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Saturday 16 September 2023

Best of... Bernpyle YEAR ONE

Before the advent of the internet, the magazine was the focus of the hobby’s attention, a platform in whose pages could be news, reviews, and content for the roleplaying game of each reader’s choice, as well as a classified section and a letters page where the issues of day—or at least month—could be raised and discussed in chronically lengthy manner. In this way, such magazines as White Dwarf, Imagine, Dragon, and many others since, came to be our community’s focal point and sounding board, especially a magazine that was long running. Yet depending upon when you entered the hobby and picked up your first issue of a roleplaying magazine, you could have missed a mere handful of issues or many. Which would have left you wondering what was in those prior issues. Today, tracking down back issues to find out and complete a magazine’s run is much easier than it was then, but many publishers offered another solution—the ‘Best of…’ magazine. This was a compilation of curated articles and support, containing the best content to have appeared in the magazine’s pages.

1980 got the format off to a good start with both The Best of White Dwarf Scenarios and The Best of White Dwarf Articles from Games Workshop as well as the Best of Dragon from TSR, Inc. Both publishers would release further volumes of all three series, and TSR, Inc. would also reprint its volumes. Other publishers have published similar volumes and in more recent times, creators in the Old School Renaissance have begun to collate and collect content despite the relative youth of that movement. This includes The Gongfarmer’s Almanac which has collected community content for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game since 2015 and Populated Hexes Monthly Year One which collected the content from the Populated Hexes Monthly fanzine. The ‘Best of…’ series of reviews will look at these and many of the curated and compiled titles from the last four decades of roleplaying.


Bernpyle is a fanzine dedicated to
Mausritter – Sword-and-Whiskers roleplaying, the rules-light fantasy adventure microclone in which the very big and very dangerous world is explored from a mouse eye’s point of view. This is our world, but one in which the mice are anthropomorphic and can talk, as can other species. Beyond the walls of their home, the world is one of opportunity and adventure, fraught with hazards natural and unnatural, those untouched by mankind and those imposed by mankind. Using the base mechanics from Into the Odd, mice in Mausritter need to be brave, resourceful and clever, as well as lucky if they are to survive. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign, Bernpyle YEAR ONE collects the most interesting, the most popular, and the best content from first six issues. This includes a regional hexcrawl complete with eight adventure sites and locations, a selection of alternative mechanics inspired by a range of Old School Renaissance adjacent roleplaying games and even a non-Old School Renaissance, new weapons, spells and magic items, two playable species, and more.

Bernpyle: Year One opens with ‘The Earldom of Bernpyle’, a hexcrawl of nineteen sub-hexes. At its heart is the large settlement of Bernpyle, once home to rats, but now home to twelve hundred mice and a minor kingdom where mice reside in some safety and trade is booming. To the west, the woods of the Feylands are home to the Faerie Queen and her people, once at war with the earldom, but now there is a tentative peace between them. To the east is the road that humans built through Cobblefence Park and The Great Spine mountain range. The earl hopes to find a way through the mountains to expand his economic reach into the grasslands on the other side. ‘The Earldom of Bernpyle’ includes a map of the region; a description, but no map of Bernpyle itself; a list of the factions present—including their resources and goals; and stats for all factions, notably The Six, the cavalier mice and their bird mounts, who aid the earl. This though, is only the start, as Bernpyle: Year One expands greatly upon the simple hexcrawl.

The major content starts with two big adventures. ‘A Grizzly Revelation at Badger Burrow’ is set in a series of caves and human-dug mine beneath The Great Spine mountains. A renowned wizard and teacher, a star-faced mole named Suetonius, known to live there, as is a tribe of shrews. However, when the mice venture into the caves, they discover not one tribe of shrews, but two—and they are at war. A religious schism has divided them and the tribes meet daily to battle each other in the caves. The scenario is one of exploration and diplomacy more than combat, with mice choosing the latter option likely to find themselves dead quite quickly. Various outcomes are covered, but to get to the best of them, the mice will need to solve difficult situation. If ‘A Grizzly Revelation at Badger Burrow’ is classic dungeon adventure, then ‘Murky Mysteries of Mice in Marshes’ is traditional hexcrawl—or rather diamond crawl, since it consists of a single hex divided into twelve equal, diamond-shaped segments. The hamlet/town (the fanzine is not quite sure) of Coypu sits on the edge of the Froschsumpf Marshes in the Feylands. The mayor is known for his extensive whisky collection, but has not been heard from recently. Could the swamp’s frogs under their tyrant Mudlord Swelcheeks have something to do with this? The resulting scenario is a boggy bayou horror-tinged affair with some revolting villains.

