Serendipity's Circle #19
Serendipity's Circle #19 Capsule Review by Jody Macgregor on 28/07/01
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
It's the Millennium Issue of the magazine of horror and weird fantasy RPGs, and I'm in a rambling mood.
Product: Serendipity's Circle #19
Author: Executive Editor: Serendipity Jones, Games Mistress: Julie Hoverson, a whole lot of other people
Company/Publisher: Wheeality Productions
Page count: 59
Year published: 2000
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Jody Macgregor on 28/07/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Horror Conspiracy Old West Generic
One of the great things about amateur zines is the variety and eclecticism of articles they present. Is eclecticism a word, or did I just make it up? Anyway, one of the great things about reviewing amateur zines is that I get to dress up a bunch of random and poorly-ordered observations as criticism and the magazine's internal weirdness gives me an excuse, when really I'm just lazy and slightly drunk.
Serendipity's Circle lies at the niche market end of the RPG zine spectrum, billing itself as "Exploring the Catacombs of Horror & Weird Fantasy RPGs." It's a fanzine, which means that art and paper quality aren't their primary concerns, but on the other hand the reviews are unbiased, articles varied, ads rare, and the hands of a small group of dedicated creators are evident. Issue 19 owes a lot to Julie Hoverson, whose name crops up time and again. Not having read any other issues I can't say if her influence is always this prominent, but the zine wouldn't suffer if it was. She's a fine writer, and one day she will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine.
Apparently each issue is themed, and this issue the theme is "True Grit," which the editorial explores. Basically, it covers earth, dirt, dust, and just a little bit of mud. The theme is mostly reflected in the settings and monsters of the scenarios, of which there are more of than usual, split up into bare Fragments, X-Y-Z plots, generic one-shots and featured Showcase Games. All are in the horror genre rather than weird fantasy. They include a modern-day investigative piece involving a mud monster exploring racism, a promising story suggestion about a statue come to life (reminiscent of the Tales of Terror from Unspeakable Oath), a Deadlands showcase set in the desert, and an imaginative Tales from the Crypt adventure.
Before this, I didn't even know there was a Tales from the Crypt game, but it sounds strangely interesting. In what I assume is standard for the game, each NPC comes with a casting suggestion to help the GM play them, but many of the actors are a little obscure -- how many people know Kristine Sutherland by name? (She's Buffy's mother. She was once on an episode or two of Remington Steele. It's so sad that I know that.) On the downside, there's a picture of the Cryptkeeper accompanying it that would make him spin in his grave if he weren't undead.
Each plot has some interesting ideas and atmosphere, but lack NPC stats. And while my nitpicking hat is on, the maps are particularly sketchy and lack scales.
The articles are also varied, describing a tabloid newspaper and its reporters, dispelling some myths surrounding alchemy, death, and decomposition, coming up with better names in games, and film noir. The film noir article is well-written, but I'm not sure of it's out of place or an example of the variety in the zine as a whole which I can't seem to shut up about. Of the rest, the decomposition piece is particularly useful, answering a bunch of awkward questions I've tried to get answers to before about where bugs lay eggs in bodies and so on. While we're here, if zombies have sex is it necrophilia? Anyway, all the articles are potentially helpful, and none of them feel like filler.
The letters column is brief, by which I mean almost empty. Lively debate on the letters page can be interesting (except when egotistical editors feel the need to always have the last word, not naming any names), but I get enough debate on the RPG Net forums, as I assume most of you do. So, it doesn't matter too much that there's only one letter in the column.
The reviews cover a couple of horror movies, supplements for Cthulhu, Deadlands, Zero, Tribe 8, and Immortal as well as the rulebooks for GateWar and Baron Munchausen and the e-zine Critical Miss. Two of the reviews are written in the style of the game they review, which works for a downhome hick Deadlands review, but not for Baron Munchausen, which is a shame.
In contrast to more professional RPG work, Serendipity's Circle is largely devoid of typos, and I note a proofreader credit on the back page. Large companies take note.
In summation . . . holy shit Grandaddy are good. I've got Under The Western Freeway on in the background as I type this. They are SUCH a geek band. They use electronica, but without expecting you to dance to it, and more importantly, they have beards.
Oh, and this Serendipity's Circle is damn fine. Definitely worth the price in the US, but unfortunately not so much outside it, what with postage and the Australian dollar being completely worthless. Your mileage may vary, and cheers.