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Comparison: Strongholds & Dynasties - Empire - Magical Medieval Society - Birthright

Silveras

First Post
My copy of Strongholds and Dynasties arrived yesterday, and I have been devouring it since. Following will be posts on the relative merits of the books I have, for comparison purposes.

For the benfit of anyone not familiar with letter grades...
A = Excellent, well above average
B = Above average, exceeded expectations
C = Average, as expected
D = Below average, did not meet expectations
F = Failure
N/A = Not applicable
 

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Silveras

First Post
Strongholds & Dynasties

Book of Strongholds & Dynasties (Mongoose Publishing)

Overall Impression: Very Good to Excellent

Content:
Construction system: A
Domain management system (small scale) : D
Domain management system (medium scale): A
Domain management system (large scale) : F
City/Urban Center details: F
Trade system: B
Internal Realm Politics system: B+
Inter-Realm Politics system: D
Resource Management system: C [Edit: downgraded from A]
Mass Combat system: B
Troop raising: A
Dynastic heritage system: N/A
D&D/Fantasy content: A
Arcane Magic Integration: D
Divine Magic Integration: B

The construction system is quite good. Modular enough to be useful for a-la-carte building, with some simple "one piece" buildings for common uses. Often overlooked elements like underground construction and using non-human or spell-based labor are addressed. Fantasy elememnts, such as elaborate mechanical and magical functions, are addressed as well.

The Domain management system does not scale well, I think. The DM is supposed to keep many details secret from the players, and this can rapidly become unmanageable if the number of provinces grows. Attempting to manage more than 1 or 2 NPC rival realms will quickly become impossible without extensive electronic aids. The provided sample record sheets are also insufficient for some of this; they reflect the end state, but do not have workspaces for the DM to record updates in progress.

The book goes into no detail on cities at all, other than the usefulness of some specific buildings as part of other functions, and even that is not as complete as it could be.

The trade system is more elaborate than most others, and tries to address the various risks that affect moving goods from place to place. This may get upgraded once it is seen in use.

Internal politics is represented to a degree, but more on a province-by-province basis (individual strength/influence of interest groups in each province, but no overall realm-wide presence is refleced).

Politics with other realms is lightly touched on. Much is left to the DM's discretion.

Resource Management is extensive. The variety of resources covered is excellent, and the thoroughness of how to improve/use them is good. [Edit: In my testing, the system breaks down badly once the population center becomes larger than a Large Town. I have downgraded the rating to reflect this.]

The Mass Combat system is surprisingly small. It may prove to be just very efficient use of space, but it is surprisingly short given how much the Open Mass Combat System 2 was heralded.

The resource management pieces also addresses equipping your troops, and does so nicely. Good coverage is given for raising units of various classes, levels, and unit sizes.

Dynastic heritage: For a book called "Strongholds & Dynasties", there is a surprising lack of information about passing power to successors. In that sense, half the book is missing.

The book does a good job of including the D&D races and classes into its rules. Tree-fort construction is hit upon in the construction system, as are non-human workers. Most "ministerial positions" have suggested pre-requisites in terms of skills and/or class levels, allowing most classes and races to be guided to the appropriate role.

One element I do feel is lacking is the large-scale magic integration. Birthright's realm spells is an area that no product has tackled with as much success. S&D does better with Divine magic than with Arcane, but not to the scale of representing abilities like realm spells.
 
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Silveras

First Post
A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe

A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe (Expeditious Retreat Press)
Content:
Construction system: B
Domain management system (small scale) : A+
Domain management system (medium scale): C
Domain management system (large scale) : D
City/Urban Center details: A
Trade system: N/A
Internal Realm Politics system: A
Inter-Realm Politics system: C
Resource Management system: A-
Mass Combat system: N/A
Troop raising: C
Dynastic heritage system: N/A
D&D/Fantasy content: D
Arcane Magic Integration: D
Divine Magic Integration: C

Short 'n Sweet: AMMS:WE is an excellent resource for understanding how earth's medieval period would appear with D&D rules and magic available. However, that same tight focus that gives it such great flavor also works against it when applying it to a broader range of races.
 

Silveras

First Post
Empire

Empire (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Content:
Construction system: C
Domain management system (small scale) : B
Domain management system (medium scale): B
Domain management system (large scale) : B
City/Urban Center details: D
Trade system: C
Internal Realm Politics system: C
Inter-Realm Politics system: C
Resource Management system: C
Mass Combat system: B+
Troop raising: B
Dynastic heritage system: N/A
D&D/Fantasy Conent: A
Arcane Magic Integration: C
Divine Magic Integration: C

Short 'n Sweet: Empire suffers from trying to fit too much material into too little space. It very much feels like significant pieces of systems were cut to make it fit, with the end result that it feels like it needs a "volume II" to make it whole.
 

