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Shadows of Esteren - Of Men and Obscurities OST
by Tony C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/30/2015 11:15:29

I met these guys at Games Expo 14 and was overwhelmed by their gaming philosophy of liberte, egalite, fraternite (sorry, there is no word for cliche in French). They talked about immersing themselves in the gaming environment and were excited about the score that had just been written to evoke the mood of their 'dark' world. With video games music now regularly part of the classical charts alongside film music it is only natural to provide a soundtrack for RPGs. I've been waiting a year for a chance to hear it in its entirety and I'm not disappointed. This could add to the atmosphere of any fantasy RPG or even reading a book in the genre. Although there is a certain darkness it is gentle in many places and a pleasure to have on in the background. Esteren is a beautifully created world and this soundscape does it justice. Hopefully, it will have RPG designers regularly commissioning musicians alongside artists and writers when they develop new games and gamers will look back and say 'Oh, yes, it started with Esteren.' So buy this and immerse yourself one degree further in your favourite fantasy style world. When you want a change try the Final Fantasy series music (or even commission your own - I'm told the musicians hang out at peopleperhour.com (I have no financial affiliation to this site so mention it as a pointer to others). And, of course, when you're feeling light-hearted try playing Munchkin to The Liberty Bell or the Imperial March depending on your point of view...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Of Men and Obscurities OST
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Misael T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/16/2015 08:25:37

I've never read an RPG book which mixes setting, and gameplay so well. The books reads like a story, while presenting a simple yet fun mechanic for roleplaying and combat. The RPG leans more to narrative game play like Dungeon World, and Numenera, but does not feel alien to DnD players. It's a refreshing game especially for new players like me (only played one game of DnD 3.5). It's easy to pick up, and easy for the game leader to guide one through.

I recently played one of the adventures presented in the epilogue on Roll20, and it was amazing! Everyone felt like they were an important and distinct part of the story, and ended up very satisfied with it's ending. We're planning on continuing as a campaign. I'd totally recommend this book. Can't wait to get Book 1: Universe.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
by Michael H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/02/2015 10:44:34

This is the players guide for the Shadows of Esteren game system. It gives you a background to the game world which is given in a series of letters and tales from characters in the world. This allows you to not only get a feel for the world, but also shows you the different attitudes of the peoples rather than just telling you. The guide is very well written and illustrated to a high level. I really can't say how good the artwork is in this book.

The second half of the book gives you character generation, a basic description of the game system and combat system as well as the details of the various magical character types. There is enough here to run a game in the world, however there are no GM details which is a downside. The various hints throughout the book show that there are deep secrets in the game world, ones that are not yet available to the GM. BUT don't let that put you off. This is still a brilliant game, with a fully worked out world that you can run adventures in.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Satu R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/12/2014 11:33:15

A great fantasy horror game influenced heavily by celtic and norman mythology. A must try for anyone tired of common fantasy games and looking for something fresh and new.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
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Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/09/2014 19:25:19

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/05/20/tabletop-review-shadows-of-esteren-the-monastery-of-tuath/

The Monastery of Tuath is the fourth release for the critically-acclaimed Shadows of Esteren series. Each of the four Kickstarters has been more successful than the last, with The Monastery of Tuath bringing in 1,053 backers and raising $137,000. Not bad for a fifty page supplement and adventure combination, eh? Well, it deserves it. You might remember that back in 2012 I wrote glowing reviews of Book 1: Universe and Book 0: Prologue. The series would go on to win three awards in the 2012 Tabletop Gaming Awards like Best Art, Best New Game and Best Core Rulebook. 2013 only saw a single release for Shadows of Esteren – Book 2 Travels. While I personally wasn’t impressed with the content of this book, especially not compared to the high quality of the first two releases, the art was still some of the best we’ve seen in years, and the release easily picked up our Best Art award in the 2013 Tabletop Gaming Awards. Now here we are with the first SoE release of 2014, and I’m happy to say that The Monastery of Tuath is a return to greatness for the series and well worth picking up even if you never plan to use the adventure or location it contains.

The Monastery of Tuath is comprised of two sections: a supplement describing the location, the history and the background of the Monastery, and then an adventure that runs twenty some pages. The adventure is heavily influenced by In the Name of the Rose, which has also spawned a film starring Sean Connery and a poorly done video game rip off, Murder in the Abbey. Of course, the adventure isn’t a straight homage. It has its own unique Shadows of Esteren twist, involving magic, monsters and curses. At its core, though, the adventure is very much a whodunit style murder mystery with false finishes and a Rogues’ Gallery that will keep players busy for quite some time.

