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Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook
Publisher: Green Ronin
by Doga E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/25/2015 13:00:50

Fantasy AGE is something I've been looking forward to since far before it was announced. When Green Ronin first revealed that they obtained the licensing rights for a Dragon Age tabletop RPG and that it would use a new system, my first thought was the inevitable release of a new edition of Blue Rose based on the underlying ruleset. After Wil Wheaton's Titansgrave show and the Blue Rose kickstarter, I just had to buy this book.


It's good. Good, but not great.


The system itself is fairly basic. Each character has nine abilities, which are added to a roll of 3d6 to determine success in most regards. You can have a variety of focuses for your abilities, which give you a small bonus to your roll in applicable tests. If you roll doubles in your 3d6 roll, you get a number of points to customize your action and perform better in combat, in a mechanic called stunting. The stunts can be used in combat, roleplaying and exploration contexts, each of which getting its own list of stunts. If you are familiar with Green Ronin's earlier game True20 or WotC's Dungeons & Dragons, there are few surprises in the general flow of mechanics.


Therefore, outside the stunt system, the system relies more on its add-ons to differentiate itself. After the abilities, each character gets three basic units of customization. The first one is the races, which give you a number of set bonuses and two more selected from a small list. The options in the book are fairly standard fantasy RPG fare, as popularized by D&D, though the bonuses granted might not always match the popular view of the individual races. The second unit of customization is the backgrounds, which give you a single focus chosen from among two different ones available to your background, but they also come with some color attached (a Sailor and a Dilettante might both get a Drinking focus, but they probably prefer different kinds of booze). The background also determines your starting funds.


The third unit is classes, of which there are three: warrior, rogue and mage. Warriors fight; rogues fight not as well as warriors, but they get more tricks in exchange; mages cast spells (some of which are used to fight with). Each class gets 20 levels of advancement, where each level gives you something specific to your class, no matter how minor, in addition to more generalized advancements. For mages, the most obvious gains are new spells, but all classes also get talents, which come in three levels, with each level progressively giving new benefits in a specialized area. Many talents are class specific, ensuring that while each class can perform in most areas, they won't surpass the class that focuses in that talent - warriors and mages might deal with traps and locks, but they won't get the Thievery talent bonuses Rogues can get.


In addition to differentiating themselves from other classes, each character can also get up to two specializations in the course of their career to differentiate themselves from others of the same class. There are four specializations for each class available, each having three levels, much like normal talents. Dragon Age players might recognize some parallels between the available specializations and the ones found in Dragon Age - mage hunter / templar, sword mage / arcane warrior, miracle worker / spirit healer, to name a few.


Mages are unique in that they get spells, which come in categories called Arcana (such as Fire Arcana, Shadow Arcana and Heroism Arcana), which are themed after a specific element and have three levels (notice a pattern yet?). The first level gives two spells, and each other level gives one more. The spells use a resource called magic points, and require a roll to cast. They also get their own stunt list, which is a nice touch. While the spells given in the book are quite specific in their effects, a permissive GM might find that the arcana also work for more narrative, freeform feats, if you are willing to assign arbitrary MP costs.


There is an old school feeling to character generation and advancement, with your abilities, background, two racial bonuses, health points, magic points and starting funds being randomly determined (though the latter three are added to a comparatively large starting point, meaning you are not entirely subject to the vagaries of the RNG). This feels like an oddity in the age of modern RPGs and their tightly calculated math. For those who prefer the modern approach, the game does offer options for a point-buy system. The weapons and armor list is also very generalized, with weapon category getting three weapons that can be used to simulate a variety of closely related examples, and armor comes in six levels. Far from a weakness, this means that you can stop worrying about finding the perfect tool and quickly get to playing, though SCA members and Riddle of Steel players might be disappointed. The rest of the equipment list feel similarly nostalgic, though the GM is encouraged to ignore the specifics to suit their games better.


So what's the problem?


