Thursday, January 23, 2020

Zine Review: The Dirge of Urazya

The Dirge of Urazya is created by Jack Shear of Dolorous Exhumation Press, author of the long-running blog Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque. The zine is available in print + PDF here for just $6, and in PDF here for $4. Shear has written about the process of making it here and especially here. He did it all, from writing and illustrating to assembling the zines by hand. The zine presents the background of an apocalyptic gothic setting, and provides a series of questions for players and DM to answer in a session 0 where they collaboratively build the setting for their game together.

How is the Zine Made?

The zine is trimmed and saddle-stitched (stapled) with a black cardstock cover. The interior is 26 black and white pages printed on decent white paper (a step up from copier paper, maybe 24 lbs). Let's start with the cover. Just look at that thing. With just a few brushstrokes of white acrylic paint applied in a stencil, shear has created the ragged outline of white fangs, which emerge, luminous, from the darkness of the pitch black background. There is an aura or mood that hovers around the zine before you even open the cover. This simple but clever artistry is why I love handmade zines. Hand-painted covers using a homemade stencil? Brilliant.

It makes me think of a range of other possibilities. I'm a lover of elegant ink stamps. How about a white cover with a black and white illustration, embellished with a single elegantly placed red stamp? Or why just the cover? How about a motif that runs through the pages of the zine. You could pay black and white printing prices and then hand stamp certain pages of the zine. It would be a delicate operation, but the effect could be striking.

Back to Shear's zine, the interior is laid out in a single column for each page (double column for the facing pages), using the free word-processing program LibreOffice. It is self-illustrated by Shear. The opening illustration of the castle outline is great. The other interior ones have crude DIY vibe, which won't win any awards but work with the overall aesthetic of the zine. Again, I love about this zine how much Shear is able to do with basic resources.

The zine was printed online by a service called Best Value Copy, a competitor to Mixam, which I talked about last time. Shear ordered the prints as unassembled sheets, and folded, stapled, and trimmed them himself. Although this is not a big deal by any stretch of the imagination, unfortunately there are telltale signs of printhead smudging or misalignment in the zine. In inkjet printers, printheads are little nozzles that spray droplets of ink onto the page. In laser printers, they're lenses that fire a laser beam at a drum, building up an electric charge to attract toner to the drum in the pattern to be printed, which is then transferred to the paper. In both kinds of printers, the print heads can be become dirty (inkjet printers get clogged, laser printer printheads get smudged). In inkjet printers, they also need to be lined up and coordinated with the paper that's fed in, since they jiggle and spray the ink directly on the paper. If they're misaligned or dirty you get strange features, like blurry or darkening text or thin white lines running through text and images.

In my copy of the zine, the type on some pages is a little crisper than on others. In particular, the type tends to get marginally darker and blurrier as it moves across the page. It was subtle enough that I had trouble getting a photo of it on my phone, because the phone corrects for the differences in the shade and blurriness of the writing. To be clear, It's not the kind of thing you would notice, unless you know about printing and are anal about this kind of thing. But if you're going to pay someone else to do the printing and copying of your zine, you probably don't want this to happen, so I guess I don't recommend Best Value Copies. But I do recommend Jack's zine!

Castlevania is in the zine's appendix N, with good reason

What is the Zine About?

The zine presents the fantasy setting of Urazya (Eurasia). Humanity here was ruled like chattel by the Nobility, four great vampire houses. The vampire houses jealously guarded their knowledge of powerful magic and technology (including AI, and robots), keeping the human masses they ruled in ignorance. The vampire houses fell in the Global War, a nuclear and magical apocalypse that left standing only the great Capital, a Duskvol like gothic metropolis with crumbling steampunk technology, ruled by humans. The Capital is surrounded by the Borderlands, an uncharted post-apocalyptic wild-west, full of small villages, witches, demon worshippers, and--of course--vampires. Beyond this lies the Devastation Zones, forbidden irradiated zones full of mutants, environmental hazards, and lost technological wonders. The players play a group of "hunters": monster-slaying heroes.

