Opening with an Introduction that gives an overview of the adventure in which you are about to embark, the freedom and excitement of role-playing, taking control of your own character's destiny in a shared story, rather than watching or reading what others (writers, actors, directors...) have decided he should do; and explains the roles of Narrator (this game's term for the Game Master or GM) and players, then there's a brief overview of the contents of the book and we're off!
First up is an overview of the setting in Chapter 1: A Westeros Primer. If you are interested in this work you have probably read George R.R. Martins' novels or watched the TV show Game of Thrones already, but here's a fascinating account of the land and the people that dwell thereon from the pen of one Maester Jesiah - looking almost like an illuminated manuscript complete with the sigils of major houses. For this game is all about power struggles and intrigues - although there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to get more physical here as well - as the houses vie for power, position and perhaps the Iron Throne itself (which is said to be remarkably uncomfortable as a chair, whatever it might represent). The history is written from a standpoint of about the time the story in the novels begins... which may of course unfold quite differently in your hands.
The chapter continues with further notes. Knights are central to many of the stories told here, but they are by no means the only players in the Game of Thrones. Still, concepts of chivalry and the importance of rank and of bloodline run deep. There's an outline of how the land is governed and law works - mostly at the whim of whichever lordling is in control, by right of birth or of conquest, at that place. Details of technology, of religious beliefs, of the concept of knighthood as practised here, of maesters and more are also to be found in this chapter. Essential reading to give an overview of the setting.
Next, Chapter 2: Game Rules provides a look at the game mechanics underpinning A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. They are based around fists-full of d6s, with bonuses and modifiers as appropriate. Put simply, to attempt a task you decide which ability applies and use that to decide how many dice to roll - these are your Test Dice. If you qualify for a bonus, you get to add more dice to your roll, but then select the highest ones to the number of Test Dice you have. Modifiers are numerical additions or subtractions from the result achieved with the Test Dice. The aim is you test your abilities against a Narrator-set difficulty for the task you are trying to perform. That's the basics, and there are plenty of examples and special cases to show you how it all works. It's more straightforward than it looks at first glance, and soon becomes second nature.
We then dive straight in to characters, beginning with a series of archetypes for those who don't want to go through all the effort of creating one from scratch. These can of course be customised to suit your specific needs and desires. These come as Adults or Young Adults - youthful characters can be quite potent in the Game of Thrones, particularly if they are heirs to one of the houses. However, if you'd rather create your own character from the ground up, move on swiftly to Chapter 3: Character Creation and find out how it's done.
Now it gets interesting. The assumption is that the players get together and create members of a single noble house. Thus individual and group fortunes are tied together, success and failure affect everybody. So you start off by designing, as a group, your house and lands. Only then do you consider the role you wish to play in that house. In creating that character, first you decide his age (banded from youths under 9 to venerable people over the age of 80) and status (from 1-6). These can be chosen or rolled randomly as preferred, although it may be best if everyone uses the same method! Then you start fleshing out the character with things like the area of expertise you're after - Expert, Leader, Rogue, Schemer, or Warrior - backgrounds, goals, etc. Only then do you get to grips with determining abilities and other things that tie into the game mechanics directly. As everyone is affilitated to the same house, you'll need to ensure that all aspects you want are covered. High status comes at a price - rank is bought from the same pool of points as your other abilities! There is plenty of guidance - and lots of examples - to help you through the process.
The next couple of chapters - Chapter 4: Abilities and Specialities and Chapter 5: Destiny and Qualities - go into great depth about all the options available and how to use them to best effect once the game begins. Choose carefully, these are the building blocks upon which your character will stand or fall.
Then comes the fascinating Chapter 6: Houses and Lands. We've already touched on the notion that the default is a group of characters associated with the same house. Here we learn how to create, as a group, that house. It's recommended that you do this before you create individual characters, so that you'll already have an idea of the place into which each of them will have to fit - but others may prefer to create characters first and build a house around them, so do not feel constrained, pick whatever seems right for you as a group. You start by deciding where in the Realms you're based (or you can roll for it). The first time I did this, it was a cold day and we unanimously decided to build in the deserts of Dorne on account that it was warm there! There are lots of ideas and notes to help as the process continues, choosing resourcesm, determining the history of your house, and so on. Of course, some groups may choose to play individual characters without this common bond, others may prefer to represent a noble house apiece and vie with each other rather than with NPC nobles for power and status. It's up to you - but this is a good manual for designing houses, and indeed quantifying the existing ones too. And if you want to be the Starks or the Lannisters, go right ahead! There's even advice on choosing a motto (or 'Words' as they're known in Westeros) and a coat of arms for your house. Whilst in the books houses go for sigils and colours, here there's a primer on standard European heraldry to help you create a good-looking and effective coat of arms. The final step is to describe the household - some people will be your characters, but most will be NPCs, but you will know who they are and what they are like.
After Chapter 7: Equipment gets you all the stuff you need, there are separate chapters on the three ways your characters will interact with the world and everyone in it: Intrigue, Combat and Warfare. Each is a mix of ideas and concepts and the game mechanics you need to make them happen. Although it comes over as if you can reduce everything to rolls of the dice, these are the guidelines, the element of chance in an uncertain world - it's what your characters say and do that is important, and a good Narrator will focus on role-play, interactions and planning far more than the fall of dice.
Speaking of the Narrator, Chapter 11: The Narrator provides a wealth of material to aid him in designing and running adventures and campaigns. Ideas are presented in the way major characters in the novels embodied them, be it Lord Eddard Stark facing dilemmas, his wife Catelyn living up to expectations, Petyr Baylish's treachery or Ser Barristan Selmy showing the influence of history on the present... and there's more, of course. There's also detailed advice about making the rules work for your story.
Overall, it's a fine representation of the novels and TV show in game terms, with plenty to think about as you embark on the Game of Thrones! See if your house will become a power behind the Iron Throne or even see a member of it sitting there, or perhaps you will be safer but more obscure... but remember, Winter is coming!
[5 of 5 Stars!]