Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Golden Age of the RPG Zine

My first exposure to the term “zine” came back in my skateboarding days of the mid 80s. Growing up in a suburb of Atlanta, there was no coverage of our local scene in any of the major publications at the time. If you weren’t from California or perhaps NY, you just were not represented. Local skaters took it upon themselves to take photographs, create artwork, and scrawl handwritten articles, then go to the library (if you could get a ride) and make near-illegible copies of the things for friends.

My skating led to me being exposed to many forms of music, including punk rock. Zines played a crucial role in the spread of punk. DIY labels could advertise their mail-order catalogs, and the zines provided crucial networking for touring bands. Without zines, the music would not have spread like it did, and a lot of great music would never have been heard in a lot of areas of the country.

I was oblivious during those days to the role of zines in RPGs. I mean, I knew about Dragon, but I was so young at the time I started playing RPGs that the history was not as interesting as simply playing. Fast forward to today, and I am now more aware of the role of DIY publications in the early days. After all, the gaming club newsletters of the late 60s and early 70s were, in essence, zines. They enabled gamers to connect to each other, featured alternative rules to existing games, and helped organize the first conventions. Dragon itself morphed from the Strategic Review, and early copies of White Dwarf almost feel closer to homemade zines than any slick, professional magazine. 

The thing I respect the most about the OSR movement is the DIY aspect. Don’t like where more modern games are taking the hobby? Not finding a flavor that fits your tastes? Instead of waiting for products that would never come, pioneers of new gaming frontiers fashioned their own takes on classic games, designed their own adventures, and breathed new life into the hobby. And while the golden age of RPGs is undoubtedly behind us, there has never been a time in the history of the hobby where self-published zines have flourished and thrived as much as they do today.

I won’t try to provide a comprehensive list of zines; Rended Press has done a better job then I ever could compiling info on zines both new and old. You can easily spend hours just clicking away at all of the juicy stuff. I do want to point out the wonderful diversity. You have very polished works, and those that are best described as crude. Every genre from horror to sci-fi to fantasy is represented. Some, like one of my faves, AFS, are mail-order only (“Um…did you say a new Stormbringer adventure? Here’s my wallet.”), some are PDF only, some both. Some are pay-what-you-want, some are only for sale, and many are free. Some may surprise you with their longevity, while wonderful new zines pop up seemingly every day, with more always on the horizon.

The zine community is tight, welcoming, and friendly. If you are looking for info on how to start your own zine, most folks will happily answer your questions on everything from shipping logistics to cpu programs. Hell, Tim Shorts will show you his monthly revenue. Google + groups like RPG Zines are a great place to start networking. Perhaps you aren’t ready to tackle a whole zine but want to contribute artwork or an article idea; many zines, including my own, take submissions. All it takes is a little effort. There has never been an easier time to self-publish your own work, connect with other enthusiasts, and get your stuff out there in front of your target audience. 

We are living in the golden age of RPG zines so don’t let it pass you by! Support DIY publishers and get involved!


  1. I'll echo the sentiment about not being scared to dig in. All these zine owners are approachable and cool, and I'm not just saying that 'cos I'm on the list (though I am very cool). If you write it, someone will take it.

  2. I used to read and occasionally contribute to Alarums & Excursions back in the 80's. Checking out it's lame text-only page just now I am disappointed to see that it is still operating as it did back in the 80's. It was pretty cool for its time.

  3. There are so many great zines out and coming out it's tough to keep track. But to me, that's a very good problem.

  4. Upon first finding a couple of OSR zines I assumed they were an anomaly; that the plentitude of blogs would make it impossible to continuously publish a zine. How does a monthly/bi-monthly/quarterly/whatever publication - often in pdf - compete with the constant stream of content from blogs, forums and G+ communities?

    It seems I was mistaken, thankfully :) I love the fact that zines seem to complement other forms of publication, rather than compete. There is room for everyone, and then some, apparently.