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Saturday, 20 November 2021

Micro RPG I: Smithy of Sacrilege

For every Ptolus: City by the Spire or Zweihander: Grim & Perilous Roleplaying or World’s Largest Dungeon or Invisible Sun—the desire to make the biggest or most compressive roleplaying game, campaign, or adventure, there is the opposite desire—to make the smallest roleplaying game or adventure. Reindeer Games’ TWERPS (The World's Easiest Role-Playing System) is perhaps one of the earliest examples of this, but more recent examples might include the Micro Chapbook series or the Tiny D6 series. Yet even these are not small enough and there is the drive to make roleplaying games smaller, often in order to answer the question, “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a postcard?” or “Can I fit a roleplaying game on a business card?” An example of the former is Smithy of Sacrilege.

Smithy of Sacrilege is a minimalist roleplaying which fits on the back of a postcard and comes with just about everything a gaming group needs in a roleplaying—bar a setting. The bulk of the game focuses on character creation and the rules, but there is an implied setting, sort of… In Smithy of Sacrilege, a Player Character is defined by three Abilities—Skill, Stamina, and Luck, and Health and Equipment Score (or EQ), the latter indicating how much a Player Character can carry. Both Health and Equipment Score start at eight and the value of the three abilities are determined by rolling a single die for a Background and an Occupation, both of which grant a single Ability bonus and a piece of equipment, and also an Aspiration, which only provides an item of equipment. For example, the Darksilt Ruffian Background grants a bonus to Skill and lockpicks, whilst the Alchemist Occupation adds to Luck and gives some Reagents. The Aspiration of ‘Dispense a cure’ comes with a sacred relic. (A Player Character generator can be found here.)

Eltaor Ninthalor
Background: Birchrift Elf
Occupation: Alchemist
Aspiration: Rout an army

Skill 0
Stamina 0
Luck 2

Health 8
Equipment Score 8

Catgut Bow, Reagents, Bugle

Mechanically, as you would expect, 
Smithy of Sacrilege is very simple. When a Player Character has to undertake an action, his player rolls two six-sided dice against a Difficulty Value, which is either eight, ten, or twelve, and adds the appropriate ability and a point for any piece of equipment used. If the result is equal to or higher than the Difficulty Value, the Player Character succeeds. If the action is regarded as dangerous, such as against an enemy, the difference between the Difficulty value and the roll—if successful, determines the amount of damage inflicted. The Difficulty Value to hit an NPC is also its Hit Points and so as combat progresses and the enemy takes damage, it effectively becomes easier to hit!

For example, Eltaor Ninthalor and travelling companions have been ambushed by a bunch of Orcs. It is his turn to attack. These are tough Orcs and so the Game Master sets the Difficulty Value at ten, which also represents their Hit Points. His player rolls two six-sided dice and adds one for Eltaor Ninthalor’s bow. Eltaor Ninthalor is incredibly lucky—his player rolls twelve! The total result with the bonus from the bow is thirteen, which means that the Orc takes three points of damage, reducing its Difficulty Value to seven.

Now mechanically, that is the limit of 
Smithy of Sacrilege. There are no rules for NPCs beyond their Difficulty and initiative, so there is a whole lot more that you might expect to find in a traditional roleplaying game which is absent. However, such is the simplicity that the Game Master can decide on how these work herself, and easily draw them from the fantasy scenarios of her choice.

The other big element missing from 
Smithy of Sacrilege is a setting, although there is an implied one and the roleplaying game does open with, “At last your two-day hike is over. What you do next might not make the history books, but it’ll win you bed and board the next few times you tell the tale over a mug of ale. Let’s begin.” This suggests that the Player Characters have set out to do ‘something’—whatever that is—and each Aspiration gives an objective that a Player Character wants to do, such as ‘Climb Mount Ashpeak’ or ‘Best the Fang Gauntlet’. There is also the implied fantasy in Smithy of Sacrilege, with its Dwarves, Elves, Alchemists, and so on, but it leaves questions such as “What is the ‘darksilt’ of the Darksilt Ruffian Background?” and “What is a Toothduke Dwarf?” open to development and determination by the players and the Game Master. The aspirations ask similar questions about the world and about what the Player Characters want to do.

Smithy of Sacrilege is simply laid out, but the text is just slightly too small to read easily and it is not quite clear how Abilities are rolled for. For example, it states “Roll 3D6 for attributes and starting gear.” That reads as if three six-sided dice are rolled for each attribute (when it should be ability), but a much-needed close read through of the rules suggests otherwise.

The only piece of artwork on 
Smithy of Sacrilege is the front of the postcard and it is a fantastic piece, depicting a tentacular, trident-wielding deep-sea diver. However, anyone coming to Smithy of Sacrilege knowing that it is a micro roleplaying game would expect to see some kind of connection between that cover and the game, but there is none. Which is so disappointing.

Smithy of Sacrilege is not necessarily a terrible game, the mechanics are workable, and the implied background, likely to be fantasy of some kind, something to work from by the players and Game Master alike. Essentially, pick this up and there is not a lot to explain, roll up some Player Characters, ask a few questions, establish a few facts about the world to begin with, add some more as you go along, even grab a scenario—for example, Isle of the Damned or The Isle of Glaslyn would do, and away you go.

And yet… What does ‘Smithy of Sacrilege’ mean? Who or what is the tentacular, trident-wielding deep-sea diver on the front of the postcard? That will have to wait for another roleplaying game or even the back of another post card…

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