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Saturday, 17 September 2022

Solitaire: Colostle

Imagine that there is a world with one castle. Imagine that castle is the world. Imagine that castle covers the world. Were it possible to ascend to the battlements or climb up one of the castle’s many towers, but all that would be seen more of the castle’s roof, battlements, and towers. The rooms of the castle extend in all directions. Beyond the villages, towns, and cities where people live lie the Roomlands. Out in the wilds of the Roomlands can be found mountains, lakes, deserts, forests, caves, and ancient ruins. Oceans stretch across rooms as far as the eye can see and beyond. Desert sands whip and whirl down long corridors. Forests climb the stairs that seem to rise to nowhere. Wherever a traveller goes and whatever the environment, there is a constant danger to be faced—Rooks. These are walking castles, stone giants that seem to have no purpose, other than to wander aimlessly until something captures their attention and then they erupt in incredible aggression. On the oceans, there are Sea Rooks, and on and above the battlements, there are Astrolithic Rooks, great flying beasts, and out the Tundroom wastes, Rooknaughts, Rook husks crewed to raid villagers or hold off other Rooknaughts. Even Parapette, the greatest city in the Known Roomlands is built into the body of a Colossal Rook.

This is the setting for Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure in which a brave adventurer, either with a piece of a Rook grafted on to him, accompanied by a Rookling companion, wearing a scrap helm taken a Rook that grants its wearer magic, or riding a mount devised from Rook scrap, sets out to explore the Roomlands. Perhaps to discover new rooms of the Roomlands. Perhaps to protect a town or village from the aroused ire of a Rook. Perhaps to hunt Rooks themselves, to gather the precious resources it contains—devices and magical gems which provide the Helmed with their magic and provide many of the technologies used by the inhabitants of Colostle.

Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure is a Journaling game in which a player will write and keep a journal telling of the exploits of an adventurer across the ecumenopolis-sized castle of Colostle. As is usual with this type of game, the player will need no more than an ordinary deck of playing cards, pen and pencil, and a notebook of some kind. Over the course of his play, the player will draw cards from the deck. Initially, this will be to determine the nature and the call of the player’s character, but as the character steps out to explore, the player draws cards to find out what the character has discovered and then in combat, he draws cards to determine his character’s effectiveness and thus the outcome. When the character reaches the city, the player draws cards to determine the city’s features and what is available there. If the city features a Hunter’s Guild, then the character can take up quests on the organisation’s behalf, and again, these are determined by drawing more cards. Similarly, cards are drawn to determine the nature of opponents—Rook and non-Rook—and what either of them wants. At each stage, the player uses the cards to refer to various tables throughout the book and then connects the prompts from the table indicated by the cards in a narrative which he records in his character’s journal.

A Player Character in Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure is defined by a Calling, a Nature, a Class, and a Weapon. A Calling is why a Player Character adventures and explores out in the Roomlands, his Nature how he reacts to the world around him, his Class how he explores the world and how he fights, and his Weapon what he fights with. Both Calling and Nature are determined randomly. The four Classes—‘The Armed’, ‘The Followed’, ‘The Helmed’, and ‘The Mounted’—each determine two values out of five for the Player Character, Exploration Score and Combat Score, and suggest various traits and motivations. Apart from the Exploration Score and the Combat Score, these traits along with Magic, either Electric, Rumble, or Ice, are used to help describe and flavour the narrative that player writes rather than providing any mechanical benefit.
Classed: The Helmed
Exploration Score: 2
Combat Score: 5
Calling: Your mother told you fabulous tales of the Fabled Rookstones which gave Rooks and those who scavenge them amazing powers. Now grown up, you know that there are three types of Rookstone— Electric, Rumble, and Ice—but perhaps there really are more and there was truth in your mother’s tales?
Nature: Impatient, quick-to-anger, grumpy
Motivation: To understand Rook technology and mechanisms
Weapon: Rook Fists that shake with Rumble Magic

