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Colonial Gothic Rulebook Review

Posted on September 17, 2007 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Introduction
Alright, I think I’m biased in this review. I’m not nationalistic by any stretch of the imagination but I am British, I am a rationalist, I studied history and I am someone who dislikes history being made into myth when it is a matter of record. On all three strokes Colonial Gothic apparently could not help but piss me off to the point I was grinding my teeth while reading it. Putting atheism in the same category (called faith) as other beliefs was just the icing on the cake.

Colonial Gothic is a game of occult mystery and darkness set during the American Revolution, I shall try to contain myself from dispelling too many myths about that time or the nature of the revolt, or what the British actually did/were doing and why but even without that making my forehead vein throb this seems, to me, to be a peculiar time period to place such a game in, when there are more pressing matters for both the British forces and the rebels.

Overview
Historical roleplaying seems to be having a bit of a vogue at the moment, mostly with Flying Mice but Rogue Games here seem to have fastened onto it with this game, though it has stepped outside of the historical box by incorporating the supernatural, but hasn’t taken the real time and energy to place that supernatural element into a context within the game. Despite the extensive bibliography listed – including books on the magic and witchcraft somewhat believed in in the period – I didn’t see any evidence of this research in the actual system.

While the guide to the time period and the early colonies is a useful resource the system isn’t particularly inspiring and has much that is unnecessary twiddling, perhaps this book should be considered in the same manner as many GURPS supplements – great source material, not a great game system (for many of us… I know you GURPS fans have guns and grudges, if YOU like it, fine).

Artwork
There isn’t much and what there is is mostly period clip art which, while somewhat evocative, doesn’t really show up the occult/mystery side of the game and makes it, instead, seem very dry and dull. There are strips of artwork top and bottom of the page and the single column layout leaves quite a bit of white space left and right as well, meaning the book seems a bit thin on actual content for what it is, though it does make it easier to read.

Writing
Largely straightforward and matter of fact the writing is quite dry and dull, especially without really decent artwork to inspire you where the text, perhaps, might not. Much of it is simply laying out the situation as it was historically which is fair enough but there’s a failure to really engage you with the occult side of the setting, even through the sample adventures which you would think, typically, would give you more of a handle on how the game is supposed to be played. That itself is another issue, where you’re being told how the game should be played – explicitly – in one of the earlier chapters it somehow both failed to furnish me with that information effectively, and annoyed me at the same time by saying that there was a way you had to do it, rather than a suggested way. By this point I was already in a bad mood with the game however, which may have affected my judgement, when it got to the treatment of the Native Americans and I found it to largely be a case of Noble Savage mythmaking the book was only saved from being flung violently across the room by the fact it was a PDF on my computer.

Background
Not a great deal to say here. The background is the American Revolutionary War against the British, from an unashamedly American viewpoint but intermingled with largely unexplained and extraneous occult circumstances and situations with some suggestion that the Masons be involved in some fashion.

If the occult side of the equation was better thought out, if the magic and animism systems bore closer relation to the beliefs of the time this would be a vastly better game, despite the reservations I have about using this period for such a game, its just missing that vital element.

Rules
The rules, called 12 degrees, use two d12s – when two d10s would have worked just as well. Perhaps somebody has some particular sympathy for the d12 and its under-representation, who knows? Anyway, you roll the 2d12 and attempt to get under a modified target number to get a success. Doubles at the extreme ends are botches or critical successes. Combat uses hit points and, really, there’s nothing new or innovative or noteworthy here, its a deeply average system that covers all the bases but doesn’t really fit itself to the period or the theme.

Upsides

* Good historical source material.

Downsides

* Weak and undeveloped concept.
* Deeply average system.
* Boring to read and look at.

Score
Style: 2
Substance: 3
Overall: 2.5

Reviewer: James ‘Grim’ Desboro

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2 Responses to “Colonial Gothic Rulebook Review”

  1. BDog says:

    I enjoyed the review but have to ask why you feel Atheism is not as much a religion as other faiths? It seems to me that Atheism is a very broad cateogory and the opposite of theism. It is therefore a canopy term just as ‘Religious’ is. But it does require faith to be an atheist. Since it cannot be known if something or someone created the world or not, it needs a leap of faith. One can easily disprove specific religious beliefs, but disproving an unmoved mover is much harder. The truly scientific position, and one that doesn’t require faith at all, is to say all specific religions are likely incorrect, and the possibility of there being a God or gods is farfetched, but still within the realm of possibility. Science hasn’t yet accounted for the initial cause (which implies a reason as well) of life, the universe and everything, so the jury is still out. Not only is it still out, it will probably always be out. So people say “yes there is a God” or “No there isn’t a God” are equally quilty of Faith.

    Reply

  2. finarvyn says:

    I’ll admit that the use of the d12 seemed more like a gimic than a useful game mechanic, but if you’re going to use a bell curve I don’t suppose it matters what type of dice you are rolling.

    I would also have liked to see a little more of the supernatural side explored, but probably this is being held for expansions.

    Overall, I thought it was a good read.

    Reply

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