Now that I’ve got my grubby little hands on my copy of Romance of the Perilous Land (hereafter referred to as RoPL), I thought I’d do a review of the book and system. As this is the first time I’ve actually done a review, it may meander all over the place, so bear with me.
So, let’s start with the physical properties of the book itself. It’s a 256 page hardback, but quite dinky, being only 9 1/4 inches tall by 6 1/4 inches wide, so easily portable to your gaming sessions without causing undue stress to you shoulder. Full colour throughout, with the pages being glossy and designed to look like aged parchment, which doesn’t detract from being able to read the text. Lots of full-colour artwork, some full-page, with a mix of ‘classic’ looking art, similar to the style of a Ladybird Book of King Arthur, should such a thing exist.
Now the system is apparently derived from something called ‘Black Hack’, which is apparently “super-streamlined roleplaying game that uses the Original 1970s Fantasy Roleplaying Game as a base.” Which I guess means it’s based on the original Basic D&D from 1977…
Anyway, characters have 5 attributes:- Might, Reflex, Constitution, Mind and Charisma, which correspond to Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence and Charisma in D&D terms. However, there is no corresponding Wisdom attribute. Generating scores is a simple matter of rolling 4d6 and keeping the best three rolls, which are then assigned to the attributes. Now, this is where we get into what I consider to be a strength of the system. These attributes, rather than being numbers which then generate sub-bonuses or penalties, are actually used during play. If you want to do anything, such as picking a lock, climbing a wall, or attacking something, you roll against the relevant attribute – and it’s roll under. You roll a d20, and try to get under your score, with a 1 being an automatic success and a 20 being an automatic failure. Similarly, all saving throws are rolled against the relevant attribute, rather than a sub-table. Trying to resist being charmed? Roll under your Charisma. It’s a simple. yet elegant system.
Once you’ve got your attributes, you select a Class from the six listed, which are Knight, Ranger, Cunning Folk, Thief, Barbarian or Bard. Knights are your armoured do-gooders, similar to Paladins but without the spellcasting ability, Rangers, Thieves and Bards are similar to their D&D counterparts, Barbarians are effectively Norse beserkers and Cunning Folk are your wizards. However, as magic is rare, only Cunning Folk can actually cast spells. There are no spell-casting priest or clerics in this game.
Each class has a specified Hit Dice, which only comes into play when going up beyond 1st level, as all players begin with a number of Hit Points equal to their Constitution score. This varies from d6 up to d12. They also get assigned armour and weapon proficiencies, which give them access to specific types of weapons and armour, divided into three categories; Light, Medium and Heavy. For example, a Knight has access to Light, Mdium and Heavy melee weapons, Light and Medium ranged weapons and Light, Medium and Heavy Armour. A Cunning Man (or Woman) has access to only Light melee, Light ranged and light armour. You can wear or use other weapons, but this automatically gives the character a ‘Setback’ on rolls.
I’ll digress here to discuss ‘edges’ and ‘setbacks’. These are effectively advantages and disadvantages, so if a character is attempting to do something and has a relevant skill (i.e. they are trained in Thievery, for example), they receive an ‘edge’. Using a weapon that your not proficient in means you have a ‘setback.’ The mechanics of this are very simple – you roll 2d20 and if your have a setback, you take the higher of the two rolls. If you have an ‘edge,’ you take the lowest roll.
Characters also get to choose three starting skills from a list their class has access to, which grant them an ‘edge’ when using that particular skill. All classes also get ‘Class Features’ which are special abilities only accessible by that class, the first of which is granted at 1st level and every other level after that (i.e. 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th level). Once a character reaches 10th level, they are at the top of their game and are considered to be legendary heroes, about whom epics are written.
Character also have access to Talents, and gain one talent at each level. Some of these give additional points to your attributes (which are not limited to your starting rolls and can go as high as 24) to giving additional abilities, like granting non-Cunning Folk the ability to cast low level spells or enhanced ability to see in the dark. Some of these are restricted to specific classes, but the majority can be taken by any character, allowing for a a great deal of customisation.
