02 February 2021

Review: Knock! #1

tl:dr; a gorgeous best-of selection of old school gaming wisdom and new inspirations in one handy codex. First of many, we can hope.

I backed the kickstarter for this "Adventure Gaming Bric-a-Brac. Being A Compendium of Miscellanea for Old School RPGs" and it just turned up in the mail. I love it - the design, the density, the content picked to go inside it - it is stuffed full of chewy goodness and a treat for anyone who likes either OSR blogs, RPG magazines or any other such compilations of options and ideas to bring to your game. Almost certainly there are things for your table in here.

freshly arrived copy, cover by Tim Molloy

So what is inside? First off kudos to the Merry Mushmen for carrying this off - it is a great concept and I like the size, the format and the way it has all come together. Additionally, it made me very happy to see it got printed in soixante-quatre postcode, I must have driven past the printing works more than a dozen times when I lived in Bearn.

Content wise this first issue, a proof of concept, is a greatest hits of the wisdom of the OSR from... the past decade? More? I recognised many of these articles from blogs but there is something supremely useful about collating it all together and putting it into this coherent form.

What is in here?
144 pages of 51 articles covering a myriad of topics
14 pages of maps
20 pages of player classes
10 pages of monsters
22 pages of adventures

The first main section, with all the articles, provides something that I had missed - an assembly of the best articles were scattered across many blogs some of which had gone somewhat defunct, others which had been so prolific in their output that to try and read all the back catalog is a herculean task. By trawling through all of this and plucking out the best of the best of all these ideas we now have a touchstone record to point to. I am not sure if the way that articles riff off one another is a preservation of original connectedness from blogs/G+ or whether it is freshly written for this "colourful brick of old-timey fun" but it is nice to see. We will come back to this.

The last four sections provide inspirations in different forms. The maps are from a variety of sources - some from existing adventures, other from home games for you to repurpose. The adventures section is similar but keyed and with all the contents. These are Citadel of Evil (levels 1-3), Praise the Fallen (levels 2-4) and the Wizards Cave which is a lair for a wizard of your choosing. I liked these adventures a lot - straight forward, useful, easy to bring to the table.

In the 'retinue of rogues' we get 6 player classes and a d66 table of former professions - some very cool classes in here; one that rules a swarm (for example goblins, reflecting its origin as Evlyn Ms goblin enchantress) one that is an enchanted armour suit. The 'menagerie of monsters' has a nice set of 7 beasts ranging from the strange, potentially useful Treasure Frog up to the fearsome Troad - half troll, half toad self appointed ruler of this patch of the region.

Everything within the pages is useful, gameable and from the huge span of contributors it is almost certain to contain things that you would not have thought of yourself.

Beyond the quality of any individual articles I think Knock! does a great service as a compilation of the best of old school gaming.

The magazine stands as a monument to the interconnectedness of the community - there is a conversation happening within the pages that provides a compelling window into the scene that I would greatly appreciate if I were not already aware of it. This conversation out there, with all these ideas swirling around is interesting because it provides an alternative to the single fountainhead that is the publisher of the game. I know that my younger self could have benefitted from seeing the works of peers being held up as worthy for bringing to the table. The 'build upon the works of others' attitude that shines through is a great lesson to learn.

Second this compilation of approaches, philosophies and how-to's distills down an overview of what people mean by Old-School role playing games. By presenting such a range of voices on the topic this book becomes stronger than anything written by a single source could have been. There are a dozens of slightly different takes, overlapping and individually oriented in all sorts of directions. When you read through it, and see the direction that these articles take collectively, it creates a much more powerful understanding of "this shared direction, the common understanding" than any singular author could write. I have seen lots of documents floating around that are pointed to as charters for what people mean by OSR but in the pages of this guide to adventure gaming the meaning becomes clear - the bright shared core concepts and the fuzzier edges where peoples views diverge. It is a beautiful "show, don't tell" approach that is not a quick read but makes the journey to clearer understanding fun. A single voice might have written a shorter guide but the collective choir is convincing.

Third the book could stand as a crowd-sourced DMs Guide - here are the lessons learned of a community that has played the game hard and smashed into walls so you don't have to. I would argue that many of these articles would be well at home in any future core book for games; demonstrating how the game is played and sharing wisdom on how to have a better time at the table (p144 - Just Use Bears should be etched into brass sheets and issued as bookmarks for core books).

To close, I am very happy with what I got from backing this, I think there is great potential to deliver more, equally fun issues - capturing the ferment of the online community into more, similar compendiums.

[Edited to add:] If you want to get a copy - they can be ordered off The Merry Mushmen here.

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