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Monday 24 June 2024

[Free RPG Day] Sword of the Brigand King

Now in its seventeenth year, Free RPG Day for 2024 took place on Saturday, June 22nd. 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. This included dice, miniatures, vouchers, and more. Thanks to the generosity of Waylands Forge in Birmingham, Reviews from R’lyeh was able to get hold of many of the titles released for Free RPG Day.


Sword of the Brigand King for Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying is an intriguing release for Free RPG Day 2024 due to both the roleplaying game it is an introduction to and its format. Published by 9th Level Games, it is a mini-scenario designed to be played in thirty minutes, an introduction to Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying, the roleplaying game set in the same world as the board game, Return to Dark Tower, the sequel from Restoration Games to Dark Tower, the electronic board game published by Milton Bradley in 1981. It is fair to say that Dark Tower and its sequel are swathed in nostalgia, so there is a fascination about and the resulting roleplaying game. The format of Sword of the Brigand King is surprisingly clever. It is done as a notebook complete with tear-off pages. A slim notebook at that, just ten pages long. Flip the pages open and the Adversary—as the Game Master is known—is taken, step-by-step, through the process of setting the game up, explaining the rules, handing out the characters, and then running the encounters. As she does so, it quickly becomes apparent that there is more on the back page of each page and in each case, it is literally and physically, player-facing. So, opposite the page where the Adversary explains the rules is the character sheet for the Bog Witch, then flip over the page where the Adversary explains the rules and on the back of that is character sheet for the Dyrad Outrider. In the case of each of the four Player Characters, the Adversary tears them from the notepad that is Sword of the Brigand King and hands them to her players. Each of the four Player Characters can folded in half to form a triangle with the character on the player-facing side and an illustration facing everyone else on the front. Once the Adversary starts running the scenario, the player-facing side gives maps for each of the scenes in Sword of the Brigand King.

A Player Character in Sword of the Brigand King and thus Return to Dark Tower Fantasy Roleplaying, is defined by four attributes—Books, Boots, Blades, and Bones. Books covers senses and knowledge, Boots physical action, Blades combat, and Bones to be brave and strong. Each Player Character has a run of numbers assigned to each attribute. For example, the Bog Witch has ‘2 and 3’ assigned to Books, ‘3, 4, and 5’ to Boots, ‘4, 5, 6, and 7’ to Blades’, and ‘5, 6, 7,8, and 9’ to Bones. To have his character undertake an action, a player rolls a single die, the size of which depends on the character. A Bog Witch always rolls a four-sided die, for example. In order to roll higher than the maximum on the die, the player needs to roll the maximum on the die, and that allows him to roll again and add the result. In addition, if the player rolls a one and can justify to the Adversary that his character can do an action, he succeeds. In addition, some Player Characters can undertake actions with Advantage, meaning that two dice are rolled and the highest selected.

If a roll is a failure or something bad happens to a Player Character, there is a chance that he is in danger and takes a point of Danger. In which case, the player rolls his character’s die type and if the result is equal to or less than the character’s current Danger value, the character dies! If the roll is above his character’s current Danger value, he survives. Thus, Player Characters with low die types need to be careful, but the system—called the Polymorph System—and used also for the Mazes Fantasy Roleplaying, also published by 9th Level Games, can be lethal. This is especially so with combat, as the system is player-facing, that is, all the rolls in the game are made by the players. So, missing an opponent, means there is a chance of being fatally struck and killed by an opponent!

There are four Player Characters. The Howling Barbarian, Dryad Outrider, and Bog Watch are all companions to a Brutal Warlord, who have all come to Plains of Plovo in search of Glavius, the Bandit King, an agent of the Dark Tower, whom they have sworn to kill. The local villagers, having been subject to the predations of the Bandit King, happily provide the Player Characters with a map to his hiding place, a hilltop fort in the Cloudrest Mountains. The adventure itself consists of just a few locations, a twisting cavern, the courtyard to the fort, and the great hall where the Bandit King, Glavius, is waiting for the scenario’s big showdown. Succeed and the Player Characters will have come away knowing that have defeated one of the agents of the Dark Tower and won themselves some useful artefacts.

Physically, Sword of the Brigand King is surprisingly well presented, in that it is surprise to work out exactly how it works and when you do… The information is clearly and cleverly presented for both the Adversary and the Player Characters in a format which is reminiscent of the flipbooks used for the scenarios for the Dark Sun setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition from TSR, Inc. However, the rules for the play are not quite as clearly presented for the Adversary as they could have been, but most of them become apparent once you play.

Sword of the Brigand King is a bit cheap and cheerful, but it does succeed in what it sets out to do, and that is present a simple, direct, and exciting roleplaying experience in thirty minutes. It does this with easy to learn rules, a very straightforward scenario, and a clever format.

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