Wizardzine #1 – The Aquatic Issue (OSR)
This e-zine clocks in at 52 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page space for notes, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content. It should be noted that, as in most OSR-supplements, the pages are formatted for booklet-size (6’’ by 9’’, A5), which means that you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this out. Personally, I’d at least contemplate getting the softcover PoD – I based most of review on that. All righty, let’s take a look!
Ah, one more thing, in case that’s relevant to you: The OSR-engine employed would by Labyrinth Lord.
The first, and so far, only, installment of Wizardzine focuses on the theme of water, but does so in a rather interesting manner: We begin with ideas for themes that involve magic and water: How e.g. diviners could specialize in finding sunken treasure, how demonologists or necromancers may be prone to summoning forth things from below…and how vivimancers fit in here. Vivimancers, easily my favorite spellcasting addition to any roleplaying game in ages, are obviously a part of this e-zine’s aesthetic, but rest assured that you do not need to have “The Complete Vivimancer” to make use of this little booklet…though it certainly will whet your taste for it.
In fact, I got this on a whim, and after reading it, I moved on to the vivimancer. Why? Because this pdf does introduce an arch-wizardess, namely Ephenedrine the sirene, mistress of the Isle of Lost Hope and strangely changed by her inscrutable plots. While we do not get full stats or spellbooks for her (she does act as an inspiring backdrop – the spells she researched and created and her domain are depicted in surprisingly concise and creepy prose that ties in with the new content presented within: In her brining cove, vats spew forth her strange brine-spawn servitors and both the bay of mollusks and her coral gardens beckon with alien splendor and danger alike. 8 potential rumors considering her can provide additional sources for inspiration or just act as dressing guidelines for the referee.
The aforementioned brine spawn represents btw. one of the 3 new monsters found herein, with a demon of the depths and the drowned dead representing the others. While none of these, from the names, sound like anything earth-shattering, it is their execution and the well-written information on these critters that makes them work. Well done! It is pretty hard to properly convey how this little booklet manages to conjure forth a concise and consistent atmosphere with its content, but there lies both a palpable sense of a world that has moved on, a taste of the weird and a glorious strangeness in these, something that extends to the 5 magic items: Sure, we have seen vats that create creatures before, but I have rarely seen the process described in such a concise manner, a manner that seems plausible in a delightfully twisted way. Similarly, I have seen gill symbionts before, but never in a manner that made them feel so…detailed, so alive. There are also novel or less classic tropes, though: Like clams that can produce rather nasty magical pearls. An aquarium that shrinks victims…and a paste that can transform you into an aquatic life-form, changing your body when applied to parts of it – these items are not necessarily vivimantic, but they carry with them this general notion of being a believable pseudo-science in a world where magic exists. The feel *real*, wondrous and dangerous.
There is a palpable sense of the mystical as well. While aquatic adaptation and its reverse fall in the realm of utility spells I expected, and while boiling sphere is pretty much a vanilla damage-spell, calling monsters from the deep makes sense…all of these spells are herein, yes. But what inspired me was castaway, which send a target away if a burst of foam, to be washed ashore at some faraway, remote coast 1d4 days later. If that is not a great angle for the start of a module or even campaign…well, what is? Conjure land creates a small island ex nihilo – but the place created has an unusual feature, of which there are 20: Abandoned settlements, dangerous monsters, strange monoliths…sandboxing gold, right there….oh, and guess what: The land sinks at the duration’s end. Timer included. The proper utility-spells for deep-sea exploration (or simply not drowning, courtesy of buoyancy) – there are some seriously nice tricks here…but, as most of the time in this pdf, the real draw lie in the details.
If you’re a veteran like me, you probably have seen a spell to call forth a ghost ship from the deeps more than once, right? Well, in this book’s version, the spell can be prolonged…at a price most ghastly, which the undead will demand…What about summoning a giant leviathan whale to carry you in its belly? Or about the option to create bio-luminescent plankton? If you’re like me and always disliked how one single spell covered walking on all types of water, then good news – the pdf split this one in two, allowing for finely nuanced tools for the tasks at hand. Ever wanted to feel like you just sunk Atlantis? Well, the level 9 spell herein (which takes a massive ritual to complete) lets you do just that – sink island does, however, require the fulfillment of a variety of really impressive tasks. What about cursing foes, either to hear the dread call of the deep ones or instill convictions to make targets venture across the seas? There are resonance from our own mythology herein and the spells, as a whole, remain just as precise and well-presented as we have come to expect from Necrotic Gnome Productions.
An incredibly helpful sea wizard spell list, random selection options for the referee and aquatic monster summoning tables can also be found herein…but these aren’t my favorite part of the book either. Instead, that honor would fall to the 12 magic tomes depicted herein; grimoires, really. These tomes contain some of the new spells herein, note their authors and language they’re written in and feature extensive descriptions that really made them come to life for me: I could almost smell the lush vellum of Ephenedrine’s Transmutations-grimoire. The tomes act, basically as an in-game treasure, adventuring motivation and they make sense: They have CHARACTER. It’s not just any spell, transcribed from any book your PCs cast…it’s the one the PCs managed to unearth from The “Rituals of the Vasandian Shipwrights.” To keep a long ramble short: I adore how these books add character and contextualization to the spells and how they double as great adventure hooks.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, clean one-column b/w-standard. The artworks are thematically-fitting b/w stock pieces and do a better job than most at establishing a concise theme. Now, here’s a big downside for the electronic version: The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a nasty comfort detriment. Personally, I’d strongly advise getting PoD instead – the softcover is solid and only costs 3 bucks more.
Gavin Norman’s aquatic wizardzine is amazing. I am a jaded bastard of a reviewer and I have seen a metric ton of aquatic spells and supplemental material for a wide variety of systems. This booklet stands apart for three reasons: First of all, its rules-language is precise and poignant. Secondly, its writing is actually good – inspiring even. I found myself intrigued enough to get more of the author’s books, courtesy of its strength. That’s saying something. Thirdly, even when his designs cover classic tropes, they do so in an intriguing manner that resonates with me – it’s hard to properly convey in a review, but it’s the small things that elevate this, the little twists, the pronounced consciousness of the narrative demands and requirements of a roleplaying game. Content-wise, this is excellent indeed.
That being said, the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version does drag this down a bit and if you’re similarly jaded as I am, you may not end up being as blown away as when perusing e.g. his vivimancer. As a reviewer, I have to take all of these into account. Personally, I consider the pdf to be closer to 5, the softcover closer to 5 stars – which is why my official verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo. Well worth getting for the low and fair asking price.
You can get this evocative e-zine here on OBS!