The first half of the book will see the most use, as it gives a lot of information not just on Tuath’s monastery, but monastic life in general for the Shadows of Esteren setting. The prologue is a two page piece of fiction depicting how this particular monastery came to be, along with the origins of its particular saint. You will also see how the number six pervades everything in the religion of the One. Six prayers, six notions, six vows and so on. It’s an interesting mix of Masonic and Christian homages. The six vows especially provide some great role-playing opportunities for any character who is a servant of the One. If you’re looking to play one of Soustraine’s adepts, you’ll definitely want to pick up The Monastery of Tuath for all the content and potential story seeds you and your GM will find in it.

I absolutely loved the section entitled “Monasteries of the One,” as it gives you an amazing amount of detail on monastic life within the game. In fact, it’s so well done, other low fantasy games could easily pick this up and use the content provided with only a little bit of modification. There’s so much info about daily life, chores, potential health and income issues that come with such a secluded life, and of course – church politics.

The first half of the book concludes with information about the specific monastery the book is named after – providing a small map, a detailed look at each room (21 in all) within the monastery, and a set of thirteen NPCs that currently reside within. I was really impressed by all aspects of the piece. The art and content were top notch and the topic is one that most games really don’t give you an in-depth look at. Generally, monks in tabletop RPGs tend to be more of the eastern variant, and getting over two dozen pages on the classical western version made for a very fun and interesting read.

Then there is the adventure. Although Book 0: Prologue gave us a set of really nice adventures, the one within The Monastery of Tuath is the best so far. If this is any indication of how the upcoming Ghost Stories adventure collection will be, I think Shadows of Esteren will be up for a few more awards this year as well.

The adventure is entitled “Vengeful Words,” and the piece says it should take you five hours or more to complete. The adventure contains three acts, each of which is comprised of multiple scenes, so the adventure could run a lot longer depending on how intricate investigations get or if your players are more used to hack and slash style gaming rather than adventures where success lies with wits over die rolls. “Vengeful Words” focuses on a murder mystery that takes place within the grounds of the monastery. At first it appears to be straight forward, but it is anything but. Sure, you have corrupt religious officials and a nebulous big bad who doesn’t actually make an appearance in the adventure itself (there are allusions to him though), but it’s got all the makings of a great horror story as well as a whodunit. You have a cursed book and vengeance from beyond the grave, and it’s definitely an adventure that will keep players entertained from beginning to end.

Besides the playing of the adventure, I also have to comment on how well laid out the piece is as well. While the Shadowrun Missions format of adventures is by far the gold standard in the industry right now for ease of use and flow, the SoE adventure layout is a close second indeed. There are little icons to help clue a GM in to certain things that will/should happen when they appear in the text. These include the Gore, Supernatural, Suspense and Psychology tags, along with cues for music or text in red that highlight the most important aspects of the adventure. “Vengeful Words” is just really well done in all respects, and even if you have no plans to play the adventure, it’s still a lot of fun to read through as well as to see how SoE adventures are laid out, allowing even inexperienced GMs to run them smoothly.

All in all, The Monastery of Tuath is a terrific piece and one well worth picking up. Although it is only fifty pages long, your money might be better spent picking this up as a PDF rather than in physical form, as this is a short supplement rather than a full sourcebook or core rulebook. Regardless what version you pick up though, The Monastery of Tuath is terrific and a fantastic addition to an already awesome RPG line. If you’ve missed out on the previous Shadows of Esteren releases, this might be the time to jump in and see what you’ve been missing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Monastery of Tuath
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Rafael C. C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/01/2014 06:28:14

Setting The universe of Shadows is a low fantasy setting with an strong focus on terror. It's like Ars Magica meets Call of Cthulhu. One of the strongest points of the setting it's the luring atmosphere where the players are encouraged to investigate and face the hidden horrors who dwell everywhere. There is no description for those monsters as the game director can choose the theme of their chronicle: the so called feondas ("Enemy" in the old language) range between anything you can imagine: from creepy insects that devour people from the inside to more orcish enemies (although the combat system is pretty deadly and other options different from combat are encouraged).

There are no wizards but alchemists (called magientists), clerics (from the Temple) and shamans (demorthen).

Stripped from the supernatural element, the setting has an strong remembrance of the highlands from Scotland during the dark ages, with the crown trying to unite the old clans.

The land it's a peninsula with no contact with the mythic continent: a massive array of mountains separate both lands and travel by sea is too dangerous (remember, monsters are not legends, they are quite real).

System Pretty simple. First you have five ways rated from 1 to 5. A value of 5 marks a strong use of that way but also holds some disadvantages. In example, a combative value of 5 marks an apt warrior but it also can mean a wild and careless person.

