Valkyrie Quarterly #23
Valkyrie Quarterly #23 Playtest Review by Pete Darby on 11/06/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
None of the articles is a waste of space. That is one heck of an achievement for any publication with a finite budget
Product: Valkyrie Quarterly #23
Company/Publisher: Partizan Press
Comp copy?: yes
Playtest Review by Pete Darby on 11/06/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Historical Horror Comedy Espionage Conspiracy Superhero Generic Other
Valkyrie Quarterly, Issue 23
"The Weird Issue"
A slightly odd one, in that if you don't get why issue 23 should be the place for High Weirdness, this issue won't tell you. Fnord. If you do understand, then quite a bit of the best content will be vaguely familiar to you...
Lets take this step by step...
Valkyrie is printed on pretty heavy, glossy paper, and can stand up to a fair deal of abuse (up to and including teething 9 month old babies; trust me). Design is generally clear, though it varies in both style and quality from article to article, sometimes verging on critical mass of text. Oh, and they're not printing pictures beneath text any more. I thank you, my optician curses you for depriving him of further income.
The choice to concentrate on themed issues strengthens the magazine, making it feel a lot less "bitty" than most paper 'zines.
Oh, and as for the definition of weird... I'd classify the contents as veering towards the High Weirdness flavour of weirdness, with occasional dips into forteana. The best working definition for High Weirdness is "If Ken Hite get a column of Suppressed Transmission out of this, it's High Weirdness."
Or three months worth of press releases. I don't mean that to sound snide: I generally don't keep up with press releases, so this is nice to have if you get the magazine soon enough after publication.
News from the Trenches
Bill Walton's escapist magazine in a column: nicely balanced, but if you're reading this, you can go to the website, right?
Another contribution from a website editor, this time Jonny Nexus of Critical Miss: my favourite webzine. Jonny's "war stories" remind me of KODT before it got tied up in it's own continuity, when it was role players' embarrassing tales for their own sake. No point, but who cares?
Saints & Sinners
More escapist bulletins...
Things Just Got Even Stranger
A "Fortean" random event table. 100 events freely adapted form news items in the Fortean Times. As a subscriber to that august journal, not much new to me here, but please, for Bob's sake, don't use this at random, unless you run a really picaresque CoC game, or Over the Edge on speed (otherwise known as the Hunter S Thompson Variation.). 100 bizarre plot points, a competent GM can flesh out the rest.
In "Bob" we trust
A beginners guide to the Church of the subGenius. As incomplete as any other guide, including the voluminous tracts by the Church themselves... If you need it explained... nah, no-one needs it explained. If you're curious, follow that link, but you have been warned...
Okay, here is where I declare an interest: for the last decade, I may or may not have been Pope of a subG church... the Church of the Terminal Paranoid Reality. Previous to that, I was Pope of the Church of Altogether Too Much Beer, but declared myself heretical when I found the church was attracting the wrong sort of drunk. I think I'm the only member of the CotTPR, but you can never be sure...
The idea of quantifying Slack, and other church articles of faith as described here, is certainly heretical in the eyes of most subG churches, and probably the sort of things JR "Bob" Dodds thought up years ago... As an attempt to codify a synthetic satirical religious movement, it's partly an admirable source of ideas for High Weirdness games, and simultaneously a waste of time and effort. Again, much like the original religion.
This article is kind of the heart of the issue. If you want weird, go find a subGenius. However, I'd question the inclusion of the subG in any "normal" or "serious" RPG, and any "funny" RPG is going to lessen their impact severely. An all out, totally weird, what if the subG were not only right (as we are, monkey boy!), but demonstrably right would be a hoot though, but it would be as odd a game as...
Diana: Amazon Princess
Heh. Some people are going to find this tasteless, and a besmirchment of the name of Diana Spencer Of Blessed Memory. Those of us whose memories stretch back beyond the fact that she was a rich person involved with charities who die young might care a little less... I was more upset about the sniping at Xena the Warrior Princess, but this is a satire about historical accuracy in popular culture. Or mythical accuracy anyway...
This is Marcus L Rowland's take on what history's future sweep may do to memories of our present day; a cornball mix of modern mythologies, historical howlers, and political sniping. I can't see why Mr Rowland has singled out Xena & Hercules: the liberties taken are only a little worse than Brits are used to in most RPG's with a modern setting when they try to map out events outside the metropolitan areas of the continental US.
Enough griping: this article has enough material for several campaigns, including spin-offs and movie rights. Yep, a joke setting that begs to be played as straight faced as you can manage. If you are offended by the title... well, don't read it, but you're missing a treat. Oh, and get over it.
