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Monday 20 December 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Blue Rose Quick-Start

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been 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 quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.


The Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is Green Ronin Publishing contribution to Free RPG Day in 2021. This is an introduction to Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy which provides Game Master and players alike with everything necessary to play. This includes an explanation of its genre, the rules, a complete scenario, and a nonet of pre-generated Player Characters, all of which comes packaged in a handsome, not to say sturdy—especially in comparison to other releases for Free RPG Day, booklet done in full colour. It very quickly gets down to explaining what it is, what roleplaying is, and what everyone needs to play before providing an explanation of what ‘Romantic Fantasy’ is. Traditional fantasy is not necessarily romantic, although it can have great romances, its focus is more on great sagas and battles and magic and great evils and the like, but inspired by authors such as Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, Tamora Pierce, and others, Romantic Fantasy and thus Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, emphasises love and relationships between a diversity of healthy sexualities, genders, and identities, often through deep, meaningful romantic relationships and consent. In the Kingdom of Aldis, the key setting for Blue Rose, preference for more than the single gender is widespread, and although in the minority, preference for a single gender is equally as accepted. The tone is also positive, rather than grim and gritty, so the characters—and thus the Player Characters—are motivated by sincerity and heroism. Magic is also different to that of standard fantasy, tending to be psychic in nature rather than necessarily arcane, although that too, as arcana, also exists. Lastly, there is a sense of sense of environmental consciousness to be found in the genre, and reverence for the natural world often drives stories in which the antagonists have none.

A quick overview of Kingdom of Aldis—the ‘Kingdom of the Blue Rose’—is also provided as is a description of the Aldinfolk. The kingdom is a beacon of Light having arisen from the darkness that was the Empire of Thorns, whose cabal of wicked Sorcerer Kings had previously overthrown the Old Kingdom. It is also home a diverse range of peoples. Not just Humans of all colours, but also aquatic Sea-folk, the mystical Vata (divided between the chalk-skinned Vata’an and the ebonskinned Vata’sha), and also the Night People, the creations of the Sorcerer Kings and their terrible sorcery, who eventually freed themselves from their servitude. Lastly, there are the Rhydan, various species of animal who Awaken to sapience and psychic ability, and are equal citizens in Aldis. This mix is reflected in the range of Player Characters presented in the appendix at the end of the Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy. Nine pre-generated First Level Blue Rose Player Characters make up the Family Nightsong, a collection of misfits and outcasts who have come together to form a family. The appendix includes an explanation of who they and what the relationships are between the nine, as well as their history. Each of the nine comes with a complete background and descriptions of their personality, goal, calling, destiny, and fate, plus their important relationships. This is in addition to their actual character sheets, so every one of the nine pre-generated Player Characters is given a two-page spread. The mix includes Sea-folk, a Night Person, Humans, Vata’sha, Vata’an, and a Rhy-Badger, and they can either be used intended with the scenario included in the quick-start, or as a ready supply of replacement Player Characters, or even NPCs if the Game Master is running a Blue Rose campaign.

The Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy and thus Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy uses the AGE System, or Adventure Game Engine System. Originally seen in Dragon Age – Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Set 1: For Characters Level 1 to 5. It is fast, simple, but cinematic in its play style. At the core of each character in Blue Rose are eight abilities—Accuracy, Communication, Constitution, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Perception, Strength, and Willpower. Each attribute is rated between -2 and 4, with 1 being the average. They will have ability focuses, areas of expertise such as Perception (Searching) or Intelligence (Natural Lore), each of which adds +2 bonus to appropriate rolls. Characters can also know Weapon Groups, Talents, and Specialisations and these are worked into and explained in the nine pre-generated characters. The AGE System and Blue Rose has three Classes—Adept, who use arcana, Experts, who can be anything from stealthy scouts to suave diplomats, and Warriors, who can use a variety of weapon styles.

