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Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth
Publisher: Modiphius
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/17/2017 12:45:22

Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth consists of seven separate adventures, each a different part of Conan's world. To reflect how the Conan stories were written, the adventures encourage the reader to run the adventures back in forth in time, and, of course, like any roleplaying game, mix and match the adventures with other gamemaster ideas. Of course, the regular rules assume the adventurers have spent months carousing between adventures, so it's not difficult for the players to find themselves in one part of the world at one time, and another the next. Each adventure should take several gaming sessions.

Devils Under Green Stairs finds the players stumbling across the forgotten city-palace of Zukundu, where a trio of degenerate tribes have an uneasy peace that becomes bloody war. I would say that the adventure is intermediate in difficulty, with the gamemaster having to manage various intelligent (though vengeful) NPCs. The adventure is on the linear side, mostly assuming the adventurers follow a specific plotline in the adventure.

In the Pact of Xiabalba, the players set sail and are engulfed by a terrible storm from nowhere. They find themselves shipwrecked on a mysterious island, with the only survival leads inward as the party searches for water. There, they will hear the sounds of ever-distant war drums, meet soldiers with crests of a severed head, and a ship marooned in the middle of the forest. The adventure is linear, until a point when the players and game master can create their own epic struggle, leading to the climax of the story. The adventure has NPCs, including an experience sailor, haunted by events in his past, whom dramatic players may enjoy playing as PC's.

In Caves of the Dero, our heroes descend into supposedly abandoned mines to find more than reputed treasure. Tales of diabolic sorceries lead to a horrible creation. The adventure felt a little on the dungeoncrawly side, no surprise since Conan is an influence on generic fantasy adventures. This adventure serves as a good model of a "logical" dungeon lair.

The Ghost of Thunder River begins with a prologue where the players play Pict NPCs, who discover the horror behind the adventure. The next scene has the players as their own characters in an outpost woefully unable to cope with the rising attacks by the Picts. As the characters find out about captives taken by the Picts, they must decide between following the garrison commander's order to not help them, lead a rescue, or find the mysterious man now leading these different Pict tribes.

In The Thousand Eyes of Aumag-Bel, our heroes find themselves in a tavern after carousing, only to meet a group of armored men demanding, "Give us the amulet! Give it to us and Aumag-Bel shall let you live!" Aumag-Bel rules the city, and, assuming the PCs defeat the guards, soon find themselves on a chase through the market after losing their amulet to the thief-children, tracking them down to the Den of the Black Lotus. (If the PCs recover the amulet, a substitute sacrifice has been captured and the heroes must rescue her!) A downward tunnel from the den into the depths continues the twisted descent hinted at from the den.

"Will they die as slaves under the brutal summer sun, or break out and triumph, fleeing themselves from dreadful bondage?" The Red Pit starts our poor heroes as slaves in a mining pit, swinging into a revolt and escape. This pit escape is well-detailed and makes a fine epic battle, complete with mighty a'ghama beast. This adventure can be used in other game worlds, since it's not too Conan-specific.

In The Seethers in Darkness, the party has been hired by a scholar to find a lost city in the middle of a desert. A desert storm separates him from the party. Woeful to the heroes, the scholar is successful. This adventure is linear but doesn't feel like a railroad, as the players follow the scholar into the dark. This adventure is basically a series of planned encounters (almost a dungeoncrawl), but with quite a bit of Conan atmosphere. I highly recommend it over the Quickstart adventure.

The last chapter is Seeds of Glory. This chapter is advice for the gamemaster and players in creating -- or not creating -- a campaign for the gaming group. Different suggested outlines for campaigns are provided, as well as a suggestion that, since Conan's stories took place at different times during his life, so can adventure sessions. The chapter also mentions how Conan himself could appear, if desired, without overshadowing an adventure. Finally, the chapter ends with ten or so adventure seeds a gamemaster could develop.

I think the only concern I have about these adventures is, along with the core book adventure, that many of them involve the players pressing forward in dark passages, or encountering the climax of a ritual. Almost all of them have encounters with forbidden sorcery or lost civilizations. (Speaking of lost civilizations, maybe Modiphius could release a campaign where the party gradually learns about a lost civilization, instead of descending right into it.) Perhaps these adventures are better played a breaks between the more conventional generic fantasy adventures, much like the stories of Conan were in his life. Some adventures add fiddly little instructions a gamemaster is supposed to follow (eg. a series of die rolls to see how many enemies show up) that the gamemaster can ignore. I also recommend that the gamemaster run a few combats to familiarize himself with the enemies in the adventures and the game system. Most of them are human and intelligent, though pretty willing to put cause ahead of safety.

Finally, I usually recommend, for adventures, the PDF over book, including Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth. You will only need one chapter at a game session, and can write in the margins for game notes. If you print out the PDF one-sided, you can cut out pictures and text as handouts to players. Some NPCs make fine player characters, and these can be made into handouts as well. Save yourself some money and lighten that load in your pack!



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Jeweled Thrones of the Earth
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Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
Publisher: Modiphius
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/11/2017 21:05:33

Before mentioning the core mechanics, I'd like to first say that if you're an old-school "GM is God" or "Benevolent Dictator" GM, then you'll want to know that the Mophidius 2d20 RPG system uses a currency mechanic of Momentum and Fortune for players and Doom for the GM to add cinematic effects to the game. This currency mechanic can be house-ruled away from the core "roll dice to make a skill check" mechanics. Myself, I'm fine with it, since I prefer to throw challenges at the players, and let the system worry about game balance.

Skill Checks: Otherwise, Conan uses the commonly seen skill check of making a die roll versus a target number. Characters have Attributes, Skill Expertise, and Skill Focus. Attributes are inherent abilities, and are Agility, Awareness, Brawn (Strength), Coordination, Intelligence, Personality (Charisma), and Willpower. Skills represent specialized training, and each skill is tied to a particular Attribute. When a character makes a skill test, they roll 2d20. Each result equal to or below the character's Attribute plus Skill Expertise is a success. However, if they also roll equal to or less than their Skill Focus, they receive two successes instead. Before making a roll, the game master assigns a difficulty level, typically D1, to determine how many successes needed. If two characters are in opposition to each other, they are considered to be in a Struggle. Both make a skill check against a Difficulty, with the character passing the Difficuty check and making the most successes being the winner. Interestingly, attacks, by default, are at a D1, but, if the defender chooses to give the gamemaster a Doom point, he may choose a Defend Reaction (such as Parry against a Melee attack, Acrobatics against a Ranged attack) and make it into a Struggle.

