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

Saturday 2 March 2024

Stone Age Science Fantasy

Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is a roleplaying of a Stone Age that never was, inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot and The People That Time Forgot, Quest for Fire and One Million Years, B.C., Thundarr the Barbarian, Horizon Zero Dawn, and the Cavemaster RPG and Hollow Earth Expedition. This is a world in which humanity survives alongside dinosaurs and other creatures and ancient secrets and aliens lurk, the Player Characters as warriors and hunters, shamans and sorcerers, exploring an environment dominated by a natural untrammelled by mankind. Designed by Diogo Nogueira because of his love of dinosaurs and published by Old School Publishing, the core rules for Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game are presented in Primal Quest – Essentials. Besides a surprisingly thorough bibliography, this includes a simple set of mechanics using six-sided dice designed to handle both consequences and narrative control, character creation, survival and exploration, sorcery, and a complete mini-hexcrawl that encompasses twelve, lightly-detailed locations, that introduces the World of Thaia. In addition,
Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is not only supported by its own licence enabling others to write and publish for it, but also its own series of supplements, including The Primal World of Thaia fanzine.

A Player Character in Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game has three attributes—Body, Mind, and Heart. These can be negative values, but typically range in value between 0 and +3, though can be higher through experience. He has five Tags, one each for his Concept, Talent, Motivation, Relationship, and Trouble. His Vitality represents his Hit Points, whilst his Defence is dependent upon armour worn and shield carried. To this are added name, gender, looks, and personality. To create a character, a player divides three points between the three attributes, to a maximum of +3. A bonus attribute point can be gained by lowering one attribute to -1. He defines his five Tags and the five aspects of his character, and then chooses an equipment option. Three are given, one each suitable for a warrior with more weapons and armour and shield, one for a hunter with hunting tools, and one for a sorcerer or shaman with three foci for casting spells.

Name: Dres’zhi
Body -1 Mind +3 Heart +1
TAGS: Curious Shaman (Concept), Secrets (Talent), To Prove Herself (Motivation), Cantankerous Master (Relationship), Mother (Trouble)
Vitality: 9
Defence: 1
Equipment: wood spear, light armour, arcane foci (Fire, Spirit, Life), three torches, fire, three units of Food, three units of Water.

Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game uses pools of six-sided dice, needing several of two different colours. One colour is Positive Dice, the other Negative dice. A player always rolls one of each die type. More Positive Dice can be gained by invoking a Tag, which can be a Player Character’s own, or come from an item of equipment, the environment, and even an opponent. Extra Effort, gained by sacrificing Vitality, provides further Positive Dice. Further Negative Dice can also be added to the pool, whether from poor equipment, difficult terrain, or spell or monster effect. Once the combined pool is rolled, the value of the highest Negative Dice is subtracted from the value of the highest Positive Die. The value of the appropriate Attribute is added to the resulting value and compared to the Difficulty of the task, which ranges between zero and moderate and six or Legendary. The default is zero, but it is otherwise determined by a stat, such as an Attribute, Defence, and so on. If the final value is equal to, or greater than the difficulty, the character succeeds.

The degree of success, or Effect, of a task, is determined by subtracting the result from the Difficulty. In addition, a Player Character can benefit from Boons and Setbacks. A Boon is gained for rolling a six on a Positive Die, a Setback for rolling a six on a Negative Die. A Boon can be used to add an extra Stat if appropriate to the result, give an extra Positive Die to another Player Character’s action, impose a Negative Die on an opponent, or to gain insight about a situation. A Setback can grant an extra Stat if appropriate to an opponent’s result, add an extra Positive Die to an opponent’s action, inflict a Negative Die on the Player Character’s next action, or add a negative consequence to the current situation.

Combat uses the same mechanics, with an opponent’s Defence value, derived from his armour, determining the Difficulty. A shield blocks an attack entirely, but used to block too many attacks and it will break. Weapons inflict either one, two, or four points of damage depending upon their size, plus the Effect value of the attack roll. Combat can be short and brutal, but the healing rules are fairly forgiving.

The primary resources in the game are food and water, and Player Characters need one of each per day to survive. The primary means of exchange is barter, and there are simple rules for encumbrance and material durability, which includes bronze—though not copper—as well as wood, stone, and bone.

Sorcery requires two things—an Arcane Focus and an associated word. The latter can be ‘Fire’ or ‘Truth’ or ‘Grasp’, and once a focus—a particular object like a stone with a hole through it or a piece of carved leather or bone—it cannot be used with another word. That said, different foci and their words can be combined for different spell effects.
Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game does not include spell lists, but instead a sorcerer decides upon the desired spell effect and describes how he is using the Arcane Focus to cast it. Once a player has described the spell that he wants his character to cast, the Game Master decides whether it is a Cantrip, Invocation, Ritual, or Miracle, each one more difficult to cast than the last.

For the Game Master there is the recommendation that safety tools be used and several pointers of good advice. Much of it will be obvious to an experienced Game Master, but useful, nonetheless. Further rules cover opponents, exploration, getting lost, camping, and so on. Half of
Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is dedicated to ‘Mother’s Vale’, a ‘Weird Stone & Sorcery mini-Hexcrawl’. To the north lies Father Mountain rich with life upon its slopes; to the south in the Deep Jungle the Mother Tree upon which grows fruit that can restore life to the dead, to the west the Fanged Hills that smell of fear, sweat, and death; and to the east, lies the Tower That Fell, a strange organic structure that left a ravine and Mother’s Mounds, a series of ravines that stretch for miles and lead beneath the vale where the remains of ancient, non-human civilisations can be found. There are twelve locations strewn across Mother’s Vale, each given a broad description, a combination of a problem, a secret, a danger, or a special detail, and a table of random encounters. The latter ranges from tribesmen from the three humankind villages in the Mother’s Vale, aurochs, and Triceratops to Argentinosauruses, a Giganotosaurus, and Devouring Chaos Beasts via Red Gorillas, Yeti, Giant Constrictors, Brachiosauruses, and a whole lot more. These encounter tables also serve as the bestiary for Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game.

Although obviously an anachronistic mix of Stone Age man and dinosaurs, in very Ray Harryhausen fashion,
Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is also a Pulp adventure setting, a lost world of sorts which mixes in elements of Science Fiction too. Much of these require further development upon the part of the Game Master, as the ‘Mother’s Vale’ is drawn in quite broad detail. Once that is done, the Game Master can add an adventure site or two and be in position to respond to what the players and their characters want to do. That said, there is plenty of further content available for the roleplaying game, plus each of the three villages in Mother’s Vale—the obvious starting point for any campaign—has a problem that can easily serve as a hook for the Player Characters.

Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is well done. It is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is decent, whilst the cartography for Mother’s Vale is engaging. It does need an edit in places and feels slightly underwritten in others.

In terms of tone and to an extent play style,
Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is like an Old School Renaissance roleplaying game, but mechanically, it is anything but that. Its dice pool mechanics are far more modern and its narrative controls in the form of Boons and Setback are distinctly opposite the mechanics you would find in an Old School Renaissance retroclone. That aside, Primal Quest – Weird Stone & Sorcery Adventure Game is a solid Pulp-style Stone Age-set roleplaying game in which its Science Fiction and Fantasy elements and thus many of its stories are wrapped up as mysteries for the Game Master to develop and make her own.

No comments:

Post a Comment