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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Renaissance Deluxe


From the designers of the award-winning Abney Park’s Airship Pirates, Renaissance Deluxe is set of rules designed to handle adventures and campaigns during the Early Modern period, between the Middle Ages and the Age of Revolutions. It is a game that thus encompasses three hundred years of history, from 1500 AD to 1800 AD, taking in changes weapons and warfare—the change from plate armour and swords and shields to wheellocks and flintlocks and pikes and swords; of education and reason as the printing press spreads, leading to a rise in literacy and political agitation; of exploration and conquest as the Age of Sail heralds the discovery of new lands and peoples everywhere. In England alone this covers much of the Tudor, Stuart, and Hanoverian monarchies, the English Civil War, the Jacobite Risings, while elsewhere it takes in the discovery of the Americas and the founding of the colonies, the Indian Wars and the American War of Independence, the Thirty Years War, and the French Revolution.  This is not say that the game is entirely a historical affair, for the rules also cover alchemy, magic, and witchcraft, as well as sanity and insanity, and various fantasy creatures.

Renaissance Deluxe is a percentile RPG that uses OpenQuest, an Open Game License iteration of Chaosium, Inc.’s Basic Roleplaying that is based on the Mongoose RuneQuest SRD, as the basis for its rules and mechanics. What this means is that they will be familiar to anyone who has played Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and other similar percentile RPGs descended from the original RuneQuest from 1978. For those not familiar with OpenQuest, RuneQuest, and Call of Cthulhu, what this means is that the rules and mechanics provide a skill-orientated system that gives dangerous combat and a gritty playing experience. The rules are simple and unfussy, being relatively streamlined in comparison to other iterations of the Basic Roleplaying family.

Character creation in Renaissance Deluxe begins with a player rolling his character’s characteristics—each on a scale of three to eighteen, before choosing a Social Class—Peasant, Townsman, Middle Class, Gentry, and Nobility—which determines what Profession he can select. From Agitator and Camp Follower to Witch Finder/Inquisitor to Woodsman, most of the given Professions are quite mundane, although the Alchemist and the Witch/Warlock provide outré options. Both Social Class and Professions provide bonuses to a character’s Common Skills and Advanced Skills, the value each of which is derived from the character’s characteristics. On top of that, a player receives 250 points to assign to his skills. A table of connections and past events enable a group of adventurers to create links with each other.

Our sample character is Martin O’Connell, an ex-mercenary who fought for various armies in Europe, but sickening of the slaughter decided to return to England. He came to the aid of one Noah McKay, a Scots doctor in Paris who was set upon by ruffians. Not only did Doctor McKay buy him a drink, but hired him as a bodyguard. McKay’s family does not approve, especially as Martin is Roman Catholic. Martin is confident of himself and a doughty man to have in a fight. He thinks McKay is an odd fellow, but enjoys his company and his coin. Much of the latter he sends home to his family.

Adventurer: Martin O’Connell
Nationality: Irish Age: 31
Homeland: Ireland Gender: Male
Social Class: Peasant Profession: Mercenary
Family:
Connections: Political Affiliation:

Righteousness
Righteousness Points: 50
Faction: Roman Catholicism Faction Zeal: 25

STR: 15 CON: 13 SIZ: 16 INT: 14
POW: 11 DEX: 12 CHA: 10
Damage Modifier: +1D6 Combat Order: 12
Spellcasting Order: 12 Movement: 15 metres

Armour
Type: Buff Coat AP: 2/1

Hit Points
Maximum: 15 Current: 15
Major Wound Level: 8

Sanity Points
Maximum: 11 Current: 11
Major Insanity Level: 6

Basic Skills:
Athletics  47%, Close Combat  69%, Culture (Own) 58%, Dance  22%, Dodge  62%, Drive  36%, Evaluate  54%, First Aid  36%, Gun Combat  66%, Influence  52%, Insight  25%, Lore (Ireland) 58%, Perception  45%, Persistence  42%, Ranged Combat  35%, Resilience  56%, Ride  23%, Sing  31%, Sleight  22%, Stealth  35%, Unarmed Combat 47%

Advanced Skills:
Beliefs (Catholicism) 53%, Boating 48%, Craft (Baker) 25%, Dual Weapons (Sword & Main Gauche) 55%, Dual Weapons (Sword & Shield) 25%, Engineering 28%, Language (English) 54%,  Language (Gaelic) 45%,  Language (German) 25%,  Lore (Plants) 28%, Lore (Tactics) 38%, Play Instrument (Pipes) 22%, Survival 24%