Then you have abilities/domains from 1 to 5. They represent some generic knowledge like close combat, travel, etc. You can specialize in disciplines, who give you the values from 6 to 15. Add one d10 to your way and your ability/discipline and surpass the difficulty threshold. That's all. As you can imagine from this, combat is pretty quick and deadly.

The system also focus in the growing madness of the players as they face the horrors of their adventures and has a pretty elaborated illness system, too. Life is hars in Esteren.

Overall, a quick and simple system that gets the job done and focus on interpretation.

Production quality This is it. The golden crown. Three 2013 ennies: best art, interior GOLD, best production values GOLD and product of the year SILVER are clearly a sign of what can you expect when you get any of the books. Full color and almost every page has an illustration that ranges from good to astonishing. A nice, non linear layout catches the eye and helped by the narrative (with the only exception of the system, everything in the book 1 is narrated as a series of letters that also contain seeds of histories) makes the reading a truly enjoyable experience.

Without any doubt, the three published books are amongst the most beautiful that you can bought for your library. The fourth book (an adventure inspired by The Name of The Rose and focused in the Temple faction) is just now on kickstarter and there is also a fifth book, the official campaign but only for french speakers yet.

Book 0 Prologue is an introductory kit but with three really nice scenarios. It's free for download due to previous kickstarter campaigns stretch goals.

Book 1 Universe is the core book and contains everything you need to play. No scenarios, they are in book 0.

Book 2 Travels is divided in two parts. The first one expands the geography and land description. The second one is a long scenario.

Highly recomended!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Tomaso M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/14/2014 18:05:20

It's a wonderful and incredibly detailed dark medieval low magic no elves (or smurfs) RPG. It's a French game very well translated and edited in english. I already own all the english base books and it's a really interesting setting. Very detailed, interesting, "magience" magic technology, shamanic and monotheistic religions in a underground conflict. Not an hack / slash RPG it's a more intellectual atmosfere game. Monsters are true Horrors and are not commonly seen. Very very nice! Give it a try! Book= prologue is free!!!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Gonzalo D. G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/14/2014 10:17:55

Shadows of Steren es un grandisimo juego. Tiene una ambientacion muy trabajada acompañada de un apartado grafico absolutamente perfecto e integrado con el trasfondo. Aunque este libro no posee todas las reglas es perfectamente jugable con no uno sino tres escenarios que gradualmente nos introducen el universo y nos acercan a un mundo que sin necesidad de razas fantasticas y mareas de magia devastandolo todo, se basta para llenar la mesa con misterio miedo y desafios.

Un hallazgo y una compra fabulosa.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by laurent c. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/14/2014 09:23:06

You shouldn't miss this RPG ! Esteren describes a complete and "wide wild" world with paths for many stories, mysteries, fears and success. It's built around simple rules, so you can keep focus on the main ambiance and stories.

Prologue is a good intro to the world, but I fully advice anyone to read the "Universe book", even if he's not a Roleplayer.

Oh, one more word... Each new page is a discovery, with creative page design, and more than this, wornderful pictures. These books aren't books, they're art !



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Evan K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/14/2014 08:14:23

This book sets the groundwork for Shadows of Esteren RPG game. It includes an overview of the setting; gives the general ground rules for the game rules and provides some simple scenarios to whet your appetite. Additional books in the series flesh out the universe which provides a sinister underpinning to a realistic world. This RPG does require a Game master (or game leader) and of course the success of a campaign can depend on their ability and knowledge of the world. Overall, it is highly enjoyable with mysteries to solve and a great world to explore.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Gauthier D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/14/2014 07:03:44

Plus j'avance en âge, plus mes goûts évoluent. Je suis passé d'une recherche de JdR complexes, avec des règles envisageant tous les cas de figure possibles, simulant de la meilleure façon tel ou tel détail, avec des listes exhaustives d'armes ou de sorts... à un intérêt grandissant pour les jeux dits d'ambiance. Les Ombres d'Esteren se situent tout à fait dans cette veine : instaurer une ambiance particulière, bien à part, sans être noyé sous des centaines de pages de règles.

Comment décrire cette ambiance? Je dirais "Moyen âge occulte et glacial". Moyen âge empreint de fantastique, de magie, certes mais plus proche d'un Cadfael ou du Nom de la Rose que de Willow ou du Seigneur des Anneaux. Un Moyen âge réaliste et froid, froid voire glacial, car je ne peux m'empêcher de penser au Trône de Fer en parcourant les pages des Ombres d'Esteren. Peut être un coté plus celte que nordique différencie ce jeu de la série de R.R. Martin. En tout cas une ambiance lovecraftienne, avec des créatures mystérieuses qui semblent menacer le monde mais dont on ne sait rien, dont on ne comprend pas les motivations.

