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Chronicles of Ramlar RPG Review
Posted By Flames On December 16, 2006 @ 4:00 pm In RPGs | No Comments
What Is It?
A soft-cover, perfect-bound book boasting gorgeous full color, wrap-around, Larry Elmore cover art, The Chronicles of Ramlar is a roleplaying game of high fantasy made available by White Silver Publishing, Inc. The book weighs in at a hefty 350 pages (including 19 pages of record sheets and quick references) and contains everything that you will need to run a campaign in the game’s default setting of Eranon, one of two continents on a nameless world (the titular “Ramlar” is the who created the world in question).
Before I digest a game, I always flip through it to get an idea of what it is that really stands out. In The Chronicles of Ramlar, three things leapt off of the page. . . .
I’m not the kind of guy who buys RPGs for artwork. If the rules work well, I could care less what the art looks like. I buy games to play them. Having said that, I know that there exist people for whom artwork is a large (if not the primary) influencing factor when it comes to their game purchasing trends. If you’re one of these people, you cannot afford to pass on The Chronicles of Ramlar. The artwork herein is gorgeous. All of it. Every last bit of it.
With well-established talents such as Larry Elmore on board, the quality of the artwork in The Chronicles of Ramlar shouldn’t come a surprise. And in addition to the much loved Larry Elmore, you also have the talents of Alex Bradley, Kevin Crossley, James Ryman and other artists fleshing out the product’s pages. I have no idea what White Silver’s budget for artwork was, but it had to be fairly sizeable – and they made good use of every last penny.
Although the interior art in The Chronicles of Ramlar is rendered only in black and white, it easily gives artwork from the industry’s largest publisher’s (e.g., Steve Jackson Games and Wizards of the Coast) a run for its money. The artwork in The Chronicles of Ramlar is simply stunning.
For all of its beautiful artwork, the interior layout of The Chronicles of Ramlar is a bit pedestrian The pages are offset by an illustrated border, true, but the actual text layout is reminiscent of WordPerfect output. It’s not horrible, mind you, simply very plain. Next to (and, in some cases, too close to) the high quality artwork, the low brow layout looks out of place.
If books have a high page count, I prefer that they also sport a hard cover for a reason. Where physical construction is concerned, The Chronicles of Ramlar leaves a bit to be desired. The layer of laminate that protects its light cardstock cover is already beginning to peel near the corners and along one edge, which doesn’t bode well for future use of the book (I’ve only read the book once).
If the book only carried a price tag of $25 dollars or so, the physical quality (very reminiscent of Palladium’s books) wouldn’t be of much concern – but The Chronicles of Ramlar clocks in at $35 (US), plus tax. For that kind of money, I would have liked to see some heavier cardstock and better laminate used to protect that sexy Elmore cover art.
Overall. . .
While the artwork within The Chronicles of Ramlar (and upon its cover) is undeniably impressive, it seems like some of the game’s other production values suffer slightly as result of the tight focus on this one area. That said, the pedestrian layout and the flimsy cover aren’t crippling shortcomings, and I’d be remiss to suggest that either of these things constitutes a good reason to give the game a pass when you’re looking it over at the local game store.
Upon Closer Inspection
After a brief examination of The Chronicles of Ramlar, I picked up the phone, ordered a pizza, and got ready for a long night of reading. . . which never happened. For its somewhat pedestrian layout, The Chronicles of Ramlar is a remarkably easy read — the overall tone oft the writing is less like that of a text book and more like that of an old friend, making the task of digesting the book in one sitting bearable (and, in places, even entertaining). What follows is what I found out about The Chronicles of Ramlar upon closer inspection. . . .
Character creation in The Chronicles of Ramlar is very reminiscent of the character creation process in another game (I suspect that you’ll figure it out), despite the fact that it is a point-buy, percentile-based system. While this may initially sound incredible (“How could it possibly be reminiscent of System X? Those two systems are nothing alike!”), I assure you that the hallmarks of this much vaunted other system are plainly visible in The Chronicles of Ramlar, for better or worse. Or they are for me, anyhow. You can judge for yourself.
The first step in the Chronicles of Ramlar character generation process is choosing one of five races, four of which you’ve already seen elsewhere (Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling). The fifth race, the Spirani, are original to the game, though for all intents and purposes they’re another variation of Elves (i.e., they’re ancient humanoids who are highly educated and have refined social graces, as well as stunning good looks). So what ‘new’ does the Chronicles of Ramlar bring to the table in terms of character? Well. . . .
