The Introduction - or "Translator's Foreword" - sets the scene magnificently. This is not, we are told, a modern game of mediaeval times but a role-playing game written in mediaeval times by some monks seeking a pastime, an imaginative entertainment. This delightful conceit is continued throughout the entire book, complete with mediaeval-style illustration.
The first chapter, Imagine, describes what the game is about. Beginning with a series of pen-pictures describing dramatic scenes from mediaeval life, the author explains how a group of young monks play a game of 'Imaginings' wherein they pretend to be other people: a brave knight or a cunning thief, perhaps. They claim inspiration from David son of Arne and Gary of Geneva too (I wonder who they might be?), but now have decided to write down their own game. It goes on to explain the basics of the step-die mechanic, and how characters - 'protagonists' - are described by their Skills (with assigned die values) and looser descriptive Aspects, again with die values but which are made up by the players to describe what is special about that character rather than picked from the skill list. Backgrounds are an even looser descriptive tool and not quantified by dice, they serve to add flavour. Two pools of points are also assigned: Ardor (gained in adversity and used to add to die rolls) and Vigor (basically hit points). And each character can have Tools, items in his possession that assist him to do things. When you are going to attempt a difficult or dangerous action, you form a dice pool with the die type of the appropriate Skill, add the value of a Tool if applicable, and if you can see a way to do so, invoke one of your Aspects by spending an Ardor point and add its die as well. Then roll against a GM-set target, the higher the better.
The next chapter, Create, gets into character creation in detail. Once the focus of the game has been decided, each Protagonist's player needs to select three Mentors who influenced his early life... and from whom they learned at least some of their Skills. The Mentors can also bestow Tools as gifts. This provides an interesting instant background to a character - taught by a monk as a child in a noble household, perhaps, then trained by a soldier in the arts of war and maybe then falling into bad company and learning the skills of a thief. Plenty of examples are given, as are basic assumptions about all characters - you need to use Aspects of Backgrounds to counter them if you want to be other than of peasant stock or not to be a Christian for example.
NPCs come in different types, from those as well developed as any Protagonist, to the Simple - bit-part players who are merely capable of whatever it is that they need to be able to do. Mentors are a special case in point, as you need to know what skills they are able to teach. Of course, Protagonists can themselves become Mentors. The most developed NPCs are Antagonists, the major players whom the characters will meet - not necessarily in opposition, they could be allies. Animals are also dealt with here, then follows a detailed list of available Skills.
Next comes Play, a chapter in which the focus is on how the game is actually played. Naturally, much can be covered in simple conversation between GM and players. It's when someone wants to attempt a difficult or dangerous task, or one where the outcome is uncertain, particularly when someone else is acting in opposition, that the dice need to come out. The whole process, briefly touched on earlier, is gone into in detail, followed by the uses of Ardor and Aspects to influence the course of play. Then come sections on sorcery and witchcraft, and on curses - like any God-fearing mediaeval soul, the 'author' believes magic is probably the work of the Devil, but may well be real. So are diseases and sickness, the topic of the next section. Next character advancement - i.e. improvement of existing skills and learning new ones - is covered.
The normal progress of game play covered, the next chapter is Conflict. While the main focus may be actual combat, the game mechanics are designed so that any contest - be it with words, fists or edged weapons, or a chase - is handled in a common manner. The key factor is that one individual is attempting to outdo another. Naturally the rules get a bit more complex at this point, but they are well-explained and easy to follow. Combat is fairly straightforward. The rules for Parley are interesting, while role-playing of the arguments is still required the die rolls are used to determine reactions to what you say, how good a liar you are and the like, rather than as a substitute for actually having to come up with the points you want your character to make. Likewise, Subterfuge (or sneaky infiltration) still requires description of what the character is attempting before the use of die rolls to judge the outcome. With an example of prisoners sneaking out of captivity, it is no surprise that the Chase rules follow to wind up the game mechanics part of the work.
The last chapter is titled Explore and discusses the world in which the game is set and the sort of stories that can be played out. Some contemporary mediaeval issues are discussed to provide an historical backdrop, with the important note that the game is about the protagonists and their actions, not historical accuracy. Fascinating stuff, though - including why the College of Cardinals was established, the Order of the Hatchet, the Crusades and the long-running debate over whether Stephen or Maude is the rightful ruler of England. Whether your characters wish to get embroiled, or have such events as background, depends on the stories your group wants to tell. There are also ideas for the kind of locations available and some of the things that might be happening - or tasks given to the characters to undertake. This ends with an entire campaign concept ready as example or to be used in its entirety - a banquet at Warwick Castle where there's a lot more going on than dinner!
Appendices contain full details of a range of Mentors, of Antagonists for the banquet adventure and of animals that might be encountered in your travels.
This is a charmingly-presented simple role-playing game which holds together well, sound mechanically (provided you're not a rabid min-maxer!) and sustains the voice of a mediaeval monk throughout. Even the illustrations would not be out of place in a manuscript (although mediaeval manuscripts are more gaudy!). If your aim is a gentle game recreating the feel of the mediaeval world, this is a good place to start.
Return to Chronica Feudalis Corebook page.
Reviewed: 11 March 2010