Even at a first glance, this work shows evidence of measured and thoughtful development, being both visually pleasing and with fresh yet elegant game mechanics... and even advanced use of PDF technology that makes working through a 207-page book quite easy.
The core concept of the game is fantasy in which story-telling and characterisation take the lead, with mechanics designed to facilitate creativity in both role-playing and action. Melee and spell-casting both have their place in combat, with characters' tactical abilities able to sway the course of events.
After some words of explanation, the Getting Started section looks at character generation in detail. Beginning with a concept - just who is it that you want to play? - characters are defined by races, curses and talents; being anything from normal flesh-and-bones to undead, shapeshifters or beings demonic or divine. This gives a basis for what they are able to do, being further defined and quantified by attribute abilities, combat techniques, the magics that they know and the use of storytelling in the course of the game. You are then led by the hand through the options available to build a character that will meet your needs and fit in to the stories that will be told. Nearly everything is built around choice rather than randomicity, yet puts numbers to skills and abilities so that once play begins the random element comes into play.
This isn't a class-based system, but naturally those who prefer to specialise in a particular area are likely to be better at that thing than a talented 'generalist' character - but the potential to be a successful adventurer is inherent in all characters whatever their approach may be. The best wizard may well want to at least be able to defend himself physically and the greatest warrior may find the odd spell of use even if he concentrates on weapons practise... and in this game, such an approach is possible if not actually encouraged.
While most of the numbers you need are set (or derived) as part of the character generation process, Chapter 2: Basic Gameplay shows you how to use them to effect in the course of the game. Skill checks are central to game mechanics with the die that you roll being set by your score in the controlling attribute for that skill, with bonuses based on your skill level, the equipment you bring to bear on the problem, technique (i.e. specific talents due to race or other choices you've made) and the circumstances in play at the time. Each task has a Storyteller (GM) set difficulty, which must be exceeded for you to be successful. There's loads of examples to give you a good understanding of the process, but that's the general idea.
Chapter 3 looks at Combat and Timing. These go together, as the whole combat system is driven and controlled by the Combat Clock. This determines the sequence of events, with each action having a duration and characters generally acting in order of their agility (modified by whether they initiated the brawl, got ambushed and so on). It is all set out visually and the use of character counters is recommended so that everyone can keep track of what is going on. Neat!
There follows a wealth of detail about facing and movement and the range of weapons, all based on a hex grid system. Examples are clear and although at first glance combat looks complex once you actually start to play around with it you find that it's quite instictive in operation once you've got the hang of how it works. Having already grasped skill use, this is also applied in combat: you roll appropriately for your weapon skill and your opponent counters with whatever parrying (or dodging!) skill he can bring to bear. It's about as close as you can get to a real brawl without the cuts and bruises!
One really neat thing is that aerial combat has been properly developed and incorporated into the system, so for once it is actually worthwhile having a flight-capable character in combat, whether he uses wings or magical means to stay aloft. So your fur-ball can really turn into a dog-fight, so to speak.
Following chapters look at equipment, full details of racial, etc., options, attribute abilities, and weapon techniques. These all give you additional depth to create and play a character based on what has already been discussed.
Chapter 8 then explores the magic system, both learning and casting spells. Just watch out for feedback - the resistance of the mundane world pushing back when you seek to exert your will upon it. There is a wealth of spells, based on elemental disciplines, to chose from and this is where you will find out everything you need to know to become a potent mage, or even just a casual user of minor magics.
The final section looks at the world of the Crimson Realms, being the default setting for the game. Beginning with an overview and brief history, there is also a gazetteer of the nations and other details all presented with a mind to the sort of adventure possibilities that they present. This is followed by a chapter on Storytelling, which looks at making this all come alive, creating a shared alternate reality that the players and Storyteller can inhabit for the course of the game. It's all about engagement, players become engaged when their characters have real reasons to become involved in whatever is going on. There's discussion of how a good plot develops so as to maintain both engagement and enjoyment throughout its development to a climax and the subsequent payoff and consequences (the best of which lay the seeds of further adventures, of course!). Different types of adventures are outlined, making good use of classical tropes in both role-playing and fiction as a whole. There's also quite a bit of detail on the practical matters of running combat, and a section explaining how to adapt material from other game systems.
OK, I've read this fairly fast for the purposes of review. But this is one to go back to, for more thorough study and contemplation - and, naturally, play! - again and again.
[5 of 5 Stars!]