The briefly presented scaffold of setting material is neat, but I had a little trouble holding the three thematic elements in my head at one time. First, you have a post-apocalyptic Gamma World type setting, with AI, robots, radiation, and mutants. Second, you have a setting where great vampire houses ruled ignorant human chattel. Third, you have a gothic metropolis, with dark streets, occult secrets, demons, vampires, werewolves, unhallowed fey, and 19th century historical trappings, including both the gothic city and a wild west periphery. I found that I could get two out three of these in view at any time. When I tried to hold them together in my mind, the closest I could get was the kitchen-sink aesthetic of Rifts, which I don't think is quite what Shear is going for, since it treats any period trappings as just one part of a pleasing but incoherent melange. To be clear, I think this may be a failure of imagination on my part (maybe I just need to watch more gothic themed anime), and more importantly, it is an issue that could be posed and hashed out in the Session 0 that Shear's zine equips you to run.

This is another item from Appendix N.
I haven't read it, but I always love Yoshitaka Amano's art.

This is where the zine really shines: the real innovation is what the zine does with this setting. The zine presents a simple system neutral procedure for a session 0 get together, in which your group collaboratively creates a setting on the provided scaffold. The retro-gaming scene (OSR, NSR, *Dream, whatever) has been excellent in providing vivid and intensely imagined worlds in a bottle. In other words, it has excelled at worldbuilding in the service of open world style (sandbox) play. But this has tended to take an authorial form, where someone invites you to play in their created world, and an associated culture where people encourage each other enthusiastically to share their creations with one another. The scene has not explored collaborative worldbuilding sufficiently, although there are some notable and excellent exceptions, like the home village generation in Beyond the Wall, or the use that some have made of Microscope to launch campaigns. I think this is a shame, because there's a lot of room to experiment with techniques for drawing players into collaborative worldbuilding, without undermining the asymmetry between player and DM that is crucial to retro-gaming play.

The method of collaborative worldbuilding the zine presents involves breaking the setting into 4 thematic sections: the world, the Capital, the borderlands and devastation zones, and a catch all including technology, the populace, magic, and the hunters (the party). Each section first provides some setting background to serve as the scaffolding for improvisation. The background is followed by a brief section called "aesthetics, themes, and imagery" that names a themes and mentions common elements to give you a sense of the flavor you should aim for in answering the questions. For example, the aesthetics, themes, and imagery of the section on the Capital begins like this:

Urban Decay. Slums and tenaments, rust, fog-choked streets, gangs and the criminal underworld, ramshackle homes made from scavenged materials, vermin, graffiti, outbreaks of disease.

Each such section is followed by a series of five "prompts", i.e. questions, about different aspects of the setting that the group poses to themselves and collaboratively answers. This is the heart of the technique, and it's worth looking at some of the questions Shear poses.

My favorite question is this one from the prompts on the capital: "Whose thrilling exploits are written about in pulp novels and penny dreadfuls, adapted to the stage, and the subject of popular ballads?" This is an amazing question, because it's such a creative way of projecting your imagination into the setting. In essence, it asks you how the people in the setting imagine their own heroes. It also shows rather than tells a lot of setting materials, communicating that this is a place where there are penny dreadfuls, and that people in the Capital read pulp fiction, and throng to a lively theatrical scene. It conveys immediately that there are legendary hunters or daring criminals out there, and that they have a role in the popular imagination, which might or might not align with reality. The answer to this question just oozes adventure possibilities: one hopes that the party of hunters will, in one way or another, cross paths at some point with this figure of popular legend. I can also imagine these kind of questions eliciting riffs on a theme, sprawling unpredictably outwards into a shared world. 

Other questions are more prosaic, such as, "Name an eldritch horror and describe their cult." The question is solid, conveying that the setting has eldritch horrors and cults. But it lacks the verve of the question about the penny dreadfuls. Most of Shear's questions are of this latter, more generic sort, for example, "What commodity is currently sought after in the Capital?" I though this was a bit of a missed opportunity. Perhaps this latter question might be pepped up in line with the penny dreadful question like this, "What commodity in the mail order catalogues has recently become all the rage in the Capital?" This would suggest that there are old-fashioned mail order catalogues full of wares and consumer fads in the city. It presents the same information but in a way that conveys the sense of a broader world, while also suggesting elaboration into immediate adventure possibilities. What are the main catalogues called? Who is running them? In short, I find the penny dreadful versions of the questions more fun to think about, and I suspect they would produce more fruitful collaboration.

