Sunday, September 13, 2009

Song of Ice & Fire Review

Greetings, time for me to weigh in and voice my opinion. Let me first say that I am not a George R.R. Martin fan. I do not dislike his work, but then I have not read any of it. I recognized his name from the ‘Outer Limits’ movie ‘Sand Kings’ which I thought was very well done, but was different from the book from reading the synopsis. So this review is unbiased with his current works.

The Layout

I found the layout very appealing, it has some nice artwork and the cover is an epic picture of a battle in front of a castle. The neutral tones are easy on the eyes and I found it more to my liking than the cover of the actual core rule book. You can download the Quick-Start Rules here..

The Setting

The setting is one of intrigue and battle; it starts before Martin’s novels and just after a bloody rebellion of against a mad king. Since the new king is not of the original bloodline, it opens the scene to a host of possibilities on political intrigue. It appears to be a human-only setting, which is generally not to my liking, but mentions something about “the mysterious children of the forests”. It reminds of ‘Birth Right’ in some of the descriptions like the ‘barbarians’ to the north and the mystical spell casters from the ‘east’, but I think these are just reflections of our own contemporary history (in both cases).

There is a section on ‘The Seven Kingdoms’ that I found confusing. It breaks down into 9 sections, one of which is the seat of the Iron Throne known as the King’s Landing, but there are 8 other areas; four are listed as ruled by lords, and the other four by families.

Overall, it seems like a good setting for political intrigue and war.

The Rules

So the Quick-Start Rules launch into the rules by introducing you to their abilities. The abilities are an odd mixture of attributes and skills. They are broken down into specialties which are similar to the specialty skills of Shadowrun 2nd edition. I have some problems with this; first is the weird combination of the skills/atts. I do not mind that there are no attribute stats, but I think they should be taken out entirely. If you need to relate an action to an ‘ability’, some individuals may try to link everything to a base abilities; after all, why should you pick up Fighting and Acrobatics when you can link Swords and Tumbling to Agility? I’m hoping the core rules have some balancing points on this. The second issue I have is with the the ranks, there are only 7 ranks to abilities, you start at rank 2 (average) and rank 7 is legendary. So this leaves about 4 ranks to play with. This does not leave a whole lot of room for improvement. I fear that characters either take a long time to improve, or characters will improve too fast and max out too soon.

Destiny is described as “the ability to shape the outcomes of your experiences by subtly altering the story in ways to let you overcome adversity”. Destiny Points allow characters to change their fate and present the player with options for his character. You can Spend, Invest, and Burn Destiny Points. Each one action allows the character to effect the world in different ways.

The mechanics of the system seem well balanced, I like their concept of bonus dice. A character generally receives the bonus dice for specialties but they can be provided by other circumstances. SIFRP was designed well by the use of both modifiers (+ or – to the target number) and bonus/penalties (+ or – to the number of dice rolled). There are set difficulty numbers and because of the limit of 7 dice for the abilities, there is an upper limit to the roll. This appears very balanced and my only concern is with character advancement as stated above. Combat is pretty straight forward. SIFRP uses a combination of hit points, wounds, and injuries; each being worse than the previous. At first I was concerned with the fact that the player choose when his character took a wound. This seemed unfair to the Narrator as the character may abuse this rule. Upon further reading, I came to understand that a player takes a wound to prevent his defeat, so while a character may decide not to take wound (or injury), it usually meant the player admits defeat for his character.

The final portion speaks on intrigue; SIFRP contains a strong set of rules for intrigue. I like to call it court combat as the intrigue rules work like the combat rules. You can also get bonus dice for good roll-playing. This allows for the non-theatrically inclined to partake in NPC interaction and allows their character to excel where the player normally does not. Of course, this may lead to a player orating an excellent narrative only to fall victim of poor dice rolling, and another player saving the kingdom with a single word and high roll, something I do not agree with.

Final Review

Overall, I think SIFRP is well done. I will have to purchase the Core Rulebook to get a full feeling of the game, but the preliminary review is exellent. I am planning on purchasing the game and will try to revisit the review at that time.

The Result: Critical Hit

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Welcome to Our Blog

Hail and well met. Welcome to ‘Behind the Screen’; a blog from a couple of guys that enjoy role-playing maybe a smidgen much. The title is only a working title so you may see it change in the future.

What are we doing here? Well, we thought we might give our insights about role-playing and review products we come across in our travels. My companion and I, while like minded in many aspects, find ourselves debating (not arguing mind you) about different points of different games. I’m hoping our efforts will provide a more rounded opinion of products and rules that we come across.

In these musings, you may find that you disagree with our opinions. I would hope so, please post your opinions to any of articles. Your mileage may vary, please take what you like and leave the rest for the next traveller.