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

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Screen Shot III

How do you like your GM Screen?

The GM Screen is a essentially a reference sheet, comprised of several card sheets that fold out and can be stood up to serve another purpose, that is, to hide the GM's notes and dice rolls. On the inside, the side facing the GM are listed all of the tables that the GM might want or need at a glance without the need to have to leaf quickly through the core rulebook. On the outside, facing the players, can be found either more tables for their benefit or representative artwork for the game itself. This is both the basic function and the basic format of the screen, neither of which has changed all that much over the years. Beyond the basic format, much has changed though.

To begin with the general format has split, between portrait and landscape formats. The result of the landscape format is a lower screen, and if not a sturdier screen, than at least one that is less prone to being knocked over. Another change has been in the weight of card used to construct the screen. Exile Studios pioneered a new sturdier and durable screen when its printers took two covers from the Hollow Earth Expedition core rule book and literally turned them into the game's screen. This marked a change from the earlier and flimsier screens that had been done in too light a cardstock, and several publishers have followed suit.

Once you have decided upon your screen format, the next question is what you have put with it. Do you include a poster or poster map, such as Margaret Weis Productions included in its screens for the Serenity and BattleStar Galactica Roleplaying Games? Or a reference work like that included with Chessex Games' Sholari Reference Pack for SkyRealms of Jorune or the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press' Trail of Cthulhu? Or a scenario such as ‘A Restoration of Evil’ for the Keeper's Screen for Call of Cthulhu from 2000 or the more recent ‘Descent into Darkness’ from the Game Master’s Screen and Adventure for Alderac Entertainment’s Legends of the Five Rings Fourth Edition. In general, the heavier and sturdier the screen, the more likely it is that the screen will be sold unaccompanied, such as those published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment for the Starblazer Adventures: The Rock & Roll Space Opera Adventure Game and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPGs.

So how do I like my GM Screen?

I like my Screen to come with something. Not a poster or poster map, but a scenario, which is one reason why I like “Descent into Darkness” from the Game Master’s Screen and Adventure for Legends of the Five Rings Fourth Edition and ‘A Bann Too Many’, the scenario that comes in the Dragon Age Game Master's Kit for Green Ronin Publishing's Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Set 1: For Characters Level 1 to 5. I also like my screen to come with some reference material, something that adds to the game. Which is why I am fond of both the Sholari Reference Pack for SkyRealms of Jorune and the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press' Trail of Cthulhu as well as the Loremaster's Screen & Lake-town Sourcebook for Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild RPG. Which is what I will be reviewing today.

As the title suggests, the Loremaster's Screen & Lake-town Sourcebook consists of two elements. The first is the screen itself, whilst the latter is a location and background sourcebook for The One Ring. The Loremaster’s Screen is a four-panel affair. On the outside is a good aerial shot of Lake-town to out over the Long Lake to where the bones of Smaug still lie just off the shore. On the inside is an array of some twenty-four tables, beginning skill and trait use on the left before working through combat on the middle two sections to encounters and possible dangers on the left. An additional trio of tables cover various additional page references. The tables are all clear and easy to read, made all the easier by colour coding. Some further page references would have been useful, in particular to the places in the book where the tables are taken from. That said, a Loremaster should have no problem working with the tables on this screen.

The Lake-town Sourcebook presents the first real location to be described in depth for The One Ring. This is not the Lake-town of The Hobbit, but what was rebuilt in the wake of Smaug’s attack upon the trading port and the dragon’s death at the hands of Bard, now the king in Dale. It is a larger, more prosperous, place, the safety engendered by Smaug’s death and the founding of two kingdoms in the north enabling trade to grow and people to travel further. At the heart of the slim, staple-bound is a stunning map of the town, one that grants a feel for the place rather than an exact set of town plans. Each of its six districts – the Artisans’ District, the Elven Quarter, Merchants’ District, Residential District, Shipyards’ District, and Town Hall’s Quarter – are described in detail enough for the Loremaster to use without overburdening him with facts and are each accompanied by stats and write-ups for the typical NPCs to be found there. Thus Barding Nobles and Dwarf Notables are to be found in the Town Hall’s Quarter, whilst Hospital Healers are to be found in the Residential District.

