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Red Mists: Swords Against Sorcery $7.00
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Red Mists: Swords Against Sorcery
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Red Mists: Swords Against Sorcery
Publisher: Gulf Road Games
by tom R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/04/2016 14:23:21

Red Mists is a game of straight forward ambitions. It wants to simulate the sword and sorcery genre well and nothing else. Sword and sorcery here meaning mighty warriors and clever thief characters, like Conan or Odysseus, in a world with magic but magic that is beyond their grasp and mostly antagonistic. This singular focus is the game’s biggest pro and con. If you want to play a game in that genre, the system is focused to deliver that experience without a lot of extra stuff to flip through or clog up the experience. If that’s not the game you want, well then this is not the game you want.

It makes it explicit that the characters start off as heroes with the ability to do awesome things and that they aren’t ideals of heroism fighting for the little guy, but more of the traveling the country side getting rich and partying style of heroes. This is reinforced by a system of motivations that make you better when you’re looting or drinking or otherwise indulging. It actually feels like a game with mechanics that actually encourage the way people were likely to play anyway, a rarity.

Mechanics: Red Mists uses a system of small dice pools with a 50% chance of success and a system of qualifiers (and/but. . . ) based on the dice results. Before any attempt where failure is an option, the GM and player discuss possible outcomes (6 possible) and the required successes for each possible outcome. This seems slow and I imagine most tables will establish some sort of “standard” challenge for common obstacles to reduce the time this takes. There are a set of tables in the back of the book to assist with this. The GM never rolls the dice, with all actions the players roll. Characters have themes that can be used to give bonus dice to actions beyond their basic attributes. Health runs on an odd system with the players having nine lines, like a cat, and each life consists of 15 hit points. Losing a life means that a character has lost a scene, so losing life levels is a speed bump for characters and it seems they should expect to be captured often. I really like that the system provides the probabilities of success for GMs/Players for who number crunching isn’t a strong point. The game explicitly does not give a standard challenge level for common obstacles. This will undoubtedly leave to some frustration in play or anxiety in character creation on a players part when they realize that the challenge level for common obstacles is higher than they expected and their character can’t do what they wanted or that the challenge level is lower and they’ve invested too heavily. An explicit dialogue during character creation may be necessary depending on the group dynamics.

Character Creation: Character creation is very streamlined. It consists of picking five iconic attributes (defiance, guile, instinct, reflexes, and thews), four themes, and five impulses (debauchery, obsession, plunder, self-preservation, slaughter). Even starting gear has been reduced to a common basic list and a small amount to spend on an equipment that is less than two pages total. There’s no nitpicking over little variations in weapons and armor with just three categories of each. Character advancement using a simple point buy system that directly raises abilities. This means there’s no exponentially increasing costs to limit player growth and in the long term this could lead to odd balancing. Players also have the option to burn wealth to convert that to advancement points, which gives a lot of freedom to players not interested in the typical rpg shopping mini-game to opt out and not be outclassed.

Combat: Combat is a central focus of Red Mists, the titular red mists here being a spray of blood. The game encourages over the top violence with limbs flying in all directions and crazy actions. Like most of the rest of the game the rolling has been streamlined by making each roll extremely data dense. Because all action outcomes are talked through with a GM, players can execute multi-part actions easily and the game facilitates interactions with these actions towards the ultimate goal. This has an odd feature of strongly encouraging a player to perform many small steps which they are suited to do easily before attempting their final action/goal. This could lead to other players watching for long periods of time as one player rolls repeatedly. The lack of any sort of initiative or priority system could lead to some friction between players. The first person to get the GM’s attention could lay out a course of actions that will let them defeat every opponent before another player even has a chance to roll once. This puts a lot of emphasis on the GM to step in and limit these abuses. Some examples or guidance on how to accomplish this would have gone a long way. It appears to be the rules intent to facilitate players working together and jointly describing actions and trading actions back and forth, but it seems they are only shown in the example play section and not made explicit.

Magic: The game takes the tact of removing magic as an option for player characters and only making it available for the option. This is fitting with the genre where brave warriors face evil sorcerers and does wonders for balance (no linear warriors/quadratic wizards here), but may leave some players disappointed. Despite being NPC only, the rules for magic are pretty detailed and the Sorcery section of the book gets more pages than the combat section. This is probably nice for giving players an accurate estimate of what to expect from their opponents and in helping GMs especially with the colorful descriptions. The effects tend to be more of the mystical and magical feeling than the hard and fast spells of many games with curses that cause leprosy and are powered by blood and sacrifices.

Addressing Issues with the Source Material: To its credit, Red Mists acknowledges the problematic nature of the Sword and Sorcery source material, but I found the overall suggestions for how to handle this a bit perfunctory and sort of missing the point (a man in a loin cloth is not sexualized the same a woman wearing only a silk scarf over her chest is for example). The sudden shift to first person with the author directly addressing the reader in this section was odd and made it seem defensive. The accompanying picture of a female warrior prominently displaying under boob with naked men at her feet didn’t really help. The rest of the artwork featuring women is hit or miss in this regard. Otherwise, the book does a pretty good job of sticking to what makes the original works fun without getting too caught up in all their baggage.