Cinematic Rules: While many roleplaying games rely entirely upon the game master to make the encounter entertaining, Conan has specific rules for cinematic play. Experienced game masters who enjoy the freedom to "wing it" during a game might not like these rules. New game masters and those who prefer more framework for introducing new elements can now rely upon the game system to be fair and him to not seem arbitrary as he makes an encounter more challenging. Returning to the skill check, a low roll means success, so, if any dice the player rolls is a 20, then the game master can add a Complication for each 20 -- even if the roll otherwise succeeded. For example, a player using his bow may hit his target, but may find himself now out of arrows. Momentum is a currency players can use to add advantageous cinematic effects. For each success greater than the Difficulty, a player gains a point of Momentum. They can spend it on various actions, or placed in a shared pool for later use during the round. Desired Effects indlude adding +1 damage, disarming an opponent, or adding an addtional d20 to a skill test. Since a character starts with 2d20, even the most skilled character will only have two success (three if they make their Skill Focus). Characters may roll additional dice by spending Momentum, generating Doom points for the gamemaster, spending Fortune, or working together as Teamwork. A player character begins with three points of Fortune, and is awarded them for reaching milestones and other in-game accomplishments. They may be spent on a Bonus Die with an automatic roll of a one (hence up to two successes if they have a Skill Focus of at least one), a Bonus Action, etc. A character cannot roll more than three additional dice, except through Teamwork. With Teamwork, additional characters can work together as a team. Each player describes how he is assisting the leader (and doesn't have to use the same skill as the character he is assisting) and rolls one d20. If the leader scores at least one success on his roll, then any successes generated by the assistants are added to the leader's total.

Action Scenes: Any conflict is presented as an Action scene. Action scenes are divided into rounds. The length of a round depends on the encounter. Rounds may last a few seconds in intense combat, or minutes for a village raid. Each round, a character can take a single Standard Action (eg. an attack), a single Minor Action (such as running across a room or another action that does not require a skill test), and any number of Free Actions (eg. dropping a weapon). Additionally, Reactions are special actions characters can take, turning a skill test into a Struggle. Reactions include a Defend (when the defender doesn't want the attacker to use the default difficulty of one), Protect (when a character attempts to defend an ally from an attack), and Retaliate (a melee attack when an enemy attempts to make a non-attack skill test). A character (including NPC) may perform several Reactions, but the first cost a point of Doom, second two points, etc. (The gamemaster gains Doom points to the gamemaster's Doom pool for their characters, while the gamemaster pays Doom points from his Doom pool for NPCs). Players, being the heroes, usually go first, but the gamemaster can spend Doom to allow an NPCs to immediately take their turns. Surprise is treated as a Struggle, and players can still spend Fortune or add Doom if they do not succeed. Rather than a grid, the location of each character is abstracted into zones, as defined by the gamemaster. The game uses five broad range categories (Reach, Close, Medium, Long and Extreme). (Reach is defined as within an arm's reach, while Close is the character's current zone.) Each zone has various zone effects (eg. moving out of an enemy's Reach requires a Withdraw Action as a Standard Action, or risks a Retailate Reaction from the enemy), including terrain tests, which may require a Standard Action as a skill test. Terrain tests are divided into Obstacles, Hindrances, Hazards, and Cover.

Attacks: Conan has three methods of attacking a target: Melee, Ranged, and Threaten. After choosing a target, the attacker chooses a weapon (Melee and Ranged), or a method of scaring the target (Threaten). If the target chooses a Defense Reaction (paying or gaining Doom points), there is a Struggle. Otherwise, it's an Average (D1) test. If the attacker succeeds, he rolls a number of six-sided Combat Dice for Combat Damage. 1-2 causes that much damage. A 5-6 causes one damage and triggers an effect, such as Piercing or Vicious. The defender rolls a number of six-sided Combat Dice, depending on armor, Courage, cover, morale, etc., as Soak. The difference is damage, taken against the defender's Stress. If a defender takes over five damage or has his Stress reduced to zero, the defender takes a point of Harm. In less abstract terms, a Physical Damage Type would cause Stress against the target's Vigor, and Harm against his Wounds, while a Mental Damage Type would cause Stress against the target's Resolve, and Harm against his Trauma. Wounds cause an increase in difficulty for Agility, Brawn, and Coordination tests by one, while Trauma increases the difficulty of Awareness, Intelligence, Personality, and Willpower tests by one. Characters suffering four points of Wounds or Trauma become incapaciated, only able to take actions by spending Fortune. Minor NPCs generally become incapaciated or flee after one or two points of Harm. Momentum (extra successes beyond the requirement to pass a difficulty check) generated in combat can be used to additional effects, such as Bonus Damage, Confidence (additional Morale Soak), Disarm, Penetration (ignore an amount of Soak equal to twice the Momentum spent), Re-roll Damage, Second Wind (recover Vigor or Resolve), Secondary Target (another target within Reach takes half damage), Swift Action (gain an additional Standard Action with a penalty), and Withdraw (leave the Reach of an enemy without triggering a Retailate Reaction).

The Conan RPG, then, has quite a bit of "crunch" and attempts to cover every cinematic action you could have in an RPG. I've only touched upon typical combat, and the game system uses Momentum and Doom to allow players and the gamemaster to add effects to combat. Additionally, the gamemaster will spend Doom to add more challenges to the players, such as spending more Doom to select a more lethal hazard in an adventure. At this point, it's probably best to download the free Quickstart and see if the game system works with your gaming group.

