Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tommy's Take on Chronicles of Ramlar Player's Guide

Yeah, I'm way behind on reviews.

Next on the list is the Chronicles of Ramlar Player's Guide (Revised Edition) by White Silver Publishing, a class and level based fantasy RPG that says up front that it is NOT a Fantasy Heartbreaker.

I'm not even 100% sure what that means, but I love fantasy and don't really like D&D, so that means I tend to leave my opinions open when I look at fantasy RPGs.

This review is specifically of the PDF version, which you can get for $10 at RPGnow. The PDF is a fairly hefty 218 pages, and is basically half of the core, with the world Guide rounding it all out.

INTRODUCTION

One thing I will say about the intro. The authors actually encourage you to pick up other RPGs if you want to learn what roleplaying games are. That kinda of surprised me a little bit.

Anywho: Ramlar is the Maker of All, and you are adventuring on the world of Eranon, attempting to perform legendary deeds and become immortalized in The Book.

The game is powered by the A/B System (Armor/Body), and uses a percentile dice mechanic of the "roll under" variety. It also supports three different scales of action: Heroic, Adventurous and Mortal. The type of game played can modify

The introduction works pretty hard to sell you on the game, while providing an overview of not only the system, but the four quadrants of the world.

The tone is almost too conversational and seems to try too hard to sell you on the game, though your mileage may vary. However, there do seem to be some good ideas in the game, if the introduction is any indication, although I am not too keen on the idea of a combat system revolving around hit locations and armor protection to the point that the character sheets utilize diagrams for this purpose.

FOUNDING

This chapter literally begins with the creation of the world, combining a monotheistic approach with a polytheistic approach: Ramlar made the world and ten gods called the Alari - five male and five female - and gave them the power to make up to three further gods each, these being called the elari.

As tends to happen with pantheons, everyone got their own areas of influence, but one of the Alari, Gabrun, broke Ramlar's rules and essentially brought sin and evil to the world. Once Ramlar found out, he was fairly ticked.

Ultimately, the Alari each wind up with their own domains, but have to leave the world to the mortal races, at least directly. Not an uncommon set-up for a fantasy world, but certainly not a bad one. You still essentially get the gods to play around with, but their direct influence is limited.

One thing that stands out early on as a negative, to me at least, is that I am getting old...and in getting old, I am no longer wowed by tongue twisting fantasy names. Chronicles of Ramlar is full of those, with a lot of sound alike names like the Alari and Elari, for instance. For me, it made it harder to follow the entire Founding backstory, but that is certainly a personal preference that will not be shared by everybody.

RACES

Humans come in four different varieties: The "favored" ones being Auzronians, the hardy Frorians (who live in The Chill), the sinister Nurinians and the desert dwelling Osarians. Each entry describes the appearance, attitude, common religions and even the common racial relations of each subset. They also have Racial Attribute Adjustments, although this is hard to follow at this point since the attributes haven't been given yet, though you can probably work many of them out by the abbreviations. Also, every subrace gets a freebie Expertise rank related to their culture.

We get two sets of Dwarfs, the first being the Hethmarkn and the second being the Kasmarkn. The former are scholarly type dwarfs, while the latter are warriors. One bit of annoyance for me here is that the homeland of the Hethmarkn apparently cannot ever be found, to the point that the book tells the GM to block any efforts to reach it, made all the more annoying by the full page image OF the homeland found in this section. That said, the fact that there is a scholarly group of dwarfs who love interacting with other cultures is a nice change of pace in and of itself.

Elves get four subraces as well, starting with the Druegarn - black skinned, evil elves who live in the Dark Sprawl, also known as "The World Below". Fetharn are fairly "standard" elves, while Sinflar live in the mountains and Tylvare are nomadic elves who resemble Native Americans more than a little bit.

The Halflings are pretty much what you have come to expect.

The Spirinari are an unusual race who are incredibly long lived and can communicate with the dead.

We find out at the end of the chapter that you can't breed outside of your species, but you can interbreed among subraces.

ATTRIBUTES

There are eight Attributes that scale from 1 to 100+. Charisma, Endurance, Intelligence, Nimbleness, Perception, Strength, Tenacity and Wisdom are the eight, and it is noted that both Endurance and Tenacity play a role in a character's capacity for casting spells.

You can either randomly roll Attributes (percentile roll plus a modifier depending on how low you roll), point buy and roll + points, which generates a random pool that you then divide among your attributes.