Je ne vais pas parler de la forme, la qualité de ce livre, et des autres de la gamme, est connue (et reconnue!). Mais il faut quand même noter que les illustrations parviennent de manière magistrale à faire transpirer cette ambiance froide et réaliste.

Les règles sont simples : amis de la simulation tactique à la Pathfinder passez votre chemin! Quelques carac (originales), des compétences, un facteur de difficulté, du D10 et hop c'est réglé. A noter qu'un jeu de tarot paraissant avec un prochain livre de la gamme est censé permettre plus d'options et de tactiques lors des combats.

En résumé, si vous avez envie de jouer du médiéval occulte fantastique réaliste (je sais, ces deux derniers mots semblent se contredire mais pas tant que cela en fait, en anglais il y a le mot "gritty" qui conviendrait parfaitement, mais je n'en connais pas de traduction parfaite française...), dans une gamme sublime avec un suivi très actif, testez ce kit de découverte sans attendre.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
by Dominik W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/26/2013 10:31:40

Great content: A Low-Fantasy Setting without elves and dwarves, that is well written and has a dark touch, which I like very much. The background makes sense to me, the different fractions all have a purpose and the artwork is simply stunning and beautiful.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/13/2012 10:27:05

Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/10/24/tabletop-review-shadows-of-esteren-book-0-prologue/

During the Shadows of Esteren Kickstarter, if you pledged high enough, you were entitled to a free copy of Book 0: Prologue which would act as an introduction to the system. Even better, you got the book months ahead of the general public. I purposely waited on my review of Book 1: Universe so that I could have both Shadows of Esteren reviews up in the same week. If you read that review, you know that I’m pretty impressed with the system that Shadows of Esteren uses, but that I find the world a bit too generic and shallow. Of course, the system has just started being translated into English, and only with time will we know if this is a minor complaint or an issue that plagues the franchise from beginning to end.

With Book 0: Prologue, you are getting a ten page overview of the Shadows of Estern universe and system, six premade characters to add to the ones from Book 1: Universe and three complete adventures to play through: Loch Varn, Poison, and Red Fall. That’s a pretty nice package, but until we know what Studio 2 Publishing plans to charge for either the hardcover or PDF version, I can’t say whether this will be a good deal or not. I can say that I really liked the introduction to the world/system, found one adventure to be terrible, one to be exceptional and one to be pretty good aside from one issue that I can’t believe no one caught and that is sure to be terribly confusing if you play through all of these adventures with your gaming troupe. Now, let’s take a look at what the eighty-three pages of Book 0: Prologue has to offer.

The “Origins” section of the book is an introduction to the system and world of Shadows of Esteren. It’s VERY different in style and tone from Book 1: Universe and I really liked that juxtaposition. All of the information about the world, its peoples, the culture and so on in Book 1: Universe is written in character. By a lot of different characters, each with their own outlook and opinions. I really liked that, but it did make it hard to disseminate fact from fiction or to have some base universal viewpoint. The way Book 1: Universe describes the world of SoE is going to be a little too esoteric for a chunk of gamers, and so Book 0: Prologue will be of great use to them. The information about the Tri-Kazel peninsula is written out of character in the third person, so it’s more like most RPGs where the writers are explaining both the world and system to you without any artistry of fiction intermingled with substance. Because of that, you can really see what the developers are going for in terms of mood and tone. You get that nice baseline that a lot of DMs (or “Leaders” in the Shadows of Esteren system) want in order to make a game run smoothly. Now this doesn’t mean that one way of explaining the world SoE takes place in is better than another. One gives you vivid imagery but is also vague and sometimes contradictory. The other is textbook RPG writing, which makes it easier to grasp what the writers are going for, but it also looses a bit of the uniqueness that you find with the other format. In truth, I find both compliment each other nicely. If you have trouble getting what you need from Book 1, you might be able to get it from Prologue and vice versa. Now that’s not to say you get the sheer amount of content in the Prologue that you do from Book 1, but it will be a great help to those that don’t want to read two hundred pages of fiction, and only have that as an option, in order to get a feel for the game world.

The Origins section gives you history on the world and really talks about the supernatural and psychological aspects of the game. You’ll be able to read this small section and known all the different factions, classes and cultures on the peninsula. You also get some quick start rules on the system itself, including six premade characters along with their full page gorgeous artwork. I know I mentioned this in my review of Book 1: Universe, but Shadows of Esteren has the best art I’ve seen in an RPG in years, if not decades. I haven’t been blown away by RPG art like this sine Timothy Bradstreet’s early Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade work. Basically, a person can pick up Book 0: Prologue, read the rules section (but not the adventures!) and be able to walk away with enough understanding of the rules to PLAY the game with the help of a good Leader…albeit it not enough understanding to run the game itself. Think of Prologue as a very deep set of Quick Start Rules bundled with three adventures and six premade characters.

