In this column, two of Warpstone's writers bite back at carnel's somewhat ascerbic zine reviewers, A Man and his Moose.
With regard to your review of Warpstone 11, speaking as its author, I must admit that sometimes The Correspondent feels like that. However, in effect I am writing to a deadline, and so it is fairly self-evident that the piece is so written ;-)
However, my articles are currently stacked up for well into 2000, so I can assure you that at the least they are not last minute, whatever their merits or demerits. As a writer of a fanzine yourself, you are probably better aware of the various nuances of zine writing than myself, but articles like The Correspondent are IMHO rather like the furniture - useful, necessary but overlooked on first sight. People buy Warpstone for the scenarios and its particular articles in that issue (like, I hope, the Witch Hunter article you enjoyed in WS8). I must admit that writing to order is not easy, especially on "technical" WFRP gaming matters, and I do not lay claim to being a WFRP guru. Writing a regular column on the game, rather than radically different submissions in ad hoc issues, is something that I was both proud to have been asked to do, and have found a new experience. As far as I am aware, the feedback from punters paying for the issue, has not been particularly negative. I think the later ones yet to follow are better, and I hope the Moose will think so. His criticism was aimed at the religious one IIRC, and IMHO the gods do indeed spoil my enjoyment of WFRP. I think a major part of fantasy is the gods, their worship and their affect on the game - be it spells, social structures or bureaucratic NPCs. Thus, it might be said that I don't enjoy my gaming as much as I would were that part of WFRP better elucidated.
With regard to the piece on the criminal underworld, I do have some similar views, but less vehemently. I think the parts of the article are better than the whole. Some of the individual spy groups are brilliant in terms of both WFRP milieu and as gangs/spies/crooks, and unlike The Moose, I know no better. However, the whole idea of "families" or "guilds" is a bit dubious to me in my view of the Old World. However, what Mouse and the Man perhaps fail to recognise is that the article does fit the milieu as given in the rulebook - the scenario in the back of the rules has precisely that form of national-family criminal organisation structure. What would have lent the criticism more weight would be reference to said better alternatives. I might be a little out of date (or other things referred to in Carnel!), but I haven't yet managed to think of anything better myself, and I haven't seen anyone else do so either. That IMV says something about the article.
I am very aware of the difficulties of writing a column on RPG. If you multiple the number of pages you have to write by 10 or 20 then you are essentially writing a fanzine! I must say though that I would not like to try and take on a column for a game I did not either adore or know a lot about. I could probably write one about Mage or Dark Sun, but not AD&D or WFRP.
I do think that you are doing yourself down though if you think people buy a fanzine purely for the scenarios or the articles. Those are hooks for people who have never read the fanzine. Regular features (or departments) as they used to be known in White Dwarf are what people continue to read the zine for issue after issue. Even if you do not like the subject of the current issue you will probably be happy to read the mainstays if they are good enough.
Incidentally I do not think it is a good idea to answer criticism with the idea that what you are doing is popular. "The Vengaboys" are popular but it would take a true fan to say they had artistic worth. Better to say that you are enjoying it and you feel it is good and that it seems to be hitting a chord with people. But after that, what would I know. I believe my writing has oodles of worth but it has never been that popular... and no-one has ever asked me to write a column for them!
On the subject of the crime guilds, I hate to sound like a parrot of my reviewer but I did not like it either and I think that the Moose had some good reasons. From my point of view the Tilean crime gangs are meant to be like the Mafia. However this hardly fits into the idea of the Old World. How on earth is a Tilean going to blackmail a good old Old Worlder? Even is a Counciller is spending every night at the tables and the brothels (and how long is he going to be a Counciller in that case) his social standing is still infinitely higher than a "greasy wop". It will be the outsider in the gaol, not the piller of the community. The article simply seemed to look at the American Mafia during the Seventies and tried to shove it lock, stock and barrel into a Renaissance Fantasy setting.
To thrive ethnic organised crime needs the following: a biased corrupt and inefficient legal system, closely knit ethnic communities, a lack of strong central bureacratic government and an egalitarian social structure that allows widespread distribution of capital. Exactly what you have in 1920's New York not what you have in Renaissance Germany. The wealth, power and land holdings of the nobility is so entrenched in the Old World criminal gangs will never really thrive.
