Quick Notes

I have a post in the queue about an alternate origin of dragons. This article is in the same vein (though not the same manner) as the dwarves of Dwimmermount. It should show up on Monday. Today, however, there is a hodpodge of ideas that I wanted to share instead of creating yet more draft posts.

Azamar Review

Over 250 people have read my review of Azamar over the past few days. I hope that it was helpful. Sales seem to be going well, it is #12 on the Hottest Items list at RPGNow.com. My two part review can be found at these links:

Azamar Part the First
Azamar Part the Second

Arcanist Rules

I've written about a skill-based mage called the Arcanist for Andras a number of times. Before jotting down a few notes, here is an index:

First Draft of the Arcanist (I don't like this version)
Discussion of Spell Points
Yet More Thoughts on Spell Points
A Brief Mention about the Spell List
The First Stats Appear for the Arcanist

I've shifted a bit from the OpenQuest Magnitude chart to using the Open D6 chart. I've also changed the spell point system. The main reason for doing this was the ability to create spells by effect. I still generate some spells from TFT, OpenQuest, 2e Psionics, etc. The difference is that now there are spells from OpenD6 as well. Basing spell creation on a simplied OpenD6 spell building system allows the Arcanist to have similar spell school options as regular Mages. In other words, you can have a specialist Arcanist.

Another reason for changing to something like the OpenD6 spell system is that I can provide bonuses/penalties for all kinds of situations that would pertain only to a skill-based mage. For example:

Increasing Casting Time to 9:                 +2
Increasing Casting Time by a round:   +5
Eschewing Material Components:         -2
Eschewing Verbal Components:            -2
Eschewing Somatic Components:         -2
Casting a Spell with students:                +1 per student max +10

Again, the Arcanist cannot change the intensity, range or area of the effect without researching a new spell. However, that research will be significantly reduced from the cost of researching the original spell.

With the group casting bonus, if would be fair to surmise that there are some spells that can only be cast by a group of Arcanists. The +1 per student bonus is only for spell that were originally created to be cast by a sole Arcanist. Group Spells that will be given in a later PDF have the benefit of a community already factored in.

New Dice

I went to an educational store and picked up some unusual dice. One is a d6 that has negative numbers. The others are all fractional. There is a red d8 that features 1/8 through 1,  a white d10 with 1/10 through 1 and two white d6's that have different fractions. One d6 has 1/6 through 1. The other d6 has 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/6, 1/8 and 1/12. Lots of fun to be had besides adding and subtracting fractions practice.

ConstantCon

I've asked Google+ developers for a page that anyone could post upcoming hangouts on. I could post something here, but I'm thinking of something that is editable by the community and doesn't rely on me to find all the ConstantCon Hangouts and Games that are going on. Here's to hoping.

Also on the ConstantCon front, I hope to have a game scheduled to start in November for a Spelljammer game. I am a parent of two young ones, so it will be a weekend schedule.

Azamar for the GM

Click here for Part One of this review.

Scroll to the bottom to read only the final rating and recommendations.

Geography

Starting at page 85, the geography of the world is provided. One unique feature to all the areas described are the Toponymies, or the history of names for a location. It's an interesting addition that adds flavor to a world that has its roots in True Name Magic.

As you read through the Geography, keep your thumb on page 186, the glossary. As you read through the all the areas, certain creatures and materials are discussed that aren't defined until later. For example, Zurn stones are a very valuable commodity for magic, construction, and currency. The first mention occurs in a Character Feature involving magic and several more references are made until Zurn stones are defined near the end of the book.

In a world with six continents, created in part due to a cataclysm in the past, there are numerous locations covered in twenty-nine pages. Read through them once to get a sense of the world and then pick one location for the players to begin play. A given location can cover a lot of ground, so there is a lot of potential to be in one general area for quite a while. Each location has a description of the people, creatures, commerce and a few notables.

Bestiary

After the geography, comes the Beasts and Fiends of Azamar.There are orcs and trolls, but there are also my favorite creature, the Gaunts. Gaunts are believed to be created when a sentient humanoid is mutated by evil forces. Interestingly, they are killed on sight despite this belief.

Azamar has a distinct lack of undead, except for animated skeletons called Sentinels. These powerful creatures have their own powerful abilities, including an anti-magic shell and often employ firearms as weapons. Although there is room to create vampires, zombies and the like, I think that the lack of undead make the sentinels that much more fearsome.

Fiends are equivalent to demons in other fantasy settings. They range in appearance from near-human to mutated to exotic. As stated in the last post, my ratings come from things that I can use now. One of the fiends that I can use now are the Agmai. They are part Lovecraftian horror, part slug, part starfish and all nasty. Anything that has a mouth on top of its head, attacks by crushing or puking up metal-dissolving acid and walks around like a scorpion is a great creature in my book.

