Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/13/tabletop-review-colonia
The Ross-Allen Letters is part of a continuing series of reviews of supplements for Colonial Gothic by Rogue Games. For earlier reviews in this series check out Organizations: The Templars, Locations, and The French-Indian War.
”My Dear Frederick,
I trust that this letter finds you in good health, and that you find your esteemed position in the northern colonies agreeable. I have no doubts that your expertise is estemmed [sic] as highly by your new associates as it is by the Society you left behind. I am eager for your opinion of your new surroundings. You must not think that I have never made the journey so far north from any lack of desire, and perhaps the lure of your company will help me find the time for such a journey. I am confident that the need will arise for meto [sic] visit your society for a matter of some import.”
These are the opening lines of the fictional correspondence known as Colonial Gothic: The Ross-Allen Letters. As you can tell, the theme is strong here, and indeed the whole of the document is a narrative meant to evoke this mysterious story set in the world of Colonial Gothic. In the introduction, some words about collaborative storytelling and using the letters in a game give the GM some ideas as to how this PDF might actually be useful to him or her. One suggestion is to have players write to each other in character, which immediately reminded me of De Profundis, a game I reviewed here quite a while ago. In De Profundis players create a narrative using some sort of medium other than simply talking to each other, usually just pen and paper. With The Ross-Allen Letters, the same sort of idea is used and demonstrated in what amounts to wonderful reading and mental preparation for the mysterious world of the game.
How Do I Use This In My Game?
These letters are tough to figure out, because they are great to read and all, but then what role do they play at the table? Some suggestions at the beginning of the book say that players can discover these letters and become part of the narrative. Maybe they stumble upon the first letter, then find a few more in the series, and eventually uncover enough that they get the whole story. In a way, this book can be turned into a really cool module by an enterprising GM. Picture this: the players are tasked with finding one of the letter-writers who has been missing, and in the process uncover the letters and the secrets they contain, along with weaving their own stories into the tapestry. Imagine handing your players the letters printed out on some rough paper and then hand-aged by Mr. Enterprising GM (coffee, holding them over a flame heat, etc.) as they find them.
Expect typical Rogue Games production value here minus artwork: nicely formatted, sort of edited. There is no real artwork to speak of (or complain about for that matter). For some reason, I keep coming across RPG supplements written using Lucida Handwriting! It is very silly, since anyone can go to a fonts website and get any handwritten-looking font they can dig up. Why use the same word fonts that have been put in hilarious e-mails since 1997? [As an aside, I did some digging on the actual origin of Lucida Handwriting and this is the opening sentence of a description I found: “To a business world dominated by formal, traditional fonts, Lucida Handwriting brings a refreshing and modern informality.” Source.] Aaaand we’re back! Seriously though, anyone reading this and writing games should not use Lucida Handwriting. It looks lame and it makes it look like you are not trying. Please use a normal font, I promise to imagine that it is hand-written.
The writing is very nice; Brozek has proven to be a good producer for the game’s thematic content, even if it appears that either she doesn’t edit very well or her work goes straight to print without any editing. Right there in the initial paragraph of the first letter there are two typos. How does this happen? I would be reprimanded at my day job if I pulled crap like that. I don’t think Rogue Games should be held to any lower standard just because they are some sort of “indie” RPG company. Edit. Your freaking. Writing. I see one-person, no-name RPGs being sold on DriveThruRPG with more editing. Send me the manuscript I will edit it for you. I would really love to see a higher production value for this game, but right now fans must take what they can get.
Plot and Final Thoughts
I realize I have not actually said anything about the narrative as far as plot is concerned. Basically, there are to very polite gentlemen named Woodrow Ross and Frederick Allen, who happen to be interested in the fabled Philosopher’s Stone (rather confusingly, an element supposed to be able to turn lead into gold). This interest becomes more of a dangerous endeavor when death befalls a colleague involved in researching it’s existence. From there, the tale spins on to become more mysterious and a bit dark, ending with a solemn conclusion that I will not ruin for you.
If you want a good read and to get in the mood for Colonial Gothic, light some candles and read these letters. Use them in your game, give them to your players, make them real. Even with it’s faults, for 99 cents, this is a darn good deal.