The races of Human, Elf, and Dwarf are further divided into specific cultures, an admittedly nice touch that I’d like to see in more fantasy games. These cultures add a few extra wrinkles to what would otherwise be generic fantasy races – each culture has its own customs, including styles of dress, naming conventions, and social disposition and the like. I’ve never been a big fan of the all-encompassing racial descriptions in many fantasy RPGs, so this extra level of detail strongly appeals to me as an immersive roleplayer.
For all of the potential roleplaying fodder that they provide in terms of descriptive detail, the races and cultures in Chronicles of Ramlar only provide one discernible mechanical advantage (or disadvantage, depending upon what race or culture you choose) – Attribute adjustments. After recording these adjustments and your choice of race or culture, you’ll be ready to move on to the second step of creating a character (which is, incidentally, determining Attribute ratings).
There are eight Primary Attributes in The Chronicles of Ramlar – Charisma, Endurance, Intelligence, Nimbleness, Perception, Strength, Tenacity and Wisdom. Most of these you’ve seen before and they work exactly as you’d expect them to work, though Tenacity is special case and, while it’s not entirely unique, it is uncommon enough that it bears mention. Tenacity is, for lack of a good one word descriptor a character’s ‘drive to succeed’ (I suppose you could call it ‘willpower’ but it has a more specific focus than that in the Chronicles of Ramlar).
Each of these Primary Attributes begins with a rating from one to 100, which can be determined in one of three different way: by rolling percentile dice, by allocating a number of points (equal to 475, plus five for each character level) amongst the eight attributes, or by doing a bit of both. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll end up with Primary Attribute scores that fall into the aforementioned number range – and there is a specific modifier (+0, +5, +15, or +30) associated with a given attribute rating (this matters more than the rating itself during actual play).
After you have determined your character’s starting Primary Attribute ratings and their respective modifiers, you’ll need to do a bit of math in order to determine the ratings of your character’s Secondary Attributes (Life Points, Mana Points, Attack Rating, Defense Rating, Contact Rating, and Subterfuge Rating, respectively). And each ot these things bears a bit of explanation, as they play an important role in The Chronicles of Ramlar during actual play:
•Life Points: You’ve no doubt figured out what these are, but in The Chronicles of Ramlar they work a bit differently. First, you divide your character’s Endurance rating by ten (rounding down) to determine the base number of Life Points that your character has. Now, every part of their body has this many Life Points except for their neck (which has half this many Life Points) and their torso (which has twice this many Life Points). I’ll come back to this when discussing combat.
•Mana Points: The number of Mana Points that a character possesses directly influences what spells they may cast (provided that they select a magic-using Path for their character). Your character begins play with a number of Mana Points equal to their Endurance rating. I will discuss this a bit further when I get around to describing the magic system in The Chronicles of Ramlar.
•Attack Rating: Your character’s Attack Rating determines how adept they are at striking blows in combat and is equal to the sum of their Strength, Nimbleness, and Wisdom ratings, divided by twenty. As was the case with Life Points, I’ll get back to Attack Ratings when discussing combat.
•Defense Rating: Your character’s Defense Rating determines how adept they are at avoiding blows in combat and is equal to the sum of their Nimbleness, Perception and Tenacity ratings, divided by twenty. And. . . you guessed it. . . we’ll get back to this in a bit.
•Contact Rating: Only spell wielding characters need to worry about Contact Rating – it’s a measure of their ability to tap and draw energy from the world’s ley lines and has a rating equal to the sum of their Intelligence, Perception and Tenacity rating, divided by twenty. As was the case with Mana Points, I’ll cover Contact Rating in more detail later in the review.
•Subterfuge Rating: As Mana Points and Contact Rating are only possessed by spell-wielding characters, Subterfuge Rating is only possessed by those characters of the Rogue Path. This is a catch-all attribute that represents such a character’s ability to perform “roguish tasks” and has a rating equal to their Intelligence, Nimbleness, and Perception, divided by twenty.
