Archive for March, 2017


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After quite the hearty greeting, the book douses whatever warmth was in the opening with a dose of cold reality.

The game is set in “the region that in ancient times was ruled by the civilisation of Symbaroum – an empire that by all accounts was advanced in the areas of architecture, spirituality, magical schooling and the arts; a culture that without doubt suffered a both rapid and brutal downfall.”

History

This section begins with a fascinating image: after two decades of suffering and strife against the hungry hordes of the Dark Lords, the Great War was over. But the realm was in a truly sorry state: thousands had died, countless people were maimed and broken, and the land itself was ravaged by death magic.

The young Queen was rescued from the Dark Lords, but she returned as a shadow of her former self, a mask covering her once radiant smile.

Twenty-one years after the Dark Lords were vanquished, and the Queen was forced to lead her people to safer grounds, heading north of the mountain range called the Titans lay the ancestral home of her people. It was time for Queen Korinthia to claim her birthright.

For centuries that region had been under the control of warring barbarian clans, but Queen Korinthia’s forces took over after a three day siege and established the realm of Ambria, “the Shining”. Slaves and prisoners were almost immediately put to work on constructing the capital of Yndaros.

Over the next few years, the nobles of Ambria had begun to plan new conquests beyond the original borders of this new realm, and Lasifor Nightpitch, the uncrowned king of Ambria’s treasure-hunters established the town of Thistle Hold. Since then, the walled settlement of Mayor Nightpitch has served as a safe haven for Ambrians exploring Davokar, a forest full of natural resources and rich remnants of long lost civilisations; also a forest full of rampant abominations, dark-minded creatures of otherworldly origins and a band of wardens most unwilling to welcome the damages done by human explorers.

I have to admit that the history section is one that was a refreshing change from the usual. The idea of being in a region in a state of reconstruction after a terrifying war is intriguing, and immediately answers the question as to why such a place would require adventurers… and more importantly, why Davokar would serve to be such a prized target of expeditions, despite the horrors that lay within.

Next up, we’ll continue with the setting section with a look at the Factions of Symbaroum.

For those interested in checking it out and following along, you can purchase Symbaroum on PDF over at DriveThruRPG for only $18.99

Also, Team Järnringen is holding a Kickstarter campaign for Symbaroum Karvosti: The Witch Hammer, their latest book for Symbaroum. Go check it out!


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I’ve been on quite the European RPG binge lately, enjoying titles like Mutant: Year Zero, Degenesis: Rebirth, and now Symbaroum.

Symbaroum is a dark fantasy RPG from Team Jarnringen that has been translated into English. Set in a grim dark fantasy realm of Ambria and the forest of Davokar, the game presents a region ripe for adventuring and exploration.

Rather than present the players with a sprawling continent with multiple biomes and vast empires, Symbaroum zooms into a section of the continent to present it in a way that affords the designers to really delve into the nuances of the setting and its people.

While not a novel idea, it’s one that I appreciate as many designers really get to show off their skill when it comes to being given restrictions. I’m looking forward to seeing how well they deal with it in my succeeding entries to this Let’s Study series.

The book itself is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with the setting, giving us a look at the realm of Ambria and the forest of Davokar. We’ll see the history, geography and people of the region, as well as the conflicts between them.

Part 2 is the Player’s Guide, which contains player character creation rules, and game rules that players should be familiar with, such as the basic mechanics and combat.

Part 3 is the GM section, a coverage of more specific rules and guidelines on how to create adventures and a section with a bestiary and adversaries that players may encounter.

Being from a tropical country like the Philippines, the concept of a dark fantasy RPG with a huge emphasis on a Forest as a major component of environmental conflict is intriguing to me, and I’m definitely looking forward to having Symbaroum impress me.

Next up, we’ll be tackling the setting of Symbaroum

For those interested in checking it out and following along, you can purchase Symbaroum on PDF over at DriveThruRPG for only $18.99


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Moving on from the character creation, the game offers a broad selection of threats, from basic animals to bandits, and township threats, and moving up to the Emperor’s finest soldiers and even Celestial Animals and Oni for the more supernatural angle.

Seeing this kind of spread is actually a good thing for the game, as Ninja Crusade seems to be geared specifically for a broader range of games, from ninja vs ninja tragedies, to action-adventure yarns. It’s a deep toolkit of ideas for the GM to use, and I sincerely appreciate that.

In the Setting chapter, Ninja Crusade 2e gives us an overview of life in the renewed Izou Empire. While heavily influenced by Japan, the setting of Ninja Crusade is much more well formed this time around.

Wherein the first edition was all broad strokes and implications, there’s a stronger voice of authority in the setting, but enough white space around for GMs to place their own take on things.

Each of the provinces of the Empire are described in a short blurb, along with descriptions of prominent cities. This could afford to be a little longer, I feel, but there are some pretty good plot hooks in this section for people to insert different kinds of adventures.