You also choose a background for your character, i.e. what they were doing before they became an adventurer, which give additional skills and some starting equipment, on top of what they get due to their class.
The final bits around creating a character are choosing a patron deity, if you so wish, and whether you belong to one of the heroic factions that exist in the Perilous Land. I will expand on the deities bit in a bit, but if you choose to belong to a faction, you are pretty much expected to join one of those that are allies of Camelot, so you can become a Knight of the Round Table, one of the Merry Men of Sherwood, a member of the Order of the Fisher King, the Fellowship of Enchanters or the Iron Hawks. These give minor benefits, but are primarily for roleplaying and motivational purposes.
Right, let’s talk about Gods. The gods of the Perilous Land are based on those from Celtic mythology and the religion is polytheistic. There are temples, chapels and churches, but no large religious buildings, such as monasteries or abbeys. I know, because I asked the designer directly. So, whilst it is inspired by Arthurian romances and the legends of Robin Hood and is a mythical analogue for medieval Britian, there is no Christianity or similar faith. There’s nothing to stop you from importing Christianity into your games, it’s just not part of the background, so no gallivanting off overseas to smite the infidels. Similarly, whilst you can select a player background of Priest, this means that you were a priest of Taranis, Nodens or Morrigan, and you won’t derive any particular benefit or powers from being a priest. The list of patron deities does suggest the types of people who worship these gods, so at present, it merely adds colour to your character. However, Scott Malthouse is planning on doing a supplement about the Gods of the Perilous Land, whereby you can take Oaths instead of Talents, thereby tying yourself more closely to your patron deity and deriving benefits from this.
Magic next. Magic is rare and wondrous and fairly low-powered compared to similar fantasy games. the spell list is quite small, but covers both healing, scrying and other magic. Cunning Folk start off with magic points equal to their Mind attribute and each spell has a points cost. If a spell is noted as ‘Instant’, you don’t need to prepare it beforehand and can cast it immediately, as long as you have the spell points remaining. However, casting is not automatic – you have to roll under your mind attribute, modified by the level of the spell you are casting. That’s right, you don’t have to be of a certain level to cast a certain level spell. If you can cast spells, then you can cast ANY level of spell, but the more difficult it is (i.e. higher level) the more chance it has to fail. However, if it fails, you can always try again, as it is not lost if it doesn’t work the first time. You can prepare spells beforehand (a bit like memorising spells in D&D) up to your total spell points, but if you wanted to keep a few points back for emergency instant spells, you can.
Zero level spells are things like ‘A Heavenly Light’ or ‘Sense the Presence of Magic’, up to 10th level spells like ‘Call Upon a Golden Dragon’ to ‘Resurrect the Recently Deceased.’ As you can gather, the spell names pretty much tell you what the spell does.
Regarding magical objects, these aren’t ten a penny like in most fantasy games. You have minor Magical Charms, Enchanted Objects, Legendary Weapons and Armour and the Thirteen Treasures of the Perilous Land. Cunning Folk can imbue weapons with temporary magical enchantments, but unlike certain other games, whilst the creatures are dangerous, they aren’t totally immune to normal weapons, so you won’t be left in the position of not being able to harm what you’re fighting.
The bestiary is reasonably large, covering normal and magical creatures, fairy folk, dragons, the restless dead, hags and giants. However, just because something has a name you’re familiar with, don’t assume it’s the same thing. Ogres in the Perilous Land are a bigger and more dangerous giant, and have two more Hit Dice than your standard giant, so don’t assume a party of 1st level characters can take out an ogre, like they would be able to in D&D.
