Monday, May 16, 2011

Tommy's Take on Arcane Kingdoms, IZ: The Package and Weird West

ARCANE KINGDOMS

Arcane Kingdoms: Seven Realms Beyond The Horizon is a budget-priced, system neutral fantasy supplement by Sword's Edge Publishing with seven kingdoms that are meant to be placed as far away lands in your fantasy game. Each kingdom lists the capital, population, form of government, imports, exports, general description, life and society, important sites, regional history and "FX Campaign", which amounts to suggestions for nonhuman races that can be used to populate the kingdoms (thematically).

The Free City of Argopolis is an incredibly civilized nation that not only utilizes a three branch system of government, but is gaining some notoriety as the inventors of the wordpress, leading - of course - to the mass production of books. The FX notes do point out that it is likely that nonhumans in Argopolis would still wind up in ghettos and the like, casting a darker note on the enlightened society.

On the surface (no pun intended), you read "The Underneath" and you think "Oh, it's The Underdark...again". Not so...think something closer to the Morlocks from the X-Men comics. This is a forgotten society of vagrants, criminals and nonhumans who live just below the surface. It could make for a very interesting juxtaposition in any civilized city that lacks the necessary police force to enforce order below. The FX section is really interesting as it suggests that kobolds could be the driving force in The Underneath, which would be pretty shocking in most fantasy games.

The Commune of Katar Val only consists of about 1,200 people, and are constructed as a true democracy. In a "history is written by the winners" kinda thing, they managed to defeat rampaging bandits and marauders, and turned them into slave labor for their assaults. Elves are recommended as the primary race, with a few suggestions for the marauders, my favorite being trolls. Imagine being a mostly human group finding an Elven commune using Troll slave labor.

The Zeharis Protectorate is the most powerful and militarized realm presented thus far. A very structured, class based society. Again, the FX Campaign notes really takes this entry to the next level, suggesting dwarves as the primary race in the Protectorate, with the smaller realms under their protection being gnomes, halflings or even humans.

The Virikar Domains are a thinly veiled collection of viking nations with a few additional political trappings. Probably my least favorite thus far, but that has more to do with how much I like the other entries than anything else.

The Thanag Tribes of the Sahelli Steppes is a tribal formation of hunter-gatherers ruled by the Tribal Elders (who are usually the more useful, not necessarily the oldest). They have harsh punishments for those who cross the tribes.

The Lordok Nation is a loosely organized alliance of bandit tribes. The author, who had remained race neutral as well as system neutral throughout this book so far, gives his intentions away here by referring to them as goblins (which he notes is the original concept). In and of themselves, the concept isn't anything special...it's the backstory, where The Lordok Nation is said to have been a dominant empire ran by a powerful king that no other society now acknowledges even existed is the real interesting hook here.

I caught a couple of minor editing issues, which is really impressive as there is no editor listed. For $2, this is a really good idea mine, as long as you don't mind that there is no art in the book (which means that the PDF is ALL text, so it's not just padded out), and a few of these entries are easily adapted into even a published campaign (like The Underneath). Probably the one that works the least, conceptually, is the Zeharis Protectorate, if only because it came into power because of being a major spice exporter, so for no one to know about them seems a little...odd.

Great value for the price.

THE PACKAGE

The Package is a six page adventure (two pages are NPC stats, but there is little art, so it is almost all text) for Interface Zero that was released by Gun Metal Games late last year. As the name implies, it's pretty much an errand job for a group of PCs, easy cash for the delivery of a basic package. Not surprisingly, a mix-up between the PCs and another courier complicates matters...with the PCs winding up in possession of some very sensitive material, and thus targeted by some Very Bad Guys.

On one hand, ensuring that the PCs fall prey to the hook may require a bit of GM fiat, the adventure definitely makes up for it by leaving the resolution entirely in the hands of the PCs, giving them multiple options in which to resolve the situation. A good adventure (with an odd editing issue, such as one line towards the end that disappears into abrupt punctuation) that sets up the situation and lets the PCs do what they will. Great stuff, especially for the price.

WEIRD WEST

So I bought the Weird West RPG out of morbid curiosity, because it seemed awfully familiar. Before I had a chance to crack into it, I heard some good word of mouth and such, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

I like the Weird West genre...obviously, being a huge Deadlands fan and all. Weird West is pretty rules-light (the PDF is 8 pages, and since one page is a big chart and another is the cover, it's really only 6), and only running $1. You have four Attributes (Fighting, Grit, Magic and Skill) and 4 points to divide among them), with a minimum of 1 in Grit (and no other restrictions). Level advancement is decided whenever the group decides, with PCs getting 1 point of Grit per level, and the rest of Attribute advancement decided by Path (Adventure, Gifted, Fighter and Magician).

They can get special abilities for each point of Magic, such as Shaolin Monk or Fastest Gun in the West. The book covers a number of basic weapons, damage for which is capped based on Path. There are no monsters or generic statblocks included, and the game manages to make use of everything from a d2 to a d10 as well as d20 (no d12 love).

There's a decent skeleton of a very lite system here, and the promise of more to come, and I won't compare it to Deadlands (despite the genre), but I will say that I think it falls short next to Resolute in both content and presentation, which is pretty much the standard bearer for the "Budget Priced" RPGs.