Presentation: There are no terrible illegible fonts (not always true from indie developers and a real blessing) and the writing is clear. It suffers slightly from feeling the need to inform the reader that they’re not playing D&D on several occasions. I’m sure that explaining that the game does not feature ‘feats’ is sure to leave any readers not familiar with D&D somewhat confused and wasn’t necessary for the rest of us. Otherwise the tone is good and the layout is sensible, if a bit utilitarian and sparse.
The art is black and white with a real mix of styles, most of pretty good quality. Some of the pieces are wonderfully evocative. There are a few that feature weirdly proportioned people or just look rough compared to the rest.

Overall: Red Mist is a mechanically light very genre focused story game (that enough buzzwords for ya?). It's presented without a lot of bells and whistles, but has what you need to get a game going. What it wants to do it does fairly well and it doesn’t waste time on anything else. It puts a lot of work on the GM to manage and communicate expectations and it will work best with a very communicative group with a lot of buy in looking for the Sword and Sorcery experience, but you could certainly do worse for an RPG.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Tom, thank you for taking the time to write a very thoughtful review of my game!
Red Mists: Swords Against Sorcery
Publisher: Gulf Road Games
by Brian S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/22/2016 19:17:26

Note for transparency's sake: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair review.


  • Thematically on point with stories from Howard, Moorcock, Cook, or Norman.
  • Simple, elegant dice mechanic.
  • Effective task- to conflict-resolution system.


  • Amateurish presentation.
  • Thews. Really? Thews?
  • Grimdark darkness of the darkity dark doom. (But this is just personal preference!)

I have to admit, at first blush I found myself a bit put off by Red Mists. Maybe it was the amateurish layout and giant-sized type. Perhaps it was the unsatisfying background detail right from the start. I suppose it could have been the use of the word Thews, which stood out as overly anachronistic in a game using words like Defiance, Instinct, and Reflexes for attribute names. (Does anyone say “Thews” any more?)

The first time I glanced through the pages of Red Mists, I dreaded the idea of writing a review. Then I read it, the whole thing, and by the time the last page was turned (or scrolled past, since my copy is in PDF form), I was sufficiently impressed.

The game uses a familiar Yes/No/And/But system that converts basic task resolution (“I hit him with my ax!”) into more complex conflict resolution, where the player has a reason, a goal to hit that enemy with their ax or sword.

In fact, there seems to be a lot of asking why a character does what he does in this game, as it sets up a character's motivations as mechanical Impulses, the things that drive the character to do what he does. This is a little bit of a sticky widget for me, as I tend not to enjoy games that pigeonhole a character into certain traits, and Red Mists' Impulses, five in all, are largely negatives. Debauchery, Obsession, Plunder, Self-Preservation, and Slaughter. Of these, it seems like only Obsession can be turned around in even the smallest way – where do characters driven by Justice, by Love, or by Law fit in? Only Obsession, it seems! – but even so, Obsession is about a character on the edge of being consumed by his focus.

In other words, all characters within the world of Red Mists are selfish at heart, with a side order of amorality in most cases, and immorality in others. That comes off as a bit grim.

It isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Specialized RPGs exist to cater to a specific type of story; Red Mists plays to stories like Glen Cook's Black Company books or John Norman's Gor series – darker, grittier worlds than your standard fantasy realm – and the players who like that sort of thing. While this may not be me, I recognize why some people would have the urge to play characters in a world where hope is little more than a fleeting memory.

Of course, “at heart” isn't all there is to a character. The person you play in Red Mists also begins the game with four Themes. If you want to scale back on some of the gritty darkity darkness of his murderous heart, this is where you can give him a little bit of sunlight and hope. Not that the game suggests positive themes – it uses themes like “I reject your civilized customs” and “wenches are not to be trusted” alongside “violent drunk” and “will kill anything for money” – but there isn't anything keeping you from making a character with Themes like “justice is tempered by mercy” or “will find the truth at any cost.” Just understand that the game isn't designed to play that way.

The game's DICE combat system (that's short for Dismember, Impale, Crush, Eviscerate) is quick and violent and bloody, so even if you make a defender of truth and justice, he's going to have to be a death-dealing, bloodthirsty defender of truth and justice in order for the game to play out as intended.

Despite my initial concerns that Red Mists' world was poorly detailed, its background slim at best, later information in the GM section gives enough detail to create stories in the vein of Conan or Elric, tales where swords and steel ring out against the abuses of demonology and sorcery. This isn't a game I'd use to power a long-term campaign, but for one-shots and short-term stories, it could be a lot of fun, at least for anyone who loves the old swords and sorcery tales.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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