Character Generation: Returning back to the core book, Character Generation is more than selecting abilities and skills. Character background is heavily emphasized, and various skills are dependent on background. The first step in character generation is determining the character's Homeland (randomly or by choice), so a character with a Homeland of Nemedia speaks the Nemedian as his Language, and has the Talent of Cosmopolitan (able to speak with other characters with the Cosmopolitan Talent; several Homelands have the Cosmopolitan Talent). Generating Attributes starts with an optional modification then randomly selects which Attributes the player next modify. The player then selects or randomly rolls their Caste, which grants two caste talents (prior background knowledge), one skill (which may be further trained), a story, and Social Standing. The skill gained adds +1 Skill Experience and +1 Skill Focus to the designated skill. For example, a Warrior Caste has Sentry and Subject as Caste Talents, Parry as a Skill, a story, and Social Standing of 1. Social Standing may have an effect on Command, Society, and Persuade tests, allowing the gamemaster to adjust the Difficulty. Stories add additional background, are randomly rolled or selected, and grant a Trait. For example, a Warrior's story may be that of "Idle Hours Guarding Cold Wars", which has the Hedonous Trait (thanks to many hours of boredom). (By bringing a Trait into play as a Complication, a player may gain a Fortune point.) Next, a player rolls or selects his Archetype. Archetypes include Archer, Barbarian, Mercenary, Noble Warrior, Pirate, Priest, and Witch/Shaman. Archetypes grant a Career Skill, Career Talent, Mandatory Skills, Elective Skills, and Equipment. For example, a Shaman has a Career Skill of +2 Skill Expertise and +2 Skill Focus in the Persuade Skill, Career Talent of Force of Presence, Mandatory Skills of +1 Experience and +1 Focus to Alchemy, Counsel, Healing and Lore, and Elective Skills of two of Animal Handling, Sorcery, or Thievery. Equipment inlcude a toughened leather jacket (Armor 1: Torso/Arms), Healer's Kit, Alchemist's Kit, etc. Then the player selects or rolls for Nature, which comes with an Attribute Improvement (+1 to a single Attribute), Mandatory Skills (+1 Skill Expertise and +1 Skill Focus to three skills), Elective Skills (+1 Skill Expertise and +1 Skill Focus to two skills of a player's choice), and a new Talent, typically associated with one of the received skills. Skills consist of a Talent Tree, in which a Talent may be a prerequisite for another Talent, and Talents can have Ranks by being taken multiple times. While Skills are used for 2d20 rolls, Talents are special abilities. The Agile Acrobatic Talent, for example, allows you to re-roll a d20 when attempting an Acrobatic test. After Nature is Education, which, again, is picked or rolled, and provides mandatory and elective skills, as well as a talent. Then, the player rolls or selects a War Story, such as "Survived a Massacre", which improves specific skills, and lets the player create the background. Character creation continues with Finishing Touches, in which the player chooses various increases in his Attributes, Skills, and Talent, as well as a Language, Fortune Points, Personal Belongings, and a Weapon. Finally, with Final Calculations, the player determines his Vigor, Resolve, starting Gold, and Damage Bonuses. The character generation chapter also has a summary table to create or roll up a character, as well as alternate character creation limitations, for less heroic characters, or characters that are part of a group.

Sorcery and Alchemy: In Conan, the concept of a sorceror isn't the guy in the second row casting fireballs. Although novices (perhaps such as player characters!) may prefer to show off and reveal their true power, more experienced and prudent sorcerors (okay, NPCs!) will prefer to hold back, creating rumors and reputations of the power, as well as allying with and controlling men of power and those they control. That being said, some sorcerors may prefer to turn to Craft and Alchemy to create Petty Enchantments, such as lotus pollen and talismans. Sorcery itself is a Skill Tree, which also includes talents only related to sorcerous knowledge, such as "Protective Superstitions", which allows you to gain one bonus Momentum per rank when in a Struggle against a spell. Sorcery itself has the prequisite of the Patreon talent, and branches into Pact -> Barter Your Soul -> Life Eternal, and Enduring -> Enchanter -> Everlasting Sorcery. Characters acquire spells through the Patreon, Pact -- and Barter Your Soul -- talents. When casting a spell, the character takes a Minor Action to Focus (particularly since the Complications are more frequent when casting spells!). He may use various items, including those which improve his social abilities, such as Persuade and Command. A spell stat block includes Difficulty, Duration, and Cost to Learn / Cost (amount of permanent Resolve to learn the spell, and amount of Resolve it takes to cast). Sorcerors can enhance their spells with Momentum spends, and some spells have Alternative Effects, such as spell reversals. Counter magic allows a sorceror who can cast the same spell to block a rival's spell with a Struggle. Not too surprisingly, with the variety of spells and petty enchantments possible, additional sourcebooks and The Book of Skelos will be available.

Equipment and Upkeep: No more tracking of copper pieces, currency is abstracted. It's still called Gold, but day-to-day expenses are covered under Upkeep. You still can't go to the local We Have Everything In Stock store and just buy what you want. The gamemaster sets a difficulty, and you can use a Society skill test (or Persuade, or even Thievery!) to locate a seller, and can use Momentum to haggle down the price, and your Renown as the seller recognizes your reputation. You typically can only attempt to obtain one of these items per Upkeep. Between adventures, besides Upkeep, players can Carouse and engage in all sorts of activities: Meet a Patron, Trade, Gamble, Engage in Rumors, Recover, Cultivate Renown, and Receive Title. At the end of their Carousing, players roll on the Carousing Events table, which ranges from seeing some grave robbers stealing from the dead, to finding a strange possession. Most of the Carousing Events feel like adventure seeds, and I wouldn't mind seeing a future supplement, of more developed encounters.

Encounters: Speaking of which, the Conan core book includes a healthy monster manual of foes for the player characters. Creature Categories are divided into Minions, Toughened, Nemesis, Horrors, and Undead (some foes have more than one category). Toughened and Nemesis creatures are mechanically similar to player characters. Minions, being more numerous and less threatening than characters, have simplified fighting rules. Enemies often come in Mobs (Minions only) and Squads (Minions lead by a Toughened creature called a Leader). The game system has rules making fighting Mobs and Squads simplified but not too abstract (eg. attacks are similar to Teamwork). Skills are condensed down into Fields of Expertise: Movement, Combat, Fortitude, Knowledge, Social, and Senses. Senses, for example, covers Insight, Observation, and Thievery. After presenting the Special Abilities creatures have, the chapter has a brief discussion of an Encounter Structure, how to design a typical challenging encounter. Creatures are divided into Mortal Foes, Wild Beasts, Monstrous Foes, Otherwordly Horrors, and Characters of Renown. I particularly appreciated the Mortal Foes section, since it provides Bandits, Bodyguards, Cultists, Guards, Pirates, Thugs, and all sorts of staple humans. Wild Beasts include domesticated animals, like Dogs and Camels, as well as foes and vermin. The Characters of Renown section has entries for Conan; Amalric of Nemedia; Astreas, Chronicler of Nemedia; Belit, Queen of the Black Coast; Valeria of the Red Brotherhood; and Thoth-Amon of the Ring.

