What Do You Need to Know?
Wormskin presents a mythic forest setting in the form of a OSR zine. It offers a dreamlike, occasionally nightmarish Celtic tone with fairy influences. It is written by Gavin Norman and Greg Gorgonmilk.
You can buy the 42-pages-PDF (USD $3.99) or PDF + print (USD $6.99) HERE (aff).
Wander Into the Woods and Encounter Strange Things
Wormskin stands out by conveying a certain magical feel. The forest of Dolmenwood reminds me of fairy tales of wonder and wickedness. It is not heavy metal "in your face" but creepiness lurking in dark groves. Dolmenwood invokes the primal fear of being alone in the woods without being solely a horror setting.
Game-wise the setting uses the Labyrinth Lord (or B/X) rules. Thus, you can plug it into any OSR campaign without any problems. You can drop the forest into a remote area of your existing campaign world or use it as a stand-alone setting.
The first issue offers two new race-classes. Moss dwarfs are plant-like demi-humans that clad themselves into bark armor and live deep in the forest. They have fertile flesh and become riddled with symbiotic plants and fungi.
Yes, you can have a partially sentient mushroom growing from the crown of your head or Parsley chest hair.
Moss dwarfs can use knacks, quasi-magical abilities, like Bird Friend or Pocket Lore. At 4th level, they can also go into fungal symbiosis. In this stage, they use attack forms of the mushroom, including magical abilities.
As a GM, you'll also get random tables to create Moss dwarf NPCs.
The second race-class are the Grimalkin, cat-like beings. Think Puss-in-Boots. They have 3 stages. A humanoid cat-form (estray), a stupid cat-form (chester), and a primal fey form (wilder).
Players will mostly be in estray form where they can cast spells, pick locks and do typical player stuff. But when they eat rats (save vs. spells to resist eating), there is a 10% chance that they will transform into their stupid chester form.
If they are near death, they might transform into their fey form. They are sensitive to sunlight and can't distinguish friend from foe. Transformation back into estray is very difficult.
I find this race-class very interesting. There is always the risk of transforming into one of the less useful forms. Plus, it is funny. Weak against catnip? Yes, the authors thought of that.
The Grimalkin estrays have cool spells like Disappearance or Furball. Everyone who has a cat will know how that spell works. Area effect and save vs. breath to minimize the damage done by the violent stream of fur, spittle, and rat bones. Gross!
A large section of the booklet is dedicated to the fungi of Dolmenwood. How to identify, consume, buy and sell. The text provides a d30 random table. You can either use it as a single-roll table for well-known species. Or you can roll multiple times to create your own unique mushroom.
Examples? Cuckoo puke is psychedelic and smells like fish. Monkskull looks brain like, tastes bloody, but is nourishing despite its acquired taste.
The first issue concludes with an eerie monster, the Root Thing. Sentient humanoid root vegetables burying, entangling, and dragging their victims beneath the earth.
I want to see a horde of radish root things descend on the players. They might have a "cute button-body, [and] cheery red hue, [but they are] angry little bastards".
Look and Feel
Wormskin impresses me with a professional layout and wonderful art. I'm glad that I bought the physical copies. In issue 1 the vibrant pieces by Matthew Adams and Andrew Walter do a lot to add to the spirit of the writing. The booklet is easy to read with a good use of typeface. I'm no graphic designer and have no clue on what makes a good layout. But as a consumer, this looks very good to me.
Detailing a setting as a zine has its drawbacks. Each issue is a varied and joyful read, and it mostly stands alone.
But I miss the overall thematic organization of content. There is a total of five issues so far. You will have to do a lot of flipping pages - or make an index on your own - to manage the information as a GM.
Running the game with only issue 1 will be extremely difficult. There is too much background info missing. Today, with five issues, I am confident I can get a good game running. Still, if I have to invent my own hex description, and realize later that it doesn't fit into the authors' vision, it will bother me. This might not a problem for you, though.
That being said, you can look forward to the next issue and wonder what it will contain. There is a fitting proverb in German: "Vorfreude ist die beste Freude." Which means the thrill of anticipation is the best thrill/joy.
I hope there will be a complete book with some editing, rearranging content and tightening up. Some day. Please.
Wormskin captivates me with its original content and magical fairy nature. Plus, compatibility with old school D&D games makes this a breeze to use.
(Great idea: Dolmenwood with Yoon-Suin!)
It has evocative art, slick writing and a professional look.
From the "gameable" perspective it would have been nice if you'd get the whole setting as a complete book. Still, it is worth reading as single pieces.
Do yourself a favor, get all five issues in print and PDF.
P.P.S. Ben Milton (Questingbeast) made a youtube review of the first three issues here.