After this, you can answer five questions about your character to gain 20 bonus points per question: They include gimmes like Name/Nickname, as well as things like specifying Secrets and Vows for your character. Then you apply racial adjustments, and this section does provide the adjustments for the mixed subraces (the regular adjustments are found in the entries for each race).

You gain Attribute points through the use of something called Demeanor/Theme circles, which are mentioned here but not explained until later in the book, kind of how the abbreviations for the Attributes occurred with no clarification until later.

Secondary attributes are Life Points (you may know these better as Hit Points), Mana Points (the amount of power you can use spellcasting), Contact Rating, which is the attribute spellcasters use to manipulate the power to cast spells and both an Attack and Defense rating.

As secondary attributes often go, these are determined by combining different primary attributes together.

Character level and Path level are tracked seperately, with overall character level often affecting the game world as your fame and/or notoriety increase.

PATHS

Rather than true character classes, you get five Paths to choose from, which do resemble classes but also help to dictate your character's fundamental ideology. In addition to Warriors, Rogues and Wizards, you can select Merthwargs (who are nature freaks not unlike Druids in Other Fantasy Games) and Sevar, who are very religiously focused.

Each Path provides access to a wide range of Path Talents, as well as recommendations for suitable Core Talents and Recommended Expertise Slots.

It is worth noting that, in addition to the five starting Paths, there are a number of Elite Paths detailed later, and you can apparently "multiclass".

My only real gripe here is that the book tells you these are not classes, and then gives you three Paths that are archetypical classes of most fantasy RPGs...plus two others that seem to fill common niches, but have completely, errrr...nonstandard fantasy RPG names.

TALENTS

You get four Talents at level one, and two each level thereafter, split up among Core Talents and Path Talents.

Some Core Talents include Animal Ally, Contact, Ambidexterity, Luck, Magic Resistance and Forceful Blow, so it does cover more than just the combat type stuff, although combat type stuff is certainly represented.

The Druid-like Merthwargs can gain things like Bestial Ferocity and Bestial Speed, Nature's Savagery (which allows them to emulate an animal's attacks), and Animal Stamina.

Rogue Talents include Backstab, Deadly Accuracy, Pull Strings and Sidestep.

The divinely inspired Sevar get Talents such as Divine Inspiration (add 10 to your chosen attribute for a single encounter, once per day), Holy Cry (once per day, allowing you to unnerve a target with a holy word) and Divine Strike (inflicting double damage with a single attack).

Warriors can gain talents such as Berserk, Opportunistic Snipe (helps you pick which hit location the attack hits), Reactive Strike (essentially a counterattack) and Weapon Mastery.

Wizards can gain Talents like Armored Spellcasting, Familiars and Magical Expertise.

Especially among the spellcasting Paths, some Talents are duplicated, for logical reasons (as Talents such as Armored Spellcasting should be available to all Paths, but make no sense as Core Talents, since Warriors and Rogues can't make use of them).

Divine Boons are special abilities granted to a character by their Patron God, and can be taken by any character who selects a Patron God. Most of them have two or three boons available to PCs, but they all also have an Automatic Ability that any character who gains a Boon can qualify for. For instance, chosen followers of Anate, goddess of Honor can challenge a single target to a one on one duel of honor that cannot be refused, and gain +10 to all attacks for the duration of the fight as long as they fight alone. Lynstal, God of Spirits, can grant a Boon that will allow a PC to exorcise spirits.

There are a whopping 41 Eleri and Alari that you can follow and gain benefits from, each with Boons tied to their Dominions. The Boons are all generally very cool, but the automatic abilities are even cooler, being nice, thematic touches rather than overwhelmingly cool powers.

EXPERTISE

These are kinda like skills, and are not heavily defined. Essentially, the more specific and specialized the expertise, the less expensive it is. "Actor" costs three Expertise slots, "Sailing" costs two slots and "Not In the Face" (helping you avoid being hit in the face) only costs a single slot per rank.

Ranks of expertise act as bonuses on Attribute rolls when relevant, but there are different guidelines for just about every step of defining and using expertise depending on whether you're playing a Heroic, Adventerous or Mortal game...but basically, you play it faster and looser in Heroic games, and more conservatively in Mortal games.

DEMEANOR/THEME

The text has talked about Demeanor/Theme circles quite a bit to this point, without actually explaining them. What Demeanor/Theme is, is your advancement. The character sheet has five D/T Circles, the first of which is defined (Participation) and the remaining four of which are left for the players to define. The circles are surrounded by ten smaller circles, and as you perform tasks relevant to your chosen circles, you fill in the smaller circles. Once you fill in all ten circles, you get a benefit relevant to your goal. The Participation Circle is how you level up, either in your chosen Path or advancing into a new Path, but you can also dedicate Circles to raising attributes, gaining Talents or Divine Boons, or completing campaign goals.

