Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tommy's Take on Outremer



clash bowley likes alternate history in his RPGs…so it should be no surprise that Outremer, the third in the Blood Games series, is another alternate history RPG.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF (available at RPGNow for $10) is 298 pages and set in an alternate history in which the 11 Crusader States referred to collectively as Outremer have survived into the 16th Century. It is based off of the Starpool system, which I describe in greater detail in my reviews of Blood Games II and On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service. Essentially, you roll a pool of d20s (equal to your rank in a skill plus one) and every die that comes up under a target number counts as a success.

Outremer uses the Association rules from On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service as well, thus providing players with a ready made excuse to be hanging out together, again providing robust options for PC groups. I’m not a big history buff, so the detail and research that clash puts into the book is very helpful, starting with the extensive side-by-side timelines, showing just where history diverged from real history at each step.

The Lifepath style of character creation again returns, with character options very similar to On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service by my reading. Half-Angels and Immortals return as character options, but are also joined by Half-Djinn, which are new to Outremer. Half-Djinn can control the elements, fly and assume a gaseous form. Path characters like Esotericists, Magus and Minstrels also return, but are joined by Crusaders (who can inspire others, heal them and make miracles happen), Kabbalists (the “rational mystics), Sorcerers (who summon and control djinns), Mechanists (who use Djinn animals to create complex machines), Oracles (prophets) and Dervishes, who are not unlike Muslim Paladins.

You can also create Quasi-Path characters like Snake Charmers, Fortune Tellers, Healers, Mystics and Faqih.

The already robust skill list from On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service only serves to get larger here, taking up a full five pages, though not all skills from OHMAS are present.

The religion chapter is expanded here, covering more than just sects of Christianity, adding sections on Judaism and Islam, as well as further details for the various Christian Churches. This is welcome material. This chapter also adds Relics and Artifacts, which are interesting in that they require individuals to believe in them before they can be used on them, for good or for ill.

An adventure generator is included, using d20 rolls to provide a rumor, a place and what is behind the rumor, as well as the expected reward. Given that I love random tables…

The NPCs chapter provides lists of not only NPC templates and guidelines, but random tables to roll on to generate your NPCs quickly.

As in other Blood Games releases, characters use MAG points to keep effects in place, with Magi and Minstrels having their own exceptions to the rules.

The creatures chapter features a lot of reprinted beasts from OHMAS, as well as some new ones, like the Manticores, Rocs and Sandwalkers. Djinn, which had a small statblock in OHMAS, get a completely blown up entry here, much like Fairies did in OHMAS and Vampires did in Blood Games II.

The section on Outremer covers a lot of ground, including the wildly diverse peoples. Each of the nations gets a close-up map, plus fact sheets that show the ancestry of the region, the traits prevalent to the country and a list of their notable relations with other nations. Interestingly, the Nations have Traits not unlike the player characters do, categorized into Political and Social categories.

Slews of optional rules are provided, from different ways to organize the team to variations on shields to using favors as currency. Random charts are provided for various cultural names, as well as appendices discussing cuisine and Muslim Titles.

WHAT WORKS: I really do love clash’s layout, with the helpful details in sidebars. The extra detail being present in the book so I don’t have to look for it is also great. I’m a big fan of both Lifepaths and random charts.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: If you already own On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service, a lot of that book is present in this one, including the art. An unfortunate side effect of making a game completely self contained. For me, personally, the Middle East – past or present – isn’t a section of the world that holds a ton of interest for me as a gamer.

CONCLUSION: For me, personally, Outremer falls short against the previous Blood Games releases due to the focus of the game: As mentioned, I have no interest in playing or GMing in a Middle Eastern setting, historical or not. That said, the material in this book is completely compatible with the other two games if you have the extra to spend. Not a bad game, just not my cup of tea, setting-wise. Might just scratch your itch for fantastic historical horror set in the Middle East, though.