Creatures only have a few statistics, which are in the most part derived from the Hit Dice. All creatures have Hit Dice, which generates their Target Number, which is what they need to roll under to do anything on a d20. So a 4HD creature will have a TN of 14 (HD+10 is the standard formula) and will have 4d6+4 Hit Points. There is a table which lists the standard damage at each HD level, so our 4HD creature will do 1d6+4 damage. The other stat creatures have is Armour Points. These are deducted from any damage sustained before actually sustaining actual physical damage. (NB: PC armour acts in the same fashion, so a character will have the first X number of points of damage soaked by their armour, before sustaining actual harm. These can be replenished after a battle, which is described as readjusting or fixing the armour). Finally, creatures have any special abilities noted, such as a poisonous bite or reduced damage from particular weapons. It’s pretty straight-forward and makes the stat block of creatures quite small, as you have everything you need in a few entries. And because it’s derived from D&D/AD&D, converting creatures is a breeze, as I’ll demonstrate below.
Right, if we look at the Monstrous Manual entry for a standard wolf, they have 3HD, 1 attack, Damage of 2-5, an Armour Class of 7, usually appear in groups of 2-12 and have no special attacks or defences. The stat block for a standard wolf in RoPL is HD: 3, TN: 13, HP: 3d6+3 (13), Armour points: 3, Attack: Bite (melee), Number appearing: 3-8, Special: If another wolf is within 5ft, the wolf gets a second bite attack.
So, as an unarmoured man in D&D/AD&D is AC 10, we can see that the 3 Armour points corresponds to the -3 AC adjustment, so we can use a similar formula for statting up something not in the rulebook, namely a wild boar.
In AD&D, a wild boar is 3+3 HD, 1 attack, 3-12 damage, Armour Class 7 and appears in groups of 1-12. So, 3+3 HD is greater than 3, so we’ll call it 4 HD, which means we get a Target Number of 14 and 4d6+4 hps (averaging out at 18 points), a 4 HD creature gets standard damage of 1d6+4 and the AC 7 is 3 Armour Points. We’ll knock the number appearing down to 1-8 and give it a special ability, so it now reads as follows:
HD: 4, TN:14, HP: 4d6+4 (18), Armour Points: 3, Attack: Gore (melee), Damage: 1d6+4, Number Appearing: 1-8, Special: A target damaged by a gore attack must succeed a Reflex saving throw or become prone.
So, if the big pig gores you, there’s a chance it’ll knock you off your feet. As you can see, pretty simple to convert creatures across.
Finally, we have the background on the Perilous Land itself, which describes the eleven kingdoms that make it up, who rules them and notable places on interest in each kingdom. Whilst this is a relatively short section, it does give a flavour of each kingdom, so you get an overall idea of what it’s like and some plot hooks for playing in that area. There is no map in the book, however, which a few reviewers have complained about, which caused Scott to get one commissioned and released on DrivethruRPG, although a rougher version of this is also available on his blog, noted below. So, do you venture in Corbenic, ruled by the mortally wounded Fisher King, his kingdom reflecting the poison that is slowly creeping closer to his heart? Or head north the mountainous land of Escose, whose king send regular sorties out into the mountains to try and stem the growing giant problem, the volunteers being celebrated and feasted before they leave, as not many return? Or head into Sherwood Forest in Eastland, joining with Robin and his Merry Men as he tries to prevent the evil Queen Eleanor and the Sisters of Le Fay from harrying Camelot’s borders? The choice is yours.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my purchase and would recommend this to anyone who wants to run a heroic old school fantasy game. It’s ideal for those new to roleplaying, as it’s a pretty straight-forward system and didn’t cause me to re-read bits because I didn’t understand them. It may not suit those who prefer more ‘crunch’ to their games and if you’re looking for Feat-slinging 5E powerhouses, then go play that game instead.
As it derives it’s roots from the original D&D game, you can convert modules from these over to RoPL (and Scott gives advice on his blog – Trollish Delver – if you want to do this) and play in whatever world you want. There is wealth of free material on the above blog, that you can add to your game and Scott has released some additional supplements on both DrivethruRPG and Itch.io. The Osprey website also has a free scenario, errata for their published edition and a character sheet, all in both printer friendly and full colour version.
And if you have any questions regarding the game, you can contact him directly – I did and he answered me almost the next day, which was faster than I expected.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Crow Knight has heard rumours of a Bugbear terrorising a village in Ascalon, so following his knightly code, must sally forth and do battle with this unnatural beast.