After the collaborative prompts, there are various further tools for play, including a set of "Additional Prompts". These are not formulated as questions, but rather seem to be different elements (locations items, villains, gangs, etc) that can be included in the game by DM with further elaboration. They were a tad generic, e.g. under uncanny locations one entry is "An island used for secret rendezvous". There is also a list of one line adventure seeds that strike me as quite useful. There are several alternate campaign premises (play revolutionaries, or missionaries, or entertainers, etc.), and very barebones character background and personality traits that didn't do much for me. 

In Sum

This zine shines in two ways. First, it shows you just how much you can do starting with a good idea, a free word processing program, a long-arm stapler, and some creative flourishes.  The second is that The Dirge of Urazya is innovative, presenting an original template that can easily be reproduced. At its best the template fills a real lack in retro-gaming play. The zine's structure of four sections, each with background scaffolding, followed by terse notes on themes and imagery, and then a series of collaborative prompts is solid and could be easily replicated with any number of settings. In fact it's a great premise for a continuing zine. I think it would be neat if Shear continued with future issues for other worlds: each issue presenting a different world to be collaboratively built in a session 0. I hope he does it.    

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

So You Want to Make a Zine: Printing

This is the first a series of posts about the craft of zine-making for tabletop rpgs, all intended to act as a community resource to lower the bar of entry. You can find the rest of the posts under the tag, "So You Want to Make a Zine?"

I'm also going to be linking to resources as they become available. Let's start with this: if you're thinking of doing zinequest, check out this post at Caradoc Games for a bunch of good links. If you use twitter, start following @zeshio and check out his data on last years zinequest. Join the discord server linked there for real time help from a community of zine makers!

But back to the main business. This series will cover all aspects of zinecraft, from writing, to working with artists, layout, and physical assembly. This post is about the options for printing your zine. I'm going to cover four options, with a couple of permutations along the way: (1) use a copy machine, (2) print at home, (3) print it at a print shop, and (4) have an online company print it for you.

Option 1: Use a Copy Machine

The most barebones option available to you is typing up or handwriting a zine on loose sheets of paper that you photocopy and then staple together into booklet form. (More on assembling a zine in another post!) In terms of startup costs, you could literally have 100 issues of a medium zine made--say 32 8.5 x 5.5 pages plus a cover--for the price of $45 dollars worth of black and white copying at 5 cents a side, plus the price of a long arm stapler and staples. Here is a guide by the wonderful Julia Gfrörur that makes this process crystal clear. The main headache will be getting your pages in the right order.

She originally linked this on this twitter thread, making clear that she wanted this guide shared widely. I was put onto that thread originally by Jack Shear's excellent blogpost about making a zine here. (Hi Jack, I'm going to be reviewing your zine Dirge of Urazya soon!) While you're at it, check Gförur's etsy store too where you can buy a $1 physical copy of this guide along with her other alluring zines.

One downside of photocopying your zine is that you'll probably be using copy store paper, which is very light weight. Also, any images in your zine are going to lose some details in copying if they're complicated. An upside to this method is that it allows you to use collage in your zine rather than fancy layout programs. Just cut out a public domain image, and glue it right onto your page. You can do the whole thing in analogue, just like the punks did it in the 1980s! You don't even need a long arm stapler if you do a zine  like Mike Davison's Boarding Action, which was a single sheet of double-sided paper (admittedly, it's more a newsletter than a zine):

This is actually on pretty thick blue graph paper, so I think Davison
actually scanned it and then printed it at home.

To sum up, the bar to entry for the copying technique is very low. You need almost nothing to get started, and it can be really satisfying to make something with your own hands. It gives you the freedom to use collage techniques, and hearkens back to the DIY values of the punk and riot grrrl scenes. Just for very detailed images with a lot shading to reproduce a little unclearly, and you'll need to be satisfied with copy paper, which can feel a little thin.

