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Spellbound Kingdoms $19.99
Average Rating:4.6 / 5
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Spellbound Kingdoms
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Spellbound Kingdoms
Publisher: T. Shield Studios
by Kenneth R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/02/2019 12:05:19

I don't get to run or play much these days, but Spellbound Kingdoms is one of those fun, exciting, yet familiar systems that makes me want to badger my friends into playing. I've read it multiple times and each time I come up with new ideas as to how to use its systems and setting. A campaign against one of the monstrous kings of the Kingdoms almost writes itself, while the various player options let a party tackle the idea in so many ways that it doesn't feel like it'd ever grow stale. Want to be the tiny band of outlaws striking down the corrupt king in his throne room? Do it. Leaders of a mystical order of revolutionaries out to change the world in the name of their prophesied savior? Go for it. Powerful lords, generals, and high priests starting a civil war to claim it all for themselves? Heck yes. Mad inventors ready to blow up the realm if you can't have it? Please, let me run this game for you.

This book is one of the more imaginative takes on the whole... vaguely medieval European, dark lords and adventurers, fighters and wizards Thing that I've seen. So low a bar to clear that someone buried it six feet under, yeah? SK pole-vaults over that bar as the creator, Frank Brunner, was clearly having a ridiculous amount of fun writing the game and wants everyone to have at least as much fun playing (and even running!) it. Plus, Brunner's mechanics are just plain clever. My biggest issue is that the book could have used another editing pass to clarify a few spots, but as a rule the game is very straightforward with plenty of wiggle room for exciting nonsense.

The core resolution mechanic comes down to rolling a (small) dice pool to look for successes, though the dice can vary in size across the pool. It's not all d6s or d10s. They can also explode up to a higher die type (d6 to d8), or be reduced to a lower one by confounding factors (d6 to d4). It's hardly a new way to handle dice in a game, but Brunner sticks with it clean through the system rather than indulge in a bunch of unique subsystems. It makes it simple to tie all the different game elements together as it covers social combat, running organizations, waging war, waging shadow wars, chase scenes, and more. You could, say, roll the Force score of your organization to try to intimidate someone if you don't have a relevant skill ("You know who I work for, right?"), or divert some military forces to a raid against your foe in a shadow war ("Whoops, someone must have told the watch about your smuggling operation. Oh dear, who could it be."), or run one PC's chase scene clear through another PC's social scene to create a distraction for a third PC to take advantage of to steal something. And it's all just, "Okay, roll this stat. That skill? Sure, go ahead. Yeah, the distraction lets you use that other skill as well. Target number of 4." It's clean and direct.

This isn't even getting into the more "narrative" style rules the game runs with, as things like Inspirations and Mood are important to every character. These aren't just vague motivational statements that occasionally provide a bonus point, these are central mechanics to each character with meaningful scores and that can be attacked. Your Mood is important to keep up as it is a health bar that can be attacked socially or soak physical damage for you as your heroic spirit keeps you going, or spent to improve your rolls. Yes, this means you can insult-swordfight your way through a fight.

As for Inspirations, well, let me quote The Princess Bride: "Even death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while." These are actual game mechanics.

I could go on. And on. And on. I already have a fair bit, though. So, to summarize... I've read this game clean through twice and am considering a third read just for the fun of it, and to see what other new ideas start bouncing around in my head.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbound Kingdoms
Publisher: T. Shield Studios
by Adrian S. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/27/2011 00:21:16

It’s not often that I bother to look at new fantasy settings – I have a well-defined comfort zone and like to stay there. And then ‘Spellbound Kingdoms’ crosses my reading list. Sometimes it is good to look outside of your comfort zone and see if something else sings to you. This is the first iteration of SK I’m familiar with, and it does note that there has been some streamlining and community consultation in the rewrite process – with some material added from the fans. This is the type of collaborative approach that meshes well with my sensibilities and so I read on.

