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GRIMM (Horizon d20) Review

Posted on March 20, 2005 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Grimm is a d20 setting part of Fantasy Flight Games’ Horizon line. It’s self-contained and only needs the 3 Core books. It’s designed with 3.5 in mind but I imagine the 3.0 Core books could be used without difficulty. The premise is that you play children who have been drawn into the lands where the Grimm fairy tales took place. It was the setting that caught my attention and is the reason I decided to buy it. Grimm definitely gets points for uniqueness.

The cover depicts 3 children standing in front of a nasty looking creature that is blended with the trees. It’s a neat piece of art and I recommend everyone at least take a look at the cover even if you’re not planning on buying it. The internal art is all black and white, and seems to be a mixture of watercolour and line drawings. All of the art was good, and was always appropriate to whatever was being discussed at the moment. All the text was layed out in the 2 column format. Sometimes the art was placed in between the columns so they were wrapped, other times the art took up half the page, either by replacing one of the columns of text, or the top half of the page. There were no side-bars and all the game-rule boxes went across the page taking up anything from 1/8 to 7/8 of the page. The layout was consistent, and the whole book was easy to read. The writing style was good, it was descriptive but it didn’t really get “in character”, which is something I like – I prefer not to be spoken to by a character from the game instead of just having the setting/system described to me. A lot of publishers could learn from the example Fantasy Flight Games has set with Grimm (and most likely their other products as well, but I haven’t read them). I noticed one minor spelling mistake, but since it was repeated consistently it could just be an alternate spelling I wasn’t familiar with. 5 out of 5 for style.

The table of contents just takes up a 3rd of the first page, which is fine considering the book is only 64 pages, but I’m really starting to get irritated with the tendency of publishers these days either omitting the index completely or including an incomplete one. The book is small enough that it likely won’t be an issue, but it would be really nice if they’d just added an extra page in the back with the index.

The introduction explains the premise of Grimm quite nicely, I won’t paraphrase as I already described it above and the description of the game is available at numerous places on the net.

Chapter 1 covers the character archetypes. Only kids can enter (or get pulled into) the Grimm lands, so all the characters are human children (no, elf, dwarf, orc etc. children). The archetypes combine class and race (each archetype has different ability modifiers) so it’s not possible to multi-class as they aren’t just classes. NPCs however use standard D&D classes. The archetypes are the bully, dreamer, jock, nerd, normal kid, outcast and popular kid. All the archetypes advance only to sixth level. Feats for all the archetypes are gained every even level after first for all archetypes, and each archetypes gain special powers as they advance in level. All the archetypes have powers that are in line with their theme – the dreamer can at 6th level transform into a powerful angel/knight etc. for a certain amount of time, the nerd can force creatures to obey real world laws instead of fantasy laws, and the outcast can hide in plain sight for example. The exception is the normal kid which at sixth level changes into anything but normal. It’s quite a clever twist which I like, as there wouldn’t really be anything else appropriate to let a normal kid do. Each archetype also has a flaw which is in line with their type, and can also be a quite serious drawback in the Grimm lands. No archetype is better than any other archetype, it all comes down to how you play them.

Chapter 2 is Skills & Feats. The skills list has been reduced to 25 skills, with several related skills consolidated, ie move silently and hide become sneak, spot, search and listen become notice, tumble and escape artist become nimbleness and survival and heal become boy scout stuff. Some new skills have been introduced in addition to the old (standalone and consolidated) ones. 32 feats from the PHB were kept and 38 new feats were introduced, 6 of which are origin feats which can only be taken at character creation, and must be taken by each character. One feat, street fighter was listed but wasn’t included in the descriptions, unfortunately 2 other feats are dependent on it. It was made available on FFG’s website, but as of the writing of this review it couldn’t be downloaded. Some of the feats were quite cool and I’d consider bringing them over to other games, but some of them, like I’m Telling (which imposes a morale penalty on monsters for 1 round after you threaten to tell on them), Spoiled, Brat and Rotten while useful for children in the Grimm lands are completely inappropriate for almost any other game. The Inedible feat, which makes you less tempting to eat (swallow whole) and forces monsters to make a fort save to avoid disgorging you would be quite handy, and possibly appropriate in a non-Grimm game but is also a little too powerful for standard adventurers.

Chapter 3 is Facing the Darkness. It covers everything that the characters have at their disposal to survive the Grimm lands. The characters get both standard and special equipment. Weapons and armor are available to characters, although usually not at the beginning. As most characters wont have armor they get to apply their level to their defense bonus (children are also small and gain an additional +1 AC bonus).