Option 2: Print It at Home

Another option is to print your zine at home. Provided you have access to a computer and printer, this allows you more control over the process. You can lay things out digitally. That might sound intimidating, and it can be if you use a professional layout program like InDesign. But it's possible to do simple layout in Microsoft Word. For example, Gabor Lux's excellent Echoes From Fomalhaut, one of the most popular and well-loved retro-game zines, is laid out entirely in word! And if you have access to a scanner, at home or through a copy shop, you can even combine the analog and the digital methods by scanning collaged pages in and so forth. Printing at home also allows you to experiment with fancier paper, within limits.

This excellent zine is laid out entirely in MS Word. A little utilitarian, but otherwise fine!

But there are a couple of problems you're likely to run into printing at home. First of all, if you're going to buy a printer, make sure that it has the duplex function, i.e. can print double-sided. Otherwise, you'll have to feed each sheet in twice to get both sides done, and if you do that, good luck keeping the pages in order.

The second thing to think about is ink, which is expensive. One way to get around that is with Epson ecotank printers. They're not cheap, but once you make the investment, ink is very inexpensive. So depending on the volume of printing, over the lifetimes of the printer they can end up being a steal. I have the Epson ET-3750, and it's a wonderful machine, but it costs $355 new, (there's a less expensive but still great ET-2750 that costs $300). It prints relatively quickly, and does pretty good color and black and white images, and also color scans and copies. You could easily use it to print a full color zine for the staggeringly low cost of 15 cents a zine, immensely cheaper than a color zine copied at a copy shop. Counterintuitively, it's cheaper to print a color zine using this printer than it is to print black and white zines. But even for black and white you'll print each issue for under 25 cents, which is amazing.

Epson Ecotank 2750

A cheaper option in terms of initial outlay, but more expensive in terms of ink, is a monochrome (black and white) laser printer, which you can get in the $50-$80 price range, although they're a dying breed. On the higher end of this spectrum is the Canon Image Classic line of monochrome laser printers. I have the Canon Image Classic LBP 251dw. It prints duplex in black and white at superfast speeds, with reasonably crisp image. With an official high volume black ink cartridge for this printer, you can print a 32 page zine plus cover for only 55 cents, only slightly more than a copy shop, although you'll have to pay for your own paper.

This Canon Image Classic is a simpler model than what I have. But it costs only $80. 

A problem with all home printers is that in big print jobs, things often go wrong. There are jams, which are obvious, since they grind everything to a halt. But there are also insidious problems that creep in without your noticing it, for example misaligned print heads that lead to smudged and blurry text and images. There are also more arcane technical problems. So if you're printing high volume at home (as you will be if you do 100-200 print runs for your zine), plan for some headache, some heartbreak, and some wasted supplies.   

Another problem is that, depending on how fussy you are about images, and how complex the images your zine has, it's hard to get detailed images to come out looking crisp and pretty, with all the details visible, and the contrasts just so. This problem is only amplified if you're printing in color. What's more, no matter what the printer says on the box, my experience is that no printer you can get for your home can handle high volumes of printing on heavier (i.e. fancy) interior paper and cardstock covers. It's going to misalign your print heads, lead to interminable jams, and ultimately break your printer. This is wisdom won from great personal suffering.

So my advice to you, if you're going to do your printing at home, don't go crazy with your paper quality, and don't include highly detailed images with a lot of fine contrasts. Make the most of what you've got. With a little patience, it'll be a step up from photocopying, with more options and control over the process. It'll work great as long as your demands aren't super exacting and you don't push your equipment too hard.

Option 3: Print at a Print Shop 

This option is more expensive than other options, although not necessarily as much more expensive as you might think (and in large volume for some methods it'll actually be cheaper). It's also the level where the technical limitations are really removed. Print shops can do high quality printing in big volumes very quickly. They can handle heavier paper weight and cardstock. You can purchase paper directly from them, or you can give them your own special paper to print on. They also can fold, staple, and trim a zine for you. In fact, the trimming services they offer, especially for offset printing, outstrip anything that you can do at home, allowing you to go "full bleed" with images that run right out to the edge of the page. (This is only possible with precision trimming, since every printer leaves a border of white around the pages printed. To make that border go away, you need to be able to trip the top bottom and right side of the zine perfectly. I have a super fancy trimmer, but I could never reproduce this effect consistently at home, certainly not over large quantities of zines.)

