Saturday, February 20, 2021

REVIEW: Knock! #1

Coinciding with – and fueled by – the Old School Renaissance, gaming fanzines have been undergoing a resurgence. 'Zines were a vital part of the early history of the hobby, serving not just as an "analog Internet" that enabled roleplayers to share ideas (and argue about them) but also as the incubator of rules innovations and even entire RPGs. That's why I'm genuinely gladdened to see so many fanzines being published and enjoyed in the 21st century. 

Another type of publication from those early days is the "companion," a compendium of new, alternate, and optional rules for an existing game and written by a pool of different writers. Chaosium was particularly well known for its companions, such as those for RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu (while the never-produced D&D Companion – not to be confused with Frank Mentzer's Companion Rulesremains a topic of speculation for me). What I always liked about those companions of old was the way that the plethora of choices they offered, with no expectation that anyone would use all of them in any single game. "We take what we want and leave the rest, like your salad bar," as a wise man once said.

While companions as such have not had the same kind of resurgence that fanzines, there have been a number of publications that occupy a similar niche, such as Feretory for Mörk Borg, which, at the time, I described as both a gallimaufry and a smörgåsbord, but perhaps I should have said bric-a-brac. That's the word chosen by The Merry Mushmen to describe their remarkable publication, Knock!, the first issue of which was released recently. A full-color, 212-page, A5-sized softcover, Knock! is very much like those companions I enjoyed so much back in the day. Its content consists of dozens of articles by dozens of authors, ranging in size and content from single-page random tables to full adventures, complete with maps. Nearly everything you might imagine an old school fantasy RPG companion to contain – erudite musings, house rules, monsters, character classes, magic items, and more – can be found within the pages of issue #1. It's probably the most catholic presentation of old school gaming articles under a single cover published in the last decade – an impressive achievement by any stretch of the imagination.

Not all of the contents were to my taste. Indeed, there were a couple here and there that left me wondering why they were there at all (no, I'm not going to tell you which ones they were), but, as I've said in other contexts, so what? "Old school" has always been a broad church; not everything published under its banner will have universal appeal. Further, old schoolers are a cantankerous, opinionated lot who still break into arguments over the merits of alignment, race-as-class, and ascending armor class. What are the odds that any one of them would like everything in a given book? So, my cavils about one or two articles ultimately amount to little, though I do encourage anyone interested in Knock! to take a look at the list of contributors and some of its contents here.

I would be remiss in not commenting on Knock!'s layout and graphic design, which I jokingly described as "What if Mörk Borg used more than three colors?" Humor aside, Knock! does bear certain similarities with Mörk Borg, most notably its bold use of fonts, pull quotes, and other graphical elements to ensure that no two pages look the same. The result is striking without straining even my aged eyes, which is worthy of praise. The issue also features artwork by many notable old school artists and cartographers, such as Dyson Logos and Jason Sholtis, in addition to well-chosen bits of public domain artwork. All in all, it's a unique and impressive presentation.

Whether one ought to get issue #1 of Knock! depends, I imagine, on one's feelings toward gaming anthologies filled with a large diversity of articles by a large number of individual writers. Even if one is more open-minded than I, there might be some hesitancy about buying a grab bag of material like this one. In this case, though, I think it's unwarranted. The new classes (like the ne'er-do-well), monsters (like the treasure frog), and adventures alone are worth the price of the book and that's not taking into account the inspirational random tables (e.g. "300 Useless Magical Loot"), useful tools ("Sewers of Mistery"), rules options ("Hit Dice are Meant to be Rolled"), and thoughtful essays ("Borderlands") found within its pages. There's a lot to like here, whatever one's preferences and predilections.

1 comment:

  1. I just picked one of these up; it sounds like it's right up my alley. I've also reached out to them to ask if they're set up to wholesale, since I'd love to carry it at the shop. Thank you again for helping me find rad new products!