The GROGNARD Files

Table-top RPGs from back in the day and today.

Earlier this week, I appeared on What Would the Smart Party Do podcast, celebrating their success at reaching the milestone of 100 episodes. The discussion included a reflection over the past 5 years of their existence and a projection of what gaming may look like in another 5 years.

During the projections, we concluded that D&D 5e has established itself as a solid set of rules and was in effect the ‘End Game’ of the story arc of the 40 years of edition wars. Over the next 5 years, it would be alternative settings that would be offered to satisfy those that crave constant change from RPG publishers.

Back in the day, many players of D&D would shun the official worlds offered by TSR in favour of creating their own campaign settings, not caring too much about the internal consistency as long as it fitted within the ‘story’ being created by their character progression.

Published in 12 issues between October 1983 to December 1986, Tortured Souls was a fanzine, with semi-professional sensibilities, that was dedicated to publishing scenarios (mainly for D&D, but there were some RuneQuest and others too). Unlike some of the other ‘zines of the time, this was not concerned with the cut-and-thrust of the fan discourse, instead it delivered detailed scenarios as a ready-made resource for Games Masters.

Each issue contained at least one adventure set in their own campaign world of Zhalindor. The scenarios were incredibly detailed and offered background to the places and people within the world, with some unique monsters to encounter too, but what made the world interesting was some of the variants to the rules that were modified by the setting. There was an ‘hex crawl’ element as it encouraged players to explore different areas of the map.

Treasure was downscaled to avoid too much power-play and they suggested that Player Characters were only from the primary classes (Clerics, Magic User, Fighter or Thieves). There was a clear influence of RuneQuest too as the world did not use alignment and many of the adventures were morally ambiguous, challenging the players to think of the consequences of their actions. Clerics could choose weapons and armour that was determined by their deity.

Each scenario was set in ‘hex’ that was allocated a ‘zone’ which affected spell effects. Depending on the spell type the results could be bonus, malus or special and the player characters are unaware of what the geographical influence there is until the spell is cast. A great idea.

Many of the detailed scenarios remain an excellent resource for OSR gamers. The odd issue appears now and then on eBay. References to Zhalindor also appeared in early editions of GamesMaster Publications.

As for the next 5 years, there’ll doubtless be many more fan made worlds added to the D&D multiverse, but will they have so many brightly coloured floor-plans?

This is a first in a series of articles and other material to support our Fanzine Festival to mark the release of GROGZINE19. I know it was promised for April but it may stretch into May. This is a phenomena known as GROGNARD time – where time moves quicker but I move more slowly.

Tortured Souls was published by Beast Enterprises who also produced modules
The covers were distinctive with blood dripping from the type and primary colours (this one is by Jon Baker)
Tortured Souls also featured the occasional light-hearted scenario
The cut-out and keep floor plans were compatible with Endless Games’ Endless Plans –
Proof that it wasn’t all D&D – there was RuneQuest (with Broos, obvs)
Some of their scenarios also featured single-player adventures.
The scenarios for the Zhalindor campaign appeared on card-stock in the centre of the zine
Most of the above are taken from the collection loan to The Great Library of RPGs by Simon Kind (@yorkist on twitter). We’re pretty sure that he also played my Ice Fields PBM in 1985 – he drew this cover to the newsletter. Thanks Simon.

One thought on “Tortured Souls – Fanzine Scrapbook

  1. @mangozoid says:

    I do remember these being on sale at Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street back in the day – they cost about £6.99 back then and although they seemed to have got some good press, the presentation was still very amateur-ish, no doubt stemming from their fanzine roots. I was editing Dark Elf and possibly Cerebretron too around that time, and the latter certainly looked better than many… Lol

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