Sunday, July 14, 2013

Tommy's Take on Anointed: Mantle of the Gods

Dark Skull Studios isn’t new to pen and paper RPGs…but they do have a brand new RPG called Anointed: Mantle of the Gods. In a Bronze Age setting, tribes are being hunted by demons and monsters…and only the champions of the Gods can rise to the occasion. The Anointed carry the mantles of their Gods (see how that works?) against those that would destroy their people.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The book is available at RPGNow in PDF ($9.95) and print ($14.95), and is 124 pages. The book opens with a short fiction piece designed to unfold the world before the readers.

A lot of games encourage character creation as a group, but this book practically demands it. Why? Because the players have to create their God and their tribe in addition to their character. (To avoid potential intergroup conflict, everyone is assumed to serve the same God, because religion can get hairy.) You need to select the God’s domains, and a handful are provided, but you are probably going to either have to make up some of your own or reference the New Gods of Mankind book for more domains, as the PCs’ God should have three. Once the domains are in place, the God’s commandments must be defined as well.

Once the God is created, the Tribe is…and this directly impacts the PCs just as the God does. For instance, a PC from a Hunting Tribe may be skilled at Tracking or Stealth, while one from a Farming Tribe may be skilled at Herbalism or Animal Handling, etc. Once you get the Tribe defined (including location, population and so on), then you sit down and create the Heroes, as defined by the Gods and Tribes.

Each character has three attributes (Body, Mind and Spirit), and a d6, d8 and d10 to assign to each of them. They also have Speed, Health, Defense and Resistance. The first two are preset and the last two are defined by a combination of Body & Mind and Body & Spirit respectively. Characters have six skills, with one at d8, two at d6 and three at d4 (in addition to the skill you get from belonging to the Tribe). Next, you get a Power based off of one of your God’s Domains. Your Hero might be able to create Ice Daggers, Heal or cause Earthquakes, for instance. Each Domain has four powers listed, so between three Domains, you can get a decent spread of powers so that the Tribe’s Heroes don’t all feel the same. Your Hero gets up to three Advantages (so long as you take an equal number of Disadvantages). Advantages include Eagle Eye, Lock-Master and Intimidating, while Disadvantages include Brute Mind (you may be cunning, but not “smart” in the classic sense), Disfigured and Kleptomania. Heroes also have Favor, which is a mechanical representation of their God’s favor (of course). To simplify things, six Templates are provided for fast generation or inspiration.

The core mechanic involves rolling a small pool of what is typically an attribute die and a skill die and comparing the result to a Target Number (default is 4, but harder and easier tasks have different target numbers), with some tasks requiring multiple successes. Heroes can use Favor to modify these rolls, adding a d12 to their pool, add a d12 as a modifier to their highest die (depending on whether they need multiple successes or a higher roll), add dice to another Hero’s pool, Heal or activate their powers. If a Hero rolls a d12 on one of those Favor dice, he gets full blown Divine Intervention (in the form of an automatic success and generally something flashy from his God).

The rules cover a wide range of situations, from combat to haggling to hunting and so on, and discusses the use of each skill in detail.

The Powers Chapter covers the available powers in detail as well, starting with the abilities that all of The Anointed share, such as seeing spirits and demons, spotting other Anointed and what amounts to an exorcism. From there, each of the powers mentioned early in the book get explained, with full game effects and Favor costs. While the explanations of the powers are great, where this chapter really shines is the breakdown of how to make, and assign costs to, your own powers. It’s reminiscent of Cinematic Unisystem’s spell creation system, and I mean that in a very good way.

Combat assumes that you will use grids and minis (not surprising as Dark Skull Studios has their own line of printable figures), and each character is allowed to move, take a combat action and take a free action on each turn. In an interesting break from a lot of games, Initiative is based on Mind, rather than Body. Attack rolls are made against the opponent’s Defense and weapon damage is rolled against Resistance, with each success counting as a point of damage. One interesting rule says that if maximum damage is rolled on the weapon’s damage die, then the force of the impact actually breaks the weapon.

Between chapters five and six, we get a great painting showing the setting’s cosmology.

Chapter six covers trade and equipment, going around the world showing what kinds of exports are produced in each region, as well as a section discussing trade with each of the other races (like Sylphs, Gnomes and Undines).

The book ends with a solo adventure that is designed to allow the GM to play through and familiarize themselves with the setting, Choose Your Own Adventure style.

WHAT WORKS: For a game predicated on the notion that every PC is going to belong to the same tribe, be the follower of the same God and only have three attributes, there are enough options to make each Anointed feel completely unique. The Powers creation system is really great, as the guidelines combined with examples given make for an impressive addition to the rules. Lastly, the book is absolutely gorgeous.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Small editing bits (words being repeated side by side that were missed by proofreaders, at least one instance of improper punctuation, etc.). There is no bestiary, aside from picking through the solo adventure for statblocks (such as for Salamander slavers). A book essentially meant to launch a new line shouldn’t be referencing books in the previous line in anything but the most loosest manner…but it really feels like you’ll want to have extra books from the New Gods of Mankind line on hand for Domains and a bestiary.

CONCLUSION: Anointed has a ton of promise, but feels like it relies a bit too much on familiarity with the New Gods of Mankind game line, which is unfortunate because it can be easily missed that this game is connected to that series. Now, if you picked up books in that line but felt that the scope was a bit more than you wanted to deal with, then this is perfect. The character options are all simple but robust, which is right in my comfort zone. I particularly like the Powers, because you WILL want to make more powers, either because the PCs want something that’s not covered in the book, or you will want NPC Anointed to have Powers not listed there. With tighter editing, better organization and an actual bestiary (rather than scattered stat blocks in the solo adventure), this could have been a GREAT product, rather than a really good one.