“Designing adventures can be a bit daunting. The thing is, you shouldn’t bust a gut over it. The more it is planned out, the less easy it will be to play.” – Barbarians of Lemuria
I’ve been eyeing this up for a while, and eventually gave in to temptation.
In a Nutshell: Simple but excellent sword and sorcery RPG. 110 page PDF by Beyond Belief Games, $5. Hard copy also available, but dude, that’s, like, soooo twentieth century…
I should mention that I got the Legendary Edition, and I know there are several other editions but not what the differences between them are. Caveat emptor.
The book opens with the history of Lemuria, the world of the setting; there’s an ancient sorcerous civilisation, then there’s a Dark Lord, then a hero sorts him out, then the sorcerors come back, then another hero sorts them out, then the present day. So you have an ancient-to-mediaeval setting, scantily-clad and mighty-thewed barbarians with an eye on the main chance, evil sorcerors, and fortunes quickly found and just as quickly lost.
Next comes an essay on role-playing, which unusually is not focused on “what is a role-playing game” but is an explanation of the kinds of stories this game tells, how the Game Master and players are expected to contribute, and what to expect in terms of game-play.
Mechanically, characters have four attributes (Strength, Agility, Mind and Appeal), four combat abilities (Brawl, Melee, Ranged and Defence) and four careers (chosen from a list of 26). You have four points to split between the attributes, another four to split between combat abilities, and four to split between careers; the maximum initial rating for any of them is 3. Lifeblood (hit points) is ten plus your Strength. Heroes also have one or two boons (Edges, Advantages, Feats, whatever) and possibly a flaw as well; these are chosen from lists determined by one’s birthplace. Boons let you roll three dice and pick the best two, flaws require you to roll three dice and pick the worst two – they typically apply only in specific circumstances, such as “when the situation calls for someone to believe you”.
Important NPCs are generated like heroes, while Rabble have 3 Lifeblood, most attributes at 0, and are unlikely to last long.
To attempt a task with some chance of failure, the player rolls 2d6, adds the relevant attribute and either any relevant combat ability or any relevant career, and applies situational modifiers; if the result is 9 or more, success. A natural 12 on the dice is always success, a natural 2 is always failure. Sufficiently high rolls, or ones boosted by spending “hero points”, may be Mighty or even Legendary; a nice touch is that with a Mighty Success in combat, the damage you roll is the number of Rabble you incapacitate. (Combat, by the way, follows the usual pattern; roll for who goes first, roll to hit, roll for damage, deduct damage from Lifeblood.)
In terms of rewards, loot is abstract; the GM describes the piles of gold and gems, the characters pick it up and take it away, and the players describe how they drink and gamble it all away – and how many experience points (sorry, Advancement Points) they get depends on how they spend it; misers and hoarders get one point, most people get two, players with especially cool or funny stories get three, especially if the story leads into another adventure. AP are used to improve abilities or careers, buy new boons, or buy off flaws.
There is some GM advice, which I rather liked; BoL is clearly designed for improvisational and picaresque adventures, exactly the sort I prefer. The section on starting gear, for example, advocates giving the characters whatever they want – Conan never went shopping, and nor should the characters. You can always take it off them later.
There are rules for magic, which are vague and abstract because spellcasters are meant to be NPCs – the genre convention is that they are villains, and anyway they spend all their time poring over musty tomes rather than fighting, drinking and wenching. I’ll dwell for a moment on spell levels, because they are unusual; cantrips give very basic effects, spells of the first magnitude allow the caster to do anything a trained individual with the right equipment could do, second magnitude is stuff a single person could never do, and third magnitude are generation-spanning curses and natural disasters. So a cantrip might make a squeaky door open silently, a first magnitude spell might burst it asunder, second magnitude would blow down the whole wall, and third magnitude would flatten the surrounding city. A cantrip might cost 1-2 power, first magnitude spells might need a special item and cost 5 power, and so forth. There are a dozen or so example spells, but the GM is clearly expected to wing it. Priests (good) and druids (bad) pray and sacrifice to gain fate points, which they can use to grant short-duration boons or flaws that are within the domain of their gods. Alchemists make potions and other devices – potions are defined as being able to duplicate the effects of things you can buy in a modern drugstore; sleeping pills, painkillers, ant poison and so on.
There’s an extensive gazetteer of the setting, including a colour map. Some entries have adventure seeds, some don’t. There are half-a-dozen playable races besides men, a couple of dozen beasts (Lemuria is a world without horses, although there are riding beasts) and a handful of stock NPCs. There are twenty good-ish gods and six dark gods. There’s a glossary of terms.
There are seven pregenerated heroes (who interestingly have history with each other) and a few adventure seeds, as well as three longer adventures. And a character sheet. Oh, and did I mention the Sky Boats?
Colour covers, two-column black on white text with red headings and italic quotes at the start of chapters, sprinkled with black and white illustrations. Basic, easy to read, gets the job done.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT
None, actually. Although the game has quite a few ideas I intend to borrow.
There’s a lot to like here; the game handles characters, task resolution and magic very elegantly, and after reading the rules through once I’d be confident in running a basic scenario without opening the rulebook. It’s amazing how much simpler things are when there are no player character spellcasters.
For the sort of games I run these days, this is almost a perfect match; I can see why it gets such good reviews elsewhere. It’s very, very tempting to use next time I get the gang together; but now we only play every 3-6 months changing the rules is a luxury I can ill afford. I did seriously consider it though, so that’s got to be at least a 4, and in fact I’ll bump that to 5 because of the sheer elegance of the rules.
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.