Zorro the roleplaying game by Gallant Knight Games
Currently available for $19.99 on Drivethrurpg.com and the Gallant Knight Website
The book starts with the credits and content pages. It is on the credits page, if you didn't already know, that you see that the game system used in Zorro is the second edition of the D6 System. This system is what powered the original Star Wars game published by West End Games back in the day and is well regarded as a good roleplay system and Gallant Knights are licenced to produce a second edition of it for this Zorro RPG.
After the contents page, the prologue details the history of Zorro through film, TV, comics and even toys. We should be too old to remember Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro unless you caught it as a repeat
For me, it must have been a repeat of the TV show from the 50's, I certainly have no recollection of reading the comics. If somehow you don't know the story of Zorro, it is set in the early days of California. In public he is a respectable noble but using a secret identity of Zorro, he stands up for the poor and fight against the injustice of the tyrannical rulers. As mentioned in the prologue, Zorro was inspiration for Batman.
The introduction starts on page 10 with the obligatory “what is a roleplaying game” section followed by what you need to play and a brief primer of playing the game. This covers the basics of the dice system. When you roll a number of D6's based on your skill or attribute, one D6 needs to be of a different colour. It is called the Wild Die. If it rolls a 6 you have advantage, rolls a 1 you have a complication. There will be the opportunity to gain hero points which can be spent on re-rolls of failed test, double their die code (the result of their dice roll) or avoid being stunned in combat. When you roll, there will be a target number that you need to achieve.
Next up is Attribute and Skills. There are five attributes and they each have four skills associated with them specific to that attribute. The attributes are Agility, Brawn, Knowledge, Perception and Charm. For example these are the skills associated with Agility – Acrobatics, Markmanship, Melee and Sleight of Hand. It is interesting to note Melee is under Agility not Brawn but this reflects there will be dueling, it is light swords in this game such as rapiers and sabres, Brawn affects the damage inflicted.
Chapter 2 is character creation.
Two methods are provided, use a template and add 7d of skills or build the character from scratch which is spreading 12d across the five attributes and then 7d into skills. An attribute is a min of 1 ,max of 4 and each skill can't be more than 2. The templates are in Chapter 7and 15 are provided. Using a template can obviously get you up and running quicker but as long as you have a character concept in mind, building from scratch isn't going to be a long process. Every character starts with 1 hero point and you also have to create two defense numbers Dodge and Parry. Starting equipment is whatever suits the background though GM has final say.
Chapter 3 is Playing the Game.
This is the core game mechanics. Test are either opposed roll (both roll and highest wins or as mentioned earlier against a target number. If you are making a test using an attribute, you roll a number of D6 equal to your attribute value. If the test is using one of your skills, the number of dice you roll is the the attribute value and the skill value. Don't forget one D6 will be the wild Die.You can gain or loss dice dependant on certain situations. A sidebar describes how to use dice modifiers if you want (present in 1st ed D6 games).
We then move onto Combat. A round is 5 seconds approx. The GM describes the scene, the place the characters are in and their opponents. Players then say what they are going to do, then the GM says what the NPC's are doing and then the actions are played out. Unlike a lot of system initiative is only used when the actions of participants would impact on someone else it's a roll off highest wins. Player characters win ties with NPCs, all other ties are rerolls.
To attack someone you roll your skill (melee or markmanship) against their defense number (parry or dodge respectively). If you hit, you make a damage roll and the character being hit makes a Brawn roll. If Brawn roll is higher, they are stunned for a round but if the damage roll is greater they are wounded, they go prone and miss the rest of the turn. A second wound incapacitates them and they have 1D penalty whilst wounded. If damage roll is higher and the Brawn roll, has a result of 1 on the Wild Die (a complication), they are mortally wounded, out of the combat and will die without medical attention. There are also some combat actions that can be used in encourage a swashbuckling style of combat to reflect the World of Zorro.