To play Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure, a player draws cards in two different phases—the Exploration Phase and the Combat Phase. The Player Character’s Exploration Score determines how many cards his player draws and his Combat Score how many cards he draws in combat. In the Exploration Phase, Red cards drawn indicate encountering organic things, people, and creatures, whilst black are scenic things, structures, and objects, the entries divided between the four suits. Some point to the Events table in which case a further card is drawn. Together, they provide prompts to events and encounters that the player pieces together in a whole journal entry. If a combat encounter is indicated, the player can insert a Combat Phase anywhere in the Exploration as fits the narrative.
For example, in Audrina’s Exploration Phase, her player draws two cards for her Exploration Score. First the four of Spades followed by the four of Diamonds. The four of Spades indicates the ruins of people that Audrina has never heard of who likely lived long ago and tells the player to draw an Event card. The latter is the five of Diamonds, telling the player that Audrina hears a loud noise. The four of Diamonds suggests that she meet someone who asks for her help in finding something and that she will be rewarded for help. The latter requires another card to be drawn, this time for the Item that will be the reward. This is the King of Clubs, so is two Treasures which can be used for trade purposes if Audrina returns to the city. However, the four of Diamonds indicates that the person for help is untrustworthy. If combat ensues, the player will generate the opponent and a Combat Phase will take place.
An opponent is defined by his Intention and Weapon Type if another person. A Rook has instead a Magic Type, Body Type, Weapon Type, and Reward if defeated. Combat is a matter of drawing cards, the number determined by the Combat Score for the Player Character and the opponent type for whomever the Player Character is fighting. One card is drawn if another person, but three or five for a Rook, depending on its size. The player allocates his character’s cards against those of his opponent in an attempt to beat him. The suit on the card used indicates the type of attack used and all one side has to do is defeat the majority of the other’s attacks. When a Player Character cannot stop an attack because he does not have a card high enough, he suffers a wound, which reduces either his Exploration Score or his Combat Score. If either score is reduced to zero, the Player Character dies. This does not look good for Audrina. The player draws a two of Clubs, a five of Hearts, an eight of Spades, and a nine of both Hearts and Spades, the five cards for Audrina’s Combat Score. None of this enough for Audrina to defeat or block the attack and so she suffers a Wound, reducing her Exploration Score from two to one. The opponent presses the attack. This time, the player draws a ten of Hearts, a magic attack. In response, the player draws a four, eight, Queen, and King of Hearts as well as a four of Clubs, for Audrina. He selects the King of hearts. This not only beats the opponent’s nine of Clubs, it beats it with the same suit and so is a critical attack which reduces the number of cards the opponent draw by one. Since this is only one anyway, it has no real effect except to mean that the opponent is defeated. She receives one Treasure for defeating the opponent and leaves nursing his wound.
So when the player comes to record this in Audrina’s journal he might write the following.
“I had not ranged far from the city, barely into the next Room, a great space where I strode through a rich forest until I came upon a city that I had not seen before, even heard of. None of the sages in the city had mentioned this place and its stones seemed old and marked in a language I did not recognise. As I skirted the outer ruins, I heard a cry. I followed it and came across an old man, leaning over an opening into the ground. I asked what he was about and he said he was looking for his dog who had chased a rabbit down the hole. I was about to leave the grimy and gnarled figure to it when he asked if I could help him. He said he could give me treasure in return for me rescuing his dog. I looked at him and wondered if that was a cold gleam in his eye or a tear for his lost, but I took pity and promised to help. More fool I. Barely was I in the hall, when there came a big booming sound from below and a rush of air, such that I did not the crotchety old bastard behind, only felt the weight of his club upon my leg as a he attempted to brain me! He stood over me cackling against the light of the cave mouth and I did not know if he intended to kill me, but he raised his staff which crackled with energy, and in response I thrust out my Rumble Gloves, unleashing a blast of force that caused him to lose his footing. Getting to my knees, my leg still smarting, I threatened with a follow up attack, but he surrendered. When asked, he told me he had been stealing from others and intended to steal from me. I left him what little food he had when I rifled through his belongings, but I took his staff with its Electric Rookstone. Mere recompense for the injury he had caused me. If I cannot sell it, I can study it.”
Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure includes table for encounters on the ocean and on the battlements—the latter only becoming available when the Player Character first climbs to their heights, for no one else has yet, and the means to generate a city, where the Player Character can rest, spend a Treasure or two—perhaps for improvement in his two Scores, perhaps to purchase a weapon or device to improve his ability to explore and survive in the Rooklands. The list of items to purchase is few in number though. There is also a map of the Known Roomlands and a cross section of a Rook. One definite table which is missing is one for what might be found within the confines of a Rook.

Physically, Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure is stunning. The illustrations are cartoonish, but beautiful. The writing is clear, but as a whole the roleplaying game is underwritten. This shows in the few differences between the Classes in the roleplaying game, in the mechanics which will often push a player to make one ruling or another—and push the Player Character into a fight because there is no other means of resolving situations, and in the number of entries in the various tables. There simply is not enough tables and content in the tables of Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure to warrant more than a few plays without encounters and solutions being repeated. As a series of prompts for a solo journaling that may be enough, but if as the book suggests, it is used a source for roleplaying game, it is going to leave the Game Master and ultimately her players wanting more.

As a play experience, Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure is perhaps harder work than it should, prompts only pushing the player so far and leaving him with a lot of answers and rulings to make up. It reveals parts of the world and leaves the player wanting more. As a roleplaying sourcebook, it is very much far from enough, but would work with any number of roleplaying mechanics. The setting lends itself to lighter rulesets, Into the Odd, for example, would be a good choice to build an actual Colostle Roleplaying Game around, but equally, a retroclone like Old School Essentials could be built around it with some effort.

Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure is breath-taking in its scope and scale, with beautifully illustrated vistas done in a style that echoes that of the Zelda computer game series, and both the Ico and The Shadow of the Colossus, if not a little of 
Horizon Zero Dawn. Open up Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure and you want to explore the vast halls and corridors of the Roomlands. Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure possesses literally huge promise, grandeur and whimsy at the same time, a magical and mystical place to visit—as far as the book will allow. Yet really, Colostle: A Solo RPG Adventure feels as if it wants to be opened up, its furthest extents explored and exposed, and for the players to travel together.

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