Time for another entry in my occasional article series covering game supplements which didn’t inspire a full article but did prompt some thoughts. This time around it’s a classic fantasy special, with supplements for various fantasy RPGs with long, distinguished lineages: a Chivalry & Sorcery monster tome, a significant D&D 5E rules expansion, and some material for Basic Roleplaying and OpenQuest.
European Folklore Bestiary (Chivalry & Sorcery)
Like much of the 5th Edition Chivalry & Sorcery lineup, this is the product of a Kickstarter – in this case, a carefully unambitious one, in which stretch goals were sensibly not used to bulk up the book itself but to unlock various 3D printer files for printing miniatures. That’s not something which is necessarily all that interesting if you’re not into using minis for RPG or wargaming purposes, but it’s a nice approach to running a Kickstarter regardless, since it helps steer well clear of the “we added too many stretch goals and now our core product is too ambitious” trap.
Weighing in at a shade over 150 pages, the European Folklore Bestiary is an extensive collection of additional creatures for Chivalry & Sorcery – the schtick here being is that they are derived from medieval bestiaries and folklore, and so represent the creatures as people of the era might have thought of them. It’s a fun concept that’s suitable to the game’s overall focus on historical detail, and I don’t mind owning a hard copy now that it’s out, but at the same time I think it’s a product I would have been happy to just get the PDF for.
The main reason for this is that it’s just a little light for a 150 page supplement. Each creature has a full-page illustration accompanying, and whilst some of these illustrations fill that space nicely, others seem a little under-detailed – like the plan was for them to be smaller initially and used in the corner of a page, rather than blown up to full size.
Pretty much all the creatures here fit onto a single double-page spread, and since each creature has a full-size illustration this means that around half the book is artwork. In the remaining half of the pages, the fairly extensive Chivalry & Sorcery stat blocks often take up half the page, and the written details on the creatures in question are sometimes a little sparse. Not always – some carry more detail – but often enough that this is noticeable.
Of course, this may well be that you’re dealing with some creatures which just aren’t widely mentioned in the bestiaries, just a brief aside here or there, and so there’s not that much authentic detail to provide – but it still makes the book feel a little sparse. There’s a good bibliography at the end, though perhaps it would have been helpful to provide individual citations in the creature entries to better indicate the specific sources of particular beasts. I’m still glad to have the resource, but I think customers coming to this late might be well-advised to consider just getting the PDF.
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (Dungeons & Dragons)
The follow-up to Xanathar’s Guide To Everything is every bit of the melting pot the title implies. It’s essentially a grab bag of the “best of” new D&D ideas from Unearthed Arcana articles given further testing and refinement, plus some ideas from existing setting-specific supplements given a more setting-neutral spin. Specifically, if you like some of the system additions from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, Eberron: Rising From the Last War, or Mystic Odysseys of Theros, but you don’t particularly value the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Magic: the Gathering planes as settings, you may find this is a good deal.
The bit of this book people made a big fuss over when it first emerged was the new rules for origins, which give you an extensive scope to customise player character races as a means of avoiding perceived racism in saying “certain humanoid folk are just plain smarter/stronger/healthier than others, it’s a lineage thing”. It’s flexible enough that you can pretty much take it to the point of saying “character race is no longer a thing, everyone is a bespoke thingamuffin”, but I don’t mind that because it seems reasonably balanced and if people want to play a bizarre array of different unique characters sod it, let them, it’s an imagination game.
The more long-term point of interest in this book is the way it, Xanathar’s, and the upcoming new monster tome are being packaged together as a “rules expansion” package for 5E. It’s hard not to think of this is 5.5E in all but name, especially when significantly revised core books are reportedly coming in a few years. Whether or not you call that 6E or merely a revision to 5E will, I suspect, be a matter of personal taste: I don’t think it will radically shift the underpinnings of 5E because I think Wizards want to evergreen the edition to an extent, but I do think we’ll see some of the ideas in this book and the other rules expansions being folded into the core more elegantly going forwards.
Rome: The Life and Death of the Republic (Basic Roleplaying)
Alephtar Games are an outfit working in the BRP-adjacent design space; at the moment they are largely focused on Revolution D100, which essentially involves them using the RuneQuest OGL that Mongoose put out when they had the rights to produce their own BRP variant with more narrative mechanics. Back when they started out, however, they were playing both sides of the fence a little – as well as putting out products under the Mongoose RuneQuest SRD, they put out some BRP products under licence from Chaosium, and this is one of the latter.
Put out in 2009, this was designed to be used in conjunction with the “big yellow book” – the expansive BRP rulebook Chaosium put out as one of their irregular attempts to push BRP as a generic RPG. It was designed by Pete Nash and edited by Lawrence Whitaker; the duo would go on to publish the second Mongoose edition of RuneQuest, witness it getting botched in the edit, put out their “director’s cut” version of it as (at first) RuneQuest 6 before the return of the trademark to Chaosium prompted the name change to Mythras, and they’ve put out an updated take on this for that system under the title of Mythic Rome.
In effect, then, what you’re getting here is the dawn of Nash and Whitaker’s take on the “fantasy Earth” concept, which they’ve followed up on with other Mythras releases like Mythic Britain. (Indeed, Alephtar were using “Fantasy Earth” to refer to other products like Stupor Mundi, their debut release, at this time.) Fantasy Earth was a concept which Chaosium and Avalon Hill leaned into in the early phases of 3rd Edition RuneQuest, and yielded products like RuneQuest Vikings and Land of Ninja, but subsequently moved away from for the most part, and it’s a logical supplement concept for third parties to go after because real-world history and folklore is well and truly in the public domain for the most part.
Rome: The Life and Death of the Republic focuses (as does Mythic Rome) on the Republican era of Rome (and also takes in the pre-Republican monarchy, or at least what we know of it). This is useful because great swathes of Roman-themed RPG material defaults to the Imperial era (Cthulhu Invictus does, for instance), but that skips over centuries of history which have plenty of interest. Nash and Whitaker’s take on the subject unpacks that: whilst this does include some competent pointers on adapting Big Yellow Book-brand Basic Roleplaying to the era and some creature stats for entities from Roman mythology, what it’s mostly notable for is the sheer depth and range of pointers on daily life, social structure, and other issues which the book is crammed to the gills with.
Indeed, it’s sufficiently information-dense to potentially be daunting to tackle, particularly since it largely tosses you in at the deep end and just starts reciting facts at you. Still, it covers so many subjects, and has quite good BRP mechanical suggestions for dealing with some of them, so I’d suggest it as being mostly useful as a resource to draw on for designing Roman scenarios, rather than necessarily something you plan on digesting in its full entirety unless you are going for a very authentic Roman campaign.
OpenQuest Companion (OpenQuest)
A by-product of the Kickstarter for 3rd edition OpenQuest, this consists of a grab-bag of optional rules, most of them useful on some level. Perhaps the most interesting is the “one magic system” – an alternate set of magic rules which removes the distinction between spirit magic, divine magic, and sorcery in baseline OpenQuest (and so could also be useful for simplifying other RuneQuest variants). It’s a terse little thing at well less than 100 pages, but it manages to pack a lot of fun little tools into that space.