Adventure: Vultures of Shem. The adventure opens in the aftermath of a bloody ambush of an entire army, hardly the cliched beginnings of the tavern where the party is approached by an almost random stranger or asks around for rumors. Experienced gamemasters may want to brush up on their acting skills for the uneasy soldier encounter the PCs will have. Less experienced ones or gamemasters pressed for time can modify and excise this encounter (or try the Quickstart adventure). The adventure then settles down into a more conventional dungeoncrawl against not-quite-known monsters. What I did like is how the adventure starts off distinguishing itself away from the generic fantasy adventure, and presents enough unknown (whether it be NPCs that have their own self-interests, or monsters whose seem to have a purpose) to differentiate the world of Conan. The adventure is a tad railroady (about reasonable for a premade adventure), but not obviously so, leading to a climax, which, I think, does a good job of impressing players to the world of Conan. (Oh, and if you have a player who insists on being of noble blood, they should be in for a surprise.)

Conclusion: Overall, I think the 2D20 system is a very good fit with cinematic roleplaying and the Conan universe. I started with first generation roleplaying games which tried to fit the theme and genre of a game world into its game system, and like seeing roleplaying systems which pretty much do the reverse. 2D20 still isn't far from "roll dice to hit a target number" so you should be able to still modify the system like you've been doing for other roleplaying games. The Quickstart is free to download, and contains additional content as well as makes for a player handout. I also recommend the PDF to print out the character generation chapters for the players.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of core book
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Robert E. Howards CONAN Roleplaying Game Quickstart
Publisher: Modiphius
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/07/2017 19:56:56

The game system itself does a very good job in covering cinematic combat (although sorcery is covered in the core book in its own chapter), the adventure, unfortunately, could just as be easily placed in any generic fantasy world.

Skill Checks: Conan uses the commonly seen skill check of making a die roll versus a target number. However, it then adds additional rules to add cinematic play. Characters have Attributes, Skill Expertise, and Skill Focus. Attributes are inherent abilities, and are Agility, Awareness, Brawn (Strength), Coordination, Intelligence, Personality (Charisma), and Willpower. Skills represent specialized training, and each skill is tied to a particular Attribute. When a character makes a skill test, they roll 2d20. Each result equal to or below the character's Attribute plus Skill Expertise is a success. However, if they also roll equal to or less than their Skill Focus, they receive two successes instead. Before making a roll, the game master assigns a difficulty level, typically D1, to determine how many successes needed. If two characters are in opposition to each other, including combat, they are considered to be in a Struggle. Both make a skill check against a Difficulty, with the character passing the Difficuty check and making the most successes being the winner.

Cinematic Rules: While many roleplaying games rely entirely upon the game master to make the encounter entertaining, Conan has specific rules for cinematic play. Experienced game masters who enjoy the freedom to "wing it" during a game might not like these rules. New game masters and those who prefer more framework for introducing new elements can now rely upon the game system to be fair and him to not seem arbitrary as he makes an encounter more challenging. Returning to the skill check, a low roll means success, so, if any dice the player rolls is a 20, then the game master can add a Complication for each 20 -- even if the roll otherwise succeeded. For example, a player using his bow may hit his target, but may find himself now out of arrows. Momentum is a currency players can use to add advantageous cinematic effects. For each success greater than the Difficulty, a player gains a point of Momentum. They can spend it on various actions, or placed in a shared pool for later use during the round. Desired Effects indlude adding +1 damage, disarming an opponent, or adding an addtional d20 to a skill test. Since a character starts with 2d20, even the most skilled character will only have two success (three if they make their Skill Focus). Characters may roll additional dice by spending Momentum, generating Doom points for the gamemaster, spending Fortune, or working together as Teamwork. A player character begins with three points of Fortune, and is awarded them for reaching milestones and other in-game accomplishments. They may be spent on a Bonus Die with an automatic roll of a one (hence up to two successes if they have a Skill Focus of at least one), a Bonus Action, etc. A character cannot roll more than three additional dice, except through Teamwork. With Teamwork, additional characters can work together as a team. Each player describes how he is assisting the leader (and doesn't have to use the same skill as the character he is assisting) and rolls one d20. If the leader scores at least one success on his roll, then any successes generated by the assistants are added to the leader's total.

Action Scenes: Any conflict is presented as an Action scene. Action scenes are divided into rounds. The length of a round depends on the encounter. Rounds may last a few seconds in intense combat, or minutes for a village raid. Each round, a character can take a single Standard Action (eg. an attack), a single Minor Action (such as running across a room or another action that does not require a skill test), and any number of Free Actions (eg. dropping a weapon). Additionally, Reactions are special actions characters can take, turning a skill test into a Struggle. Reactions include a Defend (when the defender doesn't want the attacker to use the default difficulty of one), Protect (when a character attempts to defend an ally from an attack), and Retaliate (a melee attack when an enemy attempts to make a non-attack skill test). A character (including NPC) may perform several Reactions, but the first cost a point of Doom, second two points, etc. (The gamemaster gains Doom points to the gamemaster's Doom pool for their characters, while the gamemaster pays Doom points from his Doom pool for NPCs). Players, being the heroes, usually go first, but the gamemaster can spend Doom to allow an NPCs to immediately take their turns. Surprise is treated as a Struggle, and players can still spend Fortune or add Doom if they do not succeed. Rather than a grid, the location of each character is abstracted into zones, as defined by the gamemaster. The game uses five broad range categories (Reach, Close, Medium, Long and Extreme). (Reach is defined as within an arm's reach, while Close is the character's current zone.) Each zone has various zone effects (eg. moving out of an enemy's Reach requires a Withdraw Action as a Standard Action, or risks a Retailate Reaction from the enemy), including terrain tests, which may require a Standard Action as a skill test. Terrain tests are divided into Obstacles, Hindrances, Hazards, and Cover.