All three adventures contained in Book 0: Prologue revolve around the dangers of fossil Flux, a mysterious substances used to power scientific devices but that also can cause madness and sickness in living beings. In all three adventures it is suggested that players use the premade characters contained in either Prologue or Universe as those characters, hometowns and back story are intricately tied to the adventures. You can definitely play the adventures with characters made by the players, but if this is someone’s first experience with Shadows of Esteren, playing pre-generated characters might actually be the better choice in terms of learning how the rules – especially since SoE is more about the narrative than rolling dice.

“Loch Varn” is the first scenario and it’s by far my least favorite. I really didn’t like this at all. It’s not that the story is bad. The plot revolves around a ghost wanting revenge on those who wrong it and players having to make a tough decision between which side (the ghost or the one who murdered it when it was a mortal) is in the right. It’s how the adventure flows. “Loch Varn” involves a lot of flashbacks and blurring the line between what is dream and what is reality. It is bound to confuse players and Leaders alike…and not in a good way. Perhaps if this adventure is done by a Leader who knows the ins and outs of Shadows of Esteren AND you had players who had experience with the game under their belt, “Loch Varn” could be interesting and perhaps even fun to play through. However, for people brand new to the system, this adventure will not only fall flat on its face, but it will frustrate the entire troupe taking part and perhaps push people away from the system entirely.

There’s nothing I hate more than “It was all a dream” bits and “Loch Varn” uses this repeatedly. I get WHY, as it’s try to create a feeling of unease and make the PCs paranoid about what is real and what is not, but I’ve yet to meet anyone that likes this particular trope and to combine it with flashbacks is just going to leave newcomers to the system completely lost. “Oh you’re dead. Not really, it was a dream! OR WAS IT? Now you’re repeating the dream, but it’s in reality this time. OR IS IT?” Yuck. A good intro adventure should be somewhat simple and be a learning experience in terms of mechanics and the system’s world. “Loch Varn” just doesn’t do anything that an intro adventure should. Worse yet, the Leader will have to spend hours pretty much crafting this adventure into a very linear affair to make it work properly for newcomers and at that point, “Loch Varn” will be like roleplaying a visual novel. So this is definitely one adventure I would warn newcomers to steer the hell away from until both they and the people they are playing Shadows of Esteren really know what they are doing. Otherwise it’s like dropping Tomb of Horrors on someone whose only roleplaying experience has been linear turn based JRPGs.

Thankfully the second adventure in this package, “Poison,” is a PERFECT adventure for newcomers to Shadows of Esteren, be they player or Leader. You have a simple premise, players will have to flex their might and their minds to overcome obstacles and solve the problems and every aspect of the system gets a workout, but not so much that new players and Leaders become confused or have to look up how to do a particular ruling. The adventure definitely has a specific line of progress, but it never feels like it’s on-rails, so players have room to explore and try things out without feeling like they are holding up the story. It’s a good story too. The village of many (or all) of the PCs is plagued by a terrible sickness that wracks the sanity and flesh of those afflicted. Players have to figure out what is the cause of the disease and then try to find some way to stop it. There are lots of red herrings to keep the players guessing and the end battle gives you an option between a more mundane climax or one that leans to the supernatural/sci-fi. My advice is to take the more mundane one. It works better and it’s more realistic. You can even have a more depressing ending where, if the players don’t solve the mystery, the village erupts into pure chaos with the sick and diseased becoming completely psychotic, attacking anything living in their path. What I love most about this adventure is that it is horrific in terms of seeing friends, family and acquaintances becoming sick from an unknown malady, but the end result is never “a wizard did it” or something you’d see in a high fantasy game. No matter which climax you pick, the source of the poisoning and why it occurred it completely grounded in reality. This is definitely my favorite of the adventures and one I’d highly recommend to anyone who wants to play Shadows of Esteren. You won’t get a better feel for the system or the mood SoE is trying to express than right here.

The final adventure in Prologue is “Red Fall.” The one major problem I had with this adventure was that a major character that this entire adventure revolves around, Herven, has the same exact name as a major character which is integral to “Poison.” They are not the same character though and this will only serve to confuse players, especially as all three adventures in this book are meant to be played as a min-campaign of sorts. How hard is it to come up with a different name, especially for two very important characters in two very different adventures? This is just sloppy and I can’t believe no one involved with the editing process didn’t catch this. Thankfully this is an easy fix: CHANGE THE NAME OF ONE OF THE HERVENS! Still the sloppiness here has me a bit worried about the quality of things to come.

