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Saturday, 15 January 2022

The Other OSR: Into the Bronze

Published by Lantern’s Faun, Into the Bronze: Sword & Sorcery RPG in Bronze Age Mesopotamia is a minimalist roleplaying game built on the architecture of Into the Odd. As the title suggests, it is set in the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia on the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here the first city states were founded, here the first men and the women strode forth to explore the lands between the first two great rivers known to mankind, to enter the silent, gloomy valleys where demons and their acolytes hid and devised their evil plans, here they would encounter the very gods of Sumeria, and here they would build the first great civilisations. As those first men and women to stride the land, the Player Characters are Sumerian ‘Bounty Hunters’ those willing to go forth and undertake dangerous tasks—explore the unknown, hunt down criminals, kill monsters, and more… In return, their wicker baskets will be filled with great wealth—treasures, secrets, and favours. With their treasures, their wealth, and their secrets, they not only have the potential to make their mark on the world, but go onto to stamp on the world by building and constructing civilisation around them.

Into the Bronze: Sword & Sorcery RPG in Bronze Age Mesopotamia includes thirty-six backgrounds, a flexible narrative system for enchantments, a simple system for building and construction, exploration, encounter creation, god creation, and a bestiary. A Player Character or Sumerian in Into the Bronze is lightly defined—and needs to be! A Sumerian is a fragile thing, weapons and monsters both being deadly, so a Sumerian can be quickly and easily replaced. Sumerian has three Ability scores—Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower, his Hit Protection, some Obsidian (the currency), a Background which provides two Items of Equipment. Depending on the Background, a Sumerian may have Magic Words, though they count as an Item. To create a Sumerian, a player rolls three six-sided dice for each Ability and keeps the highest two, a six-sided die each for his Hit Protection and Obsidian, and then cross references the values of his Hit Protection and Obsidian to determine his Background. A Sumerian also has a weapon of his choice, a single torch, and his Omens. Garments and physical features can also be rolled for. Rolling up a Sumerian takes minutes at most.

Harran
Background: Beer Brewer
Omens: In the night Harran was born, they saw sandstorms (Reckless/Sanguine)
Physical Feature: Has a falcon
Strength 6
Dexterity 11
Will 9
Hit Points: 3
Obsidian: 3
Item: stone spoon (1.5 m), torch, yeast, spear
Garment: Black Linen

Mechanically, Into the Bronze is simple. To undertake an action, a Sumerian player rolls a twenty-sided die, attempting to roll equal to or less than an ability. When it comes to combat, Initiative is handled narratively, with the Game Master foreshadowing events around the Sumerians to both engage them and determine when they act. Otherwise, mechanically, combat involves rolling for damage rather than to hit. Every attack hits and does damage, rolled on a six-sided die. All weapons ‘explode’ and allow an extra die to be rolled and added to the total if a six is rolled. Heavier weapons explode on a four, five, or six. Damage is inflicted on a Sumerian’s Hit Protection and then his Strength. Any time a Sumerian suffers Strength damage, his player must make a test against his Strength, failure indicating that he has suffered a critical hit. The effects of this are determined by a roll of an eight-sided die on the Critical Hit Table, and can be anything from a scar, teeth being knocked out, loss of a limb, all the way up to death. The life of the average Sumerian who ventures out from the safety of the city is likely to be nasty, brutish, and short.

Another effect of combat and other situations is that a Sumerian may suffer Conditions. Unfortunately, these are not given in ‘Annex 1’ as Into the Bronze states, but are attached to the character sheet for the game. Many of these Conditions also cause a player to roll with Disadvantage. This is not explained in Into the Bronze either, but essentially this should be taken to refer to the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanics common to other roleplaying games, first seen in Dunegons & Dragons, Fifth Edition. In play, Conditions also take up slots in a Sumerian’s Inventory, much like Mausritter. Lastly, items such as torches, lanterns, and the like all have a Usage die, which is rolled on six-sided die, one use being marked each time a player rolls four, five, or six.

Some Backgrounds such as Archivist, Astrologer, Enuuch, Scribe, Mathematician, and Tapestry Weaver have access to Magic Words, and so through Divine Intonation, the Language of the Sacred. At the start of play, a Sumerian with such knowledge knows two words, such as Treason, Clay, Bones, or Steps, but can learn more. The player of such a Sumerian describes the effect he wants using the Words his Sumerian knows and casts the combination automatically as an enchantment. However, the Game Master determines the cost of casting the enchantment in terms of Hit Protection, or Strength if the caster has no Hit Protection. For example, Gizzal the Enuuch knows the Words Treason and Shadow. Chased by some bandits, he calls upon the gods to direct the bandits’ shadows to betray them and so confuse them as to the direction they are heading in. The Game Master decides that since this is affecting several bandits, Gizzal will lose two points of Hit Protection, but he will get away from the bandits. The Enchantments rules are simple and engaging to use, encouraging player inventiveness, whilst at the same time being far more narrativist than a roleplaying like Into the Bronze usually would be.

More than half of Into the Bronze is about building the world around the Sumerians. This includes elements such as weather and travel, but much is devoted to creating the terrain nearby for the Sumerians to explore and then populating these hexes with encounters across steppes, swamps, deserts, and mountains, and adventure sites. These are backed up with a lengthy table of adventure hooks, a table for creating the gods who walk among men, and a bestiary of classic creatures, such as Ghouls, Griffins, and Minotaurs. These are joined by monsters and creatures out of Sumerian myth, such as the Ekkimu, unburied bodies who have returned as demons and hunt in packs of seven to hunt for human flesh.

Physically, Into the Bronze is decently presented with a range of Public Domain Artwork and laid out in an exciting style. In places, the artwork is poorly handled though, and worse, the roleplaying game is underdeveloped. For example, the lack of explanation of for the Disadvantage mechanic, whether or not there is a corresponding Advantage mechanic, and the missing Conditions. An experienced Game Master will be able to address this issue, but having to do so, adds more effort than is necessary in running the game—if only little. In terms of running Into the Bronze, the Game Master will need a fair bit of effort with Into the Bronze given the brevity of the rules, but at least a bibliography is included for further research. Certainly, the Game Master will need a few more monsters and threats to throw at her players. As a framework, it is potentially too sparse, but that does mean there is room aplenty for input by both the Game Master and her players.

Despite its flaws, Into the Bronze is a fantastic little toolkit for running games in a version of ancient Mesopotamia that the roleplaying game provides a means to create and the Player Characters to then explore and go onto building civilisation. Simple and easy to play, Into the Bronze: Sword & Sorcery RPG in Bronze Age Mesopotamia is an enjoyably nasty, brutish, and short roleplaying game set at the dawn of civilisation.

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