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

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Gothic Lay of the Land

Two conflicts lie at the heart of Colonial Gothic: A historical supernatural role-playing game, Rogue Games’ RPG set in the new world during the eighteenth century on the eve of the American Revolution. The second decides the future of the Thirteen Colonies, but the first determines the course of the Secret History that will affect outcome of the first... With the release of the Colonial Gazetteer, one of those two conflicts is supported and developed a little further with both background detail and a scenario.

More specifically, over the course of sixteen chapters, the Colonial Gazetteer presents a history of the Thirteen Colonies, details each of the Thirteen Colonies in turn, and describes the various native tribes and their relationships present in and around the Thirteen Colonies, all before giving a scenario, "A Surprise for General Gage," that can be run as a one-shot or as an introduction to Rogue Game’s campaign, Flames of Freedom. It is primarily a historical supplement; although the setting’s supernatural elements are not ignored. This is not to say that the history is unwelcome, for as much I have a love of history, pre-revolutionary American history is not something that I know a great deal about.

The supplement opens with an overview of the Thirteen Colonies, covering their history from early attempts by the English and the Dutch to establish colonies right up to the break down in relations with England. After that, it explores each Colony chapter by chapter, from New Hampshire and Massachusetts and the Province of Maine to North and South Carolina and Georgia, the youngest of the Colonies. Each chapter opens with box of key facts – each Colony’s First Settlement, Capital, the main source of its Economy, Native Tribes, and Governor as of 1775; followed by a more extensive timeline than was given in the first chapter, plus sections detailing the Colony’s geography, society and politics, major locations, and lastly, some of its “Mysteries.” This is a lot to cover in the five or six pages allotted to each chapter, but there is enough information here to make each of the Colonies feel distinctive and there are plenty of details included that the GM can use to add flavour to his game or a player to add flavour to his character.

Every Colony has local associated Mysteries, from the New Castle Lithobolia or stone-throwing devil of New Hampshire to The Lost Mission somewhere south of Georgia. Included amongst them are not only many Mysteries of native origin, but also many that are more modern and contemporary in origin, such as The Mothman of Virginia and Maryland’s Cumberland Bone Cave. These might sound anachronistic, and the author says as much, but their inclusion provides more options for the GM and none are so anachronistic as to not fit in with the period.

The penultimate chapter is devoted to the natives of the Thirteen Colonies. It gives the culture and history of the Algonquian and Iroquian tribal groups, plus a more detailed history for each of the individual tribes within each group. It feels a little too brief in places, but is nevertheless very welcome information for both the GM and the player with a Native character.

The scenario, "A Surprise for General Gage," opens with the player characters on the road to Boston in 1775, the American Revolution already having begun and the city being besieged by the Revolutionary forces. It is a short affair, and should take a session or so to play through. Once played, the heroes will be in the Boston area and have made the contacts necessary to begin playing the Flames of Freedom campaign.

Physically, the Colonial Gazetteer is a nicely presented booklet, one that makes excellent use of clipart. The maps are also decent, and everything on the whole is well written. If there is an issue with the book it is the editing, which is not quite as sharp as it could be.

If you to be running or want to run a Colonial Gothic campaign, then the Colonial Gazetteer is a useful supplement to have to hand. It provides plenty of historical background, if not in any great depth, then at least in enough detail to provide the GM with the basic information and a little more. Fortunately, a bibliography lists ready avenues for further research. In addition to the scenario included, the individual Mysteries particular to each Colony serve as both extra adventure hooks and as counterparts to the occasional dryness of the history. That history though, nicely imparts the feel of a society struggling with political and religious issues. Overall, the Colonial Gazetteer is decently researched, informative, and useful.