The game then zooms out to talk about the lands around the Empire, giving us a better appreciation of it’s place among it’s neighbours and the lands beyond the borders of the empire where new friends (and foes) might come from, or where the heroes might be forced to visit for a time.

In the GMing chapter, Ninja Crusade tackles the job of providing inspiration and ideas for a new GM. Starting from inspirations, which feature some obvious picks like Basilisk and Naruto, the book then moves on to the basic structure of handling Ninja Stories. There’s good advice here on how to put together a plot, as well as how to pace the game.

One of the best sections here is an examination of common Ninja Story types, as this can be the backbone for a new GM’s attempt at running the game. After all, you don’t need to be original you should be well executed.

The book finishes with a collection of pregenerated characters, all of which could be used by new players, or as NPCs in an ongoing game.

Conclusion & Review

Ninja Crusade 2e is kind of like that long delayed sequel you never thought you wanted until you were walking out of the movie theater after seeing it. While the first edition was full of haphazard enthusiasm and spunk, the second edition of the game greatly benefits from a host of improvements brought upon by careful and deliberate design.

Third Eye Games has shown that it is capable of great leaps of innovation, with this edition showing off some incredible artwork, well-considered, and imaginative mechanics, and a much more fleshed out setting.

As a total product, it finally feels all there. There are no hanging bits that feel tacked on at the last minute, no hasty ideas written in just to make it to print. Everything is here because it was meant to.

But that said, is it fun? I would say yes. As a love letter to ninja anime, the game has everything you might want. From strange powers to warring clans, and a setting that lets you go from Naruto to Legend of Korra, Ninja Crusade delivers. Comedy games of Ninja Crusade aren’t too far fetched, and I can see a serious group pull off Basilisk-style ugly clan wars mutual destruction just as easily.

So if you’re looking for a good game that does over-the-top anime action without the fiddly nature of Exalted, but with enough crunch to satisfy your tactical itch, Ninja Crusade is a solid pick.


Today we’re taking a look at the mechanics behind Ninja Crusade 2e.

Gifts and Triggers

One of the first thing this chapter talks about are the Gifts and Triggers. As seen in the character creation entry in our series, 5 of the Steps involve getting a Gift and a Trigger.

Gifts reflect lessons learned and internalised by a character, and bestow a bonus to a Skill for a specific use. Triggers on the other hand reflect hubris and conflict between loyalties. When Triggers are activated, players receive 1 Karma.

Skill Combo System

The game uses only Skills to complete tasks. When performing an action, the GM can call for a combo of 2 skills that are involved in the action. The player then rolls a number of 10-sided dice equal to the total of those two skills and tries to roll 7 and above. 7, 8, and 9 count as one success each, while a 10 counts as two successes.

Should a character roll no successes and any of the dice show up as a 1, then this is considered a critical failure.

Difficulties

Difficulties in Ninja Crusade is rated by the number of successes needed to roll in order to pass. This ranges from 0 (easy) to 5 (legendary).

Boosts

If a player is able to roll 3 successes OVER the Difficulty, then the roll benefits from a Boost, which grants improved benefits over a normal success.

Boosts can bestow benefits such as the ability to attack additional targets, gain bonus information from a roll, halve the time to execute a task or deal bonus damage.

Fate Die

Should a combo be reduced to 0 by modifiers, or due to a lack of any levels in either skill, then the player rolls a single d10 called a Fate Die. This die differs in that the only way it can score a success is by rolling a 10.

Karma Pool

At the beginning of each session, the group begins with a Karma Pool with a number of d10’s equal to the number of players. These dice are considered a shared resource, and have a maximum cap of 10 dice. During play, certain events add to the Karma pool, such as Triggers and Critical Failures.

Any player may use these Karma dice on their turn as long as no other player objects. These may then be spent on Bonus Dice, or in a Dramatic Rewrite, which allows for players to change something in the Scene to fit their character’s needs in the heat of the moment.

All good so far. Ninja Crusade’s basic system is pretty standard stuff, with good ideas taken from various games and cobbled together into a medium crunch system with many options for neat bells and whistles to take place, as in the case of Boosts and Karma.

The way Karma is created is also neat as it encourages missions going south quickly due to the Ninja’s inherent personality failings before rallying to victory as the Karma gained is spent on Dramatic Editing to save their bacon.

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s take a peek at combat!

Initiative

In an interesting take on the standard Initiative system, Ninja Crusade has a static value for Initiative that doesn’t change. Ties are rolled off to determine who moves first within the same initiative, but the initiative values themselves don’t change.

This sort of saves time from rolling off… time that is now spent rolling for something else called

Dynamic Actions

These represent the ninja’s ability to think on the fly and react to factors as their arise as opposed to waiting for their turn to come around. Rank provides characters with a number of Dynamic Actions, as well as a number of dice to roll each Round to gain further Dynamic Actions.