After you’ve calculated the relevant Secondary attributes for your character, you need to choose a Path. . . kind of. Technically, you need to do this first in order to know what Secondary Attributes you’ll need to calculate, but I digress – I’m covering everything in the order that the book presents it in. So. . . Paths. . . Paths are effectively “classes” with a different name and come in five flavors: the Merthwarg, the Rogue, the Sevar, teh Warrior, and the Wizard. Don’t let the funny names fool you – the Merthwarg is wilderness dwelling master of nature magic (i.e., a Druid) and the Sevar is a warrior priest of a specified god (i.e., a Cleric).
Each class is tied to specific Primary Attributes, has an associated list of Path Skills (i.e., skills that characters on the Path tend to specialize in), Path Talents (i.e., a list of special abilities that a character on the Path in question may choose from), and Recommended Core Talents (i.a., a list of Core Talents that are helpful to characters who walk the Path in question). Finally, some Paths are tied specifically to Secondary Attributes, as previously mentioned. The section on Paths is short and sweet, weighing in at only six pages. After you’ve chosen a Path, you can move on to selecting your character’s Talents.
Talents are special abilities that make a character stand out from other characters at the mechanical level (well, provided that characters don’t choose the exact same Path and Talents). Each Talent is effectively a special circumstance rule that adds to, negates or otherwise alters the existing basic systems present in The Chronicles of Ramlar. For those of you familiar with other games, Talents will be extremely familiar in both concept and execution – there is one list of Core Talents and five small lists of Path-specific talents.
All characters begin play at first level with two Talents of their choice and gain an additional two talents every time that they gain a level. Obviously, it’s possible to load up on nifty special abilities quite rapidly in The Chronicles of Ramlar. I knwo what you’re thinking – isn’t that, like, crazy power creep? Remarkably, no. While that sounds like a lot of special abilities being dispersed over a relatively short period of time, the lists of Talents are large enough that even at this rate, a character won’t be bumping against he Talent ceiling until they hit level 20 or so.
Once you’ve settled on two Talents to set your character apart from other PCs you’ll be ready to do some Skill selection. And some bean counting. You start off with a number of points eequal to the combined total of all your character’s Primary Attribute ratings (the book only says “attributes” but the example mat h seems to indicate Primary Attributes only, so I may be in error here) to allocate amongst the 34 Skills in the game. Each Skill may be rated from zero to 100. Easy enough, right? Well. . . no, not really.
Each Skill is associated with a Primary Attribute, which in turn helps to determine your initial maximum point cap, which is equal to (Primary Attribute Rating) + Character Level x 10%. Okay, so doing that 34 times isn’t a big deal, but sicne there isn’t a spot to record point caps on The Chronicles of Ramlar character sheet, you’ll either need to keep track of them on scratch paper. And that might be good. . . because depending upon what Path and Talents you chose, these point caps may be modified. Did I mention bean counting?
After you’ve sorted out your character’s Skills, you get to fiddle with (however briefly) what is arguably the game’s neatest feature – the Demeanor/Theme wheels. On the character sheet you’ll notice five circles, each surrounded by ten dots. One of these five circles has the word “Participation” written inside of it and the other four are left blank – for you to fill in. Fill in with what? Why, character goals, of course – each circle represents a goal that either you or your character is working toward (from a simple Attribute boost to a bitchin’ story award). What goals you work for are completely up to you. So what are those little dots for? All in good time. . .
Finally, after you’ve done all of the above, you need to buy some equipment for your character. There isn’t a lot to explain here – you have some gold coins, you spend them, you get stuff. The only thing that is possibly noteworthy is that the equipment list is very comprehensive, going so far as to list costs for very specific magical customization of mundane weapons (oh, yes, the setting is very magic-rich). If you like equipment shopping, The Chronicles of Ramlar equipment lists may very well be a selling point for you.
Overall, creating a character for use with The Chronicles of Ramlar is a relatively painless process, due in part to its employment of familiar conventions found in other games. The one possible exception to thus may be purchasing skills, which required enough bookkeeping to try my patience. That said, I’m a fairly impatient person when it comes to counting beans in roleplaying games, so if math (and bookkeeping in particular) doesn’t bother you, the system of determining Skill ratings in The Chronicles of Ramlar may not bother you as much as it did me.
Basic Action Resolution
Where character creation in The Chronicles of Ramlar shared some similarities with another popular game system, so does action and combat resolution – though not with the same system. Again, I’ll leave you to decide whether I’m simply seeing commonalities where they don’t exist (but I’m 98% certain that they do). That said, while such similarities may well be a drawback for some folks, for me they served as a relatively painless doorway into the game system.
