As you may or may not have heard, we are giving away the Age of Arthur here on the blog: Two PDF, so enter now! Today, however, we are going to take a look at just what the Age of Arthur IS, as I review it to take us into the weekend.
ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I was provided a physical copy of Age of Arthur for review purposes. The review contains affiliate links to RPGNow, and purchases made through those links may provide me with store credit, which is typically used to buy more RPGs.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Aside from me giving away two copies, you can go to RPGNow and get it in PDF, in softcover or hardcover print, and you even have the choice of color or black and white, Price scales up from about $15 for the PDF to $53 for the full color hardcover. My review is of the four color hardcover.
Age of Arthur is powered by Fate, the Diaspora version (which I am not particularly familiar with), and includes all the Fate rules you need inside of a 288 page package. You might also want to have four Fudge dice on hand (or Fate dice, as far as I know there's not actually a difference), as this is a "4dFudge" version and not a "d6-d6" version (though this is presented as an option later in the book).
Fate, for those who don't know, places a fair bit of narrative control in the hands of players, allowing them to create and invoke Aspects, like "Rickety Bridge" or "Mud in Your Eyes" or "Filled With Jealous Rage" to succeed, interfere with your opponents, etc. In fact, characters are less defined by normal attributes and more by Aspects, alongside Skills and Stunts. "The Boy Who Would Be King" may be an Aspect that can give you a leg up when trying to impress somebody, or maybe you crossed the Fae at the wrong time and now you "Owe a Debt to Mab", who is Queen of the Unseelie Fae and not to be trifled with. Stunts include things like Lodestone (which keeps you from getting lost), Berserker Rage, or even magic abilities like Death Curse, which a druid can unleash as they die.
I admit, as an Arthur fan, I am far more familiar with the more romanticized Sir Thomas Mallory version, but Age of Arthur plays up the historical Celtic roots of Arthur the warlord, instead. There is a healthy mix of the fantastic as well, with magic being present and accessible by the PCs, and the Fae, dragons, giants and more playing a prominent role.
"Magic" is broken down into Divination (which is further broken down into methods like astrology, dream visions and ectomancy, which uses entrails) to divine information that the character otherwise would not know, including visions of the future. Druidic Magic summons the favor of the Old Gods to create blessings and curses, and even change the weather (with the Weathermonger stunt). Faith is linked to the Christian God, and is typically used to dispel magic, not cast it. Glamours require the caster to share Fae blood. Plant and Root is the skill of the herbalist. Rune Magic can be used to enchant objects. Shapechanging allows a character to assume animal form. Bards are performers and storytellers, and have their own Stunts to choose from. For the most part, Magic is used to give an excuse to apply Aspects that would be a lot harder to explain, though each has a stylistic flair that helps it stand out a bit from the others.
Another bit that I hadn't personally seen in Fate before, but which interests me greatly, given the types of games I run, are the Fate Mass Combat rules. Armies have a general Skill level, and then you assign them a Stress Score. Very much like Savage Worlds' tokens, the strongest side is set at 10 Stress and the smaller side is set at a percentage of that. The generals make opposed tests for positioning, with the winner adding an Aspect to the battle. Magicians get their say next, in another opposed roll. Finally, Champions get their time to shine, in what are commonly called "Hero Duels". Again, these all place Aspects that can be invoked once freely. After all that, the armies fight and damage reduces the Stress of the losing side of each battle roll. Seems pretty straight forward, and reminiscent of my personal favorite set of Mass Combat rules.
Combat, in general, is more brutal than in most Fate games, with a character who is "Taken Out" assumed to have been killed. There are also more tactical options than I am used to seeing in a Fate game, with a lot of support for grids and maps outside of just the typical Fate "Zones" system.
The book assumes the game will begin in 482, right after Arthur has emerged as a power in Britain. This is not a romanticized Arthur with a Round Table and a hunt for the Holy Grail, this is a Britain engulfed in barbaric, tribal war, with Arthur trying to unite Britain against the invaders while Morgan Le Fay lurks in the shadows and dragons and giants roam the lands.
The GM section provides a fair amount of scenario advice, starting with the various conflicts that are present in Britannica at this time, and a few scenario outlines that you can expand into full blown adventures. It then follows this up with a full blown adventure.
SIX POINT SUMMARY
- Production values are a mixed bag. The aesthetics of the interior, and the full page art pieces, look great. Unfortunately, the cover text seemed somewhat digitized and out of focus, either a layout issue or a printing issue.
- Mass Combat rules are great. Mass Combat rules that heavily resemble my favorite set of Mass Combat rules, but with a few twists unique to the system, are even better.
- As I said above, I am more comfortable with the Le Morte D'Arthur, so it did take me a bit to get into the more historical Arthur. This does a nice job of setting it apart from the other major Arthurian game on the market (Pendragon).
- I love how the various magical subsystems are built on the same solid base, but have the unique flourishes to set them apart. Definitely not crunchy, even "Fate crunchy", but Faith feels different than Druid Magic which feels different than Shapeshifting.
- The cultural and geographic sections of the book aim for breadth over depth, covering a lot of ground in multiple, single-paragraph or so entries. I'm not usually upset with this approach, and I find it even more acceptable in a game with a historical basis, since I can research Britain in the 400s easier than I can, say, the Forgotten Realms in the 1200s.
- Lots of wonderful, professional touches such as a fully functional index and table of contents, as well as a glossary and a pronunciation guide, the latter of which I REALLY wish more companies would use, especially if they are using lots of fantasy names or, in this case, historical dialects.
A great product marred by small production flaws that bring down the overall package, but counters that with a great Arthurian take that feels a little grittier than your normal Fate game. Personally, I like the shoutout to the dragon in Loch Ness.