Review Sacrifice: An Incense & Iron RPG

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
First things first - I was comped a copy of this game for review, but that did not influence my opinion of the game. I make that disclosure upfront as I want to be as transparent as possible about that aspect of my reviews.

Sacrifice is a d20-based OSR game by its own admission and does maintain a high degree of compatibility with other such systems, but Sacrifice also includes a specific premise for play and an explicit campaign setting out of the box. This is something that, in my experience, many d20-based OSR systems lack in their core rulebooks and something that immediately marks Sacrifice as special amongst the ranks of d20-based OSR systems.

In Sacrifice, the player characters are Branded; demon-haunted men and women who once swore fealty to the Inquisition, and who are now hunted by the same. You have survived certain death and bear the magical mark of the Brand of Sacrifice, elevating you above commoners of the realm. It is your lot to fight evil while working to evade The Church, who has marked you as a dangerous heretic.

Sacrifice lacks classes and non-human species for player characters, but the influence of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy RPG is otherwise clear - Sacrifice employs the six classic character Abilities, an XP-based character level progression, a familiar skill list (with a couple of adjustments), simple Proficiency rules, Feats, Hit Points, and Armor Class.

Additionally, Sacrifice contains a list of combat maneuvers that any PC can perform (provided they can spend enough Stamina to trigger them) and rules for imbuing weapons with magic (based on the number of unnatural creatures that they have slain). Finally, the Branded begin play at Level 3, reflecting their years of life experience as a member of the Inquisition and, subsequently, as a heretic who bears the Brand of Sacrifice. Speaking of which…

The real unique characteristic of player characters that sets them apart from the rest of the world’s populace is the Brand of Sacrifice. The Brand marks a player character as “prey for all that is evil in the world” which, likewise, draws the persecution of regular folk and The Church’s Inquisition. The Brand has its benefits, though - it allows a player character to detect the presence of demons and demonic forces. Further, with a bit of concentration, the distance and direction to these demons can be determined. It also has one pretty big drawback - when in the presence of the dead, restless spirits may take control of the player character’s body, using it for their own ends.

The core mechanic of Sacrifice is the skill roll, which will look familiar to anybody who has played the last three editions of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy RPG (roll 1d20 + Skill Modifier versus Difficulty Rating). That said, ability rolls (roll 1d20 and score less than the ability rating to succeed) and saving throws (roll 1d20 versus a predefined number) are also part of the package. If you’ve played any other d20-based OSR game or any recent edition of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy RPG, you’ll be able to pick up the core mechanical bits of Sacrifice very quickly.

Combat in Sacrifice is very gritty - there are critical hit tables for different weapon types, a fumble table, a permanent wound table, and healing is, appropriately, a slow ordeal. Similarly, death is not only possible when a character engages an enemy in Sacrifice, but even likely, should they not engage that enemy intelligently. I’d go as far as to say that combat in Sacrifice is more lethal than it is in most other d20-based OSR systems that I’m familiar with. Which is fitting, given the premise and setting of the game.

The basic mechanics of combat will be familiar to anybody who has experience with other d20-based OSR systems or any recent edition of the World’s Most Popular Fantasy RPG (roll 1d20 + Ability modifier versus Armor Class to hit, roll 1d20 + DEX modifier to determine Initiative, etc). The real stand out bits of combat in Sacrifice are the aforementioned tables and combat maneuvers, as well as the mechanics for enemy morale (something that I’ve seen many old-timers lament the lack of in some newer fantasy games).

Rounding out the section on combat and health in Sacrifice is a brief section that details the rules for fatigue. While less than a page in length, these rules are detailed enough to be meaningful and make fatigue something for player characters to fear as the negative effects of fatigue add up very quickly and can really knock the wind out of a player character’s sails. This is, again, like the lethal combat and injury rules, a mechanic that serves the established tone of the game well.

Following the rules for combat in Sacrifice, is a brief but detailed section that covers travel and exploration that is rich with tables covering everything from weather to mishaps endured at camp or while traveling. A selection of random encounter tables rounds out this section of the rules, which is a useful tool for any referee to have at hand when running a fantasy RPG, in my opinion.

Corruption in the world of Sacrifice is a very real thing that the Branded (and, ostensibly, everybody else) have to worry about. Certain actions, creatures, and places can cause player characters to gain points of Corruption. Whenever they gain more points of Corruption than their Corruption Threshold (Level - WIS modifier), they gain a Mark of Corruption (things like unnaturally sharp and pointy teeth, black blood, etc). Corruption is yet another thematic element that Sacrifice brings to the table.

The following section of Sacrifice details the world in which the game takes place, a world that resembles a war-torn version of Europe’s own Dark Ages with very literal demons threatening the land. The setting is mostly painted in broad strokes with specificity reserved for elements such as The Church, which are central to the game’s premise. Additionally, a wealth of tables dedicated to generating different encounter types on the fly, the names of mercenary bands, hex types (for exploration), NPC motivations, NPC descriptions, weekly world events, character events, and adventure seeds. This chapter is, in short, a great toolbox for referees.

Finally, a bestiary of demonic Apostles, human opponents, natural beasts, and fantastic monsters rounds out Sacrifice. With the exception of the Apostles, this is the section of Sacrifice that cleaves most closely to other d20-based OSR systems. There really isn’t a great deal of standout content here, but what material is present is useful all the same. The three Apostles detailed in this bestiary do warrant some attention - they specifically serve as examples of men and women who have made a horrible pact with demons for unbridled power. They are horrible, twisted, beings to be feared and are meant to serve as big bads of the setting.

In summation, if you enjoy d20-based OSR systems, dark fantasy, and want a game that comes packaged complete with a compelling premise for play and malleable setting presented in such a way that it serves the game's central premise but that you can easily tailor to your own games, Sacrifice might be for you. I’m certainly pumped about getting it to the tabletop as soon as possible.

Sacrifice is available at this link in both PDF and POD print.
 

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