This is a page from the "print ready" version of the PDF I bring to my digital print shop.
See how page 34 is 3?

Before discussing the options, my main advice about printing at print shops is this. Prices and services vary tremendously. You need to find a printshop that is careful, competent, and willing to do what you want to do at a reasonable price. Different print shops are willing to do different things at different prices. There is no alternative but to talk to a whole bunch of print shops in your area, and find out what services they offer, and what rates they're willing to offer you. I recommend going in face to face if you can. (They often may want you to email to get a quote, so do that, but face to face meetings are even better.) I hate this kind of thing, negotiating, asking people what they're willing to do, getting turned down, etc. But it's worth it, since once you find a print shop you work with and trust, this will be a valuable relationship that will support and enable your zine-craft. Since zines are potentially long-running affairs, this can be a long term relationship. You should take it seriously and find out who is out there doing printing, and what they might be willing to do. 

This Indigo Digital Printing, the print shop I used for Issues 1 & 2 of Through Ultan's Door. 

There are two printing options for your zine: digital printing and off-set printing. They are very different printing techniques, in theory each better for different sorts of jobs. (But as we'll see, changes in pricing may be shifting the balance towards offset printing for a wider range of jobs than in the past, at least for a brief window....before offset printing is replaced by advances in digital printing.)

Digital Printing

Digital printing uses electrostatic rollers called drums to apply toner to paper, one drum for each color. The drums use an electrostatic charge to attract the toner onto the surface of the drum, which is then rolled onto a sheet of paper. The paper is then heated to fuse the toner to the sheet. 

In terms of quality, if you've purchased my zine, you can ask yourself this: does my zine look good enough for you? If the answer is yes, then digital printing will work fine. The word on the street is that digital printing does better with black and white than with color--since it loses some of the sharp contrasts and vividness of color printing. Since most zines are black and white, digital printing seems like a good option. 

Illustration by the amazing Orphicss.

In terms of price, there is no setup cost for digital printing. I've watched my print shop do it a few times now: they just load the paper into the machine, toggle a few settings on the computer, and the machine starts churning out copies. Given that there's no setup, it makes no difference if you're printing 1 copy or 1000 copies of something. For this reason, it has a lower cost for smaller print runs than offset printing, since no setup is required and volume doesn't affect the pricing. This is another reason that digital printing is a good option for zines, which often have a small print run of 100-200 copies. 

But there is a catch. Owing to the availability of high quality color digital printing, print shops have phased out black and white digital printers. This means that if your zine is black and white, it will have to be printed on a color printer. In fact, it's likely that your digital print shop won't even list separate prices for black and white printing. And this isn't a good development for us, because most zines are black and white, and color printing is much more expensive. 

Indigo printing works with me because of the volume of sales I'm bringing them to offer me a considerably lower rate their full color price. But it's still not as cheap as I would like. I'm paying 10 cents a side, so $2 to print a single zine. And I'm providing super fancy paper for them to use and doing the assembly by hand. The paper costs me about 55 cents per zine. So it's costing me $2.55 in total for materials and printing for each zine, even before we factor in the price of layout, art, and editing--PLUS countless hours to assemble them myself. 

Here I am trimming the umpteenth copy of my own damn zine

Don't get me wrong, in the past I've enjoyed physically making my own zines, and it does allow me to hold my assembly process to exacting standards. But I feel like I could definitely do better, both in terms of price and in terms of focusing my effort where it counts.  Right now I'm shopping around Chicago to see if anyone will do offset printing at a lower price using my own super special paper. I'm hoping they can assemble the zine for me to a sufficient level of quality, so I can focus my energy on the creative rather than mechanical side of zine production. Also, if I'm being honest, my circulation has grown enough that physically assembling zines threatens to take the joy out of the whole thing--and in fact is becoming nearly impossible.