Taken at face value, action resolution in The Chronicles of Ramlar is incredibly simple – when your character wants to do something, you roll some percentile dice and try to score less than or equal to a given value. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s the core of the system (despite the fact that it’s dubbed the “Armor/Body System” by the authors.
If your character is attempting to do something totally unopposed (either by another charter or naturally occurring force), you need to roll equal to or less than the most relevant Primary Attribute rating or Skill percentage. If you do so, your character succeeds at whatever it was that they set out to do. How well did they succeed? Good question.
Degree of success is also part of the basic action resolution system in The Chronicles of Ramlar. If you roll a successful result, you look at the tens digit of that result (e.g., if you roll a result of “35″ you’d be looking at the “3″ for the purpose of determining degree of success) and make a note of it. This is your Success Value. The higher this number is, the more successful your character is, the lower this value is, the less successful they are. A bit counter-intuitive, I think, but it’s better than no degree of success mechanic at all. And there’s more. . .
If, as a player, degree of success if more important to you than merely succeeding, you can do a bit of resource management to fudge things in your favor. Specifically, prior to rolling, you may opt to shave points off of the numerical value that you are trying to roll under in exchange for a bonus to your Success Value. For every five points that you subtract from the number that you are trying to roll under, you gain a +1 bonus to your Success Value (if, of course, you’re successful).
In standard action resolution, Success Values can be important but aren’t inherently – in opposed tests, however, they form the fine line between victory and defeat. When two characters are in competition with one another, they both roll their dice per normal and then, if both successful, they compare their Success values (the character with the higher Success Value ‘wins’ accordingly). Ties happen fo course, in which case the relevant Attribute or Skill ratings are compared (again, with victory going tot he character who has the highest rating) and, if all else fails, the dice are rolled again to break the tie.
Protracted conflicts (dubbed “dramatic resolution” in The Chronicles of Ramlar), are another case in which Success Values are important. When your character is doing something that would be far more appropriately resolved over a given period fo time rather than with a split-second pass/fail check, the GM is encouraged to set a Target Success Value (TSV) and have the player make a series of rolls, totaling all of the Success Values that the produce and comparing them the TSV. Once the player’s total Success Value meets or exceeds the Target Success Value, they have accomplished whatever it was they initially set out to do.
Finally, you’ll need to keep an eye out for sensational successes or botches – die results that end in “0″ represent, depending upon the overall outcome of the roll, either a stunning success or a miserable failure. Outside of combat, such thing are only used as extremely loose narrative guidelines, but in combat (see the next section of this review) they have a very specific function. Aaaaand. . . that’s it. Kind of.
For some odd reason, the basic action resolution system in The Chronicles of Ramlar has a rider in the form of the Subterfuge Roll. That’s right – acts of subterfuge performed by a Rogue are resolved using an entirely different system than all other actions in the game (barring making attacks in combat and drawing magic energy from leylines). First, the GM assigns a Difficulty Rating to a given act of subterfuge (ranging from one to 20). After they’ve done this, they cross reference the Difficulty Rating with the perpetrating character’s Subterfuge Rating on a large chart. This produces a target percentage that the Rogue’s player needs to roll equal to or less than in order to successfully perform his act of subterfuge.
I don’t get this at all. The inclusion of an entirely different resolution mechanic for addressing such a narrow range of actions seems completely redundant in light of the game’s more than adequate action resolution rules. That said, the Subterfuge Roll is arguably the only weak spot in an otherwise elegant resolution system. The good news is that you can simply ignore it and doing so won’t break the game (not even for Rogues).
Resolving combat in The Chronicles of Ramlar is a straightforward process built on the foundation of a basic percentile die roll and. . . the Subterfuge Table (with a different header that reads “Combat Table” instead). So, unlike every other action in the game (barring Rogue subterfuge and drawing magic energy from leylines, of course), striking somebody in combat isn’t a matter of skill but of chart checking. Again, this departure from what is arguably a rich core resolution mechanic leaves me puzzled. Yet there it is. So, how exactly does combat work?