It's a very interesting system, one that allows the players to completely define what is relevant to their characters at any given point in time.

There is an additional benefit as well: You can spend the marks you have accumulated over the course of the game session, allowing you to either reroll the "Ones" die in the percentile roll, or adjusting the roll up or down 1 per mark spent.

It's an interesting system that isn't overly complicated, yet breaks from the standard "gather XP and level up" fantasy RPG trope.

OUTFITTING

While this is ostensibly the requisite equipment chapter, it also provides the monetary system(s). You can either play it straight, with standard coin counting...or you can abstract everything into "resource level", recommended for the more cinematic, Heroic games.

All of the listed weapons and armor have short descriptions to help you out, in addition to relevant game stats. Rules are provided for making repairs to your equipment, as well as modifying them, both magically and non magically.

A fairly extensive listing of general adventuring equipment (plus a healthy listing of toxins) round out the chapter.

It's not the greatest equipment chapter I've seen, but it does appear to be well done, and I like the option of abstracting money if you choose.

BRINGING ASHURLYN TO LIFE

This is a three page (including character sheet) walkthrough character creation.

ACTION & COMBAT

Now we reach what is, essentially, the rules chapter. First off, the books warns you to bypass rolls if the outcome isn't in doubt or if it's not really relevant to the situation, as many games do. It also encourages you to prioritize who gets to make rolls first based off of relevant ability. One area that can problematic is that it encourages a system of penalties and bonuses depending on whether a given action "enhances" or "deters" the "story"...I could see that turning into a notable conflict between GMs and players if they don't happenn to agree on how important something is...or just what IS important. Specifically, one instance of something that "deters" the story is using a suitable magic item to solve a mystery before the GM is ready. I've been GMing over 15 years...in my experience, you either work around stuff like that, or you don't give out items or powers that can DO that.

In addition to the roll-under mechanic, there are some unique rules present: If you roll a "0" on your "Ones" die, it is either a Sensational Success or a Botch, depending on whether or not you rolled under the selected difficulty. That's an interesting variant, and I kinda like it.

If you have a negative chance of success, and you roll a natural "01", you get to roll again.

Add 100 to the negative percentage, and if your second roll is equal to, or less than, the resulting number, you succeed.

On the flip side, even if your percentage is over 100% and you roll a perfect "00", you roll again and add the new result to 100. If the resulting roll is higher than the difficulty percentage, you do fail.

You can also determine the level of your success by using the "Tens" die which, if I'm reading it correctly, hinges on rolling as high as you can while still succeeding.

Many of the combat rules, including time, lethality and movement, are tied directly to the type of game you are playing, with Heroic characters essentially have plot armor and Mortals being in an "anyone can die" situation.

When making attack rolls, you compare your Attack Rating to the Defense Rating on an included chart to determine your actual chance of success. If the two are equal, for instance, the resulting chance is 50-50...except for Mortal games, which eschew the table altogether.

Hit location is VERY important in the A/B system, and successful hits use the "Ones" die compared to the relevant hit location table to determine where the attacks land, although you can ditch hit loctions altogether, or do it situationally for certain adversaries and so on...(like giving mooks just a hit point pool instead, for instance).

One thing that's VERY interesting is the Momentum Table. As you make successful attacks (and certain non combat actions), you can turn the Success Values into Momentum. At the start of the round, you can spend SV to gain certain bonuses, each with different values, such as damage bonuses, seizing initiative, making additional actions and so on. You can even use it to negate called shot penalties. For those who like options in their combat, this looks like a GREAT system, that stops short of being TOO crunchy (especially since the book tells you not to let ALL NPCs have access to it, as you will slow everything to a halt).

If you want to get REALLY crazy with it, you can take a Talent that lets you make Special Maneuvers, which you piece together from a checklist of modifiers. I would be shocked if this isn't the doing of Tony Lee - the main designer on the book and the guy behind Wild World Wrestling. Every modifier is explained, so you know what each of them do...and it all adds up to a final Momentum cost that must be paid in order to use the move.