One notable addition to the characters are the rules for Righteousness, which represents each character’s belief in a creed or organisation. This could be his religion, a secret society, his clan, his master, his guild, or personal self-interest, such as honour or greed. It is a percentile score that can go up and down according to a player’s actions. For example, a player who has the Faction of Rebellion (Jacobite) would gain points for defeating a band of English soldiers in a public brawl, but lose points if he was defeated and captured. A character’s Righteousness can also contribute a bonus to skill, such as Close Combat in a fight or Influence in a debate. A Faction can also hinder a character. Obviously, a Faction may well call upon a character for certain tasks, but it might also get a character into trouble if his Righteousness is called into question or tested by another Faction. It is also possible for the Righteousness a character or NPC has in Faction to be driven to zero, in which case he is ripe for conversion to another Faction.

Righeousness then, is a roleplaying tool. It is there is to gauge, push, and pull player character actions and motivations. It is befits the period with its religious divisions,  division between religion and science, and so on. Four sample Factions are included, so the GM will probably need to create more.

Mechanically, Renaissance Deluxe is a percentile system—a player generally needs to roll under an appropriate skill to succeed. Critical rolls and fumbles are also possible. Combat in Renaissance Deluxe is designed to be fairly unforgiving—the average character only has to take seven points of damage, which most weapons are capable of inflicting—and he suffers a Serious Wound, such as broken ribs or a scar across the face. Typically, minor NPCs will be hors de combat, but player characters and major NPCs are capable of suffering even more debilitating Grave Wounds. Armour is available, but not particularly effective against firearms.

Most characters have access to weapons of all kinds, these being covered by the broad Close Combat, Gun Combat, Ranged Combat, and Unarmed Combat skills. The signature combat skills of the period fall under a number of Advanced Skills—Polearms and Bows are covered by their own skills, whilst Dual Weapons is covered by a number of separate skills, such as Sword & Pistol, Sword & Main Gauche, and Sword &bShield. Firearms take too long to reload, so are generally used as one-shot weapons before melee weapons are drawn. Critical and Fumble tables are provided for the various weapon types in the game.

In comparison to NPCs, player characters have Hero Points. These are used to gain re-rolled skills, downgrade Serious and Grave Wounds, to avoid death, and for alchemists, to design new spells. Characters also earn Improvement Points through play—these can be expended to improve skills, learn new ones, and even improve their characteristics.

The broad swathe of Renaissance Deluxe’s historical setting is supported with rules for travel and weather, illness and disease, an extensive list of poisons, ship travel, and naval combat. The latter is streamlined for ease of play. Where Renaissance Deluxe begins to diverge from a mundane treatment of its history is with Alchemy, one of two magic systems in the RPG. The other being Satanism. Alchemy revolves around the four elements—air, earth, fire, and water, as well as aether—and requires that the alchemist create a Philosopher’s Stone, in which he stores the energy to fuel his spells. The RPG’s short spell list is perhaps too cumbersome, each entry being named something along the lines of For to Speak unto the Mind of Another or For to Steady the Hands of a Marksman, and thus too awkwardly named to find with any ease. The rules also cover the making of potions and the summoning of familiar. Guidelines are also included so that the GM can alter these rules create the magic system that he wants.

Most spell-casting characters in Renaissance Deluxe will be alchemists. Two other options are available. Galenic physicians balance their patients’ humours as part of their treatment, though some also two or three healing spells. Our second sample character is an example of this. The second option is Witchcraft, which Renaissance Deluxe divides between that used for good and that used for evil. Cunning Men and Wise Women use it for good as do unaligned witches and warlocks, whilst Satanic Cultists, Witches, and Warlocks put it to malign purposes. Unless the entire party is evil, it suggested that evil practitioners of witchcraft be NPCs. Alternatives are suggested if the GM wants to adapt the rules of Witchcraft to suit his gameworld.

Noah McKay is the son of a rich Edinburgh merchant who could afford to send his son to university to study medicine, first in Edinburgh and then in Paris. Currently Noah is building up a practice tending to his friends of both his mother and his father, who wish that he would marry. This is marred by his own sickness, consumption that has left him weak and sometimes feverish. This has also left him little time to continue his studies, especially his alchemical ones, the latter his having first studied with colleagues he met as a member of the Freemasons. His poor health means that it is rare for McKay not be seen wearing a thick coat and his skinny appearance means that he is sometimes an easy mark for muggers. For this reason, he carries a walking stick as a means to protect himself.