Before combat is actually joined, one needs to check for Surprise, according to the rules. Unfortunately, the rules don’t tell you how to do this (i.e., there is no mechanic to determine Surprise). I can only assume that this is purely a matter of fiat and is used to represent things like a sniper ambushing a party from heavy cover (i.e., situations in which nobody would feasibly see the attack coming). Characters who are not surprised may perform one action each during this phase of combat, taking that action in order of highest to lowest Nimbleness or Perception rating (each character’s choice). Characters who are surprised cannot act until this phase has
After surprise has been resolved, Initiative must be determined (i.e., the order in which participating characters may act must be plotted out). First, characters in combat are divided into groups, with groups acting in order from smallest to largest. Second, after group acting order has been determined, individual acting order must be determined – individual characters act in order of their combined Nimbleness and Perception score, from highest to lowest (when NPCs and PCs are in the same group, PCs always act first). Pretty simple, really. It lacks that random element that I know some people prefer but, honestly, I’m sold on diceless Initiative (and have been for years). .
Which brings us to striking a blow. . . and the aforementioned Combat Table. First, the GM cross-references the Attack Rating of the aggressing character against the Defense Rating of their intended target on the Combat Table, which produces a target percentage that the aggressing character’s player needs to roll equal to or less than in order to successfully land a blow in combat. If a blow is successfully landed, the player needs to make a note of their Success Value – I’ll explain why in a moment, but first let’s cover Critical Hits and Critical fumbles.
As mentioned earlier, – die results that end in “0″ have a special significance in combat – a Critical Hit (a successful die roll result ending in zero) indicates that an attacking character deals double damage to their target and doubles the Success Value of the roll, while a Critical Fumble (a failed die roll result ending in zero) means that the attacking character has something bad happen to him. What? Well, like some other things in The Chronicles of Ramlar, this is apparently left up to GM fiat (although, given that gamers have been doing this for decades, I don’t think that’s any kind of a game-breaking flaw).
So, if you do manage to strike a blow, you’ll need to apply some damage to your opponent. In The Chronicles of Ramlar, every character and creature has a “Body Diagram” – a special kind of sectioned box that roughly resembles their body and throughout which their Life Points are distributed (see, I told you I’d get back to this). This is where the name “Armor/Body System” comes from. The typical humanoid has a Body Diagram divided into 12 section, each of which has its own Life Points total and (if covered with armor) Armor Rating.
To determine where you hit a given foe, you need to roll a die with a number of sides equal to the number of sections that its Body Diagram has been divided into (so, for example, if attacking a typical humanoid, you’d roll a twelve-sided die). After you’ve rolled this die, you (or the GM) need to match the result to the proper hit location on the target’s Body Diagram (yes, they’re numbered). This is the section of your opponent’s body that your blade (or arrow, fist, etc) strikes when you deliver a successful attack.
Actual damage is randomly rolled according to the type of weapon (or appendage) used to deliver the successful attack, with the result being subtracted from the Armor Rating of the area that was struck (or, if no armor is protecting that area, directly from the character’s Life Points). When Armor Rating is reduced to zero for a given body area, that body area no longer benefits from the protection provided by the armor. When the Life Points of a given area are depleted, subsequent hits to that area do damage to the Torso (representing shock). Finally, when a character’s Life Points in their Head, Neck or Torso are reduced to zero – they die.
Obviously, damage in The Chronicles of Ramlar is quite detailed, though if you’re a SimHead (as I am), I think you’ll find that this is a good thing – it allows for realistic one-shot kills, maimed appendages (in fact, there are special rules for just such a thing), and other damage conditions that other RPGs usually abstract into a bulk loss of life points or attribute damage. For folks who like verisimilitude, this level of detail can make an entire game (and the lack of such detail can easily break it for such folks). And that brings us to. . .
Momentum. Remember when I said that the Success Value generated when striking a blow in combat would be important? Well, here’s where that value comes into play. After all attacks in a given combat round have been resolved per the rules above, all players that successfully landed a blow get to apply the Success Values that they generated to their Momentum. So, what is Momentum? For lack of a one word definition it’s a ‘winning streak’ – there is a list of special combat maneuvers, each of which provides some kind of mechanical benefit, and each of which costs a certain number of Success Value points to implement in combat.