It’s a neat subsystem I’ve yet to see anywhere else, and I do like that the Ninja Crusade systems people have managed to incorporate it without taking up table time by moving the initiative roll’s time slot over to here.

Dynamic Actions are spent on a menus of various actions ranging from counter-attacks, boosting (or lowering) initiative or deflecting an attack.

Battle Actions

In a neat little treatment, Ninja Crusade treats social (or Mental) combat in the same way as normal combat. But rather than creating two entirely different systems, they harmonized the two by generalizing actions to the following:

  • Inflict Harm
  • Plan Attack
  • Affect Composure (Mental Only)
  • Disarm
  • Initiate Grab
  • Break Grab
  • Knock back (Physical Only)
  • Knock down (Physical Only)
  • Mold Ki
  • Retreat
  • Sprint / Rush (Physical Only)
  • Use Jutsu

In response, the target can then choose their defence (which is also split along Mental and Physical)

  • Block / Parry
  • Brace
  • Catch (Physical Only)
  • Dodge / Evade
  • Find Cover

Once both characters have chosen their action and defence, the GM determines the Skill Combos for each, and they roll off.

Damage is determined by how much the attacker rolls over the Defender. Some attacks have a base amount of damage that occurs on top of any other factors.  Boosts and Dynamic Actions can be spent to further increase damage.

Conditions

In order to stave off death, players may opt to take on Conditions, this is a tradeoff of taking instant damage in exchange for a longer-term penalty. It’s a great roleplaying opportunity, and while I am a little wary of having multiple players each nursing up to 4 conditions each, when used in moderation it can be fun.

Overall, the combat system is a bit involved and multi-layered, and those not used to a middle to high level of complexity in rules might find themselves losing track of the fiddly bits. In any given moment you’re tracking Gifts, Dynamic Actions, Karma, Boosts, Jutsu and Actions.

What it does promise however, is a game with a lot of interesting avenues for cinematic ninja battles. I would definitely advise more than a few sample sessions of the combat system to get players to learn all the nooks and crannies as the system will shine if everyone is proficient at it.

Overall, big kudos to the Ninja Crusade team for putting this together. It’s unique, but not overly difficult to learn, and I’m glad they really stuck their necks out to try new combinations of what might feel like familiar rules to deliver the experience they wanted.

Next up, a look at Ninja Crusdade’s Setting, and Antagonists!


Hey there, welcome back!

Today we’ll be taking a look at the Character Creation rules for Ninja Crusade. Character Creation officially begins in Chapter 3, but it helps to go over Chapter 2 first as it gives you a profile for each of the playable clans in the game.

Each profile is broken down into the following:

  • Name
  • Other Names
  • Stereotypes
  • Fighting Styles
  • Favoured Jutsu
  • Skills
  • Ki Balance

A history of the clan follows afterwards, along with a look at their average lifestyle and agendas of the clan.

Clan Gifts and Triggers are also discussed, before wrapping up with the Contacts options and Bonds.

While I appreciate having all this information in one place, I suppose I’m being nitpicky because I have no idea what all of these concepts mean. At first glance, Jutsu, Ki Balance, Gift and Triggers, and Contacts and Bonds are all confusing, as they’re actually all for lookup as part of character creation that takes place in the next chapter.

I’m not sure what a good solution for this is, but it’s good to consider when picking up this game that there are concepts that are used ahead of when they’re actually defined.

Okay, so now that I’ve read through the Clan Writeups, I find myself liking the Will of Iron Clan, so let’s see what I can put together.

Character Creation Proper begins in Chapter Three, with something called the Long Road, where each Step is defined as a phase in the character’s life up to now, and is defined by what choices they’ve made. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that feels a bit similar to the Lifepath system of Fusion games, but perhaps more modern.

Each choice contains: a Name (or descriptor of the choice), Skills, Ki Balance, Gift and Trigger

It’s at this point that we learn that Ki Balance is a +1 Yang, +1 Tin or +1 to the player’s choice. Also Gifts are dice bonuses provided when a character performs tasks connected to their choice, and Triggers are terrible twists that affect the Scene in a dramatic way and usually offers Karma in exchange.

What Karma is, isn’t explained yet.

Step One – Ocean: Element, Ki Balance, Skills

At this point, I decide to stick to an Element resonant to the Will of Iron Clan and choose Metal as my element. This gives me:

Skills: Deception +1, Discipline +1, Might +1, Speed +1

Ki Balance: Yin +1

I also pick Honorable, which bestows the following:

Gift: +1 Fortitude to stave off hunger, thirst or sleep derivation for the greater good.

Trigger: Gain 1 Karma whenever honour hurts the character or their squad

Step Two – Village: Occupation, Skills

This is the step where I choose a Profession and a Focus for my character.

