Great Sword RPG (GSRPG) is at the same time both familiar and not-so-familiar.
Familiar in the sense that you create a character with a race and class and fight monsters with either swords (Great or otherwise) or talents (spells, psychic powers, etc) and seek treasure. Familiar in that you roll a d20 and try to beat a difficulty level or opponent’s defense score. Old friends like HP, STR, & INT are there, too.
Not-so-familiar in that, well, just read on...
The (other) Primary Statistics are Accuracy (ACC), Agility (AGI), Melee (MEL), Perception (PER), Stealth (STE), and Willpower (WIL).
Yes, Agility/Dexterity, what in most games is rolled into one big ball is “broken up” into three stats here - Accuracy, Agility, & Stealth. So acrobats aren’t necessarily crackerjack shots or one with the shadows, and vice-versa.
Similarly, Strength is both split into STR and Melee and combined with what other games would call Constitution or Stamina (there’s Stamina in this game but it’s very different from the norm - more on that later). So, being made of muscles will make you tougher and make it count when you hit, but it won’t help you hit the target in the first place.
More on the stats - they range from 5 to 18 or more and work pretty much exactly as you’d expect them to, with one big exception - you don’t add a modifier based on the score to a stat test, you add the whole thing. The default Difficulty level is 20 (also default ARM (AC) score for combat). A foe in Leather armor might have a ARM of 24; to hit them with your fists you’d roll a d20 (getting, for example, an 11) add your MEL (Melee) score (say, 13), for a total of 24. A hit, right?
Nope. In GSRPG you have to exceed the target, so anything shy of a 25 in this example would miss. Plus combatants typically have the option to parry or dodge.
Speaking of attacks, the game has a fresh take on multiple attacks in that by default any character can make as many melee strikes as they have arms, providing they’re wielding one-handed weapons (or unarmed). So a Human Assassin can strike twice per attack with his twin assassin daggers, or the four-armed Naga Berserker can strike four times with each of her equipped iron claws.
When you do hit, damage is your STR stat plus weapon modifier.
The game uses Damage Reduction (DR), too, so most attacks will be reduced by that number, as well.
Rolling a natural 20 on an attack doubles the damage. Rolling a 1 is usually just a miss unless using some Talents.
Many Talents (see below) allow for the option of using Overpower. Overpowering opens up the possibility to fire more Arcane Bolts or add a trait like Blast, Stun, or elemental ones like Fire or Lightning. The downside is that if you choose to Overpower and roll a 1, bad things happen. Magic/psychic energies backlash and you take your Overpower stat (INT or WIL, whichever’s higher, subtracted from 30) as damage.
Rolling Initiative (an Agility stat test), if your AGI is 14 you roll a d20 and add 14 to it for your result.
The only “standard” fantasy race amongst the 8 available are humans. The others are Arachnids, Arkanus (Gnolls), Lokhaan (Ogres), Naga, Shathyr (Satyrs), Taurar (Orcs), and Valkyr (Valkyries). And even if some of those actually do sound bog standard, they’re really not. The “ogres” are big-ass feline-like humanoids. The “orcs” have two sets of eyes and rhino-like horns. The “gnolls” are Halfling-like in their stature.
Your choice of race gives you bonuses (never penalties) to your stats, plus your size (small, medium, large), and a racial ability or so.
Classes avoid the “classic four” and feel more like those found as alternates from old issues of Dragon Magazine - Artificer, Assassin, Berserker, Knight, Marksman, Monk, Necromancer, and Shaman. Classes provide your basic starting equipment, gold, and selection of Talents to choose from (2-3 pages worth). Talents are like spells, psychic powers, or even special combat maneuvers. They cost Experience to purchase; a starting character has 100 Exp to begin with (good for 3-5 Talents).
You can also spend your starting Exp to further boost your stats, both Primary (STR, AGI, WIL, etc) and Vital (HP and Stamina Points).
Stamina Points (SP) represent how many actions you can take in a single round of combat (10 seconds). Most actions (attacks, movement, and so forth) cost 1 SP. Characters begin with 4 SP. Talents can cost 2-3 SP to use a round. All SP replenishes at the start of the next round. You can bump up your SP via Exp but all races have a cap so it doesn’t get too crazy eventually.
A nice option is you can focus by using SP. Spend one SP to focus your attack or roll and get a +4 on top of everything else. They stack so spending 2 SP will result in a +8.
Damage can be focused too, netting a +8.
The setting/world (Aeoss, with the continent Ackerrash being featured) reminds me favorably of Talislanta. There doesn’t seem to be many quasi-Medieval Fantasy Europe stand-bys in the flora and fauna sense. No horses, for example. GSRPG mounts include Diremaws (saber-toothed canines) and Bloodhorns (like bulls crossbred with dragons).
Speaking of, there’s a brief bestiary, including a handful of familiar/not-so-familiar foes like the game’s take on goblins, dragons, and giants. Each of the PC races are revisited and a few typical examples of each are provided for use as NPCs in your game. I liked what was there but I’d definitely like to see more (bring on a manual of monsters or folio of fiends, please).
A sample Quest (adventure) is included, in which the party joins a privateer on a sky barge in his mission to rescue a captured monk (and a mysterious map) from a floating temple/fortress manned by Valkyrie sky-pirates.
There’s a table of contents, an index, and some reference pages of talents and traits. Plus an attractive two-page character sheet.
It’s really a disservice that I haven’t discussed the game’s art yet. The designer, Daniel George Mitchell, is also responsible for all the artwork. It’s pretty damn glorious, frankly. Very much on par with what you might see in those hardcover art books major fantasy rpg video game companies offer for their new releases. The pdf is full color and some art pieces are amazing two page spreads depicting battle scenes that you can get lost in the details.
I did have a few criticisms. It’s not free of typos, though most that I saw were just of the capitalization variety.
It is dense with world information and history, perhaps too much so -a large portion of the first hundred or so pages (of 247 total) is divided into expansive histories of the eight races. I’ll admit that I did not read these entirely.
It does not include an example of play, a feature I find extremely beneficial in learning a new system and that I always enjoy.
With all that in mind, this past Saturday I gathered some friends (a mix of OSR and 5E enthusiasts) and ran the included adventure for them. The turnout was bigger than expected (eight players) and I probably should have adjusted the encounters accordingly (to be more of a challenge). Still, everyone responded very favorably to their characters and the game’s mechanics. Although it was presented as simply a one-shot, the consensus was to meet again and play on at some point in the near future.
Note: I received this PDF at no cost in exchange for this review. All statements made in this review in regard to this product, represent my own genuine and honest opinions.