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Saturday, 13 August 2022

[Free RPG Day 2022] Root: Talon Hill Quickstart

Now in its fifteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2022, was celebrated not once, but twice. First on Saturday, 25th June in the USA, and then on Saturday, 23rd July internationally. This was to prevent problem with past events when certain books did not arrive in time to be shipped internationally and so were not available outside of the USA. As per usual, Free RPG Day consisted of an array of new and interesting little releases, which are traditionally 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. Thanks to the generosity of David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3Reviews from R’lyeh was get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day, both in the USA and elsewhere.


Published by Magpie GamesRoot: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game is a roleplaying game based on the award-winning Root: A Game of Woodland Might & Right board game, about conflict and power, featuring struggles between cats, birds, mice, and more. The Woodland consists of dense forest interspersed by ‘Clearings’ where its many inhabitants—dominated by foxes, mice, rabbits, and birds live, work, and trade from their villages. Birds can also be found spread out in the canopy throughout the forest. Recently, the Woodland was thrown into chaos when the ruling Eyrie Dynasties tore themselves apart in a civil war and left power vacuums throughout the Woodland. With no single governing power, the many Clearings of the Woodland have coped as best they can—or not at all, but many fell under the sway or the occupation of the forces of the Marquise de Cat, leader of an industrious empire from far away. More recently, the civil war between the Eyrie Dynasties has ended and is regroupings its forces to retake its ancestral domains, whilst other denizens of the Woodland, wanting to be free of both the Marquisate and the Eyrie Dynasties, have formed the Woodland Alliance and secretly foment for independence.

Between the Clearings and the Paths which connect them, creatures, individuals, and bands live in the dense, often dangerous forest. Amongst these are the Vagabonds—exiles, outcasts, strangers, oddities, idealists, rebels, criminals, freethinkers. They are hardened to the toughness of life in the forest, but whilst some turn to crime and banditry, others come to Clearings to trade, work, and sometimes take jobs that no other upstanding citizens of any Clearing would do—or have the skill to undertake. Of course, in Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game, Vagabonds are the Player Characters.

Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game is ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’, the mechanics based on the award-winning post-apocalyptic roleplaying game, Apocalypse World, published by Lumpley Games in 2010. At the heart of these mechanics are Playbooks and their sets of Moves. Now, Playbooks are really Player Characters and their character sheets, and Moves are actions, skills, and knowledges, and every Playbook is a collection of Moves. Some of these Moves are generic in nature, such as ‘Persuade an NPC’ or ‘Attempt a Roguish Feat’, and every Player Character or Vagabond can attempt them. Others are particular to a Playbook, for example, ‘Silent Paws’ for a Ranger Vagabond or ‘Arsonist’ for the Scoundrel Vagabond.

To undertake an action or Move in a ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ roleplaying game—or Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game, a character’s player rolls two six-sided dice and adds the value of an attribute such as Charm, Cunning, Finesse, Luck, or Might, or Reputation, to the result. A full success is achieved on a result of ten or more; a partial success is achieved with a cost, complication, or consequence on a result of seven, eight, or nine; and a failure is scored on a result of six or less. Essentially, this generates results of ‘yes’, ‘yes, but…’ with consequences, and ‘no’. Notably though, the Game Master does not roll in ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ roleplaying game—or Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game

So for example, if a Player Character wants to ‘Read a Tense Situation’, his player is rolling to have his character learn the answers to questions such as ‘What’s my best way out/in/through?’, ‘Who or what is the biggest threat?’, ‘Who or what is most vulnerable to me?’, ‘What should I be on the lookout for?’, or ‘Who is in control here?’. To make the Move, the player rolls the dice and his character’s Cunning to the result. On a result of ten or more, the player can ask three of these questions, whilst on a result of seven, eight, or nine, he only gets to ask one.

Moves particular to a Playbook can add to an attribute, such as ‘Master Thief’, which adds one to a character’s Finesse or allow another attribute to be substituted for a particular Move, for example, ‘Threatening Visage’, which enables a Player Character to use his Might instead of Charm when using open threats or naked steel on attempts to ‘Persuade an NPC’. Others are fully detailed Moves, such as ‘Guardian’. When a Player Character wants to defend someone or something from an immediate NPC or environmental threat, his player rolls the character’s Might in a test. The Move gives three possible benefits—‘ Draw the attention of the threat; they focus on you now’, ‘Put the threat in a vulnerable spot; take +1 forward to counterstrike’, and ‘Push the threat back; you and your protected have a chance to manoeuvre or flee’. On a successful roll of ten or more, the character keeps them safe and his player cans elect one of the three benefits’; on a result of seven, eight, or nine, the Player Character is either exposed to the danger or the situation is escalated; and on a roll of six or less, the Player Character suffers the full brunt of the blow intended for his protected, and the threat has the Player Character where it wants him.

Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is the Free RPG Day 2022 from Magpie Games for Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying GameIt includes an explanation of the core rules, six pregenerated Player Characters or Vagabonds and their Playbooks, and a complete setting or Clearing for them to explore. From the overview of the game and an explanation of the characters to playing the game and its many Moves, the introduction to the Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game in Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is well-written. It is notable that all of the Vagabonds are essentially roguish in nature, so in addition to the Basic Moves, such as ‘Figure Someone Out’, ‘Persuade an NPC’, ‘Trick an NPC’, ‘Trust Fate’, and ‘Wreck Something’, they can ‘Attempt a Roguish Feat’. This covers Acrobatics, Blindside, Counterfeit, Disable Device, Hide, Pick Lock, Pick Pocket, Sleight of Hand, and Sneak. Each of these requires an associated Feat to attempt, and each of the six pregenerated Vagabonds has one, two, or more of the Feats depending just how roguish they are. Otherwise, a Vagabond’s player rolls the ‘Trust to Fate’ Move.

The six pre-generated Vagabonds include Fineas the Champion, a Pug would-be hero who has become tired of war; Saga the Chronicler, a Possum fearless scholar whose curiosity drives them to uncover the secret of the past (and Talon Hill in particular); Shariyen the Envoy, a Bat diplomat who wants to end conflicts; Jeurgin the Heretic, a Rabbit healer and preacher wanting to found and build a faith in the Great Tree; Dona the Seeker, a Mole explorer who wants to dig into the ruins of Augustine Castle in Talon Hill; and Aurélien the Exile, a Lizard former knight who seeks revenge for being betrayed many years before. Most of these Vagabonds have links to the given Clearing in Root: Talon Hill Quickstart and all are complete with Natures and Drives, stats, backgrounds, Moves, Feats, and equipment. All a player has to do is decide on a couple of connections and each Playbook is ready to play.

As its title suggests, the given Clearing in Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is Talon Hill. Its description comes with an overarching issue and conflicts within the Clearing, important NPCs, places to go, and more. The situation in Talon Hill is different to that of most Clearings. A sprawl of modern buildings below the crumbling Augustine Castle atop a great tree, its core Conflict concerns a dynastic feud which has the potential to affect all of the Woodland. Although foxes dominate the Clearing, it is ruled by the Kingfishers, an old Eyrie family which once sat on the throne of the Eyrie Dynasties. The current possessor of the silver laurel crown is Lord Thurgud II of Talon Hill. His claim though, is disputed by his sister, Theodora, a successful general, and Gaius, an ambitious merchant who believes has a stronger claim via a more traditional means of determining the succession. All three believe Augustine Castle to hold several Eyrie symbols of power, possession of which would strengthen a claim to both wear the silver laurel crown of Talon Hill and potentially, the Eyrie Dynasties. This has led to standoff between the three factions and their forces over access to Augustine Castle, but if a way could be found into the crumbling ruins, perhaps they could found and one faction or another favoured…? Elsewhere in Talon Hill, the local band of smugglers, thieves, and cutthroats known as the Moonlight Syndicate is looking to expand beyond its agreement with the local Knight Sergeant of the Guard which keeps it in balance, and a rash of murdered birds have appeared on the streets of the clearing who appear to have been killed in a manner previously used by a Lizard Cult as part of its sacrifices. Has the Lizard Cult returned or is there another faction operating in Talon Hill? There is advice on how these Conflicts might play out if the Vagabonds do not get involved and there are no set solutions to any of the situations. For example, the Moonlight Syndicate will ultimately expand its operation and come to run law enforcement in Talon Hill. If there is an issue with any one of the four Conflicts, it is perhaps that the one involving the Moonlight Syndicate and the local Knight Sergeant of the Guard is a bit too similar to Conflicts found in other Clearings. However, the Conflict involving the disputed claim to the silver laurel crown and the Eyrie Dynasties pulls Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game and the Vagabonds into the backstory to the current situation of the Woodland, and potentially, pushes its story forward.

Physically, Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is a fantastic looking booklet, done in full colour and printed on heavy paper stock. It is well written and the artwork, taken from or inspired by the Root: A Game of Woodland Might & Right board game, is bright and breezy, and really attractive. Even cute. Simply, just as Root: The Pellenicky Glade Quickstart was for Free RPG Day 2020 and Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart was for Free RPG Day 2020, so too Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is physically the most impressive of all the releases for Free RPG Day 2022.

If there is an issue with Root: Talon Hill Quickstart it is that it looks busy and it looks complex—something that often besets ‘Powered by the Apocalypse’ roleplaying games. Not only do players need their Vagabond’s Playbooks, but also reference sheets for all of the game’s Basic Moves and Weapon Moves—and that is a lot of information. However, it means that a player has all of the information he needs to play his Vagabond to hand, he does not need to refer to the rules for explanations of the rules or his Vagabond’s Moves. That also means that there is some preparation required to make sure that each player has the lists of Moves his Vagabond needs. Another issue is that the relative complexity and the density of the information in Root: Talon Hill Quickstart means that it is not a beginner’s game and the Game Master will need a bit of experience to run Talon Hill and its conflicts.

Ultimately, the Root: Talon Hill Quickstart comes with everything necessary to play and keep the attention of a playing group for probably three or four sessions, possibly more. Although it needs a careful read through and preparation by the Game Master, Root: Talon Hill Quickstart is a very good introduction to the rules, the setting, and conflicts in Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game—and it looks damned good too. For the Game Master who is already running a Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game campaign, the Root: Talon Hill Quickstart provides another Clearing that she can add to her campaign with the others available in the proper quick-start for the roleplaying game as well as releases for previous Free RPG Days.

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