Posted on September 14, 2007 by Flames
Written by Richard Iorio II
Colonial Gothic designed by Richard Iorio II and Monica Valentinelli
Published by rogue Games Inc (www.rogue-games.net).
Colonial Gothic Primer is a free PDF download that acts as an introduction to Rogue Games’ Colonial Gothic role playing game (RPG). It combines eighteenth century North America with a dark, secret history full of ghosts and ghouls and vile cultists. Players take on the role of colonial era individuals who are introduced to the secret history via becoming confronted with the supernatural. I imagine that the most common approach would be that of a Call of Cthulhu game with one difference, which is that the rules describe a cinematic style of play, with characters leaping from table top to table top exchanging wild blows, swinging from the chandeliers and probably employing fancy Mongolian style horse riding techniques. There is, in other words, a danger that game sessions may degenerate into knockabout comedy and the supernatural elements will turn into Scooby Doo type monsters. Players and GM will need to establish what kind of style they wish to use and how strictly they will stick to that.
The primer is 80 pages long but the text is comparatively sparse on each page and there are many illustrations separating sections. Most of the illustrations depict colonial-style people or situations. They have a nice eighteenth-century feel to them but little to do with the supernatural, so far as I can tell, apart from the borders of pages, which have magical symbols included within. There is one nice picture of a dog gamboling in the countryside, which is cute but puzzled me a little. Why is it there? Is it really an evil hellhound of doom? It looks like a cute doggy. Well, I have made no secret of the fact that I consider most artwork in RPGs to be a waste of space and, although it is difficult to complain about space when a PDF is concerned, I retain the opinion that money should be spent on writers not pencil-wielders. No matter. The illustrations here break up the text and make it easier to read, which is nice for people who need text to be easy to read. It is divided into eight chapters, which deal with: introduction; core mechanics; character generation; skills; omens; money; action and a sample adventure. There is some talk of using the starter set for free adventures hosted on the website but I cannot see those adventures anywhere. Perhaps I am looking in the wrong place. In any case, this breakdown of topics is fairly standard for an RPG and experienced players will find it easy to pick up the basics and be ready to play within a short period of time.
The game uses a D12 system: roll 2D12 and if the score is under the requisite attribute score, success. There are possibilities for critical failures and successes which provide results which will need to be improvised and agreed by GM and the player concerned. Why do we need another new system? I do not object to a new system but is there any advantage to having yet another variant on the roll x dice and score under y to succeed or else fail? Perhaps I am jaundiced because of the use of twelve-sided dice. As a young person playing Dungeons and Dragons, I never had a D12 of my own – there was no particular reason why but I just never was able to find one for my own. If I needed to roll a twelve-sider, then I had to borrow one from someone else and of course that is never a good thing to do. The result was that I avoided creating characters likely to use D12 often and this led to a whole series of opinions. As Kingsley Amis once described it, this is the ‘inverted pyramid of p**s.’ A man is insulted when his girl friend is attracted to an Italian waiter. As a result, he decides to prefer French wine to Italian wine, boeuf bourguignon to pizza and Paris to Rome. Soon he is creating long and complex theories explaining why Voltaire is a greater writer than Dante and Rodin outclasses Michelangelo. Eventually, his world-view focuses on the superiority of northern European rationalism to Mediterranean outpourings of emotion and all of its works. His life, in other words, is ruined. The same process occurred for me and the twelve-sided dice. OK, maybe it’s just a dice (or a die) to you but for me it is a symbol of past inadequacy and trauma. Give me the noble D10 any day, that sturdy, honest representative of digital life and the ten-fingered human creature.
The attributes by which characters are described are might, nimbleness, vigor, reason and resolution and they come in various ranks. Most starting characters will have similar sets of statistics and, being a skill-based rather than a class-based game, there is a danger that characters will be too similar to each other. The GM will probably need to discuss with players what different achetypes a particular adventure or campaign will require. Many people prefer skill-based games and those people will be happy here.
Characters are further distinguished by blessings and curses (collectively referred to as ‘omens’). These are, as the skills are, described very briefly and there is scope for ambiguity and controversy. People who like arguing about the capabilities of a character will find plenty of scope for slowing the game down here. Then again, games designers really cannot win when it comes to rules since the attempt to reduce ambiguity by adding more rules and charts puts as many people off as it pleases because of the increased complexity.
All of this is competently enough done. I would have preferred more information on the game world and, in particular, on the use and nature of dark and secret history. The final adventure provides some suggestions for this but it features a bear and, not being an American, I can never take the threat of a bear very seriously. Even a bear which is smarter than the average. One caveat: perhaps this is pedantic and curmudgeonly but it annoys me nevertheless. In order to avoid using the male pronoun, the text varies between ‘they’ and ‘her.’ Why the inconsistency? The ‘they’ formulation is particular abhorrent: “What happens in the case of a tie? The Hero would succeed. Why? They are the Hero after all (p.25).” Put that aside and this is a subject that will entertain and interest many people. Give it a try – it would be churlish to complain about the cost, after all.
A final confession: after preparing for this review, I looked at the credits in the book to place them at the beginning – there, horrors, were the dread names of Monica Valentinelli and Matt McElroy, big cheeses at this Flames Rising website and hosts, therefore, of the review. I do not believe that I have changed anything I was going to say in the review but I offer this information in the interests of full disclosure.
Reviewer: John Walsh