Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tommy's Take on Kiss My Axe

Sword's Edge Publishing released Sword Noir last year, a new fantasy game inspired by a lot of older elements (FATE and Savage Worlds being among them). This is their follow-up game: Kiss My Axe, taking similar elements but placing them in a viking centric game.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Kiss My Axe uses the same basic system as Sword Noir, which I reviewed here. You can get the PDF for $3.99, or the PDF and the softcover for $10.12, both at RPGNow. Like Sword Noir, it is not a large book, only about 70 pages. It is in black and white, with a stylized look that isn't too flashy.

The opening of the book talks about how Kiss My Axe was inspired by the 13th Warrior, which was a very good film with an epic ending, and gets into the Viking Ethos (which can be summarized into Glory, Loyalty, Generosity, Hospitality, Fearless and Cunning).

Character creation is largely the same as Sword Noir, with a few changes: Each character has a Concept, a Faculty, Seafaring, Prowess (which is divided into Fighting, Style and Protection), Traits (Physique, Charisma and Cunning), other Qualities (player defined) and Pivots. Note that, should you not play a Viking, Seafaring is replaced with something else that is culturally appropriate. These are ranked from Weak (-6) on through to Legendary (+8).

As you could probably tell, the game takes a more focused approach towards combat with the Fighting traits, and the rulebook breaks down character creation for three different characters (a Heroic character, a regular character and a minion) at once. The Vikings also gain Fame and Reputation, as well as Weaknesses and Luck.

As with Sword Noir, Critical Failures can allow you to pick up Advancements, which was one of my favorite mechanics from that game. Combat is pretty close to Sword Noir's though Style can be used to influence combat, and can score you Stunts on Critical Successes.

Magic, as befitting the Norse roots of the game, uses Runes as the basis of magic, and spellcasters assemble their spells from a table of effects. Extra levels of success on the die rolls (every 6 points above the target number) grants the spellcaster an increase on the components of the spell, but failing to properly cast the spells can wear you out.

A small bestiary (heavy on the giants) is provided, though a few other entries are present. If, like me, you wanted monsters in your Sword Noir, this isn't going to scratch that itch, exactly, but it's a welcome addition.

The settings chapter provides information on three historical eras (The Scandinavian Bronze Age, the Time of Celts and the Romans and The Age of Migrations) before providing a very nice overview of the world as it was in The Viking Age (as it appeared in Viking songs, legends and tales).

We get a two-page treatment of the Norse Religion, the Nine Realms and the major Gods and Goddesses and their spheres of influence.

The GMing chapter (really the "gameplay" chapter) goes out of its way to stress the major thing that separates this game from Sword Noir: While Sword Noir is a hardboiled fantasy trek, Kiss My Axe is very much about the PCs being bad ass at what they do.

The book concludes with a list of sample characters (including an expy of Antonio Banderas' character from 13 Warriors) and a some sample Viking Pivots, based off of their Ethos', to help your players on their way.

WHAT WORKS: Kiss My Axe, while largely using the same system as Sword Noir, does a nice job of differentiating itself, especially in feel with predefined Qualities like Ethos and Seafaring. The alternate magic system is also a nice touch, as is getting a small selection of beasties to use with the game system.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The lack of a character sheet is disappointing, and I did catch the odd editing error (the sample character from the character creation chapter is missing his Physique rank, for instance.

CONCLUSION: A very cool follow-up to Sword Noir, though I'm not sure it quite reached the lofty heights of its sister game. By necessity, it is more limited than Sword Noir (though a wide range of vikings are are not shoe-horned into a burly brawler by any stretch). Even though the two games do depart in certain ways mechanically, KMA is inexpensive enough to mine for material for Sword Noir, taking the magic system as an alternative, for instance, or seeing monster write-ups in play. All in all, a fine product...I just personally prefer Sword Noir to Kiss My Axe.