by William Cord
Published by Stronghold Press Games
Hello, and welcome to part two of **ZINEMASSACRE*2020**! This year, Kickstarter ran Zinequest 2, their second zine writing promotion campaign. Despite my utter distaste for the idea of a major fundraising platform intruding on a publishing genre for people with more ideas than money, I have to admit Zinequest was successful in motivating a whole lot of gamers to launch their personal projects. While many of them were completely alien to my interests (“LARP for 2 players of Robot Girlfriends across the battlefield” and “An rpg zine about 3 sled dogs on a perilous trip home.” are probably for other people), I pitched in for fifteen which looked interesting. Here are the results.
Do you think “production values” are often a racket? Do you admire honest homespun values and the good old DIY spirit, even if it makes the best of public domain engravings and cheap layout done in Winword? I sure do, and I am all over these zines! I love them. Except... there is also an unspoken promise here that the content will be good, and it will somehow make up for the sparse exterior with unconstrained creativity and colourful ideas. Ho boy. Vallakia is not that zine.
|Nooooo, don't make me go to Vallakia!|
Vallakia is an empty zine. It has virtually nothing in it, at least nothing that would prove useful in helping run a good game. It describes its mini-setting in the most elementary stereotypes of Vampire Country. That alone is no crime. Nobody was realistically expecting something inspired by the real Wallachia (a fairly interesting place, one which would coincidentally make for a cool campaign setting), but perhaps something beyond ideas found in every vampire movie? No chance. We get the fog; we get the small villages huddling in fear; we get the rapacious nobles and the small, brave military force trying to hold back the encroaching horrors. Vallakia is isolated, dark, backwards, and primitive (in a bizarre take, they do not even know blacksmithing, something even shockingly primitive cultures could figure out). Very well, that’s a Hollywood horror movie all right. But there is nothing beyond that. Vallakia commits the most heinous sin of fantasy supplements: it is boring.
The zine describes three towns and a dungeon, none of which have anything truly interesting or original going on. Pinehall has a military garrison and a small church (the church has an aging priest who can heal people), and a tavern with three rooms. Long Farm is a farming town providing “the majority of food for all of Vallakia”. Don’t the other places grow their food? Very peculiar indeed. Anyway, Long Farm has an abandoned Town Council building now used as a garrison, and a brewery. The townsfolk are harassed by creatures of chaos. Finally, in another example of specialisation, Priby supplies lumber for palisades, and operates a lumber mill. Are they not interested in farming? Don’t the other villages cut trees? Not to be a stickler for fantasy realism, but this is so bizarre it almost looks like there is an explanation behind it. Of course, there isn’t. Priby’s woods are terrorised by a necromancer, and the villagers lock their doors all day and night. So we have Soldiertown, Farmtown and Lumbertown, and that’s all there is to know about them: banal, insignificant, clichéd information that does not show any interesting engagement even with the Hollywood-style Vampire Country idea.There is a rule about investments which feels a bit like Darkest Dungeon (upgrading local places of interest can result in various boons), a lazy random quest table with 20 uninteresting results (“OGRE!!!”, “Mayor consorts with demons”, “Troll toll”), and a one-page dungeon. That means a zine-sized page, an unnumbered map, and a key with one-liners like “1 – 3 Kobolds arguing about the best way to cook a human. Gate west is locked and barred.” and “2 – 2 Gnolls laying down. Will join fight in 1 if it lasts 3+ rounds.” This is negligible even by the new fold-out microdungeon standard.
|Welcome to Stamati. Population: turnips|
Vallakia is bad. Not maliciously so, but credit where credit’s due, it is plainly bad. For a semi-commercial project, it feels like bad filler, stretched out with illustrations. The zine and its two supplements are 8 pages each, but only about 14-15 of the 24 pages are text – and it is text set in a remarkably large font to boot. What the adventure lacks in quantity, it also lacks in quality. It is banal and completely useless in either offering, or helping create an intriguing West Marches-style micro-setting. You, random reader, could do much better in a single afternoon. Don’t venture to Vallakia; ‘tis a silly place.
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: * / *****
 I will hereby put this idea to the test. A post will follow later tonight.