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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Free RPG Day: Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th is Free RPG Day  and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quickstart. One of the regular pieces of support for an existing roleplaying game in 2017 is Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook. Published by Pelgrane Press, best known for 13th Age, the dramatic Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game, and Trail of Cthulhu, the clue-orientated roleplaying game of Lovecraftian investigative horror. Like previous releases from Pelgrane Press for Free RPG Day, the Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook presents two adventures for two different systems. The first is for 13th Age, whilst the other is for TimeWatch, the roleplaying game of time travel investigation and action. Each adventure is relatively short, playable in roughly a session or two.

The first of the two scenarios is for TimeWatch, the roleplaying game in which the player characters are members of the eponymous agency, policing and repairing the time stream from natural chronological disasters and meddlers. The plot to ‘Font of Knowledge’ is very much a play on words, involving the mass extinction of humanity and weirdly, an inappropriate use of the font, Comic Sans. To foil this plot, the agents will need to operate in their own time bubble, passing up and down the time stream to determine what caused the extinction of the timeline and why a thirteenth century religious tract now appears to have been originally in one of the most reviled fonts of all time. The scenario consists of a few scenes, but they provide a good mix of investigative, combat, and roleplaying opportunities. This being a time travel adventure, there is also the chance to meet a historical figure, this time Leonardo de Vinci.

The scenario is deadly in places and it should be made clear that the fate of humanity is on the line. So the Game Master may not want to throw such responsibility at his player characters, but there is nothing to stop ‘Font of Knowledge’ being dropped into an ongoing campaign and it is in fact, easy to do so. Otherwise, it serves as a good one-shot. To that end, the scenario is supported by six pre-generated agents, a mix of historical figures, both real and fictional, and the slightly pulpy Science Fiction agents. So the real historical figures include Colonel Thomas Blood and Julie d’Aubigny, whilst the historical includes a near ageless African immortal. The others include an uplifted gorilla and a health monitoring robot. Overall, a good mix and some fun characters.

The second scenario is for 13th Age. ‘Swords Against Owlbears’ is an excuse to write a scenario involving owlbears, especially one explaining where the strange hybrid creatures come from. Unlike ‘Font of Knowledge’ this is a much more difficult scenario to run with an existing group since it begins with the player characters trapped and altered beyond all recognition. The question is, who imprisoned them and what has been done to them? In the fact, the person responsible is known as the Maker of Many and she is a true Frankenstein, constantly pushing at the boundaries of life, art, and death, all in the name of knowledge. Once the player characters have smashed their way out of their vats, they will quickly find out two things--and after that, they will find out a third. First, they are mutagenic, which means that one from encounter to the next, they will be swapping mutations with each other and just every creature they encounter. So they might find themselves mutating into a half-monkey better Armour Class and climbing skill, lots of curiosity, or a half-moss thing which can collapse to the floor to avoid an attack, but which suffers from depression. The scenario includes some twenty or so mutation cards to spread around and swap from one encounter to the next, ranging from chicken and hydra to squirrel and rosebush, each with advantages and quirks.

Second, they are in the Twisted Gardens, which can be best described as ‘Moreau’s Murder Island’. Third, there is a way out of their predicament, but it involves more murder and danger and having to make a deal with the Maker of Many. ‘Swords Against Owlbears’ is a mix of the fun house and the murder house and should provide good session of bonkers fighting. It does come with six pre-generated adventurers, all Sixth Level, including a Tielfling Paladin, a Human Rogue, a Gnome Barbarian, a Half-Elf Sorcerer, a Dark Elf Ceric, and a Halfling Druid. These all need their ‘One Unique Thing’ which defines them to be decided upon as well as their Icon relationships and exactly why they are in the Twisted Gardens. The characters are just the bare bones, so anything beyond this will have to be created during play.

Of course, Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook is not really a flip book. One scenario follows the other rather than having to flip the book over and around to get to the other scenario. Unfortunately, as it appeared on Free RPG Day, Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook does have problems with both adventures. Most notably for ‘Font of Knowledge’, none of the pre-generated agent came with any stats, and for ‘Swords Against Owlbears’, some stats for both monsters and pre-generated adventurers needed updating. Fortunately, the PDF version has since been fixed and the errata for both adventures is available from Pelgrane Press. One other issue with ‘Swords Against Owlbears’ is that the map is not the easiest to work out what is where and it could have done with a better key, so careful study of the map is required. The overall effect of these issues is to make Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook feel just a little rushed.

Although not as good as it should have been on the day, the good news is that Pelgrane Press has fixed Free RPG Day 2017 – Swords Against Owlbears/Font of Knowledge flipbook. The result is an entertaining pair of adventures, both suited to one shot play, even convention play, and do a nice job of showcasing both systems.