Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

It's a Love Game

Our hobby is organised around convention dates rather than the traditional holidays, which has the side effect of making any attempt to review a game appropriate to a particular holiday all that more awkward. Halloween is of course the exception, as you can find a horror themed RPG or board game at any time of the year, but what about Easter, Christmas, or Valentines? Games with themes particular to these holidays are far and few between, and rare is it that I am asked to write such a review. Except for Valentine’s Day, which with its strong themes of love and romance, would seem to be the perfect subject for RPGs – certainly as a change from uncovering unspeakable horrors or putting other races to the sword and taking their loot – and this is supported by reviews that I have written for publication dates in the past some when near February 14th. These titles have included Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose: The Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy, the original RPG that gave us the True20 System; the Indie RPGs Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon: All is fair in love and war from Black & Green Games and Best Friends: A role-playing game about girlfriends and all their petty hatreds from BoxNinja.


This year though, I am going back to 2006 to look at a 1PG title called Idyll: Romantic Fantasy. Published by Deep7, a 1PG RPG is a PDF only game which breaks its constituent parts down into single pages. So a 1PG RPG has one page devoted to its rules, one page devoted to the player and his character, one page devoted to the referee, one page devoted to the game’s specific genre elements, and lastly a series of single pages devoted to scenarios, of which there are usually five or six. The 1PG line dates back to the turn of the century at a time when games electronically published as PDFs stayed in that format, never to reach the shelves at your friendly local gaming store, so long before the game as a PDF became just another way to sell a game before it was actually published. Deep7 published almost twenty 1PG titles plus supplements, covering genres as diverse as spies, pirates, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, disaster movies of the 1970s, and in a personal favourite, playing cartoon-like insects in the real world. Although it has been a few years since Deep7 has published anything new, the fact that their titles all PDFs means that they are all effectively “in print” and available, and all at their original bargain prices.


What Idyll: Romantic Fantasy explores is a genre defined by the novels of Mercedes Lackey and Tanith Lee, in which heroes are dashing, heroines are strong willed, and wizards are invariably mysterious and rarely trusted. The game’s choice of Pre-Raphaelite cover art – Romeo and Juliet by Sir Frank Dicksee – captures much of that flavour. Unlike other 1PG titles, Idyll: Romantic Fantasy focuses on character interaction and character driven adventures, on sex (whether courtly wooing or hot and sticky bodice ripping, though the game only discusses rather than dwells on this subject), on romance, on lengthy stories that might span multiple generations and multiple novels, and drama. Lots of drama... This is no Indie RPG, so there are no rules that pertain to these elements. The point of any 1PG title is simplicity and the GM’s notes contained in Idyll highlight its genre’s key elements rather go into them in any depth.


Character generation in Idyll – and in other 1PG titles – is very easy. 1d3 is rolled for four stats – Sturdiness, Looks, Craftiness, and Brains – and another 1d6 points are added to these scores. A further four to six points are distributed between the skills, each of which are associated with one of the four stats. 1d6 is also rolled for the character’s Presence, the equivalent to his charisma or physical and mental bearing, while another is rolled for the character’s Guts. This is his Sanity score, and the character fails a roll against his Guts, he loses a point of Presence. In addition to determining his Notoriety, Blood (his hit points) and his money, a character also has a Background and a Status, which can be rolled for or chosen by his player. Backgrounds like Brigand or Mage, and a Status such as Wanted or Blessed each provide various bonuses to skills, money, and other attributes.


So here is a sample character. Robert of Salisbury was captured while fighting abroad and taken as a galley slave. When the slave ship was attacked, he managed to escape, but was horribly scarred. He has returned home, but his looks prevent him from claiming his inheritance. He possesses some natural spellcasting ability, but is not aware of it.


Sturdiness: 3; Looks: 1; Craftiness: 2; Brains: 2
Etiquette 1, Fighting 1, General Knowledge 1, Languages 1, Rumours 1, Spellcasting 1, Swimming 1
Blood: 15; Guts: 3; Presence: 5; Notoriety: 2


The mechanics in Idyll (and in any 1PG) are very simple. Roll a six-sided die with low being better than high, a result of a one always succeeding, a six always failing. Skill checks are rolled under the value of the skill and its stat. The game system is very quick and easy, its simplicity giving the GM plenty of room to rules as needed. It should be noted that while characters can be improved, it is not possible to learn any kind of Spellcasting – arcane or divine – after character generation.


