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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,764 posts (6,061 including aliases). 527 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

*****

Whilst all the noble houses are engrossed in the Game of Thrones - and those beholden to them get caught up in it, like it or not, especially when scheming turns to open skirmishing - there is one group that remains aloof, dedicated to a higher purpose. That purpose is the defence of Westeros from those that dwell in the far north, and that group is the Night's Watch. Clad in their distinctive black, they live an almost monastic existence - only men are accepted, and they are not permitted to marry - leaving home and family to serve until death on the Wall. This book contains all you need to know to create characters who are members of the Watch, run a Night's Watch campaign or otherwise have them feature in whatever is going on in your game.

The Introduction gives an overview of the Night's Watch and its role in Westeros society, and talks about how a Night's Watch campaign might appeal - especially to those who fancy exploration and combat (including combat against supernatural powers) over intrigue and scheming. There is a timeline showing the history of the Night's Watch and the Wall they are sworn to defend - it's been standing for over 8,000 years.

Then Chapter 1: The Night's Watch looks at every aspect of the organisation. It starts by looking at why anyone might take the black (as enlisting in the Night's Watch is commonly termed) - some by choice and some perforce... it is often offered to convicted criminals as an alternative to execution. One of the few truly egalitarian organisations in Westeros, it's somewhere that you prosper by your own merits alone without reference to your birth or status. Some younger sons who feel they'll never get a chance at heading up their house take this route, but so do some smallfolk who reckon they have the capability to be knights but lack the social standing. It can also provide better prospects for a bastard son than remaining at home ever could in the fiercely dynastic society of Westeros.

Once arrived all potential recruits undergo a common training. No matter where they come from or what their background might be, they learn to use a longsword and a heavy shield. Only those who were annointed knights before taking the black are excused - and they are expected to teach their martial skills to others. Only once a recruit has passed this basic training does he swear his oath - by the deities of their choice, there is a sept and a godswood available - and become a sworn brother of the Night's Watch. Then they are assigned to one of the various branches of service. Rangers go out into the wilderness north of the Wall, exploring and patrolling. Stewards practise crafts, hunt, farm and undertake administrative duties. Builders look after the fabric of the Wall itself, and of the castles built along its length.

Next we read ideas for running a Night's Watch campaign, beginning with some plot seeds to enliven the journey north and the training period should you decide to begin with the party having just decided (or been forced) to take the black. This is followed by a considerable amount of detail about the three branches, peppered with sample characters, and a look at society amongst the Watch and the ways in which they perceive status - seniority, length of service and accomplishment. The few actual offices - Lord Commander and the Firsts of each branch - are elected for life. There's quite a bit about desertion as well, more common than you might imagine given that it carries a death sentence. Notes explain how to incorporate this aspect into a more conventional game as a deserter or the Sworn Brothers chasing him interact with the party's house. The rest of the chapter covers creating specifically Night's Watch characters from scratch, as well as some archetypes to start you off, serve as exemplars or to use if you're in a hurry. Use these in conjuction with the regular rules to create characters best suited to take the black. There are also notes about creating castles along the Wall, perhaps to serve as your party's base of operations.

Moving on to Chapter 2: The Wall and the Gift, we read about the Wall in more detail - its history, what it's like and even how to get over it, not to mention defending it and the castles dotted along its length. Chief of these is Castle Black, the Night's Watch headquarters. Plenty of detail here to make it come to life in your game. Most of the others are abandoned, but there are short notes about each which may be expanded if you decide to reactivate them. Then we learn about the Gift, land immediately south of the Wall granted to the Night's Watch to enable them to be self-supporting. This chapter also contains information about day to day life and several mini-adventures based on ranging, as the patrols of the rangers are known, and other aspects of Night's Watch life.

Chapter 3: Beyond the Wall looks at those who live north of the Wall and the terrain in which they live. Read about the Free Folk and their society, the giants who ally with them, and the King-beyond-the-Wall who leads them, as well as other clans found in the frozen wastes. The geography is explained (as much as it is known...), and all the resources needed to create Wildling characters of your own are provided. You can also create entire tribes. Notes on combat beyond the Wall and the environmental hazards are followed by a selection of scenario ideas covering life amongst the Free Folk.