Combat and Gear

After the beasts and fiends, comes the rules for combat and movement. The rules are basically group initiative with an ability to leverage initiative with GM approval. In four pages, the rules cover sneak attacks, magical healing, rules for differently sized opponents and more. There is also an optional rule for what is called Flexible Spellcasting. Essentially, Flexible Spellcasting allows a character to spend a character point and name the effect. The GM determines a Difficulty Rating and the player rolls to beat it. A chart provides suggestions for assigning Difficulty Ratings.

I could make a GM screen out of the four pages of combat without shrinking the text. This is a big deal to me as I get older. I have difficulty reading my 27 year old GM screen I made for my B/X games. I wrote in small print to cram everything in and despite a lack of faded ink, its hard to read. Thank goodness for straightforward rules in larger type!

Going into the discussion of gear called props in the book, make your way back to the Glossary on page 186. Most of the gear is mundane, but there are references to materials defined in the glossary. The new materials play two important roles in the game: the new exotic material determine physical properties of certain expensive weapons and magic. Tucked near the end of the gear section, are rules about casting spells without expending a Character Point. Items called Magical Foci are available for sale in many places. Magical Foci do absolutely nothing for character that do not already cast spells. Using a focus, a character can hurl a bolt of magical energy at a target. The range and damage the boly delivers is determined by the type of Foci used and the materials used in its construction. Rings are portable, but are limit the spell range severely, even if the ring is made from very rare materials. Wands are larger and are the standard focus of choice. A staff allows a character to wield great power, but the difficulty in construction rarely allows for them to be made of exotic materials.

Aside from Magical Foci, new flora and fauna are presented. Like other materials, each has a special power. The effects are relatively minor, your mileage may vary. Ground and air vehicles round out the gear section. Yes, there are massive airships on Azamar. One oddity is that vehicles have no stats, not even movement rates. Only a description and cost is provided. This seems like an oversight as the Cinema6 Rules provide stats and guidelines for using vehicles. This appears to be the only omission in an otherwise complete rulebook.

Miscellaneous GM Stuff

A few Gamemaster Characters are provided as allies or adversaries to the Player Characters. Each is presented with a bit of history, their place in Azamar and their stats. These, coupled with the Archtypes at the end of the book, can provide guidance for your players when creating characters. With both of these tools, character creation can be shortened to Pick and Archetype and choose a couple of tweaks. In a sourcebook with so many choices, this allows the GM to manage them without putting up arbitrary restrictions.

The sample adventure is a basic search and rescue, but it provides a great springboard for more adventures. Advice is provided on story arcs that can lead to more adventure. With all the possibilities given, it won't be too hard to tailor the story arcs to taste. As I tend toward gonzo stuff, you may not choose to have your own Azamarspace Crystal Sphere, but you can easily go from here to more urban adventures, swashbuckling sea adventures or more longer journeys to the six corners of Azamar.

Final Notes

COST: 5 Stars out of 5 Stars.
The PDF is $5. That's all. $5 for a complete game, campaign world, and a bunch of free extras. Even if you decide to adapt the material to your own ruleset, it is worth the $5. It is available for purchase at their store. They will be able to accept Credit Cards soon, but PayPal works right now.

CONTENT: 4.5 Stars out of 5 Stars.
There is a lot of content here. At first, it can feel like a lot especially with all the new vocabulary. I create my own languages as a hobby, so it doesn't bother me as much as it bothers some. Make good use of page 186, the Glossary to navigate all the information presented.  As mentioned, vehicles are mentioned, but no statistics are provided. Download the free Cinema6 Rules for guidelines in using them. Another positive is the numerous examples provided for combat, using skills and magic. These are invaluable to understanding the setting.

The OpenD6 community is also provided content for Azamar. New character templates and another mini-adventure are provided in Issue 2 of D6 Magazine.

PRESENTATION: 3.5 Stars out of 5 Stars
Why so low? The primary issue is the complete lack of an index. This wouldn't be an issue except that everything you need to know about magic is scattered throughout the book. Spells are in the front, Magic Foci are in the back. Character Features are in the middle. I will create a handout that puts Magic rules and choices all in one place when I run it. Otherwise, the book is organized very well and one subject lends to another in a way that makes sense.

OVERALL: 4.5 Stars out of 5 Stars
The positives far outweigh the negatives for me. I can deal with a lack of an index because everything is explained well. Once I find what I'm looking for, it is easy to understand and simple to play. There is a lot of content that I can use right now in my own games, but I enjoy the ruleset presented. I look forward to the new worlds promised by Wicked North Games.

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.

History

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.

Rules

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.

Races

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.

Characters

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.

Gods

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.

Conclusions

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.