Outremer: A Dream of What Could Have Been is a Alternate History game of the Crusades, set in the Levant. Outremer, comes from the French and means Overseas, as the Holy Lands of the Crusades were called. The subject of Historical/Alternate History RPGs is an interesting one, as traditionally there have been relatively few historical RPGs. Most authors instead opting for alternate earths with faux versions of historical societies, or outright fantasy worlds. Which is a shame, as historical adventure makes for very fertile ground for RPGs.
This has been true for most fiction as well, your author was relatively unfamiliar with the Crusades themselves, in part due to the limited amount of source material. As part of my reading, I read through the historical adventures of Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame. First the omnibus by Bison Books Lord of Samarcand and other adventure tales of the Old Orient There is also his collection Sword Woman and other Historical Adventures . Howard himself talks about this limited love for Historical Adventure compared to Fantasy, Weird, and Science Fiction Tales, in a letter to a friend, written after he had completed the Sowers of Thunder.
"And Babar the Tiger who establishes the Mogul rule in India — and the imperial phase in the life of Babair the Panther the subject of my last story — and the conquest of Constantinople by the Fifth Crusade — and the subjugation of the Turks by the Arabs in the days of Abu Bekr — and the gradual supplanting of the Arab masters by their Turkish slaves which culminated by the conquest of Asia Minor and Palestine by the Seljuks — And the rise of Saladin — and the final destruction of Christian Outremer by Kalawun — and the First Crusade — Godfrey of Boullion, Baldwin of Boulogne, Bohermund — Sigurd the Josala-farer — Barbarossa — Couer de Lion. Ye Gods, I could write a century and still have only tapped the reservoir of dramatic possibilities. I wish to hell I had a dozen markets for historical fiction — I’d never write anything else."
Another Author I read is Howard Lamb, his Swords from the West and other Swords from Series have great Historical adventure. Even Hollywood has only done a few Crusader movies. The most recent being Ridley Scott’s the Kingdom of Heaven (which has gorgeous shots, but is kind of dull, thought its version of Baldwin makes for great inspiration. I also watched Arn: The Knight Templar, based on the popular Swedish book series by Jan Gaillou. And of course, there are innumerable books on the subject. I read through Thomas Madden’s A Concise History of the Crusades. For further reading Check the Crusades titles by Thomas Asbridge and Armin Malouf. But I digress
Outremer: A Dream of what could have been, part of Flying Mice Games ‘Blood Games’ line, in which the option of Magic is included, is a Historical Adventure RPG set during the Crusades, in a alternate history where the Crusader states were able to survive into the 16th century. Although it could use some more introductory text and supplementary material., Outremer provides a set serviceable rules, a novel campaign setup, and an option for troupe play, that come together to deliver solid historical adventure RPG in a field with a dearth of titles. Check it out, God Wills it!
293 Page PDF, Color Illustrations, as well as some black and white line art. historical looking pieces done as paint filtered, brings across mood/feel ok. Good for most part. It is laid out as a single column with a sidebar in a serif font. It consists mostly of black white text and tables, with a few art pieces here and there. Serviceable and is relatively printer friendly due to its simple design aesthetic, . It is easy to read and has plenty of whitespace. However, some of the text has been cut and pasted from another game in the “Blood Games” line, On Her Majesty’s Arcance Service (OHMAS), or Starpool, which you will see reference to where it should be Outremer. So –1 point there.
The introductionIs fairly dense, and focuses on the history of the crusades. The text could have used more Historical asides here and there, such as the one included on Hulagu of the Mongols. (An appropriate one would have been a note on the assasination of Saladin as historically the old Man of the Mountains and the Assassins of Ismali attempts on Saladin’s life). Later in the chapter a Timeline of the Crusade era, as well as the alternate Outremer timeline is given. Which would have been better first. A brief overview of the Crusades themselves probably would have helped make this game more accessible. A couple of Maps are included which help.
Probably the most interesting/contentious element of the game, that despite it being a alternate history that closely follows history in the real world, that the game includes magic in the setting. However, the designer makes a good point, the power of faith and a belif in magic played a real role in the historical crusades, consider the siege of Antioch, the Crusaders were trapped by the Turks, starving, and by all rights ready for defeat. Then a monk by the name of Peter Bartholomew dreamed that the Spear of Loginus, the relic used to wound Christ on the Cross, was buried in the city. After much digging in St Peters, the Crusader leaders produced a rusty spearhead. Believing it the Holy Lance, the Crusaders managed to sally forth and defeat the Turks.
Or consider the capturing of Jerusalem during the first crusade. Starving and with their numbers greatly decreased, the Crusaders won Jerusalem after the Barefoot Procession. The barefoot procession occurred after a Priest by the name of Peter Desiderius claimed to have a divine vision in which the ghost of Adhemar instructed them to fast for three days and then march in a barefoot procession around the city walls, after which the city would fall in nine days. Amazingly enough, the crusaders marched barefoot, while the Fatimid forces jeered them. And, they were able to successfully besiege the city and the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. So there is precedent for miraculous happenstance. Of course, it easy enough to ignore the magic bits, or declare them charlatanry, or outrageous luck at your table.
THE SYSTEM & COMBAT SYSTEM
Outremer uses the “Starpool” house system from Flying Mice’s Starcluster game. This can be deduced by the fact that the text is cut and pasted without changing the chapter name. Task Resolution has the character rolling xD20 as a dice pool against a target number equal to the controlling attribute for the skill. (Attributes have a max of 15 usually). Characters roll a base D20 plus one D20 versus, an individual target number, for each point of skill. 0+ skill leaves you with one die against a Target Number equal to the controlling attribute. For every 5 ranks in a skill, a character has a level of Mastery which lets him reroll his skill attempt if the attempt fails.
