Session Zero Issue 1 - Dungeon World Zine Review
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What Do You Need to Know?
Session Zero by Brian Holland is a new fanzine for Dungeon World. It is Pay What You Want. Session Zero serves as a starting point for your campaign. The zine is about world-building and adventure creation. You can get the 16-pages PDF HERE. PWYW.
What’s in It?
The movie “The Princess Bride” inspired Brian to write a zine with a Fire Swamp theme. I’ve never seen the movie. So I can’t say how true the PDF stays to the source. Brian does a good job of explaining the rationale behind the zine and design principles for Dungeon World (DW). The setting starter is open so that your table can customize it to their needs. Brian gives you some questions to get you up and running - in typical DW fashion. The questions might be difficult to answer if you start from a blank slate. That’s why I appreciate that the zine includes a random table to give you some ideas. The zine features new monsters, items, and factions. I find these entries inspiring and very fitting for a Fire Swamp. You have Fire Beetles, Imps, Shrieking Eels, Swamp Rats and more. There is the Cult of the Great Mantis which offers some plot hooks and serves as an adversary. The new items are interesting, too. I especially like the Book of Rhymes:
[…] When you are sick and someone reads to you from the Book of Rhymes beside the campfire, you fall asleep comfortably. When you awaken you are no longer sick.
The Fire Swamp is an intriguing area to explore. There is enough room for adventure and danger. The ideas about hazards stand out. The Game Master can make it very interesting to travel the Swamp. There are Fire Bursts, Muck etc. For example, Smoke will Blur Vision or Conceal Threats. It can choke and will do 1d4 damage (ignores armor). This is also neat to showcase the Ranger’s abilities. There is a Dread Pirate Compendium Class. As an homage to the movie, it might be a good idea. As someone without a frame of reference, I don’t find it necessary. There are some appealing ideas here but I can’t say how balanced the class is. I enjoyed Brian’s advice on how to use corpses for the game. He ties in the answers to the setting questions, class abilities, and other tidbits. Session Zero Issue 1 shines because of the guidelines on how to use the zine’s questions and setup. The author wants to make it easy for you to tailor the campaign to your needs. He doesn’t forget to introduce new NPCs. You can use them later and so you have fodder for future sessions. He leaves enough mysteries to explore (e.g. a mystical machine in the Swamp). But it is still very modular and open so you can drop it into an existing campaign, too.
Look And Feel
The layout is bare bones and functional. The artwork - except the cover art - is amateurish. This is not a bad thing as it fits the bill of a fanmade zine. It reminds of the times when you made such zines with a typewriter and a copy machine. The content organization could be slightly better. The central questions are at the beginning of the zine, the advice on how to use them towards the end, with everything else (monsters, items etc.) between. The author could have tightened that up a little. The editing looks good, I didn’t notice any glaring errors.
- Session Zero is a promising new zine for the DW community. There has been some silence around DW fanzines for a while. I’m glad to see that Brian has taken up the gauntlet to create something new.
- The setting idea is fresh and offers some appealing opportunities for players and the Game Master.
- The author delivers a well-rounded package for setting creation. There are enough tools for the Game Master to get up and running in no time. I can imagine that some of the ideas can be useful for other fantasy RPGs, too.
- Session Zero follows DW’s adage to ask questions and build upon the answers. If your players are not up for that, some of the material of this zine falls flat. (This is not the zine’s fault though. Just something to be aware of. Make it clear to the players that you need their input.)
- Brian could improve the organization. The artwork has a homely charm but is not superb. If you want to help, you can head over to the patreon to raise money for more artwork.
- The zine is PWYW and packs a punch for (basically) free.