Finally Chapter 4: Lords of the Long Night addresses the Others, supernatural beings thought by some to be mere legend but who - as winter approaches - are beginning to appear again. There are more scenario ideas, but a word of warning: unlike virtually everthing else in this game, this section draws more on the authors' imaginations than the setting provided by George R.R. Martins! Purists may wish to leave this aside, others may find it a logical and worthwhile expansion - up to you to decide.

Overall, this book brings the Night's Watch to life and provides loads of scope for adventure. My only complaint is that venturing this close to the Wall is too darn cold!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

Central both to the books of George R.R. Martin and the TV show, and hence to the game as well, are the noble houses and the never-ending dance of the Game of Thrones. Although there's a lot of support in the core rulebook for the process of creating your own houses to provide an original focus for your game, it can be quite a daunting prospect. This book is in effect a worked example of the house creation process, and can fill many roles. Perhaps you like one of these houses well enough to take it on as your own. Perhaps the Narrator will use all or some of them as the other houses with which yours interacts. There is also an expansion of the Riverlands region, where it is assumed that these houses are to be found - although only one actually holds allegiance to the Tullys who rule over them. Maybe at this time of relative peace they don't mind too much! Finally, there's a plotline to kickstart a new chronicle and enable your new house to make a start at making their mark on Westeros.

The houses and their allegiances are: Barnell (which looks to the Starks), Bartheld (Baratheon), Dulver (Lannister), Kytley (Frey), Marsten (Arryn) and Tullison (Tully). In many ways it is the houses, rather than individuals, who are the players in the Game of Thrones, and these house provide ample scope. They are, however, all quite nice... nicer than many (most?) of those found in the books, although there is a note with each one about how to run them in a darker manner if so wished. For each house there is a history, their arms and words, a stat block and information on their holdings, style and much, much more. There are detailed notes on persons of note in each house (including full character stat blocks) with plenty of background to enable you to bring them to life. Mostly they hang together well - even if Bartheld appears to think it's called Hart House half the time, Hart House being the name of their principle residence but it comes over rather confusing! - and the characters are interesting and well-developed. Plenty of scope here...

The middle section of the book is devoted to the Riverlands, presenting corners of the region suitable for annexation by a house of the group's own devising if they don't want to play any of the ones provided. There's also the delightful Market Town, determined to live free of noble influence, serving as neutral territory and home to many a scheme and plot. There are also various traditions, events and locations suitable for incorporation into whatever is going on in your game. Each listing is replete with interesting characters and other snippets poised to breathe life into proceedings, as well as many ideas for plots.

Finally there is the Iron Plot. This is an adventure that begins in the party's own house, but takes the characters far afield about the business of the house's liege lord. It can serve as an introduction to a whole series of adventures, a jumping-off point for your whole chronicle. It also provides opportunities to introduce some of the major players in Westeros, the ones well-known from the books or TV screen, into your game, rubbing shoulders - crossing swords or wits even - with members of the party. Part of the adventure involves investigating another house, and two options are provided for the target house - both ones listed in this book. but of course the party may be part of one of them. It all ends, of course, with a good brawl... but one which leaves as many questions as it answers, great scope for further adventure.

This is indeed a shining example of what you can do with this ruleset - a resource you can mine or just an exemplar for your own creations, but well worthy of being picked up by any Narrator.


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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

Like many of the errands handed out by the Pathfinder Society, this one seems quite simple... at least to begin with. The party are dispatched to the home of Andrax d’Aponte, a previously well-respected member of the Pathfinder Society who recently retured to the Isle of Kortos after a major expedition to Osirion searching for the tomb of Razma the Sage, and has broken off all communications with the Society. The Society would really like to see his report.

For once, no long journey is required. D'Aponte lives in Flint Tower, a rather tumble-down siege castle a scant hour's journey from Absalom. Whilst the adventure is quite constrained in its objectives, the party has some leeway in how they go about their visit to Flint Tower as the events and encounters they will face are location-based - so let them roam as they will. The background information lays out what is actually behind d'Aponte's behaviour and some things even he is unaware of, and the resources provided about the various locations in the Tower enable you to provide atmospheric and clear descriptions to the players.