Each character also starts out with a Focus, a special item that is important to them and acquires special powers in the Grimm lands. Some examples are a Holy Book (bible, koran, etc) which can be consulted 1/day to cast augury, binoculars which allow seeing distances over 100 miles (pretty much anywhere in the Grimm lands as long as it’s line of sight), an invisible friend which is a permanent unseen servant which will reform if destroyed, or a magic marker or set of crayons which allows an exit to be drawn on any surface – the destination is unknown but it’s definitely handy for getting out of sticky situations (it could of course just lead you out of the frying pan into the fire however), or an umbrella which when opens grants the benefit of the feather fall spell.

The weapons available include some standard items from the PHB, as well as some mundane items that can be used as weapons (something I’d also consider using in other games), also of note is the Polearm, which in the Grimm lands can change into any of the polearms in the PHB gaining it’s special ability. Also all characters are automatically proficient with all weapons. This is essentially the same as being non-proficient in all weapons, but the children have a hard enough time as it is fighting 9HD monsters without having to suffer a -4 attack penalty. Likewise, characters are proficient with all armour they encounter (as long as it fits) armor works the same way it does in the PHB (which causes characters to lose their defense bonus to AC as well) with the exception that any armor imposes an arcane spell failure of 100% – characters don’t use arcane spells but all the NPCs do, so they’re balanced a bit for the characters. Some new armour has been added some of which could be transplanted to other games. Magic items are available as well (called really special items).

Enchanted weapons and armour work as they do in the DMG. Crux items have been added, which are items that can easily defeat a specific monster, but they’re always difficult to come by, either because nobody knows what they are despite being very common or because they’re well known but difficult to find. Fairy Wands allow characters to store imagination points (more on them later), and Gizmos (essentially wondrous items).

All characters gain imagination points, which they use for a number of things. Imagination allows characters to bend reality to a certain degree depending on how many points they spend, and also allows them to cast incantations (spells, except they work differently). Imagination points are often what will help characters survive in the Grimm lands as they can manipulate the situation to their advantage. Some examples are “finding” a useful item nearby, manipulating a monster (for example forcing it to use power attack so it’s more likely to miss), or calling an ally to help (which will either appear instantly or after 10 minutes, to aid the character before going on its way).

Characters can’t cast spells normally, but they can learn incantations. They can learn spells from all schools except Evocation and Necromancy. Each incantation takes a certain amount of time to learn (usually days), but spells from certain schools are harder to learn than others. Enchantment spells are the easiest to learn. Transmutation spells are supposed to be easy as well but there is disagreement with the text and tables. The text example suggests that Transmutation spells have a +0 penalty to the days it takes to learn the spell, but the table says it’s +1. It takes a number of rounds equal to the spell level to cast the incantation, and the character must also spend imagination points, the amount varies depending on the spell level and the school.

Some rules changes have been made for combat, small creatures don’t suffer a size penalty when initiating a grapple, but suffer the same penalty when grappling otherwise. This allows the children to gang up on monsters they would otherwise have no chance of defeating. Swallowed Whole rules have also been changed, characters can’t cut themselves out, but they only take damage slowly and can survive hours, sometimes even days (or indefinitely if the creature is large enough) inside the stomach. To be able to free a character one needs the Cut it Open feat. Despair rules have also been introduced, when a child is alone for more than an hour they must make a will save to avoid falling into despair. This encourages characters to stay together. as this is their only chance of surviving.

Chapter 4 is Oh Brave New World. This is the GM’s chapter and gives advice on how to run the game. I won’t go into detail as to not spoil it for players. It describes the lay and laws of the land – the Grimm lands aren’t like the real world, or most fantasy worlds for that matter. Encounters are also described, there’s a miny bestiary covering some common fairy tale encounters – usually with some interesting and unexpected twists. Nothing is quite as expected in the Grimm lands, even for players who are familiar with the fairy tales, so there’s no concern of metagaming by well read players, in fact it’s likely to get them into more trouble than if they didn’t know anything. The Grimm lands are after all, very dangerous.

Considering the price, the number of pages and the content, there really isn’t anything wrong with Grimm. It’s direct and to the point, so the low page count is certainly not a hindrance and is even an advantage. It’s definitely worth the money and it has a lot of material to work with. A couple of mistakes managed to slip through, but not enough to dock any points for Grimm. 5 out of 5 for Substance.

Reviewer: Robin Ashe

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