Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the second edition of Crimson Exodus; currently the only pre-written setting for Radical Approach's Fantasy DICE system. And what a setting it is. This book includes all of the rules from the stand alone Fantasy DICE book, and may be bought and played as a standalone product. Those of you who already have the first edition need to know no more than that post trauma has been simplified, the layout makes far more sense and the editing is vastly improved. Everything you loved about this system is intact; most of it is improved on in some way. For everybody else, here is the remainder of the review.
The book begins with the standard "What is a role playing game" chapter, in which it explains the core concepts of the game. This includes the idea that the player characters are protagonists in this world, and as such are all special in some way, the idea that deciding whether or not the party stands a chance at an encounter - and whether the reward is worth the risk - is the party's job, not the GM's and the idea that the party's allies should be controlled by the players during combat. It also includes a list of assumed responsibilities for players and GMs that should be self explanatory, but is there just in case.
Next up, we have the known world. This comprises of an area the size of Europe, though not the entire continent from the Western coast to the wastelands and great savannah of the East; from the frozen North to the vast jungles of the South. I quite like that this is the extent of the setting; there are quite a few different peoples within the known world, and there is plenty of room for creative GMs to expand. This portion of the book describes the places and their histories, as well as how the law tends to work and the wilderness surrounding them.
After this, we have our races, or Peoples as this system calls them. This is because culture is just as important as racial heritage in terms of your statistics and what skills and equipment are available to you at the start of the game. Each People is described in terms of its culture, its history, its laws and finally how it affects you in terms of starting statistics. It's similar to the races section in some other fantasy books, but with more setting detail to go with the numbers. Certain things, such as prices for starting equipment, may be a little confusing at first, since the wealth system hasn't been described yet, but there are tables of available starting equipment and their costs.
The fourth section of the book is character creation. Character creation is pretty in depth, and uses a semi-classless system. I say semi-classless, because almost everything you do is based off of a skill, and the only starting limits on these skills are down to whether your character could have learned that skill, generally based off of your character's People. On the other hand, you have a Heroic Path, which grants additional abilities based off of an archetype such as that of the archer, or the warrior. Multiple Paths may be taken, and none are mutually exclusive. Your attributes are based off of your People, but are arranged in pairs. You may improve some, but for each that you improve, you must reduce the one it is paired with by the same amount, to a minimum of 1. You also pick a talent, which describes something that you're good at without needing to roll for it - singing, or cooking for example. This should be described in a short sentence rather than as a single word. Also, we have Aspirations and Characteristics. These are very similar to Aspects in FATE, in that they are descriptive and they allow you to spend from a pool of points to affect the plot - and allow the GM to give you points in exchange for affecting your character in similar ways. After that, you name an ally and a friend within the world, choose your equipment and start play.
Next, we have Skills. The skills have quite broad reaches, but more specialised areas within each one. Specialisations are treated as one skill level higher than the actual skill level. More specialisations must be bought as you reach certain skill levels, though you may buy as many specialisations as you wish.
Chapter six details the Heroic Paths. Heroic Paths are improved by spending Hero Points; a method of advancement separate from standard XP. There are several Paths; some magic using, some combat oriented, some fitting other niches such as that of the rogue, or the hermit, or the leader. Each provides different perks, but doesn't restrict your ability to do other things - each is an archetype within which you can customise things, rather than a straitjacket to enforce a particular type of play.
After that, we have the Barter chapter, which explains the wealth system, and has price lists for almost anything you could want to buy. Wealth works quite simply; you have a wealth level. If a thing you want costs your wealth level or lower, you can afford it easily. If a thing costs one wealth level higher, you can buy it, but you go down one wealth level. If it's more than one higher, you can't afford it at all. It also explains how much money, in rough terms, is needed to go up or down a wealth level, and that if you would go up by two or more wealth levels at once, you go up by one fewer, as you treat yourself with all that newly acquired cash. This is followed by equipment lists for weapons and armour, with the appropriate stats. Everything here is self explanatory, pretty much, aside from the damage listings for some of the weapons - this makes more sense later once the damage system is explained in the combat chapter.
