The Introduction begins by asking what would happen if dinosaurs came back... and that's basically the premise of this game. It is based on a TV show of the same name, but provides plenty of background information that those who haven't watched it are not at a significant disadvantage, even in the Introduction, and there's plenty more information later on. The usual 'What is a role-playing game?' piece is so similar to one of the ways I explain the hobby - like a computer game only better because you are interacting with a real live game master not a program - that I think the author must have heard me holding forth on the topic! It also explains that the book is made up of four sections. The first talks about creating characters and building a party. Next comes the rules. Then there is a section covering the dangers that can be encountered (yes, dinosaurs!) and finally there is material for the GM's eyes only. Players can certainly read the first two parts, and also the third if they are interested - especially if they are playing paleologists or just happen to like dinosaurs.
The first chapter, Primeval: The Basics, covers basic concepts and rules, Primeval in a nutshell, with a glossary and quick reference. This might be the best bit to show a new player who wants to join your group. It boils all you need to know to play both mechanically and conceptually into a few pages, and still manages to cram in a fair bit of background and a breakdown of the first three series of the TV show (the final two series being left to a promised supplement... which in due course materialised as Primeval Evolution). If you haven't watched the TV show, by the time you're read this you will probably want to (or this game isn't for you), but you will have sufficient background detail to be able to play anyway.
The next chapter, Genesis, looks at character creation in detail. It starts by determining what everyone wants to play and the sort of focus your game will have. There's no harm - in fact, some advantages - in having quite a disparate group: in my last game I was a zoo veterinarian, with a conspiracy theorist and a military man as my companions, we all brought different skills and outlooks to the events we had to deal with. Basically, the party (whoever they are) will be investigating anomalies, time warps and monsters... but there are several interesting, outlandish even, suggestions as to what will be going on in your game. Perhaps you are people from the past or the future whose main goal is to get back to their own time, and of course the game doesn't have to be set in the present day, your characters could be present day folk stuck in the future or the past, after all! Getting a grip on the basic premise for your game will help in coming up with appropriate characters, and next we learn how they are created.
Mechanically, characters are described by Attributes, Skills and Traits. The Attributes tell how strong, fast, clever, etc., your character is, while Skills describe what he knows and the Traits what he can do. Attributes and Skills have numerical ratings that show how good (or bad) you are in that particular area. You either have a Trait or you don't. A point-buy system is used, and the rest of the chapter goes into a whole lot of detail about using it to create just the character you want. There are informative notes on their use in play, including a note that just because you have a good Convince skill, you cannot just roll dice and get your own way - this is a role-playing game so coming up with a good scheme about how you intend to persuade people is important: the GM is advised to make things easier for players who are willing to try and act out what their character is saying in a given situation... and to make things harded for a really implausible scheme! Everything is beautifully illustrated with stills from the TV show (alas, uncaptioned so unless you know it well and have a good visual memory they are a bit baffling at times) and apposite quotes as well.
Characters done, you need to establish some Group Traits as well. These are primarily for game purposes - like access to weapons, medical facilities or vehicles, for example - but also can have mechanical advantages as well. Of course there are some bad Group Traits that you can take to get more points for good ones... I like the 'Boss from Hell' one which has the simple comment 'GM: enjoy!' beside it.
Next, some background on the Anomaly Research Centre (ARC), the organisation from the TV show and the default one for the game. Should you want to use the characters from the show, they are presented here with complete stat blocks and background material. This section also covers the ARC base and resources, day-to-day life there and more... including some of the major bad guys from the series - you could use them as NPCs, or even invert the entire concept and become them!
But you may not want to use the ARC. Next, Dinosaur Hunters presents a completely new outfit called Dinosaur Hunters Inc., the brainchild of an avid hunter and wealthy man who had hunted virtually everything and was hungry for more. Finding out about anomalies and what could come through them (or be found on the other side) just provided him with even more creatures to hunt and he has built a business around it, providing safaris for the super-rich. Perhaps your characters are the staff that makes it all happen. More sample characters are provided to that end - or you can reverse things here too, and use DHI as the bad guys, an unethical crew who view dinosaurs and indeed the past itself as their plaything and don't care what gets damaged!
All that covered, we move on to Playing the Game. The chapter is divided into two, you only need read the first part if you haven't role-played before as it covers the real basics - useful to show to novice role-players even if it isn't Primeval that you intend to play, and probably aimed at fans of the TV show who have picked up this book without knowing what they are letting themselves into. The second part has more advanced ideas for those who are comfortable about role-playing, and relate more to this particular game (although they would still be useful to anyone).
Next is Action, which covers the game mechanics you'll use in actual play in great detail, building on notes about how you use Attributes and Skills that came earlier. For task resolution the basic role is Attribute + Skill +2d6, with the aim being to exceed a target set in order to succeed. Of course there's a whole more to it than that, but it's explained in detail with lots of examples, and if you keep the basics in mind the rest comes together quite swiftly during play... especially if you are familiar with the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game from the same publisher, as it is very similar in concept. It also includes a detailed analysis of the rules pertaining to combat - which includes 'social conflict' as well as brawling - and covers matters like injury, illness and healing. It ends with the use of Story Points, a mechanic designed to enable players to influence the course of events over and above their characters' actions.
The next section covers equipment, and it's a lot more than a kit list to choose from. There's stuff about how you obtain what you need, or improvise it, and even about how to handle whether or not someone has that all-important bit of gear with him when he needs it the most. But if you do want a kit list, that's there as well.
The next chapter is called Cover-ups. Part of the ARC's remit is to keep all the anomany and dinosaur stuff secret. This covers how to deal with all those well-meaning folks like police officers and ambulance crews who might have turned up when an incident is reported by a member of the public. The premise is that, whatever the nature of your game, the party will also want to keep this under wraps... and there's a page of dire warning about what could happen if word did get out. There are some NPCs presented in full here who can be a help or a hinderance in maintaining this secrecy.
And now on to some knowledge: Anomalies. What are they, what do they mean and how do they work anyway? Temporal issues, getting stuck and much, much more are covered here. After that, Deep Time looks at the prehistoric past exploring the different eras and what you might find there... or what might come from there, more to the point. Much of this is reminiscent of the recent Doctor Who RPG supplement The Silurian Age, unsurprising given that they share an author! This work came first, it just happens I read The Silurian Age last week. And then of course there are Monsters, the next chapter. There are descriptions of how they work, from a game mechanical standpoint, and plenty of sample ones to unleash, as well as resources for creating your own or putting game statistics to other creatures you want to include.
Finally, Gamemastering provides a wealth of information of use to whoever is the GM. A lot of it is of general application to GMing in general, and it makes a good primer whatever you intend to run, but naturally there is plenty specific to this game as well. There's a chapter on Adventures, showing how to create and run them to effect, with lots of ideas about individual adventures and plot arcs, even two-part or multi-part adventures in the style of a TV show, with opening adventures and finales. There's material on Conspiracies (including example ones) and how to incorporate them into your game if you so wish, and on The Future and how to handle that, too. And there's a sample adventure, Primeval Woodlands, showing how this all hangs together - and you can, of course, run it for your group particularly if they are involved with the ARC.
All good stuff... if you like the Primeval TV show, dinosaurs, time-travel and cracking good adventure, this game is worth checking out!
Return to Primeval RPG Core Rulebook page.
Reviewed: 26 April 2016