For Loremaster and player alike, the supplement includes a list and explanation of the things that the heroes can do during the Fellowship Phase of the game. These purchasing items at the market, collecting herbs from the nearby marshes, and even receive a title and thus become a citizen of Lake-town! The latter of course requires that the heroes’ deeds come to the attention of the Master of Lake-town and the town council. In addition, the heroes could attend ‘Dragontide’, the three-day annual celebration of the death of Smaug, part of which consists of an archery contest – such a contest and other events of ‘Dragontide’ are also detailed in Tales from Wilderland, the adventure campaign/anthology from Cubicle Seven Entertainment. Lastly, the adventurers might venture out into the Long Marshes, probably to locate and collect herbs, though that has its dangers in the form of Hobgoblins, Marsh-Hags, and other ‘marsh monsters’! 

The Lake-town Sourcebook also adds a new option for the players – a new Culture and the possibility of playing one of the Men of the Lake. Enterprising and wealthy, with a love of the new things that the trade brings to the town, those Men of the Lake that answer the call of adventure are certainly more determined than their merchant and craftsmen brethren. This shows in their Cultural Blessing, ‘Tenacious’, which enables them to learn and gain extra Experience Points from surviving dangerous situations.

Our sample adventurer, one of the Men of the Lake is Hakon. From a wealthy mercantile family, Hakon dutifully became an apprentice trader, but was more interested in the traders and where they came from, in the songs they sang and tales that they told. He always wanted to a minstrel, having learned the songs that his nanny had taught him. For the moment, his family accepts his desire to see beyond the coins and ledgers, the markets and the trade boats, the fine goods and rich furs that is their day-to day concerns. One day, they expect him to return to the fold, in the meantime his father continues to run the business. 

Name: Hakon
Culture: Men of the Lake Standard of Living: Prosperous
Cultural Blessing: Tenacious (When wounded or suffer negative consequences, spend Hope to gain an Experience Point) 
Calling: Wanderer Shadow Weakness: Wanderering-madness

- TRAITS -
Specialities: Minstrelsy, Folk-lore
Distinctive Features: Fair-spoken, Merry

- ATTRIBUTES -
Body (Base/Favoured): 5/6
Heart (Base/Favoured): 7/10
Wits (Base/Favoured): 2/4

- COMMON SKILLS -
Personality Skills – Awe 0 Inspire 0 Persuade 2
Movement Skills – Athletics 2 Travel 2 Stealth 0
Perception Skills – Awareness 1 Insight 2 Search 0
Survival Skills – Explore 0 Healing 2 Hunting 0
Custom Skills – Song 3 Courtesy 3 Riddle 3
Vocation Skills – Craft 2 Battle 1 Lore 1

- WEAPON SKILLS -
Great Bow 2, Sword 1, Dagger 1
Parry 9 Damage 2

- GEAR -
Travelling gear, Lyre, Sword, Great Bow & Arrows, Dagger, Shield, Mail Shirt (Armour 3d) & Iron & Leather Cap (+1 Armour)

- VIRTUES -
Trading (At ease when negotiating the buying and selling of items, or even information...)

Experience 0 Valour 1 Wisdom 2
Endurance 29 Fatigue 9
Hope 15 Shadow 0
Weary 0 Miserable 0 Wounded 0

Rounding out the Lake-town Sourcebook is a sample character and a pre-prepared character sheet. Both the Lake-town Sourcebook and the Loremaster’s Screen are well presented, although the cover slip that comes packaged with the Loremaster's Screen & Lake-town Sourcebook is somewhat redundant given that information it details can be found on the back of the Lake-town Sourcebook. If there is a downside to the sourcebook it is that it could have expanded its scope a little, just to cover the Long Lake, certainly as far as the bones of both the old Lake-town and Smaug are concerned. Nevertheless, it nicely presents a location without overwhelming the Loremaster in detail, something that another published might have been tempted to do. Despite being a staple-bound book without a cover, the Lake-town Sourcebook is surprisingly sturdy, though the Loremaster will still want to handle it with some care.

The Loremaster’s Screen is exactly as it should be, a useful tool to have in front of the Loremaster during play, whilst the Lake-town Sourcebook adds to the setting of The One Ring with material that the Loremaster can really make use of. Overall, this makes the Loremaster's Screen & Lake-town Sourcebook a pleasing package, one that a group playing The One Ring should get plenty of use out of.