Attacks: Conan has three methods of attacking a target: Melee, Ranged, and Threaten. After choosing a target, the attacker chooses a weapon (Melee and Ranged), or a method of scaring the target (Threaten). If the target chooses a Defense Reaction (paying or gaining Doom points), there is a Struggle. Otherwise, it's an Average (D1) test. If the attacker succeeds, he rolls a number of six-sided Combat Dice for Combat Damage. 1-2 causes that much damage. A 5-6 causes one damage and triggers an effect, such as Piercing or Vicious. The defender rolls a number of six-sided Combat Dice, depending on armor, Courage, cover, morale, etc., as Soak. The difference is damage, taken against the defender's Stress. If a defender takes over five damage or has his Stress reduced to zero, the defender takes a point of Harm. In less abstract terms, a Physical Damage Type would cause Stress against the target's Vigor, and Harm against his Wounds, while a Mental Damage Type would cause Stress against the target's Resolve, and Harm against his Trauma. Wounds cause an increase in difficulty for Agility, Brawn, and Coordination tests by one, while Trauma increases the difficulty of Awareness, Intelligence, Personality, and Willpower tests by one. Characters suffering four points of Wounds or Trauma become incapaciated, only able to take actions by spending Fortune. Minor NPCs generally become incapaciated or flee after one or two points of Harm. Momentum (extra successes beyond the requirement to pass a difficulty check) generated in combat can be used to additional effects, such as Bonus Damage, Confidence (additional Morale Soak), Disarm, Penetration (ignore an amount of Soak equal to twice the Momentum spent), Re-roll Damage, Second Wind (recover Vigor or Resolve), Secondary Target (another target within Reach takes half damage), Swift Action (gain an additional Standard Action with a penalty), and Withdraw (leave the Reach of an enemy without triggering a Retailate Reaction).

Adventure: The adventure develops over several encounters and teaches the game system. As a spoiler, the plot is that the heroes protect a village from an attack. But I would have also liked the adventure to better expose the players to Hyboria (perhaps through a scholar's writing on Hyboria that holds an important clue the players can use to for the adventure) and an encounter with an important persona in the Conan mythos.

Overall, though, anyone who wants a cinematic RPG should download this Quickstart and give it a try.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Robert E. Howards CONAN Roleplaying Game Quickstart
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Lankhmar: Savage Tales of the Thieves Guild
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2015 04:23:20

Lankhmar: Savage Tales of the Thieves Guild is one of the best city adventure supplements I've read, and can be used in any high-magic city. I think my only criticism of the adventures is that they don't expose the gamemaster or players to anything particularly unique to Lankhmar or Nehwon. Still, not only does the supplement have a good variety of tales, but the adventures should give a gamemaster an idea of how to use a player's guild to hook the party into a scenario, as well as what subterfuge various city factions can engage in -- with the player characters as pawns and peripherals. Several of the adventures include additional mechanics for various thief and city situations (eg. heists, demagoguery). The supplement itself is about one-hundred pages long, with fourteen scenarios. I liked three of them in particular.

The Crimson Barge: The supplement calls The Crimson Barge a "sandbox". Specifically, the Thieve's Guild has declared the luxury ship's maiden voyage fair game to guild and non-guild thieves, as an demonstration to its owner of how valuable the guild's "protection" would be. The adventure presents several very colorful characters -- including other thieves -- leaving the players to plot and plan their way to riches, mischief, or even hobnobbing with nobles and merchants. A rather unfortunate event occurs (hint: maybe the ship's owner should have sailed the ship on a test run), adding a bit of chaos to the players' plans. As a one-shot scenario, though, a game master may have the players play the colorful NPC's instead of their own characters. Also, this scenario is suitable for players as nobles and mercenaries who have been hired for the night. Depending on the demands of his players, a gamemaster may need a fair amount of preparation, or can improvise much of the adventure.

Hammon Heist: More than an adventure, this scenario contains useful rules, guidelines, and advice to a GM running a heist scenario, where the characters gather information to break into a stronghold, as well as the actual break-in -- and things that can go wrong! Additional rules add the "Heist Benny" to reflect how the characters may be prepared in ways the players overlooked (eg. spend a Heist Benny to have some meat to distract the guard gods!). The scenario itself has a magical McGuffin that's an amusing plot twist in its own right.

Scrolls of Eximir: Less of a Guild assignment than an adventure, Scrolls has the players encountering Eximir, a slightly batty old wizard who thinks he's already hired the party to retrieve a set of scrolls from his own temporality-displaced wizard's tower. The tower consists of several rather creative and dangerous encounters, implicitly encouraging the gamemaster to add his own strange ideas to the adventures. Amusingly, Eximir comes off as a bit scatty, yet is as powerful as Sheelba and Ningauble. He should make an amusing (if unwanted) patron!

The adventures are remarkably concise -- no encounter padding here -- but the limitation of space means many of the adventures are pretty linear. Players may need to spend bennies to succeed in a roll or the adventure halts. The gamemaster should expect to improvise to guide the players back to the adventure, or develop any alternate plans the players come up with.

Often, an adventure will have the players make a roll to see if they recall a rumor or other important streetwise information. One suggestion for these adventures is that, instead of this, the gamemaster prepares rumors or whatnot during one adventure that will be useful in another. The PDF format of the book allows a gamemaster to print out whatever pages have a rumors, cut out this information, glue them to index cards, and hand them out during the campaign.

Also, just for fun, if some players are running late, the gamemaster can roleplay out a prologue. Players act out the Guild higher-ups deciding among their guild members whom to select for a task. They eventually settle on the player characters (particularly those associated with the players who are late), citing notable qualities such as "expendable", "owes me money", and "stingy with donations to private funds".



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Lankhmar: Savage Tales of the Thieves Guild
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Lankhmar: City of Thieves
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/15/2015 04:21:53

Lankhmar: City of Thieves is a 98-page supplement for the Savage Rules game system, adding new rules for Lankhmar roleplaying, as well as an overview of the city Lankhmar and the world of Newhon. The supplement includes additional rules for general city adventuring. The source material can be changed to suit the GM's needs.

Introduction: The introductory chapter provides an overview of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

Characters: This chapter starts off with a description of the archetypes in the City of Lankhmar, most of which, of course, can be used in any large city (eg. bandit, explorer, guard, noble). The chapter then reviews character generation, with race, new hinderances, and new edges. Races are limited to humans, ghouls, and ratlings, with humans culturally divided into Lankhmar, Kleshite, Northerner, and Mingol. Most of the new hinderances and edges can also be used in generic fantasy roleplaying.

Gear: This chapter begins with short rules for selling "acquired" goods (hint: take Streetwise), then goes into detail of various adventurer's equipment, weapons, tavern costs, and vehicles. This section works quite well for city-based generic fantasy.

Setting Rules: These rule modifications reflect Lankhmar stories, but can also be used for more heroic and thief-based adventuring. Characters can be knocked unconscious, recover wounds faster, and even have bonuses for eschewing armor. Rules are provided for shadowing other characters. Also, an overview of Guilds is discussed.

Sorcery: Lankhmar's Black, White, and Elemental magic system is entirely different from the conventional generic fantasy magic of Savage Worlds. This chapter, then, provides a detailed, alternate magic ruleset to reflect the magic in Fritz Leiber's stories. Savage World players who want to use magic should be aware of these rules changes (including the absence of offensive magic).

