Fine Old Fantasy

OUT OF THE BOX
2000-09-21

In which I review the other down-to-the-ground dinosaur swords-sorcery-and-elves RPG debuting at GenCon, Shards of the Stone: Core from Obsidian Studios [http://www.obsidianstudios.com].

As one could mayhap tell from the title, Sean Patrick Fannon, Jared Nielsen, Aaron A. Avecedo, and Jason A. Engle’s Shards of the Stone: Core (384 pages plus 8-page full-color illustration insert, $25) is intended as a core rulebook for the Shards of the Stone multiverse RPG. This makes reviewing its world something of a moot point; what there is is interesting twists on old cliches (elves, dwarves, orcs, ogres, and goblins — plus winged folk, reptile-men, and beast-men) and one really super-keen idea. Said idea postulates that once-upon-the-proverbial-primordial, the Stone (hence the title) blew up into 25 Elements (not just the normal Four, but Law, Creativity, Love, etc.) which scattered to the multi-realms, where they can be physically mined or grown or what-have-you. Which, of course, must wait for a worldbook to do it justice; but just imagine the possibilities! (“Sir, until the Law-miners call off their strike, I’m afraid there’s going to be a lot more crime in the city — and their union seems very disciplined.”) The rulebook promises that some very, very good and famous writers indeed — Phil Masters, Phil Brucato, Steve “the Man” Long, Bill Connors, Ed Greenwood — will be doing just that in upcoming releases.

So I have to review the rules, really, to review the book. The rules are a relatively “advanced” adaptation of the Fuzion engine [http://www.TheFuze.com] (a hybrid of Champions’ Hero System and Mekton Z’s Interlock) for fantasy gaming. On the “simple” side, Shards of the Stone dumps Endurance, though, and they promise a character generator soon on their website [http://www.shardsofthestone.com]. That takes care of my big beefs with Fuzion, and what’s left seems like a pretty darn good fantasy engine; the monsters are based on an even simpler build system. Throughout, the rules urge and aid the GM to tune the system to her own specifications; that alone makes Shards of the Stone: Core worthy of mention alongside D&D 3E. The book is attractive, barring one or two quiddities of layout, it’s clean, easy-to-read, well-annotated with designer’s notes, and superbly illustrated throughout by JAE. There’s no index. Bad Obsidian Studios, no biscuit, especially in a book this long. (Of course, you can skip the interminable “Legend of Marr” gamefic in the front, so that cuts out 24 pages right there.) But on the whole, if you’re looking for a fantasy take on Fuzion, or another standard FRPG, Shards of the Stone delivers at the Core.

Finial Fantasy

In which I review the coffee-table fantasy RPG that eats like a cinammon roll, Gemini from Sweden’s Cell Entertainment AB.

As a dark-fantasy world, it’s not tremendously original: demonic entities enter world as per Prophecy, squabbling humanity waits to die, secretive elfs look on, et cetera. Its stat+skill modifier engine is nothing to write home about, and calculating the mods is more work than it needs to be. But it’s got Templars, and a monolithic Church, which is a start. And it’s freaking gorgeous to look at. Which is why I keep finding myself thumbing through Johan Sj√∂berg’s Gemini (240 page hardback with 32 full-color pages, no visible price but it can’t be cheap), marveling at Stefan Ljungqvist’s graphic design; once I got used to the unequal column sizes (my mind kept reading the page like a GURPS book, with sidebars) I kept seeing new, marvelous tidbits of the world through the graphic look. Hence, although the destination isn’t anywhere tremendously special, the journey is well worth the trip; the sense of exploring the world of Gemini remains with the reader. I can’t really recommend playing the game, but I certainly can’t argue with owning it and reading it. Maybe it’s a really, really elaborate solo scenario.

Phi/Null Fantasy

In which I review the geekiest supplement to the geekiest fantasy RPG ever, the Wizard’s Grimoire Revised Edition from Atlas Games [http:www.atlas-games.com].

The last time I ran Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein*Hagen’s brilliantly arcane RPG Ars Magica, I was able to flummox the players nicely by sneaking spells and magic items out of the old Wizard’s Grimoire to bulk up NPC covenants. That was about all the use I got out of it, since my Order of Hermes had diverged from the “canonical” one somewhere in the middle of the core rulebook. Which means that, even if you’ve got the same attitude I did, you’ll get plenty of use out of John Kasab and David Chart’s recompilation of The Wizard’s Grimoire Revised Edition (176 pages, $22.95). If you’ve got the old one, you’ll have to make a harder decision; everything here is fourth-edition compatible (though that’s not such a huge change), and the all-new Faerie Magic rules are very, very cool. In general, what’s added is well worth seeing, and what’s kept was (mostly) worth keeping. Any true Ars Magica fanboy should buy it, of course, and casual users should consider making this their second purchase in the line.

Fine New Fantasy

In which I review the latest passage of Maelstrom Storytelling through the Storm, emerging as Dacartha Prime, a setting and rules engine in one, from Hubris Games [http://www.hubris-games.com].

Every time Hubris Games revisits their fanta-scientifick world of Maelstrom, I like it better and better, which is beginning to pose a difficulty for me. If the next edition of Maelstrom gets much better than Christian Aldridge’s recasting of it in Dacartha Prime (132 pages, $20), I’m going to have to resort to thesauri. If you don’t already have Maelstrom Storytelling, the diceless RPG of shifting worlds and Leonardan airships, well, you don’t need it with Dacartha Prime; it reprints the “Story Bones” basic engine as well as the most recent version of the Story Engine Rules (much clearer examples this time out), so you’re good to go. The writing is still good, and the bravado of the world design gets even better; who else, while examining their science-fantasy quasi-19th century world-shifting city, will include its Periodic Table of the Elements? The art isn’t as uniformly excellent as previous works, but the graphic look is still top-hole. And there is a truly wonderful index. Top notch world design, married to a steadily-improving set (two sets, now) of diceless RPG mechanics — well worth a long, low whistle.

Next Week It’s Last Year

Or before, or after, as we look at second editions from Big Eyes, Small Mouth to Blue Planet, refurbishments like Sovereign Stone, re-releases like SLA Industries, and similar fun in our Ramble Through The (Other) Retreads!

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