Our Lady of Chaos
Apart from the deplorable way that this article hints at the Discordians' true, vast power, it's a little dry compared to the subG article; the gaming advice is slim at best... but I'd like to point out that Erisian plots don't need weird science, as Jay Forster claims, just weird people. This is evinced by the presence of "real" Erisian plots in our world.... For example, while walking to work the other day, I saw a Day-Glo sticker on a building site fence that said "Danger! Low Flying Fnords!" OM is still in operation kids...
Thinking about it, it would be nice in a modern conspiracy game to have some NPC's (or even some "wild & crazy" PC's) get into one of these groups, then draw the attention of some real conspirators.... Interested students should read "Foucaults' Pendulum" by Umberto Eco. But remember, he nicked his ideas from Robert Anton Wilson. Who stole his ideas from you while you were sleeping.
The Department of Unexplained Events
Not too keen on this: perhaps a GM unfamiliar with British bureaucracy would find this helpful should the campaign reach these shores, but it seemed a little too restrained in it's weirdness, just a conspiratorial agency with a UK spin. Oh, and a few in jokes for ageing SF fans... or is that fans of ageing SF?
Librarian's Love Child in World Domination Horror!
In which Phil Masters explains at great lengths why you can't really run conspiratorial, mystery or tabloid style stories, because the Discworld is barely around the renaissance in terms of technology, negating the communications necessary for conspiracies, and demonstrably fantastic, negating the weird aspect. You guessed, I thought much of this was filler, like Phil had been commissioned to produce a certain word count on weird gaming on the Discworld.
I thought one fun part of Discworld stories was deconstructing other stories using fantasy & comedy: e.g., in the real world, super-national conspiracies demonstrably exist (The Bilderberg group, etc.), yet their power is limited because if they weren't, they could openly run the world, start and finish wars on time and stop Enron from collapsing. This is, clearly, not the case. So a Discworld conspiracy of ruddy faced burgers, priests, even the odd wizard, would happily be congratulating itself on finally running things right, just as the four horsemen saddle up...
Similarly, the raison d'être of a Fox Mulder stereotype is to question received wisdom, and to sound like a loony while doing it. So while everyone else is ganging up on Pestilence (or at least Scrofula) during an epidemic, our lad is babbling on about washing your hands and little creatures you can't see living under your fingernails. He's crazy, but occasionally he's right...
But ah, the scenario seeds... The first shows the signs of having been written by someone who managed to read the whole of Holy Blood & the Holy Grail without either ripping it up, feeding it to their dog, or turning their brain off. I think a medal may be in order. And adding Bloody Stupid Johnson as a secret master is a stroke of genius worthy of BSJ...
But, Phil, no Discworldian cognates of the Templars? A group of religious knights associated with most religions (clandestinely), most conspiracies (by co-option) and most religious repressions (see first two entries)...
A really multi-layered conspiratorial organisation, with the top rung left as an exercise for the interested scholar (IE, it depends on the campaign that they're slotted into). Haven't most conspiracy games got enough organisations to go round? Not that this one is bad, but to give it justice it would have to be the focus of a campaign...
White Light, White Heat
The SLA industries column details Sector 23 where... it's odd, but would really have to be inserted into a long-running SLA campaign to get the full impact. Imagine taking a group of cyberpunk characters after the usual dirty, gritty, "Mr Johnson Hosed Us and All I Got Was This Lousy Implant" set of adventures, then get them to play through "The Wicker Man." This article promises to be half of one detailing the sector, though how they can justify one half being weird and the other history is slightly baffling.
Battle Lines: Trash South Park
If you saw the episode of South Park where Barbara Streisand becomes a Mecha Godzilla, and you have Trash Tokyo, you could write this yourself. But hey, Alex Stewart has done the work for you, and the subjects' an obvious one. If you saw the episode. If not, beware this page, as it includes the phrases "Mega-Sidney-Poitier" and "Robert Smith from The Cure", together with commensurate Sanity loss.
Yes, Robert Smith's stats for a Table Top wargame. Be afraid...
Soldier of Fortune, Reviews
Reviews of miniatures, reviews of games... okay, reviewing reviews. That way lies true madness. Just read the RPG reviews when they get to the archive...
RPG Comic Review Cliché #1: This used to be funny when.... In this case, when it was in dragon, taking the proverbial out of the then current D&D ranges. This month's episode shows the author's hatred of Reality TV and Harry Potter: if you'd laugh at Hermione Granger getting zapped, you may find this funny. If you find that funny, or sickening, your emotional response to the mention of a supporting character from a children's book is wayyyyy too high, and I'd consider getting out more.
This used to be funny...
Darn. It still is.
This issue of Valkyrie is certainly worth the money, though probably more so to conspiracy / modern RPG GM's than fantasy or SF (no deep space weirdness? subG in zero-G? Venusian Erisians? Yeti from Alpha Ceti?), but a couple of articles (Things..., Diana) that beg to be used, and, it has to be said, None of the articles is a waste of space. That is one heck of an achievement for any publication with a finite budget.