Adventures: LCoT comes with two city adventures. While they show the callousness of Lankhmar towards human life, these adventures could have just as easily taken place in any large city. I didn't get an impression of how these adventures were uniquely Lankhmar.

Gazetteer and Nehwon: Both of these sections provide an overview of the city Lankhmar and the geography of Nehwon, with the Gazetteer being player knowledge, and Nehwon for the GM. Details will be needed to be fleshed out by the GM.

Heroes and Villains: Savage World stats for Fafard and the Gray Mouser, at various stages of their lives, are provided, as well as NPC stats for various city archetypes, and Newhon races. Fafard and Gray Mouser's patrons, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes, and Sheelba of the Eyeless face, are described. (No stats are provided as befits their alien and strange natures.)

Conclusion: Lankhmar: City of Thieves does a good job summarizing Lankhmar for Savage Worlds play, as well as providing rules and source material supplements for any large city. The source material are conventional high-level descriptons, which rules changes are specific. If the GM has a copy of this supplement, and, for whatever reason, doesn't wish to adhere to the Newhon world (eg. wishes to use a different magic system), the material can be easily adapted to their needs.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lankhmar: City of Thieves
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Lankhmar: Lankhmar Poster Map
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/02/2015 04:34:21

The map is a larger version of the bird's eye view map in the book. The map is about 34 x 33 inches, or 4 x 3 letter (8.5" x 11") pages. At 99% Tile Scale, the map is 25.5 x 33 inches, or 3 x 3 pages. The map is beautifully illustrated, with the major city areas and streets labelled. The utility of the map will depend on your use of a small scale map.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lankhmar: Lankhmar Poster Map
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Tavern!
Publisher: Krewe of Harpocrates Publication
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2015 07:43:57

Meaty and substantial supplement primarily written for Pathfinder. Can be used for other systems. Includes a tavern-inn with its map. Well worth the price!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tavern!
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks so much for the review. We are glad you enjoyed it. :) -will/RWT
Description Cards: Storytellers Deck - Creative Inspiration for Writers, Storytellers and GMs. Contains 80 Cards
Publisher: Conflict Games, LLC
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2015 07:07:37

Storyteller Cards: The Storyteller Cards add details and descriptions to your RPGs, storytelling games, and even adventure games. The tarot-sized cards are visually clear, and you can often just draw a random card of a particular set, and find a description. The sets are: Character Distinctions, Expressions, Ill-Intent, Pain, Environment: The Labryinth, and Environment: Smells and Sounds. The Storyteller Card deck has eighty cards, and each set is about 12 cards. While the cards are a better fit for generic fantasy roleplaying, they're also suitable for other genres, such as the Cthulhu Mythos, westerns, noir, etc..

Character Distinctions: The Character Distinctions cards have three different physical distinctions each, such as Gangly, Deep-Set Eyes, and Shuffles. Each distinction has a negative connotation and a positive one, each one sentence long. Fantasy gamers can also use them for non-human encounters, while Cthulhu Keepers will use negative descriptions for those unsettling villagers.

Expressions: The Expressions cards include Bias, Confidence, Fear, Love, etc. Each card is divided into about single-word ten Physical Clues, and ten Emotional Clues. For example, the Arrogant/Snob card has Sneering as a Physical Clue and Demeans others as an Emotional clue. While shorter in description than the other cards, the cards have more suggestions per card. They should also be useful to gamemasters who have important NPCs with their own plots and subplots (eg. two characters who are in love, or a servant fearful of his master).

Ill-Intent: The Ill-Intent cards have three different descriptions each for villains and enemies. One of the card's descriptions, for example, are Selfish, Wicked, and Slaughterhouse. The descriptions on each card cover intelligent opponents and savage ones. Each description is divided into a non-combat description and a combat one, a sentence each. They're a bit on the "telling instead of showing" side (eg. "You sense that this person is motivated by their own selfish desires"), but should be convenient for random hostile encounters with throwaway enemies that don't need much detail or depth.

Pain: Pain might be more suitable as part of the Combat Description cards, but they do a good job for any genre. Each of the twelve Pain cards has three traits, such as Vice-Like, Convulsive, and Ache. Each trait has two descriptions, one localized, and the other more general. Use the Pain cards for critical injuries, death throes, Mythos deaths, or other climactic drama.

Environment: The Labyrinth: Ostensibly for indoor dungeons, these cards are quite useful for haunted houses and other unsettling places as well. Each card has a Sounds, Sight, and Smells section, such as Scurry, Blood, and Smoke. Obviously, if you randomly draw a card you can't use, just draw another. If you play Call of Cthulhu, why not have a temporarily insane character hear something that might not -- or might -- be there?

Environment: Smells and Sounds: These environment cards are for the outdoors. Each card has four terrains: Forest, Jungles, Woods; Marshes, Swamps, Bogs; Mountain, Hills; and Desert, Plains. Each of these terrains has two descriptions, anything from something visual, to a sudden noise. While vivid, the descriptions often have connotations that might not fit the current situation: "Bird calls and lazy leaves float down from the rich canopy above" may not be suited for a dark forbidden forest setting. Personally, I would have found more useful outdoor environmental cards which had a "quiet" description and an "unexpected noise (or movement)" one.

Art: The deck has six different card backs, each with three characters, mostly generic fantasy human males. Use them as important NPCs in your campaigns!

Blank cards: The Storytelling deck comes with a blank card for each category.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Description Cards: Storytellers Deck - Creative Inspiration for Writers, Storytellers and GMs. Contains 80 Cards
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Combat Description Cards (Over 700 System Neutral Ways to Describe Combat on 120 Cards)
Publisher: Conflict Games, LLC
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/17/2015 06:57:37

Combat Description Cards are ingeniously set up and easy to use. The cards divide themselves into three types of damage: Piercing, Blunt, and Slash. Each type is then broken down into one of three attack styles: Finesse, Power, and Range. Each style has a clear readable one-word Action-Word (eg. For a Blunt attack, it's Impressive for Finesse, Batter for Power, and Thump for Range) with its description. The first half of the description describes the successful attack by the hero, and option second the vanquishing of the foe! The deck consists of 120 tarot-sized cards. Pretty obviously, you'll want to use these cards if your games involve combat.