Aside from this one issue, “Red Fall” is a pretty good adventure, albeit it one that uses two very common tropes: amnesia and murder mystery. The marks the second adventure in this collection that uses amnesia as a core plot point to force PCs down the path the adventure wants them to take; the first being parts of “Loch Varn.” It bothers me that the same trope is used in two of the three introductory adventures as amnesia is up there with “it was all a dream” as something I tend to detest…and I know I’m not the only one. The murder mystery part is done especially well though as one of the PC wakes up by a lake, badly injured with the half eaten corpse of Herven beside him. He, and the other PCs have to figure out who killed Herven and why. The truth behind who killed him and why is somewhat unexpected (although a bit reminiscent of the old “WWE Higher Power” angle, if you get the reference) and that only leads to a bigger mystery that the PCs have to solve. The adventure does have a weird subplot about child abuse that the PCs and their players may never discover, but Leaders will find it an important plot point and help in the characterization of several NPCs and also in framing how the story unfolds. This is another adventure where the PCs might never discover the truth behind the murder or the bigger mystery behind that, leading to a definite interaction with the “supernatural.” I put supernatural in quotes even though the adventure itself does not, because once again, what happens here feels more sci-fi than mystical. That’s one of the things I like about Shadows of Esteren though. There’s the constant vibe of “Is it magic or science?” throughout nearly every aspect of the game. I’d definitely give “Red Fall” a thumb’s up. It’s not as good as “Poison,” but it is worlds better than “Loch Varn.”

So overall, I’m quite happy with Book 0: Prologue. I’m really digging Shadows of Esteren so far. I enjoyed the world and rules overview and I’m always blown away by the art. I have mixed feeling on the adventures. One was great, one was pretty good and one was not something I would ever recommend the use of unless everyone involved was well-versed in the system…which obviously isn’t going to happen stateside for quite some time. I’m a little worried about the overuse of memory loss as a plot hook, but I do like the constant use of mystery in each adventure and the need for characters to think their way out of situations first and foremost. Too many fantasy games, low OR high, are almost purely combat oriented and I want story when I play a tabletop RPG. If all I wanted was mindless killing, then I have plenty of video games to let me do that. I’m hoping that with further published adventures, we’ll see something else used to hook players into participating. Still, two out of three adventures are well worth experiencing and the overview bit is wonderfully done. If you pick up Book 1: Universe, you’ll want to pick up Book 0: Prologue as well, simply because of how useful a budding SoE Leader will find it.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 0 Prologue
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Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/13/2012 10:26:00

Originally written at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/10/22/tabletop-review-shadows-of-esteren-book-1-universe/

I, along with 704 other backers, happily took part in the Shadows of Esteren Kickstarter campaign back in July of this year. I had been hoping for a while now that Shadows of Esteren would receive an English translation. Sure I read/write/speak French, but importing a hardcover RPG sourcebook of this size is not only cost-prohibitive, but as most of my friends aren’t francophones, playing the game would take a lot of work and even more patience. So when Studio 2 Publishing announced the Kickstarter, I was not only one of the first to throw money at them, but I was down for the $90 Limited Edition variant… which my pet rabbit has already managed to gnaw on, unfortunately.

In the original Kickstarter campaign, Studio 2 described the game as “somewhere between Ravenloft and Call of Cthulhu,” but I wouldn’t call that quite right. Shadows of Esteren does have a sanity meter, but it’s more akin to the old video game Eternal Darkness, as you can regain sanity in SoE after being exposed to forbidden magick and horrific creatures, where in Call of Cthulhu, your maximum possible sanity meter crumbles along with your current sanity pool. As well, Call of Cthulhu is far more research oriented, whereas Shadows of Esteren is more low fantasy adventure. As for the Ravenloft part, I can’t really say that is correct either. In Ravenloft, things are a lot more subtle. Players and NPCs might suspect there is something amiss, but a quality Ravenloft adventure/campaign tends to keep PCs in the dark about what sort of monstrosity is out there waiting to devour them. In Shadows of Esteren, every villager, nomad and town drunk knows that there are hideous creatures of all shapes and size waiting to do harm to humanity. These creatures are collectively known as Feondas. When everyone knows there are creepy crawlies out there, you don’t actually have a game with a horror/terror element. Instead, it’s just another fantasy game. After all, you can just replace Feondas with “orcs” or “mind flayers” and it’s roughly the same effect. So I will admit that I was disappointed that Shadows of Esteren is nothing like a “Ravenloft meets Call of Cthulhu type game, but I did find the book and the rules quite fascinating. If you’re looking for a more apt comparison for what this game feels like, think perhaps Vampire: The Dark Ages, except you’re playing as a mortal. It’s the same vibe, as neither game has a Masquerade between man and monsters. It’s just taken for granted in both that there are things that want to eat people out there. It’s just in SoE, you’re playing as the people. Another good game to compare SoE to would be Mayfair’s old Chill system, but set in the Dark Ages instead of modern times. Both games feature PCs trying to figure out the truth of the evil creatures that wish to do humanity harm, and both games let the PCs be able to fight back rather handily (again, unlike Call of Cthulhu). So think of Shadows of Esteren as that – Chill meets Vampire: The Dark Ages rather than Ravenloft meets Call of Cthulhu and you’ll go in with a better mental picture. That’s still a great combination too.