For Profession, I go for Noble, which gives me:

Skills: Deception +1, Intimidation +1, Perform +1, Travel+1

For Focus, I pick Magistrate:

Gift: +1 Intuition to assess a situation

Trigger: Gain 1 Karma when refusing to bend or break the law to help the group

Step Three – River: Tragedy, Ki Balance, Skills

River has you choosing a Tragedy, and an Affliction

I’m going for a Tragedy of Civil Discord:

Skills: Discipline+1, Perform +1, Speed +1, Travel +1

I’ve also decided on Star Crossed as an Affliction

Ki Balance +1 Yang

Gift: +1 Knowledge if the ninja tries to impress someone with a piece of trivia

Trigger: Gain 1 Karma whenever the ninja misses an important detail due to a distraction that endangers the group.

Step Four – Forge: Wartime Role, Skills

For this step, I have to select on Wartime Role and a Title that best suits the character’s expertise.

My character’s Wartime Role is a Footsoldier

Skills: Athletics +1, Discipline +1, Fighting +1 Might +1

I chose their role to be a Champion

Gift: Gain +1 Fortitude against poisons

Trigger: Gain 1 Karma when the ninja shares their truth and it causes conflict.

Step Five – Mountain: Clan, Ki Balance, Contacts, Bonds, Skills

At this point, we refer back to the Clan Writeups. I’ve already decided on Will of Iron so I record their stats here:

Ki Balance: +1 Yin

Skills: Empathy +1, Fighting +1, Intimidation +1, Perception +1

Favoured Jutsu: Way of Heaven’s Judgement

Fighting Styles: Mantis, Tiger

Gift: Get a +1 bonus to any check when utilising a metal tool or weapon. If it is an item they forged themselves, they receive a +2 bonus instead

Trigger: Gain 1 Karma when they stand firm to preserve the law and refuse to break an oath, rule or their conscience to their detriment.

Contact: Koga Harue (Fighting)

Rival: Hagane Fuyuko (Intuition)

Step Six – Temple: Martial Training, Skills, Specialties

The Temple is where the player can customize their character further with 10 Skill points to spend, and define 2 specialties.

  • With the spent 10 skill points and skill picks from the Long Road, the character looks like this:
  • Athletics +1
  • Crafts +2
  • Deception +2
  • Discipline +3
  • Empathy +3
  • Fighting +3
  • Intimidation +2
  • Intuition +3
  • Might +2
  • Perception +3
  • Perform +2
  • Speed +2
  • Travel+2

Players also get to define their Martial Training within three different types: Fighting Styles, Weapon Styles and the 99 Styles.

For my 2 picks, I go for Mantis Style’s “Mantis Feasts Well” tree at Level One, gaining +1 damage with unarmed attacks. for my second pick, I’m going for Trap Master Level One, allowing my ninja to build and place traps. I specialise in Capture and Immobilise traps, getting a +1 to create those by 1.

Step Seven – Sky: Select Jutsu

For the final step, I get to select my character’s Jutsu. At character creation I begin with 6 points to spend. Basic Jutsu cost 1 point, Median Jutsu cost 2 points and Advanced costs 3 points per purchase.

Way of Heaven’s Judgement

Element: Metal

Training: On a Boost, the ninja gains +1 damage on an active criminal.

Backfire: Suffer a cumulative Confused 1 Condition and they can’t determine guilt while confused.

I’m sticking to Jutsu from the Clan for now, and pick the following:

  • Hunt the Guilty (Basic)
  • Righteous Objection (Basic)
  • Eye for an Eye (Median)
  • Part the Mystery (Median)

Health and Psyche

The next part involves calculating Health and Psyche Scores. These represent the amount of physical and mental damage a character can take before being broken.

Health is 5 + Fortitude, while Psyche is 5 + Discipline. As my ninja has no Fortitude, his final scores are:

Health 5

Fortitude 8

Ki

Ki is determined by the picks of the various steps in character creation. Based on their choices, the ninja starts with 2 Yin and 1 Yang ki.

Rank

Starting ninja begin at Rank 1

Initiative

Initiative is determined by Intuition + Speed + 3, or in this case 8

Strength

Strength is a function of Athletics + Might, in this case my Ninja begins with 3

Movement

Movement is determined by Athletics + Speed + 5 or 8 in this case.

Overall the character creation process isn’t too complicated, with each one just being a series of small decisions, and the resulting character comes off as pretty well rounded. Having a decent spread of skills is particularly important given the way the system works (which we’ll get to next time) and honestly, Ninja are all about self-sufficiency, so being able to do more is definitely a benefit.

In general while I was a little annoyed at being presented mechanics before they were adequately explained, I can certainly see more well rounded characters as opposed to min-maxed ones.

Next time, we’ll check out the mechanics that power Ninja Crusade!