The chapter is rounded out a more detailed breakdown of skills and attributes, examples of difficulty numbers. Each skill gets a write up with examples of it's usage
Chapter 4 Gamesmaster
You get an introduction on what you do as a GM. This is all very solid advice and there is also a box with 10 useful tips with Gming. A seasoned GM will already know this but it is handy as a refresher and for more inexperienced GM's. There is advice on getting the tone right, the Zorro spirit!
Character Advancement is interesting. You either spend hero points or fulfill arcs. The ratio for hero points 3 x new skill rating and 5 x new attribute rating. That will get expensive as your stats improve and I think hero points will be spent avoiding being stunned in combat a fair bit of the time. Arcs are narrative steps that your character must achieve. The number of steps in an arc is equal to the new value of the skill and they have to be related to the skill in question. I really like the idea of improving via a narrative arc rather than spending experience points that other systems use, it is more meaningful.
Continuing we have rules for chases and secret identities. Of course secret identities are very Zorro and so the players have them. They will have their public face, that isn't a threat to the corrupt rulers, and their masked hero, member of Zorro's Legion who hopefully is. Each time a player acts as their secret identity, the public face, they can gain hero points, this is reinforcing their identity. Acting more boldly whilst acting as your public face raises suspicion and potentially create a point of suspicion. Each time a point of suspicion is generated, a test is made to see if you become exposed. If exposed, do you try to clear your name or do you go public! Very, very cool.
The chapter is rounded out discussing hideouts, where they are located and what facilities they have. There is the option to have additional safe houses as well, probably advisable if the main hideout is well out of town. There are options like stables, a dock, false fronts etc. The player could also decent to have a group hideout but care would have to be taken to avoid the higher chance of detection.
Chapter 5 is Equipment
Quite a short chapter. It is noted that ammo isn't listed. The intent is for the game to be cinematic so there isn't an exhaustive lists of things. Just concentrating on being the heroes of the day is what the game is about unless there is a story or narrative reason when money and items become important
Chapter 6 is the Bestiary
A selection of the various animals you could encounter in Alta California. You are encouraged to use these entries as the basis to have a wider choice of animals. It is worth noting that the stats for Zorro's horse Tornado are here.
Chapter 7 Quickstart Characters
15 Character Choices for you to select from if you don't wish to create your character from scratch. There is a good variety here from lowly thief to a member of the family of a minor Don. As a Military Maestro you could be pretending to be trying to capture Zorro, secretly aiding him or you are a member of the clergy, helping the people when you can.
Chapter 8 Enemy Combatants
We have stats for the different types of soldiers, a wide range of Bandidos ranging from street tough and cutpurses to horse thieves and even pirates. Again you are encouraged to tweak the stats after all, not everybody is the same, you may have a burly guard up his intimidation, an elderly or slightly injured soldier might lose 1d from their Agility.
Chapter 9 The World of Zorro
It starts with an Adventure Seed and I will discuss them later. This chapter starts talking about Zorro/Don Diego and the stand he take against those who are oppressing the poor. He makes the decision, he cannot fix this within the corrupt system that is in place, thus Zorro operates outside the law to fight for justice. A specific distintion is made, the goal is to protect the disenfranchised and downtrodden not punish the oppressors. We then move to idea of Zorro as a symbol of the fight against oppression and this introduces Zorro's Legion, who the pc's are part of. PC's can be part of the same family or people who have banded togther. What unites them is that they all fight for justice and to protect the oppressed.
Next up is Zorro's Alta California detailing the Spaniard settlement of the area between San Diego and San Francisco. All the Spanish settlements are linked together by the El Camino Real. Most numerous are the missions with over 20 of them and they are spaced approx 30 miles apart and are always somewhat remote but always near the El Camino Real. These are the cornerstone of the Spanish and Catholic Church's attempt to covert the indigenous population. Also described is the hierarchy of Spanish Rule and the structure of local governance including a list of Governors from 1769 to 1822. The military are stationed in 4 fortresses (Presidios) and there is a list of what Presidios protect which missions. So far it has pretty much all about the invader so it is right that the book moves onto the indigenous population including examples of them trying to resist the invader.
