It should come as no surprise that with the success of HBO's adaptation of this series, we are now presented with the 'Game of Thrones Edition' of SIFRP. Having only looked at the quickstart rules previously, I don't have much of a comparison. However, after reading this tome a few times I'm left with the feeling that this is an incredibly comprehensive piece of work.
What should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the novels is that there is a need to focus on setting and character, and as such the story and gazetteer-style elements take up the most of the page count. In fact, I'd recommend that non-role-players consider picking this up simply as a companion to the novels. In no particular order the book provides:
- An overview of Westeros, containing geographical, political, theological and historical information on each of the Seven Kingdoms. Reading through this section will give Narrators and players all the information they need (and is somewhat shorter than reading all of the novels).
- A guide to all of the Houses, with histories of the families, notable characters and deeds and in-depth information about their holdings, powerbases and modus operandi.
- Quite extensive guidance for the Narrator in terms of crafting stories for Westeros and how this is different from most other fantasy settings. There is a great section which takes a number of key characters and describes what actual role they had/have in the story and what their inclusion teaches us about storytelling. The main warning I'd level here is that there are serious spoilers if you haven't read the novels. This section has been updated to include the events in 'Dance of Dragons' (the latest novel at the time of writing this review) and makes no qualms about mentioning character deaths and other event-based spoilers.
From the mechanical side, the game is simple yet incredibly decisive and brutal. The entire system is based upon a D6-driven mechanic (you'll need a maximum of ten dice to play). You roll a number of dice determined by skills and add-in bonus dice for situational modifiers and specialisations. Interestingly, once the dice pool is rolled, you remove a number of dice equal to the bonus dice and then tally up the score. The heart of the system is rolling as many dice as possible and then keeping the best results. A Target Number needs to be beaten to succeed in most rolls.
Combat is a relatively simple affair, and this is the first system I've seen which directly calculates damage based on the skill level linked to the weapon. Basically the idea is that if you are better trained, you'll do more damage. After reading over the rules for damage, defending and armour, I feel confident that most combats will not last long. Life is cheap in the Seven Kingdoms, and the system really reflects that.
However, the mechanical side of the book also gives the reader
- A workable system for Mass Combat
- A complete guide to building your own Stronghold, Fiefdom or Country. There are statistics linked to almost every aspect of a holding which allows players to almost play a 'game within the game' for managing their assets. I'm actually thinking that these rules could be ported over into other campaigns as a method of record-keeping. This exercise is quite important as it is directly linked to the Mass Combat rules mentioned above.
- There is also a very large module in the back of the book. 'Journey to King's Landing' was a free-to-download module with pre-generated characters and appears in very much the same format here. It leads to 'Peril at King's Landing' which is a much longer module. To be honest, I would have preferred Green Ronin to offer these as PDF material accessible with a purchase of the main rulebook for two reasons. One, it is a neat opportunity to offer the customer something that is perceived a 'free extra' with the book. Secondly, though is the question as to whether the page count on the modules in a core book is a good use of space. Weighing in at 81 pages (around a quarter of the total page count), one questions how much long-term value this would be to the reader. I make no argument that a module is needed for a game like this, even just as a way of showing the reader 'this is what a SIFRP module looks like', but think it could have been achieved better.
The layout makes the book very easy to read, with plenty of full-colour illustrations throughout. The art quality is very average, but does work for the book. Characters from the novels are shown in most of the illustrations, and those familiar with the story will have no difficulty in recognising them.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality and breadth of the content in this book. It felt to me as though Green Ronin has respected the customer enough to give them a self-contained game in one book. If I was to run a game, I can't think of any aspect which is wanting in the rulebook, especially for the first-time Narrator - which makes it a very sensible purchase for someone looking for a new game. There will surely be other titles forthcoming, but I wouldn't think them necessary to enjoy the game. Given the PDF price, I see it as excellent value for gamers and enthusiasts of the novels alike.