Magic in Idyll receives two pages devoted to it, one detailing the game rules and the other a grimoire of some twenty or so spells for both types of magic. In keeping with the 1PG ideal, magic is kept simple. Each spell has an Intensity number which modifies the target number when making a Spellcasting roll. To cast a known spell, the wizard or priest simply rolls under Brains plus his Spellcasting skill, unless the Intensity of the spell being cast is greater than his combined Brains/Spellcasting score, in which case the difference acts as a negative modifier. This difference can also act as a bonus for a defender if he is attacked using a spell.


In addition, prior to casting a spell, a priest must make an Oratory skill check. A priest cannot know more damage inflicting spells than he knows non-damage inflicting spells, while a mage cannot know any type of healing spell. Both types of spellcaster can expend his improvement points to reduce the Intensity factors of the spells that he does know, so making them easier to cast. Lastly, the rules for magic cover playing druids and shamans as well as the summoning of beings from beyond. Again in relatively simple detail, but these are pointers enough for the GM to work with.


Up until this point Idyll has provided the rules for the game and a plethora of pointers towards the genre – though it has not quote out and out discussed the genre. What it does instead is put the pointers into practice with six single page scenarios. Each opens up with the scenario’s premise, its setup, and an explanation of what is really going on, and is supported with detailed locations and NPCs, plus their stats. Any one of them should provide an evening’s worth of play and all come with complications that add extra drama or lengthen the scenario.


The first of the six is “That Witch is Not,” in which the inhabitants of Briarton have fallen prey to a sickness caused by a witch who was run out of the village after she let the village elder’s oldest son die. The villagers want help in bringing the witch to justice as no one who has ventured into the woods to capture her has returned. This is followed by “Sylveena,” also set in a village, this of Colton. Here a young boy has fallen in love with a half-unicorn girl whom the villagers suspect of being in league with or is fleeing from a goblin band that has been attacking the villagers following her appearances. Again the player characters will have to venture into the woods to find both the young boy and the half-unicorn girl after they run away.


The third scenario is “Ghostly Orphanage” which takes place in the city of Kingsport. What begins with a child’s tale of having been held against his will leads into a decent little mystery that leads into a tragic tale. “Dearest Sister,” the fourth scenario is the first touch upon relationships and sex, though not in any prurient fashion. The heroes come upon a wounded prince, desperate to get home to his aging father following their country defeat in battle. The ensuing welcome home feast is not only held for the prince, but also for the return of his sister, long thought dead. What begins as a celebration ends in tragedy when one of the courtiers is poisoned! As with any “murder mystery,” this is the most complex of the scenarios to date and the GM needs to take some care if he is to run it effectively.


The fifth scenario is probably the most difficult to run of all the six, because in “The Breenstil Curse,” all of the player characters have to be female! All of the men in the kingdom have fallen prey to a weakening illness, so the queen commands her greatest heroines to consult with Redmaw, an ancient dragon who will help determine the cause. Though what price he demands is another matter... In the sixth and last scenario, “The Dowry,” the heroes are asked by a merchant to see if a local nobleman has used a love potion on his daughter in the hope that he can marry her and so gain her dowry.


Barring the cover, Idyll is very lightly illustrated. In places, particularly in the scenarios, the text is quite dense. The game also needs another edit, but for a rules set and a set of scenarios at its price, this can be overlooked.

What
Idyll does lack is a real discussion of its genre, a problem common to all 1PG titles. There is almost the expectation that in coming to the game that you already know about the genre, but for those of us who do not, it would have been a helpful addition. Or at least some pointers as to where to look for further information. Fortunately, some of the genre’s key elements – such as relationships and strong characterisation – are present in some of the scenarios, and if those are not enough, Wikipedia is a good place to start your research.



Playing Idyll might not necessarily be the most romantic of ways to game. After all, it is a roleplaying game and they usually need more than the one player and a GM to be played effectively. There is nothing to say that Idyll could not be run in that fashion, and some advice could have been included to that end, but a game like the aforementioned Breaking the Ice is a much better game in that regard. Nevertheless, Idyll is pleasingly light and easy and in the hands of a sympathetic GM, its contents will appeal to anyone looking to add some romantic elements to their fantasy gaming or just wanting their fantasy gaming to be a little less masculine. Played as is, or used as a source of extra scenarios and ideas for an existing campaign, Idyll: Romantic Fantasy represents excellent value for money, but then again, that has always been the hallmark of the 1PG titles.