Silveras

First Post
Birthright (AD&D 2nd Edition)

Birthright (TSR/Wizards of the Coast) (2nd Ed. AD&D rules version)
Content:
Domain management system (small scale) : F
Domain management system (medium scale): A+
Domain management system (large scale) : A+
City/Urban Center details: N/A
Trade system: C
Internal Realm Politics system: B+
Inter-Realm Politics system: A+
Resource Management system: N/A
Construction system: C
Mass Combat system: D-/F
Troop raising: C
Dynastic heritage system: A+
D&D/Fantasy Content: A+
Arcane Magic Integration: A+
Divine Magic Integration: A+

Short 'n Sweet: Even though it is not D20, Birthright did a very good job of setting a usable standard for an area near and dear to the hearts of many players: Rulership. While some D20 books may be better in some areas, as an overall package, Birthright still comes out on top.
 

jasamcarl

First Post
I like.. is 'Fields of Blood' on your wishlist? I.E. can I expect a similiar round-up for that?

Which on the non-Birthright products would you most eagerly endorse of those already listed?
 

Silveras

First Post
jasamcarl said:
I like.. is 'Fields of Blood' on your wishlist? I.E. can I expect a similiar round-up for that?

Which on the non-Birthright products would you most eagerly endorse of those already listed?
That's a tougher call than you think.
Answer: Depending on what style you want to play, any of them would be the "best" in my recommendation.

If you want a Birthright realm-vs-realm level of gaming, Empire (for all that it needs some work to fill in the gaps) seems like the best bet.

If your style goes more toward PCs'-as-regents-struggling-with-power, S&D covers a lot of that ground.

If you are seeking more for adventurers-turned-minor-landholders in a pseudo-medieval setting, AMMS:WE is better.

Now, if you plan to have large battles, AMMS:WE is not going to help you with that. But, if you are going to make War a centerpiece of your campaign, you will probably want Cry Havoc anyway -- because it addresses War in toto, not just the mechanics of combat or the mustering of troops.

So, as I said, I can't make a solid recommendation blindly. You have to decide which book(s) cover(s) the material you need. You may find a use for all of them, or in a hybrid system that combines pieces of each.
 

Blastin

First Post
I was just wondering what your definition of "scale" is as in what you said here:

Domain management system (small scale) : F
Domain management system (medium scale): A+
Domain management system (large scale) : A+

What do you call small vs medium vs large? Just curious, and why you thought Birthright is an F in small scale.
I'm a Birthright fanatic, and have been thinking about looking at the systems you reviewed, so thanks much for the info, and the comparison to Birthright.
Blastin
 

DanMcS

Explorer
Blastin said:
I was just wondering what your definition of "scale" is as in what you said here:

Domain management system (small scale) : F
Domain management system (medium scale): A+
Domain management system (large scale) : A+

What do you call small vs medium vs large? Just curious, and why you thought Birthright is an F in small scale.
I'm a Birthright fanatic, and have been thinking about looking at the systems you reviewed, so thanks much for the info, and the comparison to Birthright.
For small-scale, think a single manor, hamlet, village, or business. Chief priest of a single temple. Birthright doesn't go below the province level, and at that level you don't get much granularity: what would a knightship and a title like Warden of the Forest be in BR? A single law holding level? So would being sherrif of a part of a county, or political boss of a group of citizens in a city. You can't really hire a group of 15 or 20 guardsmen for a city on the Birthright scale.

You can mod the system to do it reasonably well, I've done it myself, but then you lose the top end of the system. A game which handles both a village major and a king of a major empire would need to be really versatile, and birthright doesn't flex quite that far.
 

Blastin

First Post
Ahh...ok.I see now...and agree. Birthright definatly lets the small level of domain detail up in the air. A law holding could be many things, a group of thugs, a sheriff, a small band of rangers, ect...the system doesn't really care about the detail at that level. And I guess that's why he gave it an "F".
Thanks
 

trancejeremy

First Post
Hmmm, thanks.

I'm looking for something like Birthright, but also with an emphasis on individual cities/towns/castles.

I'm very leery of buying Empire from AEG, as I've gotten burned on their one word books in the past, and have sworn off them.
 

Silveras

First Post
Blastin said:
Ahh...ok.I see now...and agree. Birthright definatly lets the small level of domain detail up in the air. A law holding could be many things, a group of thugs, a sheriff, a small band of rangers, ect...the system doesn't really care about the detail at that level. And I guess that's why he gave it an "F".
Thanks
Yes, DanMcS summed it up nicely. Giving BR 'N/A' for that level would also be somewhat accurate, but does not convey as clearly that the system breaks if you try to bend it that far.
 
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Silveras

First Post
trancejeremy said:
Hmmm, thanks.