Whilst it is a straight combat-oriented delve, it is possible for those characters who want to engage in conversation to do so if they wish. This is handled neatly, but does require the DM to be fully conversant with the backstory. The Faction missions fit in well, and even interlock in places, a nice touch. Overall, the adventure hangs together well... and there's potential for further adventure returning to the Osirion dig site, for those who'd like such further development.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

Opening with an Introduction that gives an overview of the adventure in which you are about to embark, the freedom and excitement of role-playing, taking control of your own character's destiny in a shared story, rather than watching or reading what others (writers, actors, directors...) have decided he should do; and explains the roles of Narrator (this game's term for the Game Master or GM) and players, then there's a brief overview of the contents of the book and we're off!

First up is an overview of the setting in Chapter 1: A Westeros Primer. If you are interested in this work you have probably read George R.R. Martins' novels or watched the TV show Game of Thrones already, but here's a fascinating account of the land and the people that dwell thereon from the pen of one Maester Jesiah - looking almost like an illuminated manuscript complete with the sigils of major houses. For this game is all about power struggles and intrigues - although there are plenty of opportunities for those who want to get more physical here as well - as the houses vie for power, position and perhaps the Iron Throne itself (which is said to be remarkably uncomfortable as a chair, whatever it might represent). The history is written from a standpoint of about the time the story in the novels begins... which may of course unfold quite differently in your hands.

The chapter continues with further notes. Knights are central to many of the stories told here, but they are by no means the only players in the Game of Thrones. Still, concepts of chivalry and the importance of rank and of bloodline run deep. There's an outline of how the land is governed and law works - mostly at the whim of whichever lordling is in control, by right of birth or of conquest, at that place. Details of technology, of religious beliefs, of the concept of knighthood as practised here, of maesters and more are also to be found in this chapter. Essential reading to give an overview of the setting.

Next, Chapter 2: Game Rules provides a look at the game mechanics underpinning A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. They are based around fists-full of d6s, with bonuses and modifiers as appropriate. Put simply, to attempt a task you decide which ability applies and use that to decide how many dice to roll - these are your Test Dice. If you qualify for a bonus, you get to add more dice to your roll, but then select the highest ones to the number of Test Dice you have. Modifiers are numerical additions or subtractions from the result achieved with the Test Dice. The aim is you test your abilities against a Narrator-set difficulty for the task you are trying to perform. That's the basics, and there are plenty of examples and special cases to show you how it all works. It's more straightforward than it looks at first glance, and soon becomes second nature.

We then dive straight in to characters, beginning with a series of archetypes for those who don't want to go through all the effort of creating one from scratch. These can of course be customised to suit your specific needs and desires. These come as Adults or Young Adults - youthful characters can be quite potent in the Game of Thrones, particularly if they are heirs to one of the houses. However, if you'd rather create your own character from the ground up, move on swiftly to Chapter 3: Character Creation and find out how it's done.

Now it gets interesting. The assumption is that the players get together and create members of a single noble house. Thus individual and group fortunes are tied together, success and failure affect everybody. So you start off by designing, as a group, your house and lands. Only then do you consider the role you wish to play in that house. In creating that character, first you decide his age (banded from youths under 9 to venerable people over the age of 80) and status (from 1-6). These can be chosen or rolled randomly as preferred, although it may be best if everyone uses the same method! Then you start fleshing out the character with things like the area of expertise you're after - Expert, Leader, Rogue, Schemer, or Warrior - backgrounds, goals, etc. Only then do you get to grips with determining abilities and other things that tie into the game mechanics directly. As everyone is affilitated to the same house, you'll need to ensure that all aspects you want are covered. High status comes at a price - rank is bought from the same pool of points as your other abilities! There is plenty of guidance - and lots of examples - to help you through the process.

