Posted on September 15, 2007 by Flames
If I were a young teenage girl and Cadwallon were an up and coming boyband dancer my knickers would be moist. ‘But mum! He’s soooo dreamy!’ would be my cry, his posters would be on my wall and I would be writing ‘Tonya ? Cadwallon’ all over my schoolbooks. I would be writing stories on the fan appreciation forum about how the band members were ALL going to marry me and we are going to live on a yacht together until THE END OF TIME ITSELF.
But I’m not. I’m a thirty-and-change year old misogynistic bastard and I’m past the point where I can be solely influenced by how pretty something is, its about the music damn it! Cadwallon is a very, very pretty thing – which was enough to persuade me to buy it – but it is a shallow beast, and horribly confusing to read and, I should point out in large angry letters.
It has no index.
I should also be clear that the edition I’m reviewing is one of the earlier printings and I’m assured, by people who care, that the translation was cleaned up in later editions. Let us hope so, for all our sakes.
Sweet, merciful fate this is a gorgeous book. It DRIPS design from every page, it looks like an art book, it feels like an art book, it even smells like an art book, it reeks of glorious, artistic Frenchness from every page and it presents two things I really, really like – urban fantasy and great design. I should love this thing, I really should.
Cadwallon sells itself as a ‘tactical role playing game’ and it sits, uncomfortably and mystifyingly, somewhere between D&D and one of Games Workshop’s skirmish games like Mordheim or Necromunda. It never quite explains what tactical roleplaying is exactly and it comes across in the reading as either a dumbed down D&D where the board becomes necessary or a brightened up skirmish game where you actually roleplay. It is stuck between dimensions, neither one thing nor the other but given the D&D miniatures and the popularity of Clix this new middle ground seems to have become a fighting area for many of the companies so there must be something in it.
The greatest similarity to a preceding product would probably be to Warhammer Quest or Advanced Heroquest, only with a much more open and interesting game world and slightly more deep rules.
Oh, my, I’m drooling. This this is gorgeous. Rackham have always been known for their gorgeous artwork and wonderful miniatures and this is no exception. In a perfect world I’d have chucked out their miniatures photos and just had the whole thing illustrated but since they’re concentrating on the minis-play side of the game I suppose that’s too much to ask for, still, there’s enough wonderful artwork in here, including correct use of Gary Chalk (so important and so nostalgic) to overcome that simple reservation. This thing is a gorgeous object, maybe slightly over designed on every page, but it works, so I’m not going to knock it. You get a real feel for the city and its inhabitants and the dark renaissance type of world that Cadwallon resides in. Comparisons with Warhammer or Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine are almost inevitable but it is slightly lighter and slightly less gonzo than Warhammer, with a more surreal weirdness then Warhammer’s ‘Look! Tentacles!’ approach and a more magically oriented approach than Iron Kingdom’s brutalist steampunk. It is its own thing.
The writing… well… um… what can one say really? Like many things of foreign beauty you want to get to know them more intimately but there’s this damn language barrier. I mean, they try to talk to you in your language as best they can from their phrasebook but while ‘Would you like to come back to my place, bouncy, bouncy?’ sounds promising, you doubt they mean it.
The Mechanical Dream RPG had the same problem, gorgeous, weird, but could you make head nor tail of the Franglais (like Engrish, but with French) when it was important? Could you buggery! I mean, you can just about muddle through the city background and the establishment of the factions and free companies but when it comes down to explaining anything technical you’re jiggered. Which you shouldn’t be really, its a fairly simple d6 dicepool system with an interesting action/reaction/initiative mechanic and something about ‘attitudes’ which I haven’t quite been able to decipher in a year of reading the book on and off, but somehow the poor translation renders the applications of this simple enough system all but impenetrable.
I am assured that the translation efforts have improved massively, but I have to rate the book I have and this, is painful.
Cadwallon is a Free City, once cursed and left to stand and rot it was occupied and cleansed by a ragtag group of mercenaries and pirates who then settled there, claiming it for their own and attracting mobs and mobs of other disenchanted adventurers, thieves, pirates, mercenaries and other ne’er-do-wells to settle there. It reminds me of a combination of Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris and China Mieville’s New Crobuzon in terms of both background and fantastical weirdness, even though Cadwallon opts for the usual fantasy races it does manage to lend them their own, weird spin, which makes them a lot more interesting than elves and dwarves normally are.
The city is still packed with mysteries, horrors and weirdness for its free companies to investigate and deal with (and this is the default role that the players take, a sort of fantasy version of SLA Industry’s Operatives) as well as, potentially, to hire on for outside forces in the conflicts and wars going on around Cadwallon as part of the Ragnarok (the apocalyptic war raging elsewhere in the gameworld). Beyond that there is still intrigue and conflict between the various groups that have divided up the city and plenty to deal with there, along with outside enemies.
I love settings like this, urban fantasy, plenty of plot hooks and story potential, but in terms of this book I’m considering the background as part of the style, not part of the substance because I think the substance of the game, the rules and their application, deserves a proper, solid and individual critique.
On the face of it the rules of Cadwallon are simple. You roll a number of dice equal to your skill grade, keep the highest and add your attribute bonus. Attributes range from 1-6, though they can go higher in some circumstances, skills range from 1-5. Attributes – or ‘Attitudes’ are a little unusual, Pugnacity, Sleight, Style, Opportunism, Subtlety and Discipline, rather than what you might usually suspect but it all seems to hang together well enough with the theme of the game. Combat is fairly quick and simple and has a death/spiral health level thing going on and character creation is basically constructed using a series of templates, races/trades/distinctive features. Those familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay will see more similarities here though it is simplified (in execution if not in explanation).
The combat section is entirely concerned with board based combat and while there’s a mention of being able to use the game as a full on, proper RPG there’s precious little support for that idea here.
To be perfectly honest, someone really needs to do an online WFRP conversion of Cadwallon, that would be perfect and you could enjoy the world and its contents with a more competent and better explained game system because working out Cadwallon is a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
* Mind blowingly gorgeous
* Compelling and wonderful world
* Worth what you pay for it
* Appallingly bad translation
* When they say Tactical RPG what they really mean is TACTICAL rpg
* No, frigging, index.
Reviewer: James ‘Grim’ Desboro