Although they require some bookkeeping, these ‘Momentum maneuvers’ add a fun tactical element to combat without relying on square-counting or other such mood shattering mechanics. Better yet, different maneuvers can be combined to create unique effects (e.g.., a Sneak Attack that ends in Called Shot). Despite my dislike of bookkeeping, I’m willing to overlook it in this case, as the cool that comes out of Momentum easily outweighs the extra bean counting that players have to do (and that I have to do as the GM).
Although it has some rough spots, I’m impressed with the overall approach to combat that The Chronicles of Ramlar takes. As s system it manages to provide a great deal of verisimilitude without skimping on the heroics, and that’s a big plus for me (as much as I like verisimilitude, having my character kacked by a simple peasant wielding a garden hoe is not my idea of fun). My only complaint with the mechanics is, again, the departure from the Skill-based resolution introduced as the core mechanic in the game. The chart checking used to determine hits in combat works, it’s simply a very odd choice given that a unified resolution mechanic is already in place.
As mentioned earlier, the game’s default setting of Eranon is magic-rich. There are three different traditions of magic in Eranon – Arcane magic, Divine magic, and Merthwarg (i.e., nature-based) magic. By default, despite some flowery prose, all three traditions operate the same when it comes to game mechanics, although the spell list for each tradition is different. That said, there is an optional system for improvisational magic that departs from the default rules for casting spells.
Casting spells from a list is, as one might expect, simple. First, you have to know a spell, which is a function of certain Path Talents and what casters refer to as the “memory matrix” – a specific section of their mind dedicated to spell memorization. A spell in a caster’s memory matric only requires verbal cues or somatic gestures to cast, while casting a merely known spell (as opposed to one that is memorized) requires a written aid, such as a scroll or spellbook. Once you have chosen a spell from your repertoire, the GM will need to do some chart checking. . . .
This time, the GM cross-references the casting character’s Contact Rating with the spell’s Difficulty Level (per the appropriate entry on the spell list) on the “Contact Table” (yes, it’s the same table you’ve seen me reference twice before, only with a different name). This reveals the number that the casting character’s player will need to roll equal to or less than in order to tap Eranon’s leylines for the mystical energy needed to fuel the spell. Regardless of whether or not the casting character is successful in tapping this energy the effort is spiritually fatiguing and, thus, they subtract a number of Mana Points from their current total equal to the Difficulty Level of the spell that they are attempting to cast.
If the aforementioned roll is successful (and the casting character has the Mana Points to pay for it), it goes off without a hitch, producing the results alluded to in the spell’s description. If the spell fails to be cast successfully. . . well. . . I’m not sure what happens. I assume that it doesn’t produce the desired results (or any results at all), though the book doesn’t cover this aspect of spell casting so far as I can tell. That said, if a casting character’s Mana Point total is reduced to zero or less, they can’t cast any spells until they replenish it by resting.
This brings us to improvisational casting, an option that allows the practiced caster to alter spells currently in their repertoire (known or memorized), with the target percentage value that they must roll equal to or less than being determined by the exact nature of alterations made (specifically, the new Area, Casting Time, Damage, Duration, Effect, and Range of the altered spell). Whether you choose to use this system as a supplement for the normal casting rules or as a replacement, I think that it is worth examining.
Finally, the section of The Chroniclers of Ramlar dedicated to magic is rounded out with some simple supplemental rules for using magic in combat, enchanting mundane items, schools (i.e., universities) of magic that exist in the setting, some sample magic items and, of course the aforementioned spell lists. Overall, the rules for magic in The Chronicles of Ramlar are simple and functional, though not particularly original. That said, sometimes having something that works is far more important than having something shiny and new.
Remember when I mentioned the Demeanor/Theme wheels earlier? Well, here’ where they come into play. Once again, on the character sheet you’ll notice five circles, each surrounded by ten dots. One of these five circles has the word “Participation” written inside of it and the other four are left blank for you to fill in with character goals. And those ten little dots that ring those circles? Well, each time your character does something during actual play to move closer to one of those goals (including participation), the GM will have you fill some of those little dots – when all ten dots around a given circle have been filled in, your character achieves the goal
The “Participation” wheel has some special significance here, as it is tied directly to a character’s level progression – when you fill up the dots around the Participation wheel, your character gains a level. That’s right – the more frequently you show up to game sessions, the more sporting you are, and the more you throw yourself into the action during actual play, the more quickly your character will advance in level. Honestly? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cooler system of character advancement. The Demeanor/Theme wheels are directly tied to both player behavior and character goals. This is simply too damn cool.