The next couple of chapters - Chapter 4: Abilities and Specialities and Chapter 5: Destiny and Qualities - go into great depth about all the options available and how to use them to best effect once the game begins. Choose carefully, these are the building blocks upon which your character will stand or fall.

Then comes the fascinating Chapter 6: Houses and Lands. We've already touched on the notion that the default is a group of characters associated with the same house. Here we learn how to create, as a group, that house. It's recommended that you do this before you create individual characters, so that you'll already have an idea of the place into which each of them will have to fit - but others may prefer to create characters first and build a house around them, so do not feel constrained, pick whatever seems right for you as a group. You start by deciding where in the Realms you're based (or you can roll for it). The first time I did this, it was a cold day and we unanimously decided to build in the deserts of Dorne on account that it was warm there! There are lots of ideas and notes to help as the process continues, choosing resourcesm, determining the history of your house, and so on. Of course, some groups may choose to play individual characters without this common bond, others may prefer to represent a noble house apiece and vie with each other rather than with NPC nobles for power and status. It's up to you - but this is a good manual for designing houses, and indeed quantifying the existing ones too. And if you want to be the Starks or the Lannisters, go right ahead! There's even advice on choosing a motto (or 'Words' as they're known in Westeros) and a coat of arms for your house. Whilst in the books houses go for sigils and colours, here there's a primer on standard European heraldry to help you create a good-looking and effective coat of arms. The final step is to describe the household - some people will be your characters, but most will be NPCs, but you will know who they are and what they are like.

After Chapter 7: Equipment gets you all the stuff you need, there are separate chapters on the three ways your characters will interact with the world and everyone in it: Intrigue, Combat and Warfare. Each is a mix of ideas and concepts and the game mechanics you need to make them happen. Although it comes over as if you can reduce everything to rolls of the dice, these are the guidelines, the element of chance in an uncertain world - it's what your characters say and do that is important, and a good Narrator will focus on role-play, interactions and planning far more than the fall of dice.

Speaking of the Narrator, Chapter 11: The Narrator provides a wealth of material to aid him in designing and running adventures and campaigns. Ideas are presented in the way major characters in the novels embodied them, be it Lord Eddard Stark facing dilemmas, his wife Catelyn living up to expectations, Petyr Baylish's treachery or Ser Barristan Selmy showing the influence of history on the present... and there's more, of course. There's also detailed advice about making the rules work for your story.

Overall, it's a fine representation of the novels and TV show in game terms, with plenty to think about as you embark on the Game of Thrones! See if your house will become a power behind the Iron Throne or even see a member of it sitting there, or perhaps you will be safer but more obscure... but remember, Winter is coming!


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An RPG Resource Review

***( )( )

Sometimes experiments go horribly wrong, and this adventure concerns one such, as the party are summoned to the Pathfinder Society Lodge in Sothis, capital city of Osirion, to deal with the aftermath of one such that has left a horribly vile creature trapped under the very Lodge itself.

The introduction explains what really happened (and who was responsible), naturally as the adventure itself opens the briefing the characters get is somewhat less informative. All they are told is that they are going to have to play exterminator in the vaults under the Lodge - oh, and the only person who knew what was going on down there has since fallen prey to dementia, the creature having been trapped there decades ago. Apparently his assistant found something in his papers about it and went down there on his own to take a look, and of course has not come back.

Armed with this limited information, the party will have to explore the vaults and deal with whatever they find there. A clear floorplan is provided along with quite detailed notes of what's there to be found... and what will attack! The party should be kept quite busy. It does appear that untoward experiments were taking place down there, and captives held... not quite the sort of reputation that the Pathfinder Society would like to have... and in the best possible fashion, there's a Big Bad to be found at the very end of the vault, just itching for that climactic level-end 'boss-fight'.

It's a good straightforward delve with plenty of opposition to fight. The Faction missions seem implausible in the main, if it's such a dark secret what's down there (even according to the DM's background notes), how have the Faction leaders got the information to make the requests that they have made? The tasks themselves are fairly easy to accomplish, it's just the making of them that wrecks the realism of the situation. Parties who enjoy a good fight will be in for a treat, but that's it. More could have been made of the situation, how it came about and how it might be resolved.


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