Azamar Core Rules Review
This is part 1 of the review. It mostly covers the options available to players. Part 2 will be more for the GM.
I have been waiting a long time for products built on the OpenD6 rules. Some time ago, a group of folks got together and formed Wicked North Games. From the beginning, their stated goal was quality products based on the OpenD6 rules. Their efforts led to their own set of base rules called Cinema6 with the promise of many worlds yet to come. The first of these worlds is a high fantasy setting called Azamar.
Readers are introduced to a group of friends traveling together. The vignette provides a look into the world of Azamar. It features half of the races, magic, beasts, and much more. Instead of explaining what an RPG is, it demonstrates an introductory story before moving into the world’s history.
After providing a sweeping history of the past 5000 years, the reader is directed to information about why Azamar works the way it does. In addition to the history that set the stage, the nature of the realms and magic are explained.
I appreciated that the introduction wasn’t the standard “this is an what an rpg is”. The world of Azamar is introduced like an example of play. In a couple of pages, the how and why the world works is explained quite well. The rationale of magic is important to the feel and rules of the game. It was explained clearly and concisely. When I get a chance to play this with someone, I will probably print out the how and why section for the players as a mnemonic aid during play.
The core mechanic is simple, roll a number of six-sided die against a difficulty rating. If you roll the difficulty rating or higher, you are successful.
Players also get Cinema Points to use as a measure of experience, perseverance, and personal growth (quoted from the book). They are used at character creation for purchasing skills or features, during the game to activate a character feature and/or improve rolls and between game sessions to increase abilities, skills and features.
After this comes the list of skills by attribute. The list is comprehensive offering lots of choice to players. The descriptions are pretty straight-forward. I didn’t get the sense that a GM would be weighed down by trying to remember what each skill would do. Character wants to use a skill, assign a difficulty rating determine the number of die to use (attribute plus level of skill) and roll for success.
Azamar features eight new races. This is an area where Azamar shines. One of the measurements of a good RPG product for me is whether or not there is inspirational material I can use right now. In a page and a half, each race is described by their Homeland, Main Attribute, Restrictions, Background and Outlook. The background provides just enough information to help a player get into the role of playing one of these races. The Outlook section demonstrates how other races view a specific race. The unique aspect of the Outlook section is that the other races are described in a series of quotations instead of block text. I found this a refreshing way of describing a race’s place in a given world.
The next section details character creation. After the nine steps are listed, the text goes into more detail about the effects of magic, rules for rolling for background and options for starting play as a more experienced character.
After this, we get the meat of the book, lists of character features categorized by features available only at the time of character creation first. After that the categories cover features by types of magic. Character Features include spells, something I didn’t pick up on at first. However, I understood later why spells are treated as a feature instead of its own separate entity.
Magic is described as rare and potentially dangerous – the effect is maintained in the rules by requiring a Cinema Point to be spent to activate a spell. This focuses players to use magic only when necessary, a stark contrast to the fire-and-forget spellcasting in other systems.
The Gods and other powerful spirits are presented as something for all characters. Worship of a particular deity provides one or two benefits activated like a character feature. Worship of a deity does, however, require some behavioral guidelines. In other words, if a character is not faithful and staying on the path, the benefits won’t work.
I like this because it provides a “Hail Mary Prayer” for a character that may result in a game action. The benefits aren’t game-breaking, but a few of them could keep a character going during critical parts of the game. This isn’t just combat abilities, but things like withstanding supernatural amounts of pain, escape through a trans-dimensional gate or inducing temporary madness against a target.
If you like games that provide a lot of choice to a player, Azamar has it. I enjoyed thinking of the myriad types of character that can be created. There are eight interesting races, various forms of magic, numerous skills, even a meaningful benefit to choosing a deity. If that isn’t enough for you, there’s even a free mini-campaign and expansion that adds more options.
There are pre-generated characters at the end of the book. For a quick session, a group could use them to get started quickly. It’s true that lots of options can make character creation an hours-long chore. If you’re concerned about this possibility, create a few archtype characters to serve as models in addition to the pregen characters in the back.
Some folks may be bothered by the long lists. I didn’t find them as long as lists in GURPS. It feels like they are about the same length as Savage Worlds, maybe a bit longer. Features cover 23 pages and skills cover 6 pages. The character creation summary and the core mechanic combined cover less than a page. Skills are listed by governing attribute, so a player won’t be poring over all six pages to pick up skills. In the same way, magic skills only cover one or two pages by type of magic. The only place where character creation may get bogged down is in the almost 19 pages of features available only at the moment of character creation. Having said that, the mechanical benefit takes up less than one line of text. My only suggestion for improvement would be to provide a page with the name of a feature, cost, restrictions and mechanical effect of each character feature.
All in all, this is a lot of fun to read. For this part of the book (pages 1 – 85), I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.