The lack of options. As a generic fantasy RPG, there are some awkward design choices. The races get specific descriptions and bonuses, even if there is no setting to explain why those bonuses are chosen. There is little cross-pollination between the classes, and you cannot multiclass or play hybrids. Sword mages, for example, can wield swords more effectively than other mages, but they cannot spend their talents on improving their fighting skills further instead of more cerebral pursuits. There are only six specialization combinations for each class, and while the order you take them in does matter until later levels, the specializations themselves are quite rigid in their bonuses. While mages can get 15 to 22 spells over their career, the spells they get lack versatility and come in a narrow group of 12 focuses, especially in comparison to the powers of Green Ronin's previous releases, True20 and Mutants & Masterminds.


It is not very difficult to see the system and math underlying the options in the book, so with some trial and error, GMs can add their own contributions to their settings, but I could not find any design suggestions for creating your own races or specializations in the book, which is a glaring omission in a generic fantasy game as reliant on additions instead of subtractions as Fantasy AGE is. Hopefully this will be rectified in a future release.


Fantasy AGE has a potential to be great. It has a solid framework, and the details are passable enough as a starting point, but it simply needs more to reach its potential. There is a feeling on incompleteness to the book as it stands, and that holds me back from giving it the 5 Star review I so badly wish I could give. Even so, Green Ronin's new addition to its stable is a good game that can be played as is without much trouble and very quickly, so you could do far worse with your $16 when it comes to making tabletop RPG purchases.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook
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Nine Worlds
Publisher: Stories You Play
by Doga E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/30/2012 09:52:36

Let me begin this review by saying that I have not played Nine Worlds at this time, and I will mainly comment on the production values and the creativity of the game. As such, I cannot comment on how balanced the various mechanics are. I can, however, comment on how it is an excellent read and well worth your time and money (especially considering that is currently available for free).


Nine Worlds is, at a glance, not highly original. The influences of Mage: the Ascension are fairly obvious, as well as those of Michael Moorcock's writings. However, it is not the dark fantasy those influences would appear to imply. In fact, the stories it tells are largely closer to light-hearted pulp fiction, with an eye towards the wonders of magic and science. In Nine Worlds, the players assume the roles of Archons, people with extraordinary talent and influence over fate thrown into a larger world of godly beings and their conflicts. The science of Earth is mostly a weaving of fiction and truth, but the powers of Archons and other potent beings of the Nine Worlds (Earth, Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Hades, from innermost to outermost) largely trump the knowledge of science. Archons are told about the truth by Prometheus, the titan ruling over Earth, and left to their own devices. In this newfound realm, they forge tales and melodramas of demigods, until they find a task that they can claim to be their last, or their legend is prematurely ended by death or oblivion.


Nine Worlds uses playing cards for conflict resolution. As someone who likes playing card games, I have often found the use of playing cards in tabletop RPGs a gimmick, rarely worth replacing dice or diceless systems with. Nine Worlds is a refreshing change of pace in this regard. Each PC has three groups of stats: Virtues, Urges and Muses. Each player also has a deck of playing cards, Jokers included. There are two Virtues, which determine how you approach (with mortal skill and luck or with supernatural displays) each conflict and the general status quo of the Nine Worlds, as well as how many cards you draw in a conflict, and four Urges, each of which correspond to a suit of cards and have their own powers (creative, destructive, transformative and static). These remain largely static, and while they can be improved, this does not happen as often as altering the Muses. The Muses are each tasks that a PC can accomplish and contains enough dramatic conflict. Throughout gameplay, or even a single conflict, these Muses will rise and fall in value, and they add cards to a player's hand and determine how much and in what ways the PCs improve when resolved. In its most basic, the players draw a number of cards from their deck equal to the ratings of their applicable Virtue and Muses summed up, see how many cards you have of each Urge's corresponding suit, and add the Urge's value. If you beat your opponent's number, you get to determine how the conflict ends. The players also have many ways of influencing these values, but the basic system remains the same. If one of the player's Virtues is reduced to 0, he can sacrifice a Muse or accept death. If he has no Muses left, he automatically dies. The character sheets have little room for customization, so the tasks the PC has as his Muses become the main way of determining what the characters are about. As a result trying to powergame the system is largely a narrative affair.