Adventurer: Noah McKay
Nationality: Scottish Age: 29
Homeland: Scotland Gender: Male
Social Class: Middle Class Profession: Physician (Galenic)
Family:
Connections: Political Affiliation:

Righteousness
Righteousness Points: 50
Faction: Freemasons Faction Zeal: 25

STR: 07 CON: 08 SIZ: 11 INT: 14
POW: 11 DEX: 14 CHA: 14
Damage Modifier: None Combat Order: 12
Spellcasting Order: 12 Movement: 15 metres

Armour
Type: Buff Coat AP: 2/1

Hit Points
Maximum: 10 Current:
Major Wound Level: 5

Sanity Points
Maximum: 11 Current: 11
Major Insanity Level: 6

Magick: 3
Spells: For to Bring the Touch of Healing (2), For to Ehance the Hands of Healing

Basic Skills:
Athletics  21%, Close Combat  41%, Culture (Own) 58%, Dance  38%, Dodge  28%, Drive  28%, Evaluate  42%, First Aid  78%, Gun Combat  28%, Influence  78%, Insight  45%, Lore (Scotland) 63%, Perception  35%, Persistence  52%, Ranged Combat  28%, Resilience  36%, Ride  35%, Sing  35%, Sleight  28%, Stealth  28%, Unarmed Combat  21%

Advanced Skills:

Alchemist  25%, Art (Prose Writing) 35%, Beliefs (Freemasonry) 53%, Commerce 28%, Courtesy 58%, Elemental Casting (Earth) 25%, Gambling 38%,  Healing (Galenic) 55%, Language (English) 78%,  Language (French) 38%,  Language (Latin) 38%,  Lore (Law) 28%

The RPG’s bestiary consists of a mix of ordinary animals, such as boars and wolves, cats and dogs with the more fantastic, including basilisks, dragons, ghosts, and ghouls. Goblins and Orcs are also included, as are dwarves and elves, the latter two as playable races, though sadly, halflings are not listed. The Sanity system in Renaissance Deluxe is again, a slimmed down version of the rules seen elsewhere. It treats Sanity as a type of mental hit points rather than the percentile ‘death spiral’ of Call of Cthulhu, with the horror checks being made against the skill of Persistence. This does place a lot of reliance upon the one skill, especially in a horror game or setting—such as in Dark Streets, Cakebread & Walton’s setting of Lovecraftian investigative horror. That said, just as a player character’s hit points can recover, so can his Sanity points.

Rounding out Renaissance Deluxe is a section of GM advice. For the most it is a bit too broad given what it has to cover—essentially not a straight treatment of three centuries of history, but a fantasy one too… This is not say that its advice is bad, more that it is short, being mostly pointers and thinking points for the GM.

Physically, Renaissance Deluxe is a black and greyscale book, which combined with the somewhat dark art, gives it a grubby look. This seems fitting given the grubbiness of the period it covers. That said, the book is clearly written and well-organised.

Renaissance Deluxe joins a number of RPGs and settings that cover the Early Modern period, such as Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Rogue Games’ ColonialGothic, Arion Games’ Maelstrom, and more recently, scenarios like Forgive Us, Death Love Doom, and Tales of the Scarecrow for Lamentations of the Flame Princess:Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. Indeed, it would be possible to pick any of the supplements or scenarios for those games, and with a little adjustment, the GM could run them using Renaissance Deluxe.
If there are issues with Renaissance Deluxe, it is that the book does require the GM and his players to know a lot about the history of the period. A timeline and a deeper overview of the period than the one given would have been helpful, as would a bibliography. Although the book is supposed to cover three centuries of history, it feels distinctly slanted towards the earlier half of the period. It would have been nice if the book had included some setting pitches too for the GM to develop further as well as an accompanying bibliography.

Renaissance Deluxe is not written with the novice game in mind. It is all a bit grey and ever so slightly intimidating, and it is lacking in the history of the period—it may just not be ‘deluxe’ enough. As a ‘core’ book though, it has much to recommend it. The book is well-written, the rules decently presented, and for the GM and the player who has any experience with any iteration of Basic Roleplaying and grasp of the game’s intended historical setting, Renaissance Deluxe is accessible and easy to grasp.