After this, the mechanics of the system are finally explained. All of the standard things, such as social conflict, fatigue, crafting and so on are explained here. The one thing that really stands out is the die rolling mechanic. All skills are listed as a die type. Your attribute tells you how many dice to roll, your skill tells you the die type, the highest die is your result. So far, so simple. However, you may also choose to scale your roll - rolling fewer dice in order to roll bigger ones and potentially get a better result on harder tasks, or rolling smaller dice in order to roll more of them and get a more reliable result on easier tasks. This is done on a one for one scale - one extra die for one smaller die type, or vice versa. It works rather well in practice, and adds a level of control for the players that many other systems don't have. This is followed by character development; spending XP and the like, but also advice for the GM on developing important NPCs in the background.
Next, we get to one of two reasons why I love this system so much - the combat. In combat, each turn lasts about three seconds, and you get two actions. Defending against an attack requires the use of an action. More often than not, a player will use one action to attack, one to defend. On a particularly successful defence, the defender may choose to attack their attacker immediately instead of waiting for their turn to come around, in what is known as the riposte. This, naturally, means that they have no actions when their turn comes around, and so their turn is skipped. Hit location is chosen randomly, unless the attacker chooses to aim for a specific target; in this case, the attack requires both actions. The attacker may choose to take a penalty to hit in order to deal more damage on a successful attack, though the opposite is not true, and the level of success affects the damage dealt. There are many other tactics listed, and the GM is encouraged to make up rules on the fly for anything not covered.
The second reason I love this system is the Trauma system. This gets a separate chapter from combat, simply because it is so much more in depth than the standard hit point based systems. Simply put, damage is taken in the form of discrete wounds. There are five levels of wound severity - Superficial, which is rarely more than painful and will rarely even leave a scar; Nasty, which will generally hurt a lot and leave a scar, but is rarely fatal; Grievous, which can potentially be fatal if the right treatment isn't give; Grim, which is definitely fatal without the right treatment, and finally Mortal, which is almost certainly fatal. Bleeding can be very serious if not treated quickly, potentially leading to Shock (the medical condition generally caused by severe bloodloss - fatal if left untreated). Bones can be broken, and can lead to permanent disfigurement if bad enough, or left untreated. Internal Trauma again can be fatal when left untreated. All three of these are potential issues from a wound, and the GM gets to describe what happened.
But that's only if you use the Trauma system provided here, which honestly I wouldn't do. Why? Because there's a nice big book of wounds called Trauma, by the same publishers, which provides a far more in depth system of wounds than could ever have been provided here. In that book, you have damage tables for each part of the body and each wound severity, where you roll a die and that's the wound. Also, while you could just use those tables to determine the damage done, the book also provides medically accurate details of just how bad each wound is, from sucking chest wounds through amputations to severe burns and brain damage. In my opinion, the two books go incredibly well together, even if only for the extra flavour to damage that the Trauma book provides. Also, because the Trauma system is only used once the fight is over, and often only on the PCs, it does surprisingly little to slow down play.
Once this is done, an example combat scenario is given for one player and a GM to run through. It's a fairly simple example of how combat runs in the game, and is designed to teach newcomers how to kill things and not be killed in the meantime. After that, comes a standard how to run the game chapter, which comes with very good advice that can be found in almost any role playing book you care to mention.
Next, comes magic. Magic is interesting in this system, for the simple reason that the powerful stuff comes at a price. There are three kinds of magic in Crimson Exodus - Elven Witchcraft, Dwarven Sorcery and the Black Arts of the Toth. Witchcraft is the magic of nature, and is powered by blood. It can cure or it can kill, and it can even create outbreaks of Plague - the setting's equivalent of the zombie virus. Sorcery is mastery of the elements, and while it cannot directly cause damage, nor cure, causing a campfire to leap at an enemy, or a tunnel to collapse on their heads will leave some questioning the difference. Finally, the Dark Arts involve feeding that part of yourself that would do absolutely anything to survive, at the cost of all others. It can also heal or harm, though healing from this form of magic comes with a price, and it can cause an affliction just as nasty as the Plague; the Rot, which creates the setting's equivalent of ring-wraiths.
After that, we have a list of artefacts; some magical, others merely thought so. Then comes herbology and alchemy. These work pretty much as expected, although healing through alchemy requires blood from still living beings. The dark secrets of the setting are discussed next, and provide many possible adventure or even campaign hooks, followed by a rather good introductory adventure that I won't spoil here, and finally a list of NPCs.
In conclusion, this is among my favourite games ever, and I'm very, very glad I kickstarted it. I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to play a good fantasy RPG without D&D's baggage.
[5 of 5 Stars!]