The setting itself is largely minimal in its mechanical influence, but it is also well-written, well-detailed and well-suited to modification. The backstory of the Nine Worlds is a retelling of the war between the gods and the titans of the Greek mythology, with the personae and the details modified to fit the game. Archons are the spanner in the works of the scenario, their influence determining the ultimate fates of the Eternals and the titans. While an Archon might not want to be involved in the melodrama around them, the nature of their Muses ensure they will be drawn into the thick of things. Several of the prominent figures in Greek mythology also get the Nine Worlds treatment, but many are left to the game master's discretion and imagination. If, like me, you are not a big fan of pre-written settings, the game mechanics are also suited to creating your own epic melodramas, but the setting is worth a read for idea mining, at the least.


Aside from the cover and the page decorations, the presence of artwork is largely minimal. While you do not necessarily feel their absence, as the artwork is mostly black and white and not always evocative of the writing, it does lead to the book being a bit sparse. Still, the artwork that does fit fits very well, and the writing largely carries the book well enough on its own.


For a free game, Nine Worlds is of undeniable quality, and worth giving a shot. For me, it does not compare to such games as Unisystem, Mutants & Masterminds and the major influence on the game, Mage: the Ascension, but I did have fun reading it, and I believe I would have fun playing it. It does have several assumptions in its mechanics that prevent it from becoming truly universal, and thus might not be suited to every group. But if you like epic stories, if you like melodramatic narratives and if you like pulp fiction, you will not regret the time you spend on Nine Worlds.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Nine Worlds
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The Broken-Winged Crane
Publisher: White Wolf
by Doga E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 11/10/2010 13:33:20

I'm torn about this book, really. One the one hand, it does make the Green Sun Princes interesting and fun to play with the inclusion of the non-Primordial ascension Charms and other Heretical Charms that violate the established Yozi themes, making the Green Sun Princes feel more like Exalted. On the other hand, the majority of the book is still devoted to new Yozi Charms, which is not a theme I'm fan of for the Infernal Exalted.


However, choosing to err on the side of positive things, the book still rates well due to the production qualities, the Infamy background, the new Hearthstones and the delicious human-Primordial-Exalt hybrid Charms.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Broken-Winged Crane
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Return of the Scarlet Empress
Publisher: White Wolf
by Doga E. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/11/2010 13:10:29

Mechanically, this book is a good addition to the Exalted line. It is relatively well balanced, as you can expect from a Goodwin book. It has few actual Charms, but the astrological Charms included within are great, and the Solar Charms and Ebon Dragon Charms are mechanically sound as well.


Therein lies my big problem with the book: it is a huge divorce from the fluff of the Exalted I've come to love, and it is almost nothing but fluff. The scenario, where the Scarlet Empress returns to Creation to free Ebon Dragon from the confines of Malfeas, apparently relies on several established characters acting less capable and intelligent than they actually are and half the Exalted population of Creation and beyond being in the service of the Yozis just so the PCs can shine. If you don't want to see Ebon Dragon as the ultimate villain of all Exalted universe despite his utter cowardice, ineptitude and lack of virtue repeated several times in the books, and the rest of Creation being too incapable of stopping his overcomplicated plan, you probably won't enjoy this book. There are a couple of good ideas and characterizations in the book, but most of it seems to lead to Ebon Dragon's victory being inevitable without the PCs, who are apparently special by virtue of being PCs alone, all else be damned, which seems to be a poor design choice for this (or any) book.


My other main problem is a personal dislike of Yozis being nothing more than a set of Charms, but ultimately, it is a very small problem compared to the doomsday scenario detailed within.


There are two main good sides to the book. One is the artwork, especially the chapter comics. Despite lacking color, some of them have a breathtaking quality, and most of them are above average, at least. The other is that if you can divorce the book from the Exalted line, it reads rather well as an RPG sourcebook. It is well-designed, well-placed and the prose is well-written. For another game line, it might have been a good addition. For Exalted, it is a disappointment.


To conclude, this does not cater to all Exalted players, so I would be careful about shelling out money for this book. It makes sweeping changes to Exalted, and most of them (in my opinion) not for the better.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Return of the Scarlet Empress
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