An extract from the first page of the book:
“If tabletop roleplaying games are not familiar territory, this is a great game to start with. It is easy to learn and is filled with examples. For those who have played RPGs before, but have not acted as the GM, The North Sea Epilogues is a perfect way to learn the craft”.
No and no.
To start the ball rolling the players, and presumably the GM, nut out the players’ clan. The book offers a short series of questions that will , very loosely, define the clan. As this review continues, you will notice that questions are this game’s schtick. We are told the clan will be small with little influence—something which will be contradicted in the coming campaign. New players may struggle here.
Next there’s a single page on viking life. A new player may need to Google but since this is a world loosely based in the realm of history we need more.
Hero creation is another series of questions backed with some light crunch making up the game statistics. More questions for that new group. The player also chooses a path which calls for yet more questions, grants some equipment but ultimately provides a mechanical bonus if relevant to the action at hand.
Following a brief but good (for me but probably not for a fresh player or GM) overview of the game’s flow comes the GM’s chapter and here is where we can say goodbye to the notion that this is a game for new players and game masters.
To perform an action, also referred to overcoming (which is fine), the player throws a die and the GM references a chart giving the difficulty level which includes a range of numbers which are not named. If the die plus modifiers equals or exceeds the mystery range of numbers a success is achieved, the more difficulty levels exceed result in a more beneficial outcome. This is also referred to as the number of successes achieved.
The next number is the “Target Number”; that unnamed range of numbers that must be met or exceeded by the die roll isn’t the target number. Strange. Broadly, the target number is the number of times a successful die roll is required to succeed. A better term is required for this target number.
For the new GM, there’s no assistance given to determine which of the numbers in the difficulty level range should be used for determining the target number required by the die roll, no, I mean success level, no I mean, darnit, I don’t know what those numbers are called. Further, there’s almost no guidance on the subject of those target numbers which are key to determining the outcome of every action with the exception of general actions which only require one success, after that the new GM is on their own. Additionally, the GM is advised to consider the attributes and skills of the character when settling on a difficulty level. No. A task is as difficult as it is; that task is made easier with suitable mitigation which is, or should be, considered after the difficulty level is set.
Scenarios and campaigns. I’m resisting the urge to apply quotation marks to these to nouns. A new GM will have no idea what to do with these things which make up the bulk of the book. Each is comprised of a long list of questions the novice GM must answer. That new GM will surely flounder. Essentially, a very brief opening event kicks off the adventure then stalls as that novice GM actually writes the adventure. What happens in the middle? What happens at the end? The GM answers the questions as best he or she can making a stab at the author’s intent.
In one scenario a huge rock, with a mysterious rune, appears on the edge of the clan’s land. Even the author doesn’t know why it’s there or what it represents. Instead, the GM must decide. I should point out that gods and magic do not exist in this setting so the poor struggling GM has to come up with a viable mundane reason, or perhaps wisely, not present a clear outcome. When I first started out in the hobby I read the Homes Basic D&D book and whilst excited to play, I didn’t understand it at all…until that is, I read the included adventure. Make of that what you will.
Not a scenario or campaign in any kind of traditional sense and certainly a minefield for those whom have never played or taken the role of game master.
Here’s a few other thoughts: The writing is, at times, clunky. I stumbled across some instances where a number appears in the text where a word is required, for example, “A huge man appears before you, the biggest 1 you have ever seen”. From an editorial view this is rubbish. Also, the text makes little or no distinction between the player and character resulting in many instances where the character, rather than player, is called upon to roll a die. No.
More clunky: In an attempt to remain gender neutral, players and characters are referred to as “they”. In so many cases it just doesn’t read right. There are many alternatives, the obvious being, “the character” and, “the player”.
On a personal note, the start of the book asks the gamers to respect the feelings of one another, to the point of suggesting a safe word to indicating an impending trigger…I don’t think you need a role-playing game to tell adults and children alike to be nice to each other.
In summary, this game needs a good serving of background material; the writing sometimes (not often) needs an edit, not just for spelling but for context and readability. The rules, which are interesting are also opaque, more work is required; more detailed examples needed. Without a structured scenario, new players have no where to go. At least one traditional adventure should have been included. A series of questions do not an adventure make.
I don’t dislike the game, it’s a 2.5 to 3-star effort that could have been so much more. However, for my tastes I probably should have purchased the PDF before ordering a hard copy.