Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Colonial Gothic

Last night was the Fall Finale of the TV show "Sleepy Hollow".  It is a fun show and has a great premise and lots of great monster. But the joy of the show is Tom Mison's fish-out-of-water Ichabod Crane and Nicole Baharie's no-nonsense cop Lt. Abbie Mills.  It is a great mix of action, horror, humor and cop procedural formulas.  There are also some great supporting roles from Katia Winter as witch Katrina Crane (nee Van Tassel), John Nobel as Harry Parish aka Jeremy Crane and Lyndie Greenwood as Jenny Mills, Abbie's sister.

Watching the show has got me psyched for my "Spirit of '76" game for Chill. It has also sent me back to an old favorite of mine, Colonial Gothic.

I was introduced to Colonial Gothic at Gen Con a few years back by the authors at Rogue Games.  They were easily the friendliest people I talked to that day and their enthusiasm for their game was infectious.  I know every game company loves their own games, but these guys were over the moon with Colonial Gothic.  I can totally understand why too.  It is, too my knowledge, a fairly unique time period to be gaming in.  Maybe I am reading too much into it since I am a fan of the time period, but it was still great to talk to them.

They have great web support for their games and a ton (ok, a little more than a dozen) of pdfs for sale.  Honestly it is a game I wish I played more of.  Which is a shame since +Richard Iorio II actually lives fairly close to me.

Colonial Gothic Rulebook 2nd Edition
The best thing about this book right out of the gate is it compatible with the older, and out of print, Colonial Gothic Rulebook.  So all the books I have from Gen Con are still good.
CG uses the same d12 based (I remember the guys at the Rogue Games booth going on with glee on how they used the often neglected d12!) system that you find in Shadow, Sword & Spell (I am not 100% sure, but both games look like they are completely compatible with each other).
The core book comes in at 282 pages, plus covers. The second thing I noticed that this book is much better looking than the first core book. No slight against that book, but this one is a gem.  The first book had a nice hip "indie" feel about it. This book manages to pull off "indie" and "big time professional" between it's two covers.  I like that.
But what is Colonial Gothic? From the book:
Colonial Gothic is a supernatural historical roleplaying game inspired by the history and setting of the American colonial period, from the founding of Roanoke in 1568 to the end of the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
Pretty cool if you ask me.  For me Colonial Gothic continues the story that Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade began and Ghosts of Albion continued to the industrial age; science and reason over superstition and magic in a world filled with horrors.  But CG is more than just that.  In this game the "Americans" are on new soil, but it is only new to them.  There are horrors native to this land and their are the horrors they brought with them.

The game mechanics are rather simple, which is a good thing, most often it is 2d12 +/- mods vs. a Target Number.  It is called the 