Categorized | RPGs

On Her Majesty’s Arcane Service RPG Review

Posted on January 12, 2010 by spikexan

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    Certain time periods are overused in RPGs. This game, which comes to us from Flying Mouse Games (thanks for the reviewer’s copy), actually works the opposite angle. We may see many takes on Queen Victoria’s reign; however, Queen Elizabeth’s tenure is a little bit more open to exploration.

    The default setting for this RPG allows players to take on the roles of adventurers under the leadership of Queen Elizabeth and John Dee. That is the core to this book, its heart. This 234 page PDF offers a wealth beyond that singular idea.

    In my Eclipse Phase review, I phrased the series of two-page overviews that were designed to give readers some quick insight into the game. OHMAS would have benefited from doing something similar. This book breaks everything down into nearly paragraph-by-paragraph definitions. An example will make more sense. The book runs in two columns, but not in the same way more games are laid out. One column is the dedicated text while the other column works as quick links.

    Sometimes this secondary column also offers examples or “sidebar” extras, but mostly it works to define terms. The end result may have the word “invisibility” on one side while a paragraph explaining how that power works falls to the other side. With an insanely detailed set of bookmarks for the PDF, this almost works for me. A more traditional layout with an index would have been a stronger approach. The chosen approach looks like a heavily detailed outline for a much larger book. Also, the vast majority of the pages do not have any attractiveness to them. No borders. No color. There are various tables throughout the book to shake up things.

    The artwork in this game is limited to the chapter headings and a few hits throughout the chapters (mainly in the chapter dedicated to important NPCs). For those VIP NPCs, the decision was to go with open source paintings of the factual individuals. We see Doctor John Dee, the Queen of the Scots, and Shakespeare (to name a few). Although it makes it look a bit like a history book, this really was the best way to go with these figures. The colored paintings at the heads of the chapters are mostly forgettable; however, I really enjoyed the painting for the “Dice Mechanic” chapter. In this, the artist has painted a giant black and white D20 while an overworked mechanic (armed with a wrench) works on it. In the section devoted to various areas of the United Kingdom, links to free source mapping is available. These are centuries old maps that are more useful as authentic props than they are anything else.

    Writing breaks down into two areas, which are setting and system. The setting materials for the game are present, but their layout makes it more drab than it should be. System, however, proves to be Bowley’s stronger suit. There are some interesting things going on with this game’s system. Let’s start with the game’s basic mechanic, the Skill Check. We’ll use the example from the book:

    A Skill Check is made by rolling a number of d20s equal to the skill rank +1. The Target Number is the character’s Governing Attribute. The Governing Attribute for Firearms is COOR, thus a character with Firearms+4 and a COOR of 9 would roll 5 d20, and count any die that rolled 9 or less.

    This is a bit quirky, but not a mind-blowing take on dice chucking. No, the cooler aspects of the game come into play with how characters are approached. We’ll hit character creation first.

    You start character creation by making your character as a ten-year-old. This is your groundwork. You then move through the carefully laid-out steps to finish your “game ready” character.

    This approach helps deter characters that don’t make sense or are mini-maxed. As you make choices for your character, certain areas become off-limits to your character while a wealth of other possibilities opens up. Since not everyone is a history buff, this character creation system shines. There are lots of options in this book for players to play. Players can take on the purely mundane, the magical, and even the partially divine.

    Long term looks are, for me, the strongest part to OHMAS. There are several points that this comes up in the game. Each adventure (not each session) is assumed to take up a year for the character (not that the adventure itself took a year). This means that when three sessions devoted to hunting down a rouge witch wrap up the PC will be a year older when they are entrusted to protect a mystic text for a handful of sessions. It’s not that more didn’t happen over the course of a year for the characters (and players are encouraged to fill in those blanks), it just works to prevent the idea that a character saved the princess, destroyed a horde of zombies, delved into Hell to combat a demon, and six other impossible things inside of a month. Unintentional or not, this also works to make a campaign finite (something I love). Troupe-style play is also suggested to keep players engaged when their character cannot be in a scene. This little focus on chronology would work in any game and I like seeing the ideas here.

    Overall, I felt like this RPG is an ashcan. It has heaps of promise, but needs work to achieve it.

    There are unneeded tables and attention to what are minute details. These would be more forgivable is more materials existed on what players were supposed to be doing with this game. A 2.0 version of this game would streamline the system (it’s a good system that is just a little overworked here) and expand on the setting. These thoughts lead me to giving OHMAS the following scores:

    Layout: Two out of Five Dice (looks like an unfinished project)
    Artwork: Three out of Five Dice (lots of free source, but well-used)
    Writing: Three out of Five Dice (a higher score to the ideas for system alone)
    Overall: Three out of Five Dice (Worth it if you love the setting and want to try a different style of play)

    Review by Todd Cash

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