Thursday, October 21, 2010

REVIEW: Oubliette #4

It's the Fall and time for another issue of Oubliette, this time issue #4 of the PDF fanzine for Labyrinth Lord and other old school fantasy games. Like its three predecessors, the current issue is a quirky collection of musings, adventures, house rules, and other resources of interest to anyone playing a class-and-level RPG. Editor Peter Regan once again pulls double duty as a writer, producing a significant portion of issue #4's massive 80 pages (of which 34 pages are the 'zine proper and the rest "goodies" that I'll discuss presently), with additional contributions by Roland Depper and Lam McGra. Artwork throughout is by The Marg and remains as delightfully "raw" as it has since the premier issue last Spring.

The new issue begins with an editorial that rather aptly likens the old school renaissance to a well-done "reboot" of a beloved movie franchise: a lot of the same as before, yes, but hopefully taking full advantage of hindsight to avoid the pitfalls of the past. I rather like this analogy. An amusing cartoon presents four "Buckets of Legend," magical pails that actually could be used as treasure if one doesn't take one's game too seriously. "Monster Club #6" gives us a collection of humanoid, monster, and animal zombies, complete with stats, to complement issue #3's discussion of skeletons. "Weapons Test" is a simple adventure intended as a test bed (pun intended) for using the firearms rules from previous issues, although it could easily be reworked as a straightforward scenario about humanoid raiders if one does not wish to include firearms in one's campaign. "Monster Club #7" provides very useful rules for scaling monsters, which is to say, creating larger or smaller versions of existing creatures. It's very well done and easy to use and, in my experience, something that's much needed.

A new installment of "Present Arms!" provides rules for monster-based firearms, a topic that so rarely gets covered in fantasy games that include such weapons. "A-Hunting We Will Go" is an encounter with wood goblins that can be dropped into any wilderness adventure. "PC for PCs" is a humorous article re-imagining The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief as if it were written to be sensitive to the feelings of "stature-enhanced beings," complete with a hilarious illustration. "Purist to Puerile" ranks the various interpretations of orcs on a scale that rates Hârn's gargun as the most "pure," while Citadel's comedic orks as the most "puerile." Sadly, my beloved pig-faced orcs rank only slightly below Citadel's -- a travesty, I say! "Seven Magical Mirrors" provides just that, some of the quite interesting and sure to be added into Dwimmermount when I find a place to do so. A handful of reviews and another installment of the fiction serial "The Song of Sithakk" rounds out the 'zine proper.

After that, we're treated to 45 pages of supplemental material, starting with 13 pages of magic-user spell cards. These cards, which come nine to a page, include all the rules for every MU spell from levels 1-9 in space approximately the size of a business card. It's such a simple little play aid and yet I know well how useful such things can be. The remaining pages of supplemental material include pregenerated PCs for "Weapons Test," along with stand-up figures to represent them. These figures can be used alongside the large print-out battle map also included in this section. Oubliette has, since its inception, been very fond of providing aids for using battle maps in play, something that I think sets it apart from many other products of the old school renaissance, which, as a whole, tends to downplay or even eschew the use of miniatures to adjudicate combat.

Oubliette #4 is a strong issue and well worth the purchase, especially at its paltry cover price of $2. The spell cards alone are probably worth that much and, even if one is only inspired by the other articles rather than using them as-is, it's a worthwhile acquisition in my opinion. According to an ad in issue #4, the next issue will be released at Christmastime and will feature a "new look." I look forward to seeing it, although I do hope that the revamped Oubliette will continue to possess the same kind of raw, rough energy that its first four issues have in abundance.

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. Thank you for another great in-depth review.

    I've just ordered a set of proofs for the printed editions of Oubliette, and after a final check, intend to release hard copy versions for sale on Lulu.

  2. The thing about the pig-faced orcs is that they've almost totally obliterated Tolkien's own concepts of orcs and goblins - ie, cruel, clever, high tech mountaindwellers who have alliances with wargs and werewolves and evil birds, who sometimes work for Sauron or Saruman as mercenaries but mostly work for themselves, and who are intensely individual and ambitious. Drow are much more like Tolkien's orcs and goblins than D&D orcs are.