In addition to the stats for the monsters, NPCs, and treasures to be found in both scenarios, Bernpyle: Year One includes a description of ‘The Missing Wand of Suetonius the Wise’, whom the mice will probably have met in the first scenario. The wand is given quite a good list of its abilities, but an even longer list of magical maladies that can befall the user if he miscasts. There are descriptions, illustrations, and floorplans of the border towers surrounding Bernpyle, each previously used by humans to play something called ‘disc golf’. In ‘Traversing the Feylands’, the author takes inspiration from The Gardens of Ynn to turn the region into layers that the mice will in effect descend as they delve deeper into the forest. This is complicated by the fact that locations within the forest can move, so if the mice may not necessarily being going up or down but both during their delve. The idea is supported by a number of tables which the Game Master will use as prompts.

Separate to the ‘The Earldom of Bernpyle’, ‘A Not So Stille Nacht’ is included as one of the fanzine’s more popular pieces. It is a one-shot, in which the mice are celebrating Christmas at the North Pole when Belsnickel the barn cat and his Pixie allies invade Santa’s polar home. It is as twee as you would expect it to be and if your playing group is partial to that sort of thing, is a passable Christmas one-shot. ‘MausTrap’ is more interesting in that it takes the concept of the Character Funnel from the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game and applies it to Mausritter, only with a crueller touch. The mice are ordinary mice in debt, and to clear that debt they are being sent down a dungeon to return with enough pips’ worth of treasure to repay said debt. Each player has four mice and if any survive, they become First level and can begin play as normal. Tables are provided of occupations and occupational possessions, and the possible nature of their debts. ‘Rodents and Recreations’ adds a set of classic Dungeons & Dragons-style alternative backgrounds, such as wizard, assassin, and barbarian. They are primarily designed for creating mice on the go for one-shots, being ready-to-play packages that can be applied to a player’s mouse.

Other rules cover ‘Foraging Whilst in Human settlements’, whilst ‘Mouserules of Combat’ adds a ‘to hit’ roll where there is none in Mausritter with the intention of keeping players coming to Mausritter from Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, and mounted combat and movement is added with ‘Mauspanzer – A ‘tacti-cool’ brief for Warband Scale Mounts’. The rules cover finding or buying them, and using them in combat, which is only becomes possible after a mount has acquired a Prestige Level or two. ‘Scars’ gives a table of injuries and effects for whenever a mouse is reduced to zero hit points. They include ‘Battle Worn’, ‘Shaken’, ‘Jostled’, ‘Haunted’, and more. ‘Time and Resource tracking in the Veins’ is inspired by Veins of the Earth and adds rules to make Mausritter even harder when delving into deep into the underground. This does run counter to the light nature of Mausritter, but if the Game Master and her group are happy with that, their dungeon delves are going to be tough indeed. Alongside this, there are new spells in ‘Magic from Mayfield’ with a botanical theme, such as Petal Strike and Thorn Bramble, thistles turned into weapons, and even #’A Weapon from Maukbörg’, a big crossbow.

‘Songvogel – A Maus’ Field Guide to Songbirds and other perching avian’ introduces the Songbird as a playable race, all small, and all hailing from Harmony Glade. There are just three Backgrounds—Soldier, Porter, and Companion. The Soldier gets armour, the Porter can carry more with his Traveller’s Duffle, and the Companion has a Saddle and Bridle, enabling a mouse to ride on his back. Songbirds do not have hands, so cannot use weapons. Instead, they use their beak attack and talon strikes. ‘Make a Fienkrieger’ provides another playable race, Fae Warriors whose love of Mauskind have led them to become Faerie Outcasts. The creation involves rolling for Former Occupation, Physical Look, Wing Type, Colour, and Weapon of Choice. Instead of spell tablets, the Fae have Tattoos, for example, Blood Dart, which lets a mouse or fae shoot a projectile out of his skin and Maus’ Paw, which grants the user a spectral paw with which manipulate objects at a distance. Rounding out Bernpyle YEAR ONE is ‘For Mouse, for Home, for Bernpyle!’, which lists all of the releases for Mausritter and even though Bernpyle YEAR ONE was published in 2022, there are a lot!

Physically, Bernpyle YEAR ONE is well presented. The artwork is excellent and the maps clear and easy to use. One issue is that the book does refer to other locations and content from other issues of Bernpyle, so in places the Game Master will need to locate other issues.

Bernpyle YEAR ONE is a lovely little book. It is really divided into the two halves—one devoted to Bernpyle as a location and the other a Mausritter miscellany. In truth, ‘The Earldom of Bernpyle’ content is better than the rest, being more focused and useable, and thus easier to bring to the table. It is a pity that more of Bernpyle as a location was not included. Bernpyle YEAR ONE has something for every Mausritter Game Master, something to play, something to try, and all nicely packaged.

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