Offset Printing

Offset printing is an older, more exacting, more tailored printing process. In contemporary offset printing, they begin by separating the colors of your PDF into black, cyan, magenta, and yellow, and etch each color onto its own separate flexible aluminum plate. Each of these four plates is put onto a roller, and the parts of the plate without an image are dampened with water. Then a vegetable oil based ink corresponding to relevant color is applied, flowing to the parts of the plate that are dry. The image is then offset (or transferred) from this roller onto a second roller with a rubber blanket on it. (That's why it's called offset printing.) Sheets of paper then are run through these four sets of rollers, where the colors mix to produce the final resulting image.

Offset printing is offered only in select print shops, since it requires expertise and machinery. It comes with fixed startup costs, since the plates must be etched for each job separately. So it is expensive for smaller runs. But the vegetable based ink is much less expensive than the toner used in digital printing, so the larger the run is, the less cost there is for this method of printing. At high volume, offset printing is actually cheaper than digital printing. It produces higher quality images, particularly when it comes to color images, and gives you some more paper options. So if your zine has fancy color art that's a little complicated, or images where the color scheme and crispness really matters, then off-set printing might be for you. If you're doing a large print run (1000 copies), then off-set printing is almost definitely for you. But for smaller volume print runs, say under 200 copies of your zine (and likely, if you're just getting started, you might want to do a 100 or 200 run), off-set printing might not be economical.

However, given the elimination of black and white digital printing, offset printing is becoming increasingly attractive economically speaking, and may be less expensive even for some smaller print runs, if you can find a print shop that will work with you on smaller runs of offset printing in your area. There are other, more specialized and arcane printing methods, like risograph printing. But I don't know much about it yet. When I learn more maybe I'll write a post about it.

These pretty colors were made with a risograph printer

Option 4: Print through an Online Printer

If you can't find a good printer near you, or just want to compare prices, there are now excellent online printing services that fill the role of printshops. It used to be that your only option was print on demand services that handle both printing and distribution. You submit a PDF, and then they host it. When a customer orders a copy, they have a printing center that prints one up, and then they handle the shipping. These services were attractive at the time for those who didn't want to worry about figuring printing out, or trek to the post-office and deal with packaging a ton of orders. The main print-on-demand services I've seen people use are Lulu and DriveThruRPG. The problem is that in terms of printing, these print-on-demand services are set up primarily to print books rather than zines. As a result, they don't give you many printing options, in terms of materials and binding, and all the printing is (obviously) digital. The zines that I've ordered from Lulu or DTRPG never feel or look right. Often they're perfect bound, or have a glossy cover that seems chintzy in a depressingly corporate way.

Luckily, nowadays there are outstanding online print services that are not print on demand. They print, fold, staple, and trim the entire print run of your zine for you. They pack them in a box and ship them to your door for distribution. The online printing service that most people I've talk to currently use is Mixam. Depending on how large your order is, they will either print it digitally (for smaller runs) or offset (for larger runs). You can select different paper weights for the interior and cover, and even various finishes to apply, as well as your method of binding (likely saddle stitch for a zine). The service, in addition to having numerous options, is also remarkably affordable. Have you read Tuesday Knight's Games, Mothership, Dead Planet, or Pound of Flesh? Did you think they were pretty? Well, they were all printed through Mixam.

This looks good right? It was printed on Mixam.

Printing my zine, Through Ultan's Door, at Mixam would save me a lot of money, although it would give me a little less control over the process.  If you are willing to handle distribution yourself, but don't want to fuss with a local print shop, then Mixam is an excellent option. The only technical hurdle is that you will have to prepare electronic files that match their specifications. But even that's pretty easy: you upload pdfs of each separate zine page in the order they are read (e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, etc). So you don't even need to worry about having a print-ready copy with the crazy page order.