I will say this about Shadows of Esteren – it has the most amazing art I think I’ve ever seen in a tabletop book. I haven’t been this blown away by RPG art since I was a kid viewing Tim Bradstreet’s stuff in Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade. There are about ten different artists that contributed to Shadows of Esteren and I can’t think of a better team that I’ve ever seen assembled for an RPG. Seriously. In any other RPG book that I’ve flipped through, there is always one or more artists whose style or work I find displeasing. It’s all opinion, but this is honestly the first book where I was consistently impressed by each and every piece of art doting my screen or book. My wife, who has never played a tabletop RPG in her life, also loved just flipping through the pages and gazing at the art. Even if you never play Shadows of Esteren, it’s worth picking up this first book for the pictures alone. Had I known that I was going to be this blown away by the visuals, I would have upped my pledge to the $250 or $1000 image and picked up some original commissioned work by the SoE team besides the limited edition version.

Another thing worth noting about Shadows of Esteren is that the game is story first and rules second. There is an exceptionally detailed and deep character generating system (character sheets are three pages long!), but the book is definitely about the land of Tri-Kazel and its inhabitants. 173 out of the 292 pages of the book are about the world rather than the systems. That’s roughly sixty percent of the book. As well, the parts of the book that describe the world of Shadows of Esteren are placed at the front, and only once that content is exhausted does the book start to talk about the systems and how the game is played. This really sets the tone that Shadows of Esteren is about the story the Leader (term for the GM/DM in the game) wants to tell WITH his player’s help rather than a system where die rolls determine how things flow. In fact, the game outright admonishes the use of dice unless absolutely necessary. It’s generally used for a dramatic moment where neither the player nor Leader can be sure if a character is able to actually pull off their action, or as punishment if a player is acting outside of the personality set down on the character sheet. This should probably help you decide whether or not this is the type of RPG you’d like to play or run, but there’s one other big aspect of the writing style that you should be aware of. The entirety of the story/world setting sections are all written “in-character” so to speak. Each chapter and section within the chapter reads as either first or third party descriptions of Tri-Kazel by various residents. The end result that the book reads like a jumble of short stories that may or may not give you the detail (or actual useful information) that you are looking for. On one hand, I really liked this, as it continued to enforce that Shadows of Esteren is about storytelling rather than rolling dice. I also liked that, because it was by specific citizens, the information that you are given is suspect at best, mainly because some of these people clearly have agendas or points of view.

Perhaps the weakest thing about Shadows of Esteren is the world itself. It’s extremely generic and feels like just about any other low fantasy world out there. You have humans and only humans, but you have different societies and races. You have magic-users (known as Demorthen) and clerics, although the effects of spells are more subtle than in high fantasy, where you have fireballs and disintegrates happening left and right. You have the Varigals, which are basically wanderers or gypsy style rogues, and there are Magientists, steampunk style scientists. The Magientists will probably get the most attention from gamers, as Steampunk in Western culture is about where it was in Japan in the mid 90s, but I really didn’t like this being thrown into the system. I mean, I love some quality Steampunk, Sakura Taisen for example, but you can’t have one aspect of the game being about a millennium ahead of the rest of the world and not expect things to rapidly become unbalanced. Do you remember the old (and awesome) video game Arcanum? Think that, but with tech being far more powerful and unbalanced compared to sword and sorcery. I just feel this could have been fine tuned along with the overall world of Tri-Kazel itself. It just feels like another generic low fantasy world in a Dark Ages setting, but with its own terminology for common tropes in order to make it feel less paint by numbers.