Mechanically, the AGE System requires the use of just six-sided dice, both to handle actions as well as effect—such as damage, time taken, or to generate Stunt Points. To undertake an action, a player rolls three six-sided dice to beat a target, the average being eleven. To the roll a player also adds the appropriate Ability and if one applies, a +2 bonus for any Focus. For example, Chaya the Rhy-Badger wants to understand what a wolf that she and her family has just encountered is doing. Her player would roll the dice, add two for her Intelligence Attribute and two for her Natural Lore Focus. The roll is two, two, and six, which together with the bonuses for the Intelligence Attribute Natural Lore Focus, means that Chaya’s player has rolled a fourteen. This is more than the Target Number of the twelve required to understand the wolf.

Now of the three six-sided dice, one is a different colour to the other two. This is called the Stunt Die. Typically, it acts as an effect die, measuring how well a character does or how quickly an action takes, but in the basic rules, particularly in combat, the Stunt Die does much, much more. Whenever a player rolls doubles on two of the three six-sided dice and succeeds, he gets a number of points equal to the result of the Stunt Die to spend on Stunts, which come in four types—Combat, Exploration, Social, and Power. Thus, Knock Prone or Mighty Blow are Combat Stunts for use in melee or missile combat, Arcane Shield or Effortless Arcana are Arcane Stunts when casting magic, Speedy Search or With a Flourish are Exploration Stunts for general actions, and Passionate Inspiration or Flirt! are Roleplaying Stunts. In the case of Chaya above, her player rolled doubles, generating two Stunt Points to spend from the Exploration Stunts. The list of stunts is not exhaustive in the quick-start, but enough at last for the scenario, and there are more in Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy.

The Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy explains the rules clearly and simply in just a few pages. Tables are included covering the Actions that the Player Characters and NPCs can take, as well as Talents and Arcana. Four tables list Combat Stunts, Exploration Stunts, Roleplaying Stunts, and Arcane Stunts. Lastly, and particularly to the Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, the Player Characters can be driven to greater feats and achievements when the people and things they care about are in danger, and mechanically, this is reflected in the Relationship value which each Player Character has with particular members of their family. Once per scene, if an action would support the emotion and context of the Relationship which the Player Character has with another, then the player can add the Relationship value to any Stunt Points generated, or even be used to generate Stunt Points when the roll actually does not. Lastly, there is advice throughout the quick-start, especially on handling the potential interplay of Stunts and Emotions and how to portray them, in a way which is responsible and mature.

The scenario in the Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is ‘The Rhy-Wolf’s Woe’. Consisting of eight scenes, the adventure can be easily scaled to any number of players, though four or five should be a reasonable number. The Player Characters are traveling through the Pavin Weald, a vast forest, when they encounter a Rhy-wolf who wants their help. One of his friends, another Rhy-wolf, has gone missing and he believes that she may have gone off with a boy with whom she has formed a rhy-bond. He wants the Player Characters to find her and make sure that she is safe. Of course, being heroes, the Player Characters agree and go in search of the missing Rhy-wolf. He directs them to the village where the boy can be found, but once they discover that he too is missing. Now in search of both, they must trek deep into the wilderness, facing increasingly difficult encounters along the way.

‘The Rhy-Wolf’s Woe’ is nicely built around a burgeoning relationship between the boy and the Rhy-wolf, and comes with plenty of detail. However, the scenario is short—really intended to be played in a single four-hour session—and it is linear. So in terms of storytelling it is not particularly sophisticated and beyond perhaps using it as an introduction or a side quest in a campaign, it is perhaps a little too basic an adventure for experienced players. This does not mean that they will not enjoy it necessarily, but its structure is likely to be obvious. Less experienced players or those new to roleplaying will have less of an issue, and if this is one of the first things that the Game Master has run, then the structure makes it easier for her to run and concentrate on roleplaying and portraying the setting.

Physically, the Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is cleanly and tidily laid out. The full colour artwork is excellent and as a physical product, it feels nicely solid in the hands.

Overall, as an introduction to the Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy, the Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is better aimed at players and Game Masters new to the hobby rather than experienced roleplayers. However, as an introduction, the Blue Rose Quick-Start: An Introduction to the AGE Roleplaying Game of Romantic Fantasy is well done and a more than serviceable entry point.

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