In addition to the Demeanor/Theme wheels, The Chronicles of Ramlar makes use of Elite and Master Paths – I mention them here as they exist specifically as goals for characters to work toward in actual play (that’s right, you can write the name of such a Path in the middle of a Demeanor/Theme wheel). These ‘advanced’ Paths are designed specifically to serve as a kind of logical progression from the five default Paths available to characters, much as “Prestige Classes” are in another game. The only real difference here is in how they’re obtained (by dedicating a Demeanor/Theme wheel to such a Path and then working toward it in actual play).
Character advancement is easily one fo the most inventive and useful things to be found in The Chronicles of Ramlar (I’m tempted to port the concept into other games, in fact). It is very well thought out, encourages player participation by rewarding it and allows a player’s character to mature in a way unique to the player who controls it. Simply put, the Demeanor/Theme wheels are very, very, cool and warrant a look for anybody who is tired of strictly controlled character growth that results in cookie cutter characters.
The default setting of The Chronicles of Ramlar is probably the least original feature of the game, though it doesn’t make any claims to originality, so I don’t see that as a problem. Indeed, the entire game seems to be set up as an option for players who like ‘traditional’ fantasy gaming, but want simple, uncomplicated, rules and a wee bit more say in how their character develops. In this light, the setting makes perfect sense – it’s not supposed to be utterly alien, but familiar.
The setting has a particularly detailed cosmology, complete with over 20 deities and a long history of religious strife (beginning, of course, with the world’s creation by the titular Ramlar). Additionally, day to day facets of the world (including the reckoning of time, star constellations, climate, common flora and fauna, as well as six unique languages) are covered in detail. And as if that isn’t enough, there is a 60 page gazetteer of Eranon sprinkled with the typical demographic information that you’d expect to see, as well as detailed descriptions of specific sites in each reagion and plot hooks in the forms of regional rumors.
Finally, rounding out the book is a setting-specific bestiary that details many creatures (several of them unique to The Chronicles of Ramlar), from their basic statistic to common tactics that they employ in combat situations. Naturally, the Body Diagram specific to each type of creature is also presented for easy use during actual play.
Ultimately, The Chronicles of Ramlar offers a remarkably complete and playable traditional fantasy setting and, for this reason, I’m not shaving any points off of the overall rating. Some people might consider the lack of alien weirdness to be a strike against a game, but if such strangeness isn’t part the game’s overall design goals, I don’t think that it is.
The Final Verdict
All games have their warts, and so does The Chronicles of Ramlar, though they’re few in number. Obviously the decision to depart from the core skill-based resolution system for the purposes of resolving Rogue subterfuge, attacks in combat, and drawing energy from leylines qualify as warts. As do small things like the omission of actual rules for determining surprise in combat or erroneous statements such as suggesting that [i]all[/i] hit locations are determined using a twelve-sided die. The good news is that if you focus on the game’s strong points, its low points seem trivial.
In regard to true innovation, The Chronicles of Ramlar brings two notable things to the table – its unique character advancement system and its Momentum mechanic. Both of these innovations are well-suited to the genre, and set The Chronicles of Ramlar apart from many other fantasy roleplaying games on th market. Most importantly, these two systems work (i.e., they don’t merely look cool). They are designed with a specifically stated goal in mind and they achieve that goal effortlessly. Now the bad news. . . those are the only true innovations that you’ll find in the game.
Ultimately, whether or not you’ll like The Chronicles of Ramlar depends upon a few different things:
If you like traditional fantasy, simple resolution systems, player-defined goals and a small degree of authorial control during actual play, you may very well warm to The Chronicles of Ramlar. If you like gorgeous fantasy art, that’s a definite bonus, as the game has this in spades. If this sounds like you, I recommend that you give the game a look.
If you like truly baroque fantasy, arcane resolution systems, GM-defined goals or a large degree of authorial control during actual play, then this probably isn’t the roleplaying game for you – even if you do like gorgeous fantasy art. If this sounds like you, I recommend that you give The Chronicles of Ramlar a pass.
Overall, The Chronicles of Ramlar is a remarkably complete game in a single volume that shouldn’t’ be dismissed without some careful consumer consideration.
Reviewer: James D. Hargrove
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