This is a review of the OSR magazine "Brave the Labyrinth", issues one to four. They are published by Small Niche Games, and edited by Peter Spahn. Each is a softcover book, varying from 26 to 44 pages, in the same size and format as Small Niche's Labyrinth Lord OSR modules. Each has a variety of articles by a number of contributors. I am reviewing, obviously, the printed versions of these magazines (described as a "fanzine for the Labyrinth Lord community" but that can really be usable in any old-school context, pretty much); but in addition to purchase they are apparently available as a "pay what you want" program from RPGnow.
And what you get is a mixed bag of fan articles. But on the whole, not too shabby. #1 has a bunch of new body-altering spells created by an assassin-wizard, some new monsters created by the mage guild, a dungeon map (cool, though only the map, numbered, but with no key or adventure to go with it), a halfing-adventurer-company set of NPCs, a couple of new magic items, rules on animal retainers, a neat alternative LL character sheet, a short article on tallow (what they make the candles with), a four-page adventure for lv.4-5 characters named "The Screams From Jedder's Hole", and a fairly filler review of a fan-made free adventure found elsewhere.
Generally, quite a bit of interesting stuff for 26 pages. I actually ran the Jedder's Hole adventure for my Albion group and it played out quite well, the players very much enjoyed it as an impromptu adventure on an evening where a couple of key players were missing (and thus the main adventure was postponed).
Issue #2 has some new spells and items (made by an illusionist named Neem the Inscrutable), some new demons named Blooroes (and their brood, which are made for a horror-fantasy vibe), a map of a village (named Aldriss, which has no further detail other than the map, though it does identify the various buildings therein), an orcish warrior order called the Voltherak, a list of gods of Law, Neutrality and Chaos, rules for 0-level humans for LL, another town map (for the "fortress of Hawksford" and its environs), six short articles (on a myriad of topics), some new magic items, an 2.5-page adventure for lv.3-5 characters called "Carnival of the Setting Sun", and another review of another free adventure. It's 30 pages long, but I think its not quite as good as issue 1; maybe because the first one had a better adventure in it.
Issue #3 is 44 pages, as the material submitted grows. It starts out with a 3-page list with illustrations of the covers of all the LL products released in 2013. Then you get a list of dwarven items. Then a 2-page article with floorplans, on a locale called the "Dagger and Wand Tavern". Then some rules on making Goblinoid characters in LL. Then a couple of pages on a new monster called the Vexare, which are described as "a cross between rats and dwarves". You also get a special ranger subclass called the Beast Rider, a strange racial class called "grimps" (which are a group of imps that work in a tandem hivemind), a bard class for LL, a description and lair map/mini-adventure for a tribe of goblins (the Targker Goblins), an article analyzing the elf class, a list of two dozen types of magic candles, a mixed bag of monsters, and another review at the end.
Finally, issue #4 is 39 pages long. It features some variations on the Dwarf class, some rules on chaos magic for monsters, the Demonologist variant magic-user class, a couple of full-page hexmaps of "the islands of chalm" (which look a bit like a variant of the Isle of Dread, and again have no additional information beside what's on the map; all of these were pretty much there just for inspiration), some additional rules for using Zombies, a humorous 'fantasy insurance' company for more light-hearted games, rules on weapon mastery for LL, some items of faerie-magic, a 7-page adventure for lv.1-3 characters called "The Ruined Tower of Hilsosk The Mad", and a review of the Red Tide setting book.
So what do I conclude about "Brave the Labyrinth"? As a rule, I'm not a huge fan of gaming zines, even the very best of these (Dragon, for example) seem to me to be kind of stuffed with a lot of material I'd never use. In this context, I'd say that Brave the Labyrinth does fairly well; it has a very good signal-to-noise ratio if what you're interested in is lots of good optional material for OSR play. In particular, if you're a fan of Labyrinth Lord, B/X D&D in any of its varieties, including LotFP, BECMI, the Rules Cyclopedia, etc. the material in here is all really usable. I think numbers 1 and 4 in particular do quite a good job, maybe because they have very playable (short) adventures in them.
Basically, if you're an OSR gamer, you can't go wrong with checking these out, especially at the price.
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