A Westeros Toolkit

Green Ronin’s licence to do the Song of Ice and Fire RPG has wrapped up; under its terms, they can no longer put out new products in the line, though they can still sell the products they’ve already released and they’ve committed to putting out non-Westeros products based on the game system, which they have dubbed the Chronicle system.

But let’s not pretend – the Song of Ice and Fire RPG isn’t something you’re going to go poking at unless you are specifically interested in a Westeros or Westeros-adjacent game. There are ample other fantasy RPGs, within which there’s a decent spread of games that either directly cater to or can be played in a grimdark, gritty style, but the specific Game of Thrones setting is nicely captured here.

The game system by Robert Schwalb (conveniently and cheaply available in the Pocket Edition, which incorporates useful errata) is largely nothing to shout about on the basic character gen, skill rolls and combat level, save that the range of character options available are impressively broad (you can play anything from an infant to a venerable elder, at any point on the social scale within your noble house) whilst very much being rooted in the setting. What really stands out for me are the rules for generating and managing your own noble house, with scope for long-term projects lasting years.

Another interesting rules contribution is the Intrigue system, which is intended to resolve social conflicts which can’t just be talked out. In playing it we found that it made most sense to use the system not for major social confrontations (which we’d generally prefer to talk through) and more for the sort of long-term social and political manoeuvring which doesn’t lend itself to being played out conversation by conversation.

Of course, if you have any interest in the system at all, you are probably also interested in the setting. Green Ronin took a similar approach to producing this game to the one that West End Games did back when they put out the Star Wars RPG; put the rules in one book, focus on setting detail in the other book. In this case, the setting book is the Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide, which provides a nice description of the setting that’s kept largely system-free apart from NPC stats, so if you want to use it to adapt the thing for your preferred system it’s a perfect resource for that.

One thing which Bill Slavicsek noted in his personal account of the original Star Wars RPG’s process of creation is that early on in the game line, West End realised the importance of choosing a “default” time period to set game materials in, so that people knew what the current state of affairs was with respect to the events of the movies and the rest of the Expanded Universe. Though they’d produce sourcebooks focused on a wide range of eras in the end, for the purposes of the original Star Wars Sourcebook and the early game line, West End focused on the time gap in between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, judging this to be an appropriate time where all sorts of adventures can be happening and most of the Star Wars cast people care about are available to use if desired.

The wisdom of this approach seems to have been appreciated by Green Ronin, since they also took the decision to base the Campaign Guide on a specific point in time in the world’s development – specifically, 1 year before the beginning of A Game of Thrones. This allowed them to give fairly comprehensive setting details whilst remaining coy about NPCs’ future plans (so as to not spoiler anything for those who haven’t read the books), an approach which meant they didn’t need any special tip-offs from George R.R. Martin about where the series was going, and which means that referees and groups can come to their own decision as to whether to set their game then, move the timeline forwards a little based on the event of the novels, or find some reason to deviate from the action of the novels entirely.

(On the latter front, my inclination would be “have the royal visit to the Stark household unfold without any plummeting child-related disasters, and without Bran seeing anything he wasn’t supposed to see” – thereby eliminating the specific catalyst which kicks off the events of the novel series, and which many of the characters’ agendas are shaped around their response to, and allowing for the PCs’ actions to be a catalyst for the action of the campaign instead – whether that leads to civil war or something altogether different. Or, if you really wanted to raise the stakes, have the long winter begin before the royal visit even happens, so it’s called off and the PCs have to spend the rest of the campaign dealing with the challenges of survival and politics during a new ice age.)

Though the game doesn’t seem to have had a deep bench of support other than this, arguably these two books really offer all you need in terms for a toolkit for getting to grips with the setting. In addition, the House-focused system is a useful contribution to more community-focused RPG formats.

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