the dogman. They are easily distracted, though, and must make Personality checks to avoid being distracted, which translates to losing an Action Die when confronted with such stimulants, or move a step down the dice chain when saving. On the semi-stat-like side, we have a brief write-up for catbat familiars, as well as for zombie retainers, and one for “Death Guards” – basically schmucks that have been indoctrinated to think that they have great fighting powers – which they don’t have. However, as long as enough of them are standing, they actually can rise above their crappy stats via 4 different inspirational tactics, though the verbiage here could be clearer: Do all guards get the benefits? Can each choose their own benefit? Can the group use a total of one trick per encounter, or is that tracked by death guard? And finally: Why, for f***’s sake, per encounter. Per encounter mechanics have never made any form of in-game sense. *insert my tired old rant and examples*
Now, the ‘zine also contains a collection of different magic items: Horseshoes of returning are certainly one of the most inconspicuous weapons I can think of, and they are particularly intended for halfling use and for thieves. Speaking of halflings: The pipe of contentment can only be used once every two days and takes a calm hour to smoke. Upon finishing the pipe, the user gets either a temporary luck boost on a failed Fort-save, or a longer lasting temporary luck boost and also heal Intelligenceor Personality damage. Halflings get better boosts and proceed to heal the two attribute damage types faster for a couple of days. A brief sequence also notes 4 uses for a dead giant, which mentions the skull being desirable as a witch’s cauldron (sans mechanics) and effects of feasting on the flesh of a giant personally killed. 5 effects are provided. The other uses are closer to story-relevant and turned out to be pretty cool: Polar kraken bait? Heck yeah! Vorpal swords get an interesting mechanic: 1-in30 chance of decapitating the target on a critical hit, which increases by 1 every time the decapitation’s not rolled. *Sigh* Hand me the bag of kittens…I’ll start slaughtering until the heads-off effect is higher… Aethereal quarterstaffs can only be held by one of 3 persons, and a wielder can call it to the hand or send it to nothingness. Okay, how do you become the guy that can call it to your hand? No idea.
The Not-two brooch of time has a nice mechanic and can bolster spell checks and deflect incoming spells on a 1-in-5, as well as stop missiles. The dagger of fire steering can generate a 5-in-7 reliable bubble of fire-negating on the wearer, and it can hasten or slow the spread of fires by 50% The cauldron of contact is one of my favorites within, coming with a d20 table of side effects, and requiring specific wood to use. Horned caps enhance Luck burns regarding animal or fear-related spells slightly. Dragon staffs can 1/day be thumped to the ground to net a unique power from dragon table VI for level rounds. Ouch! The amulet of six segments requires a cleric to use and is aligned – each of its segmented effects can be used exactly once. Solid. Enchanted skull bookrests act as magical ciphering tools for wizards – remove the scrambled book from the skull, and you have gibberish. Yep, textbook example of “Quest for it!”-material. Straddling the line between item and plot-device, speaking headstones do pretty much what you’d expect them to, and there are rules for a collection of inspirational lore. An armlet of Azi Dahaka helps traverse desert storms – provided you’re a disciple of the dread entity.
Speaking of somewhat dressing-related things: A submerged skull of a titan, and some unusual effects for a hanging tree can be found herein, and the pdf also notes a weird monk-tradition that inscribes spells on insect-based scrolls that revert to live insects upon being cast…unless the caster’s lucky, for there’s a chance these scrolls are not consumed.
The pdf also depicts three new spells: At level 1, we have shadowblend, an AC-buff for wizards. The pretty lame eye of chaos that pretty much is an anti-law alignment spell and clocks in at level 2 – both of these are wizard spells. Clerics can get the new level 2 spell seeking shrieking shrike, which fires an animal-shaped bolt of energy that takes a while to hit the target, but does pretty decent damage. Not genius, but this one is at least conceptually compelling, in contrast to the previous two.
Finally, the pdf also contains a few hazard-like obstacle/creatures: Lock defenders are tiny beings that can attempt to prevent intrusion into a lock, but most importantly, carry all sorts of nasty diseases. Frogmoths are a winner, drifting through the air. They are loud, then exhibit a hard shellack coating stuck to the surface, making for a weird kind of temporary armor that makes movement impossible. Minor complaint: No suggestion is provided for a movement speed reduction when putting these moths on you – other than that, this represents one of my favorites in this book!
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules-language. I noticed a couple of typos and some instances where the rules-language could have been clearer. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes with quite a few sketch-like b/w-doodle-style artworks that range from nice to not-so-nice. Like the cover? You won’t mind the aesthetics. As noted before, I’m not a fan of the layout decisions within. The pdf version, alas, has no bookmarks, which provides a further comfort detriment.
Bygrinstow’s Night Soil #ZERO is a solid grab-bag of miscellaneous things for your DCC game. The content within ranges from inspiring and cool, to bland renditions of classic tropes. While the cool components that get this DCC-weird-vibe, this Appendix N-flair, definitely are in the majority, the formal criteria and lack of bookmarks are hard to ignore. All in all, I consider this to be a good example of a mixed bag – some aspects are definitely worthwhile. The low price, however, does net this half a star, but not enough to round up. My final verdict will hence be 3.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this inexpensive ‘zine here on OBS!