I'm looking for something like Birthright, but also with an emphasis on individual cities/towns/castles.

I'm very leery of buying Empire from AEG, as I've gotten burned on their one word books in the past, and have sworn off them.
Empire fits that role rather well, depending on how much detail you want to have for your cities.

If you want more focus on how "City 1" fits into the production scheme of the Kingdom, Empire is right there. In that sense, it is like playing the Sid Meier's Civilization series of games; cities can have specific enhancements built in each one that have effects on how that city produces goods, etc. You may want to check a couple of the older threads on the topic for more specific comments.

If you want something on mapping the streets of the city and deciding the politics of factions within a city, No, that's more along the lines of AMMS:WE's chapters on cities.
 

Falanor

First Post
Like the review, though I'm still going to end up getting all three myself... :D

I heard that S&D isn't supposed to cover Magic very well because its leaving that to the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Sovereign Magic book to fully work out. So I don't know if that should be a grade for this book really... Though I'd like to see what you have to say for Fields of Blood when it finally gets printed.
 

Silveras

First Post
Falanor said:
I heard that S&D isn't supposed to cover Magic very well because its leaving that to the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Sovereign Magic book to fully work out. So I don't know if that should be a grade for this book really...
The author, Cavalorn, said that in another thread. I can certainly see that presenting such as a system would take a large chunk of space, possibly more than could be presented in this volume without cutting out other parts (and leading them to feel incomplete, as I faulted Empire for doing).

I should qualify this comment by mentioning that Arcane magic gets a good showing in the construction system, but I included that as part of the rating for "D&D/Fantasy content".

[Edit: I did not want to be trying to say this half-asleep in the wee hours...]

Leaving the powerful, realm-affecting spells to a separate book is not why I feel that Arcane and Divine magic could be better integrated in the government system. Divine fares a little better, but not too much better.

Arcane magic does get some use in the construction system, but I factored that into the "A" grade I gave S&D there.

It is difficult to give arcane casters a role without tying it to the range and power of their spells. The special ability of the Minister of Magic (being able to extend the range over which the other ministers can communicate) is a good example; it is, off the top of my head, the only special ability with so many constraints on its use. It is also among the only special abilities where the individual minister character's level (and thus, access to spells) is a determining factor in its effects. The abilities of all other ministers are based upon the actions of a staff of underlings.

Given that there are 15 ministerial positions with at least one special ability each, and 63 actions in 7 focus areas, it seems a let-down to me that the best role the Minister of Magic could fill was 'messenger service'. Communications are important, but having a staff (like all the other ministers) should allow this ability to operate with less constraints than it is presented as having.

The High Priest, on the other hand, can at least hold public ceremonies at which s/he can bestow a sacred (or profane) bonus on various checks to a larger-than-normal number of people. Likewise, s/he can boost the effectiveness of a spell s/he is going to cast by getting part of the populace to pray in support of it.

As for Sovereign Magic, it is just hitting the shelves now. I am curious to see it, but the advertising material paints it as dealing ONLY with Arcane magic. That is still an incomplete picture, as there is as much need for large-area Divine spellcasting as there is for Arcane, and a properly defined kingdom will avail itself of both.
 
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Silveras

First Post
A few odds 'n' ends on S&D

Here are a few odds & ends type of comments on S&D:

Artwork: Good, and generally reflective of the subject at hand. The drawings of the buildings and their modular components are good, and can serve as models for creating a tile-based mapper or other electronic aid geared toward helping the aspiring builder.

New Prestige Classes: There are none (good news for those who think there are too many).

New Spells: Ditto

New Magic Items: Uh, ditto.

Which means that all of the space in the book is spent on providing rules systems in the relevant areas. There are very few (too few, IMHO) tables. Of the tables that are present, I don't think any of them repeat information in the text; it is all new information that lends itself to tabular presentation.

That being said, a checklist of "monthly update steps" or the like would have been helpful. Some of the details are scattered, and it will be easy for people to miss steps like "loss of stored food to vermin or spoilage" or "subtract what the people eat before counting the produced food for taxes".

Also, a number of places leave "details to the DM's discretion". That is less useful for a newbie than for an experienced DM. Fledgling DMs would probably appreciate a little more guidance than they will find here.
 

jasamcarl

First Post
Silveras said:
Here are a few odds & ends type of comments on S&D:

Artwork: Good, and generally reflective of the subject at hand. The drawings of the buildings and their modular components are good, and can serve as models for creating a tile-based mapper or other electronic aid geared toward helping the aspiring builder.

New Prestige Classes: There are none (good news for those who think there are too many).

New Spells: Ditto

New Magic Items: Uh, ditto.

Which means that all of the space in the book is spent on providing rules systems in the relevant areas. There are very few (too few, IMHO) tables. Of the tables that are present, I don't think any of them repeat information in the text; it is all new information that lends itself to tabular presentation.

