Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 18 June 2022

Conflicts & Clearings

The Woodland is a world of strife and conflict in the wake of first the Grand Civil War between the avian factions of the Eyrie Dynasties, then the Interbellum, when an army led by the Marquise de Cat invaded, and lastly the return of the resurgent Eyrie Dynasties and the rise of the Woodland Alliance in response to the feline invaders. This has left Clearing after Clearing, or settlement, across the Woodland rife with factions wanting to ally with one side or the other, facing problems caused by conflicts across the forest, and their inhabitants at loggerheads with each other as to what solutions they should apply to one problem, situation, or another. Into the Clearings slip the outsiders and travellers known as Vagabonds, often outlaws who wander the Woodland without a home, and although no upstanding member of a Clearing’s community would trust a Vagabond, together a band of Vagabonds, might have the nous, the chutzpah, the slipperiness, and the skill, to solve the problems that beset a Clearing and tip it one way or another. Often this will mean that the Vagabonds will do so in favour of one faction, for they have their own biases, which means that there is even less reason to trust them! So bands of Vagabonds slip out of one Clearing and into another, sometimes changing the situation they discover, sometimes not, occasionally to the acclaim of one faction and the dismay of others, but rarely ever trusted even as they are barely tolerated.

This is the set-up Root: The Roleplaying Game, the game based on Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right, the anthropomorphic asymmetrical boardgame from Leder Games, published by Magpie Games. The players take the roles of the Vagabonds, but it is up to the Game Master to create a network of Clearings, each with interesting NPC denizens and general conflicts and issues rather than ready-to-play plots. Root: The Roleplaying Game includes a set of tables to help her design her first set of twelve Clearings, including their denizens, the paths between the Clearings (which themselves can often be difficult and dangerous to travel), and which faction controls each Clearing. Since this is done randomly, the resulting Woodland will differ from that created by another Game Master and had there been a pre-written set of twelve Clearings proscribed by the authors of Root: The Roleplaying Game, it would have differed from that too. Root: The Roleplaying Game does come with an example Clearing called ‘Gelilah’s Grove’ which neatly shows off the concept. However, if the Game Master is short on inspiration or ideas and wants further examples or wants a Clearing which can be run as a one-shot, then there is a ready set of Clearings in the supplement, Root: The Roleplaying Game – Clearing Booklet.

Root: The Roleplaying Game – Clearing Booklet provides a quartet of Clearings ready for the Game Master to add to her Woodland. The format for each entry is the same. This includes a ‘Description’, ‘At First Sight’, ‘Conflicts’, details and stats for ‘Important Residents’, ‘Important Locations’, ‘Special Rules’, and ‘Introducing the Clearing’. The latter provides advice and guidance, whilst the ‘Conflicts’ starts off with a ‘Core Conflict’ and adds several more, all of whom come with a ‘How It Develops’ section which examines what happens if the Vagabonds never get involved. Each of the Clearings in the supplement comes with four such Conflicts, and though the listed playing is two to four hours for each Clearing, the likelihood is that it will take more than one session for a band of Vagabonds to deal with all of them. Either way, whether the Vagabonds involve themselves in a Conflict or not, there are consequences to their actions or their inaction respectively.

The first Clearing in Root: The Roleplaying Game – Clearing Booklet is ‘Hookfoot Bog’, the name of a swampy, smelly settlement best known as a source of peat which the local Hookfoot Clan of mice dig out using harvesting machines and which the Marquisate governs as an important resource. From the off, it is clear that the Marquisate is not necessarily the bad cat here. The local commander governs with a light paw, but its now monopoly on the digging out and sale of peat has led to increased prices and tension, as well as changes to the Clearing as the Cats and their allies have constructed wooden buildings and homes in the settlement centre. This has divided the settlement into the old town and the new town, between collaborators who welcome, if not a newfound wealth, then at least job security. However, some within the Hookfoot Clan resent the Marquisate’s presence and are finding ways to resist, including purchasing weapons from smugglers who in turn smuggle out Nip, a powerful narcotic regulated by the Marquisate, which requires peat to manufacture. The Conflicts are all nicely interconnected, and supported with details of the Clearing’s important NPCs, interesting locations, special rules—the latter covering the swampy, peat fuelled smoky environment and peat harvester operations, and guidance for the Game Master on how to get the Vagabonds involved in the Conflicts in Hookfoot Bog. The latter includes the governor asking the Vagabonds to infiltrate the resistance; a local merchant wants them to stop the vandalism on the peat harvesters, but others want to help it; they might be recruited by the resistance or tested by the smugglers to see if they support or oppose their operations; and more. Plus, there are tips on how to escalate the situation and keep the action going.

The other three Clearings follow the same pattern. ‘Sixtoe Stand’ is named for a hero who drove off a wolf attack many years ago, but a more recent wolf attack has left it ill-prepared to survive the winter. So, it needs an ally, but which faction will it side with? ‘Limmery Post’ details an ancient fortification on the edge of the Woodland occupied by the Marquisate much to the dismay of the inhabitants, who want the invaders gone, but camped outside the settlement is a contingent of the Woodland Alliance, ready to lay siege to Sixtoe Stand. Some in Sixtoe Stand want to keep the peace with the Marquisate, others would welcome their being driven out by the Woodland Alliance, but many want to remain in isolation as they have for many years. Which of course is not possible given the situation. Lastly, ‘Coolclaw Mine’ details an important iron mine under Marquisate occupation, but ill prepared to deal with the influx of soldiers and refugees and so the threat of starvation looms. Here the Marquisate Lord Scowl is much more of an openly oppressive presence and so is closer to the classic rebellion versus authority set-up, although it does throw a rival Vagabond group into the situation.

Physically, Root: The Roleplaying Game – Clearing Booklet is well presented, well written, and of course, illustrated with the same great art as with Root: The Roleplaying Game and Root: A Game of Woodland Might And Right. The worst that could be said of it is that there is not enough!

Root: The Roleplaying Game – Clearing Booklet is a solid supplement for Root: The Roleplaying Game. It complements a Game Master’s Woodland, whether of fully worked Clearings ready to add to her campaign or bring to the table as a one-shot. Or simply as a book of examples to take inspiration from and develop Clearings of her own.

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