Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Review: Back to the Dungeon Zine

I have a pile of zines, both in print and digital, most free, some of which I’ve read, and a few that I’ve reviewed. I just found a new one (at least new to me) Back to the Dungeon. It’s up to issue 5 already, and it does something I haven’t seen a zine do before - it details a rather massive megadungeon. Each issue covers an entire level of the dungeon, plus some info about the local city and a variety of NPCs. I really like how each issue seems to advance the events in the town, adding more details, and making it seem more alive. The same goes for the dungeon itself. There is definitely a feeling that there’s a lot going on outside of what the adventurers are doing.

The author, Eldrad Wolfsbane, is a highly enthusiastic writer who clearly enjoys putting out these issues. His humor and enjoyment shines throughout every issue. Sometimes I get the feeling that while some of the dungeon was pre-planned, much of it is being put down as he thinks of it. There are frequent uses of exclamation points, and words like suddenly, weird, unusual, etc. which definitely gives a raw feeling.

For all that I do like, I have some issues with it.

The maps are pencil drawn sketches that don’t seem to have received even basic cleanup once scanned, making them rather difficult to read. From what I can see, they aren’t very interesting maps, which is forgivable, as there is certainly a lot of interesting stuff to find *in* the dungeon. I just wish I could see it better, and didn’t have the overwhelming urge to try to redraw the maps.

The editing… There wasn’t any. It’s bad. I’ve somehow managed to refrain from taking a red pen to it, but only just. Also, why isn’t the PDF text searchable?

Treasures are oddly and unnecessarily detailed, especially when it comes to gems. For example this treasure from issue 3:

Treasure: SP: 8000 EP: 5000 Gems (22): Zircon-75 gp, Chrysoprase-75 gp, Tiger Eye Agate-25 gp, Citrine-75 gp, Blue Quartz-10 gp, Eye Agate-10 gp, Peridot-500 gp, Star Sapphire-1000 gp, Bloodstone-100 gp, Zircon-250 gp, Moonstone-100 gp, Citrine-100 gp, Hematite-10 gp, Citrine-250 gp, Blue Quartz-50 gp, Rock Crystal-100 gp, Turquoise-10 gp, Bloodstone-250 gp, Malachite-10 gp, Smoky Quartz-75 gp, Rock Crystal-100 gp, Malachite-50gp. Total Value: 3225 gp.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this looks like something a random generator came up with. Since so much of the dungeon reflects Eldrad’s obvious enthusiasm for his creation, this is rather jarring. If I was going to run this (or take an editing pen to it), I’d definitely skip over that entire list, except maybe for the Star Sapphire, noting it as the largest or best cut of the gems.

The thing is I can’t tell if Eldrad was trying really really hard to mimic the old zines from the 70’s, or if he was just so enthusiastic to get his megadungeon out there that he didn’t take any time to clean it up.Visually it's definitely mimicking those mimeograph days. 

In spite of all that, it’s definitely worth the price for the read. If nothing else, there are a fair number of ideas to steal.


  1. Thanks for pointing out this zine; I'd never seen it. I think it's intentionally embracing the aesthetics of amateurism.

    1. Happy to spread the word

      I think I agree with you on embracing the aesthetics of amateurism. I know I could afford to do that more. It still really makes me want to pull out my red pen though...

  2. Thanks for the review. Working on issue 6.