Combat is a standard actions in initiative order individual attack and defense actions type system. The system is moderately lethal, and a competent and functional traditional combat system. Healing is fairly quick in the system, and there is possibility of magical healing. In addition rules for diseases and other typical hazards are included.
CREATING YOUR ASSOCIATION
Unfortunately, the game falls down a bit in its presentation in that there is no explanation of the overall design of the game. Such as the fact that each of the characters is assumed to belong to an Association. (It is tucked away in the GM section, and the discussion of troupe style play, for which this game is a great fit, is in the appendices. Also, Can I get a search and replace on that, it has OHMAS in several places where it should be Outremer.)
Now that we have figured that out, each player character is assumed to be part of the same association or organization. These organizations can be one of a variety of associations. Mercenary companies, holy orders, Courtier Retinue, Government Agency, Secret society, religious cult, Witch Hunters, scholars, or part of a trading company. You determine the capital available to the Organization, and use these ‘points’ to purchase a home base and attendant amenities. A Mountain Stronghold would cost your Assassin organization 256. The options range from a literal hole in the ground (caves) to a full on palace. You then spend the remaining points on a number of “areas of interest”, with a logistics and maintenance overhead. These amenities/areas of interest include guards and security, espionage assets, warships, transport, medical assets, armory, Arcane library, Training, Cartography, Mercenaries, Artificers. This system will let the players build their own Monastery Fortress “Krak Des Chevalier”, or the mountain stronghold the Ismali Assassins and the Old Man of the mountain. Each amenity gives the characters access to various bits of equipment, retainers, etc, and serve as great plot hooks.
Outremer’s character creation is done using a life-path system. Which I find helps immerse the characters more in the setting as they see their character evolve from the environment into which they are born. One of the biggest considerations for characters, if magic “is real” is if character follows a magical path. Which is a total commitment, they are limited to one Path of Power. Which offer great benefits and advantages. These paths include The Esotericist, The Magus, Minstrels, Crusader/Ghazi (holy/warrior paladin), The Kabbalist, The Sorcerer, Mechanists, Oracles, and Dervishes. Then there are the “quasi-path” hedge mystic types including fortune tellers, snake charmers. etc. There also options for non-humans, Half-angels, Immortals (there can be only one, or should be in a party), and Half-djinn. But we are interest in historical gaming, so you can agree to ban all this stuff at your table.
Eschewing these options, we go back to our life-path character creation. You first decide on a characters attributes (max of 15), distributing 44 points or a making a random roll for Strength(STR), Coordination(COOR), Agility (AGY), Endurance(END), and Charisma(CHA). In addition points are distributed or randomly for characters Intelligence (INT), Magical Potential (MAG), and Family Lifestyle stats. Family Lifestyle here is a bit like Social from Traveller. Players then have a life stages, mother’s milk (you get a few points to spend on skill your character would have learned growing up, at age 10), then Apprenticeship (Artisan, Farmer, Scholar, etc.) and Journeyman stages. The character must meet attribute requirements and lifestyle requirements . The is a waiver roll to let the character enter it anyway, each apprenticeship, journeymanship, and profession has similar rules and skills and attributes available to those in it, similar to Careers in Warhammer.
So overall a solid system though it can be a bit lengthy. This flexibility and depth of detail in the character creation system is taken advantage of in the GM section by pointing out how a character can be ‘scaled’ to a particular “age” or stop on his lifepath, and then have adventures occur there. So it offers flexibility in play as well. Overall a good system, reminiscent of Warhammers careers.
A chapter with a brief outline of the major tenets and religious observances of the major faiths, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are given, as well as rules for Tests of Faith, Tests of Will, possession and Relics Artifacts. The section on Islam is both respectful, and includes details on the many sects within the religion.
THE NATIONS OF OUTREMER
This chapter outlines the major nations of Outremer (there are many, as it was a very balkanized area inhabiated by many people.) An overview of the many peoples and how they are referred to as well as the major languages of the setting are included. Included in each description are overview of the states relations with the other city-states and holdings, as well as common traits of the people. It is a good chapter for all of the players to read, and perhaps print out, as its exotic names and overview of each nation are inspiring. Consider the Order State of Ascalon, with major holdings by The Knights Templar, Knights Hospitalier, Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, Knights of St. Lazarus, and the Teutonic Knights
The appendices are full of good supplementary material including Historical/Culturally appropriate names for Frankish, Arabic, Armenian, Jewish, Byzantine, Bohemian, Kurdish and Turkish peoples. A short chapter on Cuisine discussing the major foods that would be available as well as the common types of dishes, and the diets practiced by the various faiths. Good Info for bringing across the exotic atmosphere, no monkey brains though. There is an appendix Muslim Titles, so you know a Turkish Atabeg from a Egyptian Caliph, from a Mongol Khan. Again, brings across the exotic atmosphere.
APPENDICE A: Options
This chapter is full of good stuff for adding optional rules. The most interesting being the rules for Troupe play. Which along with the Generational play style outlined in the all too brief Game master chapter is a great fit for this game.
Overall Outremer is an unpolished Gem. It is chock full of Crusader era goodness and cool ideas. It could stand more detail for historical play and supplementary material to get people into the Crusader states and the Outremer setting.. My biggest complain is that that it is underdeveloped and underwritten at the moment. The game could use more explanatory text, and editing of its imported sections. Some of the sections feel more like notes than a full text. But if you and your group are up to diving in and using the bare bones presented, you have a solid set of rules and inventive alternate history to explore a terribly underrepresented and exciting setting for historical adventure. Check it out. God Wills it!