MAGIC

As noted, there are three types of magic: Arcane, Divine and Nature. The spellcasting system itself seems to be pretty diverse, ranging from a mixture of memorized spells, to casting straight from a spellbook to improvising in order to modify your known spells on the fly. This is accomplished with a table of modifiers similar to the special Maneuver Creation that modifies the amount of Mana required in order to cast the spell. Casting spells uses your Contact Rating versus the spell's Difficulty Rating, just as if you were attacking someone's Defense rating.

The Magic chapter ends with rules for making magic items and new spells, as well as a list of magic colleges, with a paragraph or so of description.

SPELLS

This is the Big Spells List for all three types of magic. They are first listed, by school, in order of difficulty and then detailed in alphabetical order.

Arcane magic starts off with basic stuff like Minor Trick and Alarm and gradually grows through things like Wood Barrier, Skin ofArmow, Creation of the Dead and Siphon Soul.

Divine Magic offers things like Alert, Inspire, Bestow Luck, Consecrate Ground, all the way up to Resrrect.

Nature Magic begins with the simple stuff like Calm Animal and adds things like Cheetah Speed, Cure Disease, Call Lightning, Possess Animal and Control Weather.

Nearly 45 pages are given over to spell descriptions, and you will recognize certain homages to most of your favorite fantasy spells I would imagine.

The last few pages are devoted to Elementals, which can be summoned by magic and are created entirely BY magic. In addition to Earth, Air, Fire and Water, there are several nonstandard types, such as Mud, Lava and Vortex Elementals.

ELITE PATHS

You can stay on your starting Path if you like, or you can slip into an Elite Path as soon as you meet the prerequisites. While you can enter any Elite Path as long as you meet the requirements, every Elite Path is keyed to a Core Path and you can combine the levels from all thematically linked paths when determining your Path level.

Merthwarg Paths are Animal Master, Beast Shifter, Elementalist, Forest Guardian, Nature Master and Ranger.

Rogue Paths are Arcane Gypsy, Assassin, Deathbringer, Pirate, Shadow Master and Spy.

Sevar Paths are Death Knight, Demonbane, Faithkeeper, Inquisitor, Life Giver and Paladin.

Warrior Paths are Archer, Berserker, Blood Dragoon, Dragonslayer, Sky Knight and Weapon Adept.

Wizard Paths are Channeler, Necromancer, Plane Lord, Sage, Summoner and War Mage.

The talents are all very thematic with the Elite Path and generally pretty great, giving PCs many options for customization, especially since you aren't limited to any specific paths...making a Warrior/Paladin/Ranger if you really want (though it won't be the easiest thing to pull off).

One other thing that is pretty great is that you have to devote a D/T Circle to any Elite Path you want to gain...but the book does make a point of providing examples of the kinds of actions that would advance your intentions of gaining said path, like a Death Knight betraying an ally in combat, or relentlessly slaughtering innocents.

MONSTERS

While a full bestiary is in the World Guide, this is a sampling of monsters for folks with just the one book wanting to pick up and play. It should be noted that all of the non-humanoids have their own hit location charts provided.

Orcs, goblins, trolls and ogres are provided, as well as the swamp dwelling corac and the evil niscrian.

The book ends with a character sheet, as well as a slew of quick reference tables for character creation, the deities, the momentum table, combat sequence, you name it.

THOUGHTS

There is a LOT of potential in here, but it's hampered by some real flaws. The organization is the first problem, as things like the Demeanor/Theme advancement is talked about for a few chapters before it is every really explained. Another problem is that the Heroic/Adventurer/Mortal settings sound good in theory, in practice they turn into just a series of giant exceptions that can be a bit overwhelming. From a personal standpoint, I don't think I'm completely happy with any of the settings, but I would probably go with a largely Heroic game, plucking liberally from Adventurer and occasionally Mortal.

I also dislike many of the naming conventions. I get that this is fantasy, but I'm getting old and lazy, and things like Eleri and Alari and trying to remember the difference is more of a hassle than anything. Especially when "standard" fantasy names and tropes are jammed in alongside the more exotic ones, like "Wizard" being used alongside "Sevar".

That said, the Demeanor/Theme advancement is really cool, and I love the wide range of Talents and Paths available. The Special Move rules are also a pretty great addition, allowing you to customize your character's fighting style even further and the Momentum options are a great addition to combat without being overly done.


I also really enjoyed most of the art in the book, even if a few pieces turned up multiple times.

Using the right mixture of options, there is some fun to be had here...but organizational issues, Gods whose names sound alike enough that you can't tell them apart, and jarring tongue-twister naming conventions bring the overall assessment down a few notches.