Combat Description Cards is available on RPGNow as a PDF, Amazon in deck format, and the publisher's website for both. The cards will also be available as an app in the future.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Combat Description Cards (Over 700 System Neutral Ways to Describe Combat on 120 Cards)
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Qelong
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/31/2014 16:56:02

If you're looking for an oriental-themed world with a nasty twist, this is it. In a war between two celestials, an object of immense magical power has fallen, and not in a good way. Leaking magical energies, not only do archmagi want the power, but it has mutated and devasted the entire land -- and awakened another god, as well. Horrible creatures have arisin, civilization has broken down, and terrible magic seeps over the countryside. Refugees... mutated creatures... magical devastation... pockets of oriental and occidental city-states... the occasional sanctuary... the followers of a snakelike demigoddess... Qelong is packed with adventure seeds for a GM to develop.

However, that may be the problem. For GMs looking for low-prep adventures, Qelong isn't it. Most of material is presented in the conventional "two lines of description and a big stat block" format, with random encounter tables for wilderness areas. With many of the scenarios involving humans and other intelligent creatures, the GM will have to develop a situation which can't be solved with combat alone. The ideas in this setting are fantastic, but require a fair amount of work to develop.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Qelong
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No Salvation for Witches
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2014 00:18:48

I became interested in the Lamentations adventures after its epic Free RPG Day "Better than Any Man" adventure. I'm happy to say that, while No Salvation for Witches (guess what the acronymn abbreviates to) is smaller in scope, it's much more manageable for GMs to run (less prep despite its warning it's not a low-prep adventure), yet has the same play qualities that attracted me to Better.

No, not the shock and gore (although it's in No Salvation, too). Both Better and No Salvation place an event in medieval history as an key part of the story. In the case of No Salvation, it's the horrible effects of hyperinflation, brough on by The Price Revolution (no, I haven't heard of it either and it should have been taught) on the lowest classes. Both have strong motivated characters, who happen to be persecuted women, who want to make their world a better place. Both have their "Road to Hell" NPCs doing the Wrong Thing for the Right Reasons. And both have their utterly alien entities present in the adventure. No gods as personifications of man here!

Sure, the gore and shock are there. Particularly, the color and detailed illustrations have less the dread of horror, as they often "show you what the monster looks like", as it were. However, GMs can use this as a playing aid, by describing and not showing the horrors, and letting the players create the terror in their own minds. The art is by Jason Rainville, and I highly suggest looking at his other work on his website.

Speaking of horror, it's often difficult to run a horror fantasy RPG, because the characters can often blast and hack their way through a problem. However, with No Salvation, the almost X-Files encounters present off-balancing situations with terrible consequences. Several scenes start off with a case of science fiction strangeness, plainly telling players that someone's changed the rules, and good luck not setting off a chain reaction that ends everything.

The adventure ends with a magic item random generator, ostensibly for ritual employing tomes to summon other beings, but useful as a random ritual generator, and random demon attribute generator.

Shock and gore aside, it's a shame that more adventures aren't written like this: motivated NPCs, historical backdrop, and fantastic situations. Highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
No Salvation for Witches
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A Single, Small Cut
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/28/2014 00:26:14

A Single Small Cut is a short one-session scenario in which our heroes stumble upon Something That Went Wrong. Evening's falling, the party sees a church, and they find themselves encoutering some not-good folks who are in over their heads. The scenario is perfectly fine for generic fantasy roleplaying, but lacks the trademark "torture-porn" of other Lamentation adventures. The scenario could serve as a McGuffin for your later adventures, as the party may end up aware of a magical item that needs to be dealt with. Although designed for six 3rd level characters, it can be altered for higher and possibly lower PC levels. Given the importance of the magical item, I would reserve it for at least third level. The scenario does have an interesting backstory that doesn't fall into the usual generic fantasy adventure cliches, but, like too many dungeoncrawlers, this backstory doesn't affect the gameplay.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
A Single, Small Cut
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2014 01:55:09

As a .5 product, Tower of the Black Pearl was originally written for the pre-DCC Dungeon Crawl Classic line of adventures, for D&D/d20/OGL/whatever gameplay. Not surprisingly, then, it's more of a generic FRPG module, than an epic-swilling Harley Stroh DCC adventure. Unfortunately, while it's a good generic module, it's not as vivid as the Michael Curtis DCC adventures, either.

The plotline is that once every 100 years (or whatever), The Tower of the Black Pearl surfaces for only eight hours. However, a group of pirates arrive first, and the PCs have to deal with them as well as the Tower. The adventure has twelve areas, and is a standalone adventure. If you're looking for a longer more developed pirate-y adventure, I highly recommend the TSR / WotC Underwater Saltmarsh series, starting with U1: Secret of Saltmarsh.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #79.5: Tower of the Black Pearl
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/26/2014 23:56:52

So what were your characters doing at second level? Killing orcs? Hacking at zombies? Running away from lizardmen? Well, if you're playing a Harley Stroh Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure, you're doing nothing of the above. You're probably playing another of his fantastic epic-swilling insanely brilliant how-do-we-top-this adventure.

And fantastic this one is. A magical demi-plane in another dimension is slowly succumbing to chaos-plasm, and it's up to the characters to save it. No, wait. The characters just want to get out, and it won't be easy with three not-so-friendly wizards in an age-old power balance, each expecting the player characters to swear fealty and assist them. Add to this some jaded petty and powerful NPCs, a demon manipulating the game hiding in plain sight, and several mindless hideous creatures lurking at the edges of the world.

The game? Every day, the demon, in the guise of The Fool, deals the cards from a deck and the NPC associated with each card returns back to life and swears fealty to the the wizard who received it. Every day, the wizards scheme and attempt to use their minions to capture the plaques of the other wizards to escape the plane. None have succeeded, and for as long as the other NPCs have remembered, they have died, resurrected, and are well-aware of this endless cycle of eternal stalemate.

Except it's not going to be eternal much longer. With the arrival of the PC's comes the corruption of chaos. The demi-plane is embedded in chaos, and has been able to resist it dissolution into the chaos-plasm. But the PCs arrival has caused the chaos to slowly reclaim and consume the plane, and everyone has only so much time left.

The adventure is well-crafted, with the Harley Stroh elements we've come to expect from his previous scenarios: dangerous mad NPCs with strong personalities, detailed devious dungeons, and epic dimension-spanning plotlines. And did I mention that the PCs can become part of the deck? Yes, that does mean players may find themselves swearing fealty to opposing wizards each day!