The character creation system is where Shadows of Esteren really shines, as quite simply, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. Sure there are some similarities to other systems. It has the aforementioned sanity gauge, which is obviously inspired by Call of Cthulhu, but the character creation process and everything about it really stands out as unique and impressive at the same time. Instead of specific stats, you have five “Ways.” These ways are: Combativeness, Creativity, Empathy, Reason and Conviction. You can either have them numbered 1-5 in any order (as in Empathy with a Rating of 4, Reason a 2 and so on) or you can divide fifteen points between them. Neither higher nor lower is better in any particular score. Having a 5 in Empathy, for example, means you are exceptionally empathic, but it also means you are more susceptible to mind control or being duped by a good, albeit false, story. Meanwhile, a 1 in Empathy means that the character is probably cold, selfish, or a loner, but it also means they are in complete control of their emotions and can generally tell a falsehood being told. This is a really great way to do stats, as it forces players and Leaders to look at the negative aspects of having a high score in a particular quality as well as the advantages to a low score in a similar field. It also makes players flesh out their character’s personalities and backgrounds, which is never a bad thing.

There are eighteen sample “professions,” which would be the equivalent of a character class. The game allows players and Leaders to make up their own, but the eighteen here, ranging from Bard to Peasant, should cover most of your players’ needs. Each profession gives a PC their primary and secondary skill, netting them five points in for the former and three points for the latter. Once a character gets more than five points in a skill, they gain a Discipline, which is a more formalized version of the skill. For example, let’s say I decided to make a Merchant. My primary skill would be Relation, so I’d gain five points in that, while my secondary skill could be either Erudition or Craft. Then let’s say, during character creation, I get my Relation up to six points. I would then gain a Discipline from the Relation list. Those include Charm, Command, Diplomacy, Faction Knowledge, Etiquette, Intimidation, Sweet Talk and Persuasion. I’d probably take Persuasion, as I’d be doing a lot of haggling to keep my prices high. So on my character sheet, I would fill in all five bubbles for Relation, and then underneath I would note my Discipline of Persuasion is at Level 6. I’d get to add six to my point total any time I tried persuading someone, and five for any other time I could use Relation. I say point total instead of roll because the game doesn’t require you to roll. Let’s say I wanted to persuade someone. I’d use my six points in Persuade plus whatever my Empathy score is. Each skill has a Way attached to it. In this case, Relation is tied to Empathy. So my total score would be six plus Empathy. Let’s say for the sake of this example, my Merchant has a 4 in Empathy. So my point total would be 10. Thus, I would NEVER need to roll on any Difficulty Challenge (DC) of 10 or less. It would be an automatic success. If I ever needed a score HIGHER than ten, I could roll a D10 (ten sided die) and add that to my total. In this respect, the game is very much like third edition Dungeons & Dragons. However, Shadows of Esteren doesn’t require you to roll. If you can do a really good job roleplaying and/or describing your actions, you can get a success. Again, the key is telling a quality story rather than letting the dice decide everything.

Other stats include Strength, Armour and Defense, which are determined by cumulative totals in various Ways. There are Advantages and Disadvantages you can take, similar to Merits and Flaws from White Wolf games. You can even double stack most Advantages for a more powerful effect. For example, my Merchant would have 100 points to spend on advantages (more if he takes a disadvantage). I could take Charismatic (30 Points) which would give me +1 to Performance and Relations. I could take it a second time for a total of +2 to both skills, and then it would be called “Magnetic” instead of “Charismatic.” I could then spend the remaining 40 Points on Intuitive and give myself another +1 to Relation (total of 9 right now if you’re keeping track) along with Travel and Demorthen Mysteries. See how quickly things could add up?

Something else worth mentioning is that there are NO monster stats in the book. You are given a brief overview on Feondas, but it is completely on the Leader to design and develop antagonists from the ground up. Some players may absolutely adore this level of creative freedom, while some might be frustrated that there isn’t even a sample creature or a tutorial to help them make something. Again, it all just depends on what kind of gamer you are. I’m sure that future releases will delve more into Feondas and various examples of them, but this first book merely sets up the universe of Shadows of Esteren. With Book 0: Prologue having recently been made available to Kickstarter backers, and knowing that the line has at least Book 4: Secrets back in France, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a more fleshed out system in English sooner rather than later.

All in all, I’m a huge fan of Shadows of Esteren and it’s probably my favorite new system of 2012. It’s exceedingly rare that I purchase a physical copy of an RPG book these days. The last time I did so was the Call of Cthulhu 30th Anniversary Edition and the next time I’ll be getting one is the Horror on the Orient Express remake due out next August, so it’s a pretty big deal that I plopped down a large amount of cash for the Limited Edition. Aside from the slightly gnawed on cover, I’m glad I did, because the system is fantastic, the art is some of the best I’ve ever seen in an RPG, and the world, while generic, is extremely detailed and offers so much to an enterprising and creative Leader. I wouldn’t recommend this to someone as their first ever game or to someone who is used to a more structured system, but for everyone else, this is probably the best low fantasy game I’m ever come across, and I can’t wait for the rest of the system to be translated into English.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows of Esteren - Book 1 Universe
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