Thursday, May 27, 2010

REVIEW: Oubliette #2

One of the great -- and sometimes frustrating -- parts of the old school scene these days is how, even if you're someone like me who spends a lot of time paying attention to it, there's always something you've missed. Despite a long list of established blogs, forums, and purveyors of old school gaming, new ones are regularly popping up, often under my radar. A good case in point is Peter Regan's Oubliette, "a magazine for old school fantasy roleplayers," whose second PDF issue was put on sale (for $2.00) earlier this month.

Oubliette is good evidence, I think, that while the old school movement will likely never ignite a second Golden Age, it is having an impact on the hobby. On the magazine's blog, there's a post entitled "Rationale for the magazine" that explains how the editor and his old friends had not been involved in roleplaying for 15 years but returned after discovering Labyrinth Lord. They had so much fun doing so that they're running not one but two campaigns and, inspired by the White Dwarf of old, are producing Oubliette as another outlet for their rediscovered passion for gaming.

Even if Oubliette weren't a great little gaming magazine, that'd be a success story for the old school movement in my opinion, but, as it turns out, Oubliette is a great little gaming magazine and more than worth the price of admission. Issue 2 is a 50-page PDF whose articles, while ostensibly written for Labyrinth Lord, are easily adaptable to any old school class-and-level RPG. Oubliette has a strong -- and admirable -- "fanzine" quality to it, which is to say, you can almost literally feel the enthusiasm of its creators while reading it. This is no slick but soulless periodical; it's the handiwork of people who love old school gaming and want to share the fruits of that love with others.

That's not to say that Oubliette isn't well written, edited, and illustrated, but it definitely reminds me more of the mimeographed or photocopied 'zines I saw in the late 70s and early 80s than the glossy, full-color pages of Dragon before its demise. Its layout is very basic -- "functional," as they say -- and its many illustrations (and comics) remind me of what gaming art looked like in the days before everyone decided that Larry Elmore and his cohort of "fantastic realists" were the acme of illustration. Consequently, Oubliette will almost certainly disappoint many gamers on an esthetic level, but I urge such gamers to look beyond the magazine's appearance and take in its content, which is overall excellent.

Issue 2's articles include two installments of a recurring feature called "Monster Club," which details "fun stuff with monsters." One installment presents stats for humanoid, animal, and monster skeletons, while another presents an unusual take on animated statues. There is also an adventure, entitled "Hornet Hill." It's designed for 3rd to 5th-level characters and is, in my opinion, very well done. The town of Swapton is beset by a plague of giant wasps and hires the adventurers to deal with the problem. Part town-based and part wilderness-based (with a small lair thrown in), it'd be great for an evening's entertainment and is a nice change of pace from the more typical "evil humanoids attack an isolated village" scenario. The issue includes two pages of stand-up figures for use with the scenario, as well as 12 pregenerated characters, complete with record sheets.

Issue 2 also includes a discussion of how various character classes fit into a campaign setting called "Inheritance." Presumably, this is part of an ongoing series begun in the first issue (which I have yet to see). There's some interesting material here, although I'm not sure how widely applicable it is to other campaign settings. There are also rules for black powder weapons, a magical miniatures shop, reviews of books, music, and TV shows, and the second part of a fictional tale of Sithakk the dwarf. All in all, it's a nice mix of material and all of it, even the fiction which didn't much appeal to me, is suffused with a slightly different sensibility to my own, which I found intriguing. Perhaps it's because the authors are based in the UK, whose take on fantasy has always been a little different, I don't know.

Regardless, I like gaming material that feels different, if only because it helps me to break out of my own gaming ruts. I look forward to reading future issues of Oubliette. It's a welcome addition to the old school renaissance and I'm glad I was made aware of it.

Presentation: 6 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for more ideas and resources for use in your old school fantasy campaign.
Don't Buy This If: You'd prefer to come up with your own ideas rather than using those of others.


  1. I'm one of those weirdos who thinks badly xeroxed zine layouts and amateur art are features rather than bugs, so I'll be checking this out.

  2. I actually miss the old zines, like Trollcrusher and Underworld Oracle, immensely. They provided a chaotic wealth of ideas that professional magazines, such as The Dragon and White Dwarf didn't. At least I stole a lot more ideas from them, then I did from any other source.

    It's probably because they were generally based on people's actual campaigns, so there was a life to them, which wasn't really reflected in the mainstream magazines.

    Admittedly nowadays their role has been mostly taken over by blogs such as this one ... but, they just don't feel the same. <shrug>

  3. Well the Oubliette crew may be giving us an old school 'zine, but they've also got a contemporary Blog:

  4. > Oubliette has a strong -- and admirable -- "fanzine" quality to it, which is to say, you can almost literally feel the enthusiasm of its creators while reading it.

    Well, that's just about the most pro-fanzine (if that's not a confusing word jumble) statement I've read in some time, James! Sounds like a good recommendation too, thanks, even if only available in .pdf(?) (Not as though running off copies and sending 'em out or distributing at cons is overly difficult given there's already so much "labor of love" in such an undertaking?)

    verification: zione (lione, irone?)

  5. "Dragon" didn't have a demise...or if it did, it rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes in PDF form.

    It is, however, glossy, full-coloured, slick and quite possibly soulless. But I can still read it on my iPhone.

  6. sigh.

    Sorry Shane, Dragon died for me circa 1984. I'm glad you still get some use out of it, though (really). And I've got my old issues, so I guess we're all okay.

  7. Thank you for such a detailed and positive review - it has made my day.

    I said in my editorial of Oubliette Issue 2, that feedback can galvanize creativity. Thank you for providing myself and my team with this excellent catalyst for Oubliette Issue 3.

  8. I wasn't doing much at work, and RPGNow and it's afilliates are one of the few game related sites we can access.
    It was worth the money, I'm enjoying working through them. God some good ideas and inspirations.