Not suprisingly, there's more of an emphasis on the wizards and their minions-of-the-day (perhaps including the PCs!) than your average dungeon crawler. While this is an exciting diversion from the usual generic FRPG adventure, it's probably best for experienced GMs and players willing to roleplay out their unusual situation. Unfortunately, other than some GM tips, there's almost no information in the adventure bridging the power struggle plot with the dungeon lairs of the wizards. For example, while we have a detailed layout of the dungeons and the personal agendas of NPCs that live there, we don't have examples of how the wizards even communicate with the characters. Do they appear as ghostly images? Do their minions speak for them? Do they invade the character's dreams? Of course, wizards being wizards, any of these ways of contacting the player characters would work. It's pretty much the GM's responsibility to negotiate and roleplay out the relationships the characters have with the wizards. I really would have liked to have read some examples of how the adventure played out in playtest groups to get an idea of how to run it.

So if you have the players up for this sort of adventure, and have the GM ability to run it, enjoy the adventure. Much more interesting than killing orcs.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #78: Fate's Fell Hand
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Golden Sky Stories
Publisher: Star Line Publishing
by Cedric C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/12/2014 20:27:13

Introduction: I'll preface this review with a high recommendation for the free Golden Sky Stories Demo PDF. It actually contains most of what you need to understand and try out a henge roleplaying game. Henge (pronounced hen-gay) are animals who can transform into humans, and their stories take place in small countryside towns in Japan. Henge adventures are small, slice-of-life stories about helping others by doing little things. It's a child who's lost something, a Japanese shrine protector who's lonely, or a misunderstanding that needs to be taken care of.

The demo PDF not only summarizes the rules (although presents them in an alternate form for purposes of learning the game), but includes a complete introductory adventure. Print multiple copies so players have their copies of the rules and character generation. The PDF truncates the complete rules and does not have all the henge character types (see character generation), nor game master support. But, for some players and game masters, henge roleplaying can be so far from conventional combat-oriented RPGs that they may find the demo quite useful to get used to it. Individual pages from the PDF can be printed as rules summaries, character type summaries, and the character sheet. I would recommend first playing through the demo, then using the book for further storytelling.

GSS demo: http://starlinepublishing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2013-GSSDemo-StarlinePublishing.pdf

Character Generation

Each player will play a henge. (GSS still has a game master, called the narrator.) A henge is an animal who is able to take human form, and, in Japanese countryside culture, many animal types have stereotyped personalities: Foxes are haughty centuries-old creatures, often associated with the local gods surrounding the town; Raccoon dogs, or tanuki, are shapechangers, including into inanimate objects; Cats and dogs are close to their western perception as independent or friendly creatures; and Rabbits are needy -- but spoiled -- creatures. The setting for a henge is typically a small countryside Japanese town, with local gods (more like supernatural entities) reflecting aspects of the nature around them.

Each character receives a set of powers associated with their henge, and selects up to three weaknesses associated with their henge. For example, the Cat powers are Kitty (0), Fuzzy (4), Peek into Hearts (6), Stealthy Feet (8), Cat Paths (10), and Friends (14). Numbers indicate the cost in Wonder tokens to activate the power. Each Weakness also provides an additional Power. The Can't Swim weakness, for example, is paired with the Acrobatics (4) Power.

Each character has four attributes: Henge, Animal, Adult, and Child. Henge represents supernatural abilities; Animal strength and animalistic power; Adult the ability to do adult things, including technology; and Child the ability to do emotional things, like wheedle adults and have fun.

Each player then defines the connection their henge has with each other player's henge. A connection is a description and degree of a relationship that you have with another entity. For example, your character could have a Rivalry of strength 1 to another character. While connections need to make sense, they need not be the same -- one character may have Protection 2 towards another character, but the other character may have Love 2 towards the first! The strength of each connection is 2 if there are two other characters, or otherwise 1. Player henge also have connection to non-player entities, such as humans, animals, and even the town itself.

Mechanics

Rather than conventional "roll dice to beat or exceed a number", GSS uses a currency-based system. The game has three currencies:

Dream: Dream tokens are awarded during a scene by players and the narrator for good roleplaying. At the end of a scene, players spend dream tokens to increase their connections with other characters (including themselves) that they've encountered during the scene.

Wonder: Wonder tokens are used during a scene to pay the cost for a character to use one of his powers. For example, the shapechanging raccoon dog has the Become Anything (8) power, so would spend 8 Wonder whenever he shapechanges. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths TO others.

Feelings: Feeling tokens are used during a scene to add to an attribute to make a "check". Similar to adding a dice roll to a stat to make or beat a target number, the Narrator tells the player which attribute will be used and what total result will be required. The player may spend any Feeling he needs to pass or exceed the check. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths FROM others.

While the mechanics aren't difficult, the terminology and gameplay is quite different from conventional, combat-focused RPGs. I found it tricky to understand the complete rules of the book, so recommend learning from the demo. A glossary and index would also have been useful. The mechanics are probably best learned through the demo pdf, and the rulebook used once the narrator has the basics down.

Stories

GSS provides support for the narrator to adjust to this different sort of roleplaying: story design advice, town setting advice and a premade town, two introductory stories, an animal bestiary, descriptions of the various types of people in town, and both play sessions and an example story. The descriptions of the types of animals and people in the town include adventure seeds narrators can use to form adventures. After all, henge stories are often about helping others. Despite henge stories being different than western generic fantasy roleplaying, they may be well-suited for improvisational play: the narrator presents and open-ended problem, the players brainstorm a possible solution, and the narrator runs with it. After all, if a boy wants to try to confess his feelings to a girl, there are many ways of doing it! Also, like slice-of-life manga stories, GSS stories may be one-shot, as well as longer-running stories.

Art

The primary artist is manga artis Ike (altitude attitude). His own manga, Nekomusume Michikusa Nikki, "Catgirl's Wayside Grass Diary", is about a henge cat girl who lives in a small countryside town. (The manga is occasionally risque, so would be rated for older teen or higher. Most of Ike's art on Danbooru, Pixiv, and Konachan are SFW.) Unlike the generic fantasy art in most rulebooks, the art in GSS not only supports the section of the book it appears in, but often shows a glimpse of the personality of whoever is in the picture.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a gentle, non-violent, all-ages roleplaying game, this is it! Mechanics still stay within the realm of conventional roleplaying, but the simple countryside setting and "helping others" gameplay are entirely different. The slice-of-life genre allows the narrator to adjust the story to the amount of time available for the gaming group, and subject matter to the group's sensabilities.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Golden Sky Stories
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