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Sunday, 28 July 2013

The First Step onto The Game of Thrones

Once you have a copy of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, the RPG published by Green Ronin Publishing based on the highly popular fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, the question is, where does a GM go next? Or in other words, what does he purchase next for nascent campaign? Where most roleplaying games focus on a small group of player characters doing relatively small things, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying expands that to have the player characters be in charge of a minor noble house. So they need a larger stage, and if not ‘larger’ foes, rivals, and allies, then ones that are of an equal status and challenge. 

For the GM, there are two choices. One is A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide, regarded as the counterpart to the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying core book, which not only describes Westeros in some detail, but also details the major holdings and major players of the Seven Kingdoms. On the downside, this supplement is not spoiler free, containing as it does details from the first three books in the series – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords. Also roleplaying on such a ‘grand’ stage can be daunting for both the GM and his players. Perhaps then, a smaller stage is preferred, one that the players and their noble house can make their own? The other choice then is A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter.

The A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter is a means by which the player characters can begin the story of their noble house. It presents six houses all located within the rich lands of the Riverlands, each of which whose fortunes is ready to be led by the players, ready to ally with the players’ house, or ready to feud with, if not outright fight, the players’ house. The latter might be one of the six described in the Chronicle Starter, or it could be one of the players’ creation, either replacing one of the houses in the book or slotted in alongside the six given here. However the supplement is used, each house comes ready with an allegiance to one of the great houses, a description of its history and holdings, descriptions of its personages of note, and a means to make each house’s chronicle that much darker by muddying the palette. In addition to an overview of the Riverlands, the Chronicle Starter also gives other interesting locations, places to put a players’ house, and more. Lastly, the supplement is rounded out with ‘The Iron Plot’, a starting scenario that revolves around the six houses described in the Chronicle Starter and which the GM will have to tailor to his players’ choice of noble house.

The supplement opens with House Barnell, a young house founded by a hedge knight and allied to the Starks. Known primarily for its martial prowess, the future of the house rests on its two sons. Garret Snow, the elder, has some of his father’s martial skill, but while favoured by his father, is a bastard with a reputation as a cad. In comparison, Lord Barnell’s step-son, Daveth has none of martial skill, but much of his mother’s courtesy and his own learning. Add to this is the fact that Lady Barnell has yet to give her husband an heir and has a reputation for being cursed – as does the castle itself, several of the previous houses having died out while in possession of it. House Bartheld is an ally of the Baratheons with a colourful reputation for holding lavish parties and having one of the finest wine cellars in Westeros. Unfortunately in the eyes of many of the Bartheld family, the new lord is too sober an influence on the household and thus some scheme to restore the family’s reputation for fun. In the meantime, the young lord is preoccupied by the House’s inability to deal with a bandit threat on its borders.

House Dulver is an ancient Lannister ally whose small holdings go deep underground. In Lord Dulver’s cellars are to be goods and items of all kind, ready to be sold or bartered for other goods or favours. The ambitious, so-called ‘Vulture of Dulver’ greedily eyes the richer commercial possibilities of neighbouring lands, works carefully towards their acquisition. Ill advice though might turn that care to something more impetuous… Newly allied with the Freys, House Kytley is struggling to recover from years of misrule despite a lack of proper family seat and the heir held by another house as a ward.

Situated guarding the western border of the Vale of Arryn, House Marsten is circled by every lord and knight wanting to make an advantageous marriage. The house has neither lord nor a male heir, their having died of the plague. Instead his wife rules and works ensure her husband’s name continues through her daughter. Meanwhile, her husband’s brother, a personal friend to Rhaegar Targaryen, has not been seen since Robert's Rebellion. This house has an interesting link to the events of the novels. Lastly, House Tullison is loyal to the Tullys and would seem secure in its mountain fastness were it not for the gullibility of its young lord who would prefer to be off adventuring and the mountain clans that raid down into the valley.

The Riverlands begins to put the six preceding houses in perspective as well as adding further elements to the region. These include the free community of Market Town, a kind of neutral meeting ground for the nobles of the surrounding houses. They have their designs on the community, but its wily mayor’s schemes have kept it independent so far. Three locations are included where the players can insert their house as a starting position – a bandit beset stretch of dense forest; once plague ridden farm land that needs resettling and redeveloping; and a local port and trade centre where the new lord must choose between coming to an accommodation with the powerful smuggling rings or routing them. Rounding the overview are details of a few other ‘odd’ locations and some regional customs.

Physically, the A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter is very nicely produced, although it is a pity that it is not in full colour as the art is excellent. It does an admirable job of breaking down and explaining the numbers that make up each house’s stats, bringing them to life. If there is an issue with the A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter, it is that it could have done with a stronger overview and possibly a better summary of each house for an easy grasp of each. Otherwise, it does take a while for the reader to grasp a feel for each house and how it fits into the Riverlands. Lastly, the ‘muddying the palette’ sections are underwritten and could have done with more development.  

A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter succeeds at what it sets out to do – provide a well written setting for a beginning campaign. It has links enough to satisfy the A Song of Ice and Fire devotee without such links becoming overbearing. There is plenty of variety in the given six houses and plenty of elements that the GM can develop and bring into his campaign to make it his and his players’ own. Lastly, the A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter is a pleasurable read as well as a satisfying roleplaying supplement.