So that's a wrap for my first post in the new "So You Want to Make a Zine?" series. My next post is likely going to be on finding artists and commissioning illustrations from them to bring your precious zine worlds to life. Or maybe I'll talk about setting up a webstore. Look for upcoming posts in my other new series "Zine Reviews". I'll be starting with separate reviews on (in this order) The Dirge of Urazya, Lowcountry Crawl, and The Doom That Speaks "zinis". In the meantime, if you have further thoughts on printing, want to share your experiences, or know about other online resources and discussion, drop a comment below!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Zines: Two New Series of Posts

Zines are amateur magazines, usually inexpensively printed, often with small print runs, and a D.I.Y aesthetic. While I don't know much about the history of zines, you can find a seriously oversimplified overview here. The story as recounted there is that zines began as part of science fiction fandoms, and then in 1970s and 80s, when copy shops opened, were adopted by the punk scene in London, L.A. and N.Y.C. In the 1990s there was efflorescence of zines in the riot grrrl scene.

There is a long history of zine-making in the ttrpg community and its precursors, which is natural given that ttrpgs grew out of the science fiction and wargaming scenes that already had a rich zine trade. Jon Peterson talks about some of that history here. Before he ever dreamt up Castle Greyhawk, Gary Gygax published the Domesday Book zine for the Castles & Crusades Society, in the pages of which Dave Arneson first published details about the Blackmoor setting as part of a play by mail fantasy game. Early zines in the hobby included Lee Gold’s still running Alarums & Excursions. Judge's Guild had several zines, including the Judge's Guild Journal, Dungeoneer, and later Pegasus, although over time they became more professional and less zine-like. Tekumel had its early zine, The Tekumel Journal, followed later by a few others, including The Journal of Tekumel Affairs, The Imperial Courier, The Eye of All Seeing Wonder, and Visitations of Glory. The Arduin Grimoires were printed entirely in zine format. Even Skyrealms of Jorune, a game that almost no one ever played, has had five different fan produced zines: Borkelby's Folly, The Danstead Traveller, Sarceen's Knowledge, Journal of the Tansoor Society, and, most recently, Segment Sho Caudal.

This isn't an accident. In many ways, zines are an ideal form for DIY tabletop gamers to share their adventures, houserules, settings, systems, and so on with one another. Unlike in the early days of our hobby, when one had to mimeograph an entire issue, the bar to entry at present is extremely low. If you do things right, and if you have the skills (and gear) to handle the electronic side of the operation, a zine might cost you as little as a dollar to print and ship at the price of a regular letter. The technologies for selling zines online are also basically free. For $150 you could easily have a 100 copy barebones print run of your own homebrewed creation that you share with your fellow gamers through social media and a webstore, or a through a third party site like DriveThruRPG, Lulu, or

The retro-gaming zine scene is currently going strong. Some of the most interesting DIY work that's being done is being done in zines. There were a raft of exciting new zines of all sorts spurred recently by Kickstarter's excellent ZineQuest in 2019. Thankfully Kickstarter is doing it again next month, so we're about to see another slate of new and returning talent. I've put out two issues of my own zine, Through Ultan's Door, and I'm hoping to debut issue 3 at GaryCon this year.

But I can't help but feel that things aren't as easy as they should be. Our collective knowledge about the craft of zine making is huge. But how can someone who is just getting started, or who's trying to pick up a few new tricks, tap into that wealth? To help, I've decided to relaunch and extend a series of posts on this blog called "So You Want to Make a Zine?" This extended series of posts will share my own knowledge, and (more importantly) the knowledge I glean from talking to other zinesters about the craft, logistics, and economics of zine-making. I plan on covering everything from how to print a zine to how to physically assemble one; from how to write a zine to how to find and work with artists; from how to set up webstores to how to layout a zine. Hopefully the comments section of these posts will provide a host of other resources as people chime in. I'll also be linking to other people's blog posts and youtube channels, whenever I find useful information. 

I've also decided that I'm going to another series of post titled, "Zine Reviews". I've done some zine reviews in the past, before I started making my own zine, including a review of Melan's fantastic Echoes Fomalhaut zine, and a review of the older and now defunct AFS zine. But going forward, I'm going to do at least a couple of zine reviews every month, and I'll be focusing not only on the content (as I did in the past before I knew anything about making a zine), but also on the production choices, physical quality, layout, and so on. I'll also try to do the occasional review of an old zine, or run of zines from early in the hobby.

Stay tuned.