SK offers a brilliant, and quite innovative approach to the genre, by using emotional attachments, known as Inspirations to drive characters, give them depth and purpose, and in great circumstances – even stave off death. In SK, the kingdoms are shaped by their rulers, and each has a Doom, a basic reflection of the character and well-being of the nation. Knowing that dreams are powerful, most rulers enforce the idea of accepting one’s lot in life and never striving above one’s rank. Commoners who dream are dangerous, and so the average person is not aware of the marvellous power of their Inspirations. Character creation is also ruled by Histories, descriptive phrases that tell other players something about the history of the character, but also provide a skill. For example, if I have ‘Pickpocket of the Wharf Rats guild’, this tells other characters something about my past, but also gives scope for the types of encounters where this would come in handy. It’s pure efficiency – elegant and simple, but with a big payoff. The combat styles are likewise playful, evocative and narrative. Basically, you can choose a fighting style and this unlocks certain manoeuvres with varying results. It isn’t complicated and adds to the story. Want to sip a cup of tea whilst fighting an opponent one-handed? It’s not only possible, but your opponent is very likely to not only suffer a wound or two, but also a wounded ego as his Reputation takes a battering. In SK, a well-placed word, or particularly spectacular defeat can cut much deeper than a blade, so social combat is a facet of any encounter. Even though there are only two races – Humans and Trolls – in the world, the author has done a splendid job of making all of the different specieis/ethnicities unique. From the sinister Wights, to the feral Princes of Wolves, all have strong potential as PCs. I saw no wasted material here. Likewise, the Classes are all rife with opportunity.

The other two standout features are the Mass Combat rules and the Organisation Rules. For the former, it allows you to quickly resolve battles on land, sea and air, and at any scale imaginable, but also retain the narrative of the battle. The rules for Organisations allow you to set wide-reaching agendas for power groups in the setting, and creating your own Covens, Churches, Armed Legions, Noble Houses or even Savage Tribes and Trading Companies. The rules then show how these groups can interact with each other, lending support, launching shadow wars, manipulating each other or even growing child organisations under their banner.

The only drawback to the book is that the author does comment a few times on his poor writing style. I’ll address this with a couple of points – but firstly, let me say I saw no evidence to support his claim of poor writing. It is conversational in style, and feels like a gaming buddy explaining a really cool idea that they have enthusiasm for. Secondly, his choice of examples is excellent and the names used in the book took me back to my first Conan, or Grey Mouser books. His grasp of evoking a ‘sword and sorcery’ feel is solid, and made the book even more enjoyable. Likewise, the use of classical pieces of artwork added to this ‘old school’ feel, and the marriage of word and art is almost flawless. The feature art pieces at the beginning of each chapter gave me pause to reflect on what I’d be learning next. My recommendation would be to remove any mention of poor writing style (which I found very jarring) and simply let the reader make up their own mind.

If you are looking for something more sophisticated than ‘go to dungeon, slay goblins’, this is for you. If you are a GM wanting to challenge your PCs to be more creative, this is for you. If you are a fan of sword and sorcery and just want something new for your gaming table – then this is for you. Enjoy.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbound Kingdoms
Publisher: T. Shield Studios
by Andrew F. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/01/2011 22:14:44

Excellent game! I was not expecting much more than a sourcebook. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I began to read Spellbound Kingdoms. It is indeed a great sourcebook but so much more. It is a completely innovative new roleplaying system. I think it is fair to say that their is no other system on the market quite like it.

The combat system alone is worth the price of the book. I strongly encourage anyone looking for a great new system to try out Spellbound Kingdoms. I will give a more detailed review soon. Suffice it to say I have been gaming for 35 years and have adopted this as my weekly game. My friends love it as well. Excellent work.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Spellbound Kingdoms
Publisher: T. Shield Studios
by Erathoniel W. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/26/2011 18:36:53

Spellbound Kingdoms provides a blend of storytelling and traditional combat system design principles.

It is very heavily focused on dramatic flair and the development of characters, but at the same time allows players to enjoy a game with hard mechanics to back up their game. Combat is one of these examples. There are ways for almost every maneuver to be narrated in a fun and exciting way that adds to the flow of play, but there are still hard mechanics to back up the actions of characters.

The combat system is also very interesting. There are multiple styles (both for magic and mundane combat), which flow from moves which balance a character all the way to very powerful but unbalancing moves, leading to a flow of combat that starts slow, then rapidly speeds up, with the potential to end the combat quickly at the potential cost of falling behind the normal rythm of combat.

Spellbound Kingdoms does everything, but still manages to do so in a way that is very non-imposing, each segment feels like its own segment, and you could run a segment entirely as the master of a thieves' guild or the commander of a massive army, then transition back to a traditional hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, social scenes, or chases through dreary cities.

For taking a unique approach to everything, and finding stuff that just plain works, I give Spellbound Kingdoms a 5/5.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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