Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/10/03/tabletop-review-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-chronicle-starter/
A Song of Ice and Fire, is a series by George R. R. Martin that has exploded in popularity in the recent years. The story, stretched over five books (so far), are filled with political intrigue, warfare, and fantasy so exciting that even after more than 4,500 pages, the audience is still craving more. The series has gained such reverence that it has spawned card games, board games, television series, and roleplaying games, all with the hopes to live up to its title. Entering that same arena is A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, also known as SIFRP. A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system was created by Green Ronin, makers of Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age RPG, and True20 just to name a few.
A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter is a new expansion for the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system. The Chronicle Starter may be a bit of a misnomer because it doesn’t necessarily function as a Chronicle Starter, but more of a storyline utility for a game master. This expansion does not contain any new rules or abilities, nor does it contain a condensed form of the rules to quickly start a campaign, character, or anything in that likeness. The Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system sourcebook is still required to use this book effectively, however it is still a good book to purchase as a GM. Where it may be lacking to live up to a Chronicle Starter, the book does make up for it with its ability to aid the GM with extensively detailed NPCs, houses, and overall storyline.
The Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter begins quickly with the six new noble houses to help start game masters and players alike. Each of the houses in this book hold allegiances and rivalries with each house from the original Song of Ice and Fire storyline. The houses in the expansion contain very well-written stories of their history and rise to becoming a noble house. One of these stories even includes the dark, hidden past of the House Marsten, who’s rumored tale says that when the great-grandson of the original founder of the Marsten house died from an accident, his wife crept through the house during the night and slayed her sons before taking her own life, but one son, by luck, had been grieving outside the keep, and just so happened to be spared the tragedy that befell his brothers. As a game master myself, I really enjoyed these stories, and as I read along I could see more and more possibilities for each house’s storyline becoming a major arc for players. The writers of this book definitely took their time to craft each house to sound like it was meant for the Song of Ice and Fire storyline. The houses don’t just stop at the storyline, as the writers made sure to give all the stats to each house, from their holdings, to the surrounding lands view of them, adding a sense of realism to the houses instead of just creating a house and making the GM fill in all the gaps. Also, if the GM wants to add a darker tone to the houses, there is even a section with each house called “Muddying the Palette” that twists the storyline of the house to make its demeanor change completely.
Also found in the Houses section are the Lords, Ladies, and NPCs found within their territories. Just as the houses were given their intricate storylines, each of the NPCs have received theirs as well. Wrapped around each block of stats for the character is a detailed storyline, compressing their lives into anything from a paragraph or two, to multiple pages of text that is hard to put down. Characters like Garret Snow, the bastard son of Lord Tomas Barnell of House Barnell of Greenwood, who gained a reputation as a child as a thief of the finer things in life but has been working on his lessons of knighthood with his father, can be used as a quick NPCs that will help GMs save time while keeping their players captivated by the depth of the person.
Further into the book contains information on interesting places that can be found somewhere in your own version of the Westeros. Places such as the Septry at Shattered Rock, a lightening-riddled piece of granite that looms over the lands and is considered a symbol of faith in more than one religion, can be placed anywhere in the world to add a side quest, or to be a reason for war. The interesting places section holds 10 points of interest that were made with the same level of care as the houses, giving each its own back story that inspires even more creativity.
The final piece held within the book’s covers is an extra chronicle-starting adventure: The Iron Plot. The adventure starts with a messenger, bearing the badge of the bannerhouse’s liege lord, bringing news that his lord is approaching to stay at the local house for two nights. After the liege lord arrives, a symbol regarding the house’s future is revealed during a ride through the territory. As the adventure progresses, the symbol’s meaning becomes apparent to the players, leading the story to a point that could change everything they have come to know about the noble houses of the Westeros. Throughout their adventure, the players will get a healthy does of what the Song of Ice and Fire is all about. From battles to diplomacy, the adventure keeps itself interesting by maintaining its pace to allow players only a moment to breathe just before the next sudden turn of events. Without giving too much of the adventure away, I can say that this adventure could be used multiple times with the ending never being the same. The excellent part about this adventure is that it helps the Chronicle Starter expansion live up to its name by leaving the end open enough to allow the GM to write a deeper plot in, no matter the outcome.
Overall, even though the Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter does not contain any new rules or abilities, it is certainly still worth it to any GM who is looking for extra stories and storylines. Even though the stats given in the book are for the SIFRP system, I think the ample detail in the backgrounds of the houses, NPCs, and places give merit to the use in other RPG systems, especially when running a Song of Ice and Fire based campaign. The primary downfall of the Chronicle Starter is that you are required to have the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying sourcebook to make use of the stats given. However, the best part about this is that if you want a good book filled with great stories and interesting characters, it can be used for more than just a SIFRP campaign. For players, this book may not be worth the investment. To a game master, this game could help create and inspire more than one RPG.