Wormskin #5 (OSR)
This installment of the Wormskin-zine clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 48 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!
All right, so there is a general article that fans of Dolmenwood will not want to miss in this issue, namely one that details hexcrawling through Dolmenwood. While the basic OSR-rules do cover these aspects, the book smoothly codifies a rules skeleton that allows for methodical and fun means to structure the treks through the wilderness. These are btw. not just useful for OSR-games – modern games tend to be relatively silent regarding hexcrawling procedures, and this supplement’s rules make that simple: You choose an action, check random events, and then resolve what happens. Actions are tightly codified, Visibility is noted, and the pdf also sports a whole array of tables – random events, locations, encounters, spoors, weather (by season), etc.; mishaps get a full-page mishap array. This article is very smooth in its elegance.
The book also has a new monsters section, one that oozes the attention to detail we’ve come to expect from Wormskin’s monsters – i.e. we get stats, lore, traits to customize individual monsters so they don’t all look and behave alike, and the entries sport notes on sample encounters and lairs of the respective critters. This time around, we are introduced to the Boggins, things with gangly limbs and matted, sea-weed like hair, whose bodies dissolve upon death, hinting at the eldritch origin of these deadly lakeside/marsh predators…who do seem to like to abduct folks. On the witch-y side of things, the bramblings are thickets of thorns and spines, animated by fell magics. Most interesting, at least to me, would be Flammbryggard (written by Andrew Walker), spirits of weary fighting men, clad in bodies of courageous soldiers of metal, with hearth-like chests, these boisterous beings can make for rowdy, but also helpful beings…provided they are not beset by the incorporeal obscurant mope, depressing spirits that like bringing them down. These guys are btw. lavishly-illustrated in a full-color artwork. The final creature-entry actually depicts one of the movers and shakers of Dolmenwood – a rank-and-file Drune.
The Drune, obviously, are the secretive and mysterious arcane spellcasters, the masters of the woods – what, in installments so far, sounded like a patriarchal druid order. Well, this installment of Dolmenwood has a massive article that unveils the secretive origins, hierarchy and goals of the Drune. These notes are explicitly noted to be deep lore, not easily unveiled by the PCs, and as such, I will refrain from commenting or explaining this article. However, it should be noted that my preconceptions about the Drune? You know, my theories about how they operate and their goals, about their nature? They turned out to be dead wrong – the Drune actually managed to surprise jaded old me. That should tell you something.
Anyhow, this ‘zine also depicts 7 new hexes in Dolmenwood, which tie in with another major mover and shaker in the region, but in order to discuss this section, I need to go into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
Okay, only referees around? Great! So, the region depicted in the hexes is known as “Hag’s Addle” – the banks of the river Hameth, trickling towards Lake Longmere, is now a marshy and rather desolate place, but it wasn’t always – at one point, it was the crown jewel and the wondrous playing ground of fairy royalty, but so did the ruin of the region spring from this source. Jealousy bred contempt, and when interest in the region waned, a bored part of fairy royalty destroyed this region, made it fall into ruin and decay…but when the rightful mistress, known as the Queen of Blackbirds, returned, the despoiler was duly punished in the capricious and cruel manner of fairykind: Transformed into a hag that would forever be adjacent to an open portal to the Otherwold of Fairy, but never to pass, her body a mirror image of the decay she so seemed to enjoy. This is the legendary hag – and dealing with her is covered in its own article (co-written by Matthew Schmeer), which includes write-ups for her array of magical tools, as well as detailed guidelines for her erratic behavior, and for making non-combative contact with the exceedingly mighty crone.
As an aside – her hut *is* mobile, and indeed, the mythological resonance does hearken back to Baba Yaga and Grimm’s various wicked witches, but none of these thematic similarities are simple pastes: the hut levitates, for example; her willow switch may not deal much damage, but allows for a ridiculous number of attacks. If you are familiar with the classic, rather dark fairy tales, you’ll recognize the nods, but at the same time, marvel at the twists, be grateful for the respective components not being simply quoted, as is so often seen.
But I digress – in the hexes of the Hag’s Addle, we have a callback to the Atacorn Farthigny; the aforementioned Boggins creatures loom and wait to abduct strangler, smearing strange muck over the faces of mortals – this makes it possible to breathe underwater and toil in the sub-aquatic mines hidden away in the depths of the murky waters at the hands of these strange beings, mirroring their erstwhile enslavement to a horrible sorcerer (vivimancer?). Speaking of vivimancer – there is one of these fellows in the region, and his write-up does come with a spell that is interesting – it allows for the splitting of hybrid beings, like half-elfs, into two beings – a human and an elf, in this example. Something of a ritual, and dangerous, it’s not a spell you’ll cast often, but it’s interesting. The vivimancer has an issue, btw. – his spell kinda botched, and now, his skeleton, his viscera and his skin all are individual entities – his nerves and organs are pretty much in horrible pain, while his skin has taken on a psychotic streak. This is an adventure hook that wrote itself. Not a fan of his unique magic item, though – he has a bell called chime of incontinence, which does exactly what you’d think it does. I am generally not a fan of denigrating/humiliating PCs for things they did not deserve/provoke by their greed, so yeah, AoO soiling yourself is not high on my “good idea” list.
Speaking of which: As a whole, I was not as blown away by the hexes herein, as there are two that have things of the quality “better not enter here” – there is a monument that generates a sympathetic resonance that wrecks the ability to sleep and desire to walk away, becoming worse towards the center. The background story is awesome, but the mechanics are not, easily having a chance of TPKing travelers, if the undead don’t do the job on their own. Cordoning this off seems like it’d be in the interest of plenty of Dolmenwood’s factions, and thus, the presence of this darkened monolith struck me as odd, particularly since the Drune, narrative-wise, know about it. Anyhow, there is another hex, which contains one pet-peeve of mine – a way to extract targets from history. *sigh* I am very particular when it comes to time travel, and if you don’t mind, then great – no issue for you. Personally, I really hated the handwave-y implementation of the time hole here. To me, it makes no sense and genuinely represents the lowest point of all Dolmenwood hexes so far– I’m a Primer-guy. On the plus side, a mysterious ritualistic marble podium, and the tower of Lady Frost-Dusk-Shadow? Heck yeah, these ooze the style I’m accustomed to see from Dolmenwood!
Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level, I only noticed very few glitches, and these very missed italicizations in non-combat contexts. Layout adheres to a one-column standard with nuance color-highlights and a blend of b/w and full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and yep, I have the PoD softcover, and it’s sure as heck worth getting.
Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk, with contributions by Andrew Walker and Matthew Schmeer, continue to deliver – this installment of Wormskin is easily the most occult and foreboding of the installments so far; it hearkens closest to LotFP-ish aesthetics in the good ways…and, in the instance of two hexes, unfortunately also in a bad way. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a very good, evocative ‘zine, one brimming with creativity and inspiring tidbits that put many publications of twice that size to shame. But compared with the series of absolutely mind-bogglingly cool installments so far, it feels a bit more one-note on the bleaker side of things, with less of the STRANGENESS of Dolmenwood, and more touches of LotFP-ish weird tropes seeping into the supplement. This is per se not bad, but it makes a few of the environments feel less special, less distinct from LotFP’s offerings. These are subdued (and don’t extend to future installments), but I couldn’t help but consider this to be one of the weaker installments in the excellent magazine’s run so far – it’s still very good, but not as genius as the ones so far. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.
You can get this cool ‘zine here on OBS!
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