Local horses get a write up as well and closing the chapter is information regarding available food
Chapter 10 Adventures in Alta California
This chapter is focused on the Missions and Presidios in Alta California. They are varied in size and have been constructed at different times. Local information to the individual Missions is also given. 11 Missions are detailed and several adventure seeds are also in this chapter. This chapter does illustrate how badly the indigenous people were treated.
Chapter 11 Personajes Dramáticos
In this list of people there are the good and the bad with some in between. I think it is kind of fitting that it starts with Zorro's father and ends with Zorro. Also among the good guys, Don Ignacio Torres, friend of Don De La Vega, Sénorita Lolito Pulido betrothed of Don Diego, Bernado, Zorro's most trusted companion, La Pínzon and Padre Felipe. The two main bad guys are Governor Luis Quintero, who got Don De La Vega removed from office and took his place and Captain Esteban Pasquale who firstly has dangerous ambitions and secondly suspects that Don Diego is involved with Zorro in some capacity. I kind of feel sorry for Sgt. Demetrio Lopez Garcia. Happily married with kids, his life was on easy street … until Zorro came along and now that Captain Esteban is determined to catch him, work is stressful again. Sgt Demetrio hates Zorro because of this but is friends with Don Diego.
Chapter 12 Adventures Elsewhere
This chapter details New Spain. Mexico City is it's administrative heart and ranges from parts of California and Texas, down into Panama and even into the Pacific ocean encompassing the Phillippines. It history is all too typical of conquerors and how they treat the conquered indigenous people. Exploitation for profit is the order of the day, taverns selling the local alcoholic beverage Pulque. Missions are again present. A caste system is also in place which favours those with Spanish blood who dominate the upper classes. The chapter also has some adventure seeds.
Adventure Seeds. Chapters 9 through 12 all contain them and they each have several episodes, a few as many as 5. They are springboards for the GM imagination and they require additional work by the GM to be fully fledged adventures. They are nicely varied and some lead into others (or can do) so there can be a continuing narrative.
Chapter 13 Introductory Adventure
This is a solo adventure where you play the role of Zorro himself. It is designed to teach you the mechanics of D6 2nd edition. You have opportunity to be Don Diego and Zorro and of course an opportunity to thwart the plans of the bad guys
Chapter 14 The Black Widow
This is an introductory adventure for a GM and players. A npc member of Zorro's Legion called Gazpar is accused of murder and he doesn't have an alibi. He definitely didn't do it as he was on a mission for the Legion with the players last night but of course cannot admit to that. It is up to the players to clear his name and find the real culprit. The first step is information gathering and relevant clues are highlighted in the text to assist the GM. There is no set order of locations for the players to visit but when they have concluded their investigations the adventure progresses including getting Gazpar out of jail and hopefully exposing and capturing the true culprit without being caught by the authorities.
I think it is a great game. The game mechanics are light and fit a heroic setting such as Zorro. This game is not meant to be gritty realism and doesn't try to be. It is a game for sword fights, daring deeds and epic escapes. The players needs to be played with the right mindset to get the best out of it. By that I mean, as out lined in Chapter 9, the players fight for justice, standing for the disenfranchised, not punishing their oppressors. This game can proudly stand beside other heroic games, Star Wars, John Carter, Flash Gordon. I will acquire a print copy when they become available. Also I strongly recommend joining the Gallant Knight Games discord. It is helpful for queries and some are some great maps available. So don your cap and mask and ride for justice!
Regards the pdf, it is clearly layed out, two columns of text per page. Art is classic art of Zorro provided by Zorro Productions which for want of a better way of putting it, add flavour to the book. I would hope a later version of the pdf would be indexed and hyperlinked. My rating would be 4 and a half if I could do so, docking it for lack of index and in this age of sumptious art in rulebooks, the book is pretty but there are some gorgeous books out there
Fair disclosure, I backed this game at PDF level on Kickstarter