That being said, a checklist of "monthly update steps" or the like would have been helpful. Some of the details are scattered, and it will be easy for people to miss steps like "loss of stored food to vermin or spoilage" or "subtract what the people eat before counting the produced food for taxes".

Also, a number of places leave "details to the DM's discretion". That is less useful for a newbie than for an experienced DM. Fledgling DMs would probably appreciate a little more guidance than they will find here.
How does the book deal with invasion and conquest? Are provincial rebellions possible?
 

Silveras

First Post
jasamcarl said:
How does the book deal with invasion and conquest? Are provincial rebellions possible?
The former are treated nebulously. You can allow your troops to pillage once they are in enemy territory, for example, but there is no 'Declare War' action (although there are a host of others, including 'Declare a Trade Embargo', 'Threaten', and 'Propose an Alliance'). The book is focused, it seems to me, on how the characters influence the resolution of actions -- the special abilities of the Court members / Cabinet Ministers often provide bonuses to the dice rolls used in resolving actions (including combat). As such, the government is a collection of individuals, and the rules are structured to allow the group members to contribute individually.

There is no strategic overview to battle. I want to be clear what I mean: Strategy is knowing which battles have to be won and which you can afford to lose. Tactics is the art of winning a battle. A good tactical leader is not necessarily a good strategic leader, and vise-versa.

The Open Combat system is focused on the staging of "this battle", not on the relative value of "this battle" to the overall course of the war. Birthright had good, solid mechanics for wresting control of a province from one regent and handing it off to another. Strongholds & Dynasties leaves that in the area of "DM's discretion".

This is why I mentioned Cry Havoc above; if war (as opposed to the occasional battle) is to be a major part of your campaign, you will likely find Cry Havoc more suited to your needs.

As for insurrection: Popular rebellion and how to squash it is mentioned, but mostly as a nuisance and not as a major theme. Governments have Control and Corruption ratings (the base value for Control is not explained clearly enough for my taste, by the way; this is another area where a summary table would be highly useful). Your regime's overall popularity with various social classes and factions affects your Control in that, if you fail a check, you can lose a lot of control if a lot of people are unhappy with you. If the Control rating slips by too much, 1 settlement becomes unruly. You can send troops to quell this unrest (no rules for moving troops around from province to province, only rules for moving them on the battlefield). Long-term, you can avoid this by keeping the people happy with your government, although that is an expensive proposition. Other governments can try to provoke insurrection in your lands, as well. Most of the details are, again, left to DM's discretion.
 

jasamcarl

First Post
Silveras said:
The former are treated nebulously. You can allow your troops to pillage once they are in enemy territory, for example, but there is no 'Declare War' action (although there are a host of others, including 'Declare a Trade Embargo', 'Threaten', and 'Propose an Alliance'). The book is focused, it seems to me, on how the characters influence the resolution of actions -- the special abilities of the Court members / Cabinet Ministers often provide bonuses to the dice rolls used in resolving actions (including combat). As such, the government is a collection of individuals, and the rules are structured to allow the group members to contribute individually.

There is no strategic overview to battle. I want to be clear what I mean: Strategy is knowing which battles have to be won and which you can afford to lose. Tactics is the art of winning a battle. A good tactical leader is not necessarily a good strategic leader, and vise-versa.

The Open Combat system is focused on the staging of "this battle", not on the relative value of "this battle" to the overall course of the war. Birthright had good, solid mechanics for wresting control of a province from one regent and handing it off to another. Strongholds & Dynasties leaves that in the area of "DM's discretion".

This is why I mentioned Cry Havoc above; if war (as opposed to the occasional battle) is to be a major part of your campaign, you will likely find Cry Havoc more suited to your needs.

As for insurrection: Popular rebellion and how to squash it is mentioned, but mostly as a nuisance and not as a major theme. Governments have Control and Corruption ratings (the base value for Control is not explained clearly enough for my taste, by the way; this is another area where a summary table would be highly useful). Your regime's overall popularity with various social classes and factions affects your Control in that, if you fail a check, you can lose a lot of control if a lot of people are unhappy with you. If the Control rating slips by too much, 1 settlement becomes unruly. You can send troops to quell this unrest (no rules for moving troops around from province to province, only rules for moving them on the battlefield). Long-term, you can avoid this by keeping the people happy with your government, although that is an expensive proposition. Other governments can try to provoke insurrection in your lands, as well. Most of the details are, again, left to DM's discretion.
Thanks..that was informitive. I think I'm leaning towards Fields of Blood at this point, because, given the hints in the preview pdfs, it looks like it atleast trys to make a comprehensive kingdom management system where these others don't. Rules for running NPC nations is especially appreciated.
 

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