Wednesday, 27th August, 2008, 09:38 PM #1
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
The fantasy market is dominated by high fantasy. There are a few low fantasy options like Warhammer Fantasy but the genre of fantasy has always been dominated by Dungeons and Dragons. With the invention of the Open Game License and then the Oseric movement the gaming community has also been subjected to many clones of Dungeons and Dragons. It is a little refreshing then to read a game that is fresh and not a variation or a fix on the world’s most popular RPG.
Desolation is a new fantasy RPG by Greymalkin Designs. I guess I should really say it is a Post Apocalyptic Fantasy RPG. It comes in a good sized hard bound book that is over two hundred and fifty pages long. The art is pretty good and it is mostly black and white. There are color pages that are the sample characters and pictures of them. For the most part the lay out and look of the books is really good. However, there are stories through out the book that are a page or two in length that have varying fonts and text size in the story. It is a very odd choice and visually unappealing and a little hard to read at times. The eye is drawn to certain sections over others and it just does not look good. That is one of the bigger complaints I have about the book, so while annoying not too bad.
Desolation is a RPG about a fantasy world that got the kicked out of it. The event is called the Night of Fire. Yes, the night burned with firs but a lot of other bad things happened on a global scale. The game is set a short eighteen months later. The characters the players will play will have survived that event. The world is changed and the characters will have to learn how to cope with that. One of the very interesting things the game does is it explains how the world was in nice detail. While it is only a single chapter and map on the inside covers of the book it has the feel of a full campaign world. A book on just the world as it was before would be a fascinating setting filled with adventure and exploration. This is very important as it allows for a great comprehension of what has been lost and destroyed. It showcases what has happened to the great kingdoms and the civilizations that are now lost. There is great contrast between the before times and the way the world is now.
The world as it is now is a very different. One of the great choices the publishers made was to include no maps of what the world looks like. No one knows what it is like. There are stories of coast lines changing, mountains being turned in upon themselves, and even islands being moved some thousands of miles inland. The world looks different but no one has a full understanding of just how different and in what ways it has changed. This will leave a lot of open room in the setting for the GM to set up villages and alter the landscape as he sees fit. There is no official way to in what ways things have changed. There are a few small villages in the book. Each has just a few hundred people and it shows that no large population centers have survived.
The feel of the world is dark. The first story and in fact it is the first thing one will read if they start on page one is dark. It is about a small town barely surviving and what they are doing to survive. It shows at what lengths people will go to to live. There are no enforced laws or conduct. People band together for common protection but it is now an untamed world. The game is about exploration and survival. It can also be about building a place to live and raise a family. There is a lot that needs done to get the setting back to the glory of what it once was. Characters may want to try to do that. They may want to try to find lost friends and family or see what happened to the place they used to live. They may even want to find out what the hell really happened and why.
There is no official answer to that. There are a few hints and clues found around the book but those can be misleading or contradictory. The gnomes of the world knew something was going to happen. They warned people and were ignored or worse over their warnings. Bad things were going on before the Night of Fire. The elves became unwelcome in the forests. As one can tell by the races many of them will be familiar to people. But they all have a little bit of a unique twist the setting brings to them. I am not sure which is better to have races that are way to familiar with to players or to alter the names of them and just have people say that this race is just an elf under a different name. Obviously, they went with using the familiar names and changing things. Some are changed a bit others are changed a lot. Kobolds for instance are arctic dwellers and thrive in the cold.
Players will have a wide variety of options. This is a point based game so no classes or levels. There are eight playable character races. One of the nice things is that there is information on how to play the races and also how to play characters based on where they are from. The game uses the Ubiquity rules system that was first introduced to people in the game Hollow Earth Expedition. In that game of pulp adventurers the system works very well. I am a little unsure how well it will translate to the dark fantasy genre. It does add to the system with some very interesting magic rules.
Magic of Desolation is broken and untrustworthy. Many people fear magic now and blame the castors for somehow causing the Night of Fire. Most places will just kill anyone they think can do magic so even before one sees how the mechanics of magic work they can see it is a dangerous skill to possess. Magic is a trait one has to take as a starting character. Different races can only learn certain types of magic with humans having the most magical options. If a human uses both his traits to select magic he can learn from two different areas. Magic is free form. There are all sorts of guidelines and sample spells to help the players and GM determine the strength and difficulty of the spells. It will still require someone who is comfortable dealing with spells on the fly and has the trust of his players to make the system work. Each spell has a difficulty and for easy spells a caster can choose to roll less dice. The advantage to doing so is that each die of this die pool system that comes up a failure does damage to the castor. Each success over the ones needed to cast the spell can be used to refine the spell in some ways or to reduce the damage the castor takes. I like the magic system and think once people get used to it and get to a comfortable place in the learning curve it will work well. Until then it is probably the place most likely to cause frustration and slow down the game.
Desolation is a solid game with a good theme that goes through it. It is a darker fantasy setting but no one without hope or possibilities. The worst thing most people can imagine has already happened and now it is time to pick up the pieces and start to rebuild and explore the new world.
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