After all your average Baron is not going to respect the civil rights of a bunch of foreigners is he? If someone steals a horse and the townspeople say it was the gypsies, he is going to hang the gypsies.
The reason that people have not come up with any better way of dealing with crime families in a realistic medieval RPG setting is that there are none. Not in the urban sense we have today, they are purely a modern phenomena. Now if the writer had written about pirates or brigands, fair enough. Very common problem of the period. Enforcers? No way.
As for the fantasy "Thieves Guild". There are a lot of better versions in various AD&D worlds. And the city of Lankhmar is not to shabby either.
I've read the review of Warspstone issue 8, and as the author of the disease article I have a point I would like to make about the Moose's remarks about it, especially since it seems to be the last remark, and sort of a punchline (No, no. No grudge or anything, you can just ignore it if you like).
Here goes to the Moose:
The Moose thinks the disease article is pointless based on the fact that Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is based on "Heroic Roleplaying". Now, I may easily be wrong, especially since english is not my native tongue, but anyway: I have played WFRP for about 10 years now, starting out as a player in two different WFRP campaigns, and later I began GM'ing various WFRP campaigns myself. In all those years I - and other Danes I played with - portraied the "WFRP"-world (Not to confuse with the general term "Warhammer world" IMHO) as Grim, and dark. Though, I have always used humor IMCs, this is humor adressed at the players, and certainly not their characters. The official WFRP material also holds no real awards to the player characters. When the characters finally does something epic, they will be more likely to be put out of the way, than actually rewarded, furthermore they are constantly put into moral dillemas, where things aren't black and white. It may be that Warhammer Fantasy Battle tends to portray the world in the more traditional fantasy style, where everything seems black and white, and stereotypes are ripe, but I have the impression that this isn't true for WFRP.
It is a grim world, where death awaits in all forms. One of these being disease - After all Chaos is ensnarring the world, and one of the major chaos powers does in fact have his power because of disease...
Oh.... and I'm not a medical student btw. *hmrph* I'm more of a Nurgle Cultist really....
Thanks for writing Michael, its good to hear from some of the writers for other fanzines. I think the "medical student" bit of the review was a jibe but I do think the Moose had a point. What you describe - a game that has difficult moral decisions, that does not always reward the good or punish the wicked, that is blackly humourous. That might be a "grim" roleplaying style. I can see the irony in surviving the attack of a Chaos horde only to die of dysentery back in camp.
What the Moose said though is that it was not "heroic" for that to happen. In Anglo-American mythology the hero is great figure who can only be killed by the mightest of opponents in the greatest of causes. They can sacrifice themselves for the noblest of causes. What they cannot really do is die of disease before their story is done.
Under the system you proposed in your article it would be possible to re-run Arthurian legend as follows. Arthur is a poor squire, who draws the Sword from the Stone and then dies of influenza.
I do not think that anyone would deny your disease system has a place in a realistic style of RPG. I think it probably has a place in a certain style of WFRP game. I do not think it really has a place in the epic, heroic Moorcockian style of WFRP game or even that of a story-based game where the illness must serve a purpose beyond simply being rolled for on a table.
Incidentally the section about Fantasy RPG's being ripe with stereotypes made me laugh as WFRP is one of the worst offenders to my mind. Here's my top ten of WFRP appalling cliches.
It is strange reading both these letters as when I posted the original review to the M&M part of the site I can remember being really concerned about its content. Not for any of the reasons given above, purely because the Moose had decided to accuse Warpstone of selling out. Which is an stinging allegation for one fanzine to make against another.
I thought about changing the review but in the end after some discussion it was concluded that that wasn't what we started M&M to do. By resigning control over the zine reviews to a different set of people I wouldn't have to worry about being balanced and diplomatic.
As it turned out the outcry never materialised and I managed to completely forget to type up the complimentary reviews. Something I am now going to turn my mind to.
I do think that Warpstone has set itself a massive target and one that may turn out to be not a lot of fun to shoot at. On the other hand I cannot think of another UK zine or commercial magazine that has such a dedicated group of talented people behind it. The only thing I would say to the Warpstone editorial team is: keep it steady and keep it fun.