Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tommy's Take on Kaiser's Gate

This Kaiser's Gate review is based off of a draft version of the document by Battlefield Press, as the Kickstarter is still ongoing (about two weeks left at this time). (Update: Kaiser's Gate is now available in PDF at DriveThruRPG.)
Not Final Cover

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: As mentioned, the Kickstarter is still ongoing, with PDF buy-in at $10 and print buy-in at $25. The project has long since been funded and they've already unlocked a bonus book of Archetypes (ranked from Novice through Legendary), a soundtrack, an additional digital copy in another format and a Wall Map of Europe with three more stretch goals to go (an anthology, a set of figure flats and a novel). This was originally published  for True20, now revamped for Savage Worlds.

The gist is: After the Tunguska Event, magic was reawoken in the world, dramatically altering the world and the path of World War I. The westernized cultures had a harder time adjustinging, with Ghurka shaman being the only force standing between British colonials in India and certain death, the Native Americans in the US stunning the nation with a dramatic uprising and seizing Arizona and the Taoists overthrowing the Chinese government and launching the nation into anarchy.

Additionally, portals have opened to the Fey kingdoms, each of which has a rough analogue with the Earth region that it mirrors. The Fey Kingdoms number dwarves, elves, dragons and more among their inhabitants.

We get a timeline of the war, starting with Ferdinand's assassination - as in real life - but this time resulting from a brutal magical assault that also wiped out his entire entourage. The timeline runs up through 1920 and the end of the World War, covering everything from the development of French Gryphon riders to Germans joining forces with red dragons to Mexico invading the US and Tesla assuming control of soldiers in Colorado to hold the borders...with a TON of personality profiles for each stage of the war, as well as tons of adventure hooks and seeds for each stage.

From a mechanics standpoint, Kaiser's Gate provides a new Hindrance (Shell Shock) which can be Major or Minor. New Edges include Familiar (as in a Wizard's familiar), and a few new Edges for piloting and riding flying beasts. Races in Kaiser's Gate include Humans, Centaurs (who aided in the Mexican invasion), Dark Elves, Sylvan Elves, Goblins, Lizardfolk, Marhlbenders (sea elves), Orcs and Selkies (human/seal shapeshifters).

For powers, only Psionics and Weird Science carry over from Savage Worlds, with Spellbinding replacing the remaining Backgrounds. You pick a Spellbinding Disciplines and that determines the spells available to you at each rank (Novice, Initiate, Adept and Master), though you must also hew to an obligation as well. For instance, Loki requires a blood sacrifice every full moon. He provides Confusion (Stun with trappings), Disguise (Conceal Arcana with trappings) and Obscure at Novice. Initiate provides Barrier and Invisibility. Adept gives you Dispel and Teleport. Master grants you Puppet and Fear. I counted a whopping 34 Disciplines. The system also ditches Power Points in favor of a target number system (beginning at 4, like most Savage Worlds tasks).

The Equipment section provides extra focus on dogfighting (like using the sun to get The Drop on your opponents, and other maneuvers), while the equipment ranges from the mundane (Colt Revolvers and Luger 9mms) to the odd (Tesla pistols and rifles). Awesomely, the Tommy Gun is well represented. A number of magic items are included, like Zombie Killer Bullets, Amulets of Protection From Bullets, Phantom .45s (pistols that can hurt supernatural creatures) and Divine Longswords made by the Vatican.

A number of NPCs are provided, from basic statblocks for troop types, to named NPCs for the different armies. The bestiary is cool, but a bit lighter than you would expect, although many of the stat blocks one would need would already be present in Savage Worlds. Kaiser's Gate adds golems, Griffins'o'War, Spirit Owls, Sea Dragons and a few more.

WHAT WORKS: I don't really like Power Points, so an alternate magic system is always welcome. I like the wide range of material covered in the timeline, from the beginning of magical crime through the end of World War I. The new Edges (mostly aimed at dogfighting) feel particularly appropriate, given the setting.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Setting-wise, it feels almost like TOO much has been crammed into one book...but I could also see how one could prefer that to a more limited book. Enterprising GMs can certainly expand from the material given, and if demand is there, Battlefield Press can always expand the setting with supplements. Minor quibble: A lot of earlier Savage Settings had the problem of multiple shared elements, namely zombies and Atlantis, so linking the events of Kaiser's Gate to the Tunguska event immediately took me back to Necessary Evil, which does the same (albeit with a completely different result).

CONCLUSION: First off, it's nice to see something focused on World War I instead of World War II. Second of all, they showed a lot of restraint with the new material added, especially Edges, focusing on expanding aerial dogfighting. The races are included with a caveat of "Humans are the default, the rest must be approved by the GM", and I vastly prefer options to turn on and off over omission in just about every case. There are some d20isms still present, including the racial selection, some of the new spells and the magic item selection. I always like a good bestiary, but a lot of what you need for this is already going to be in Savage Worlds. Lastly, in an odd note, it refers you to the Explorer's Edition over the Deluxe Edition. Very good work here and a great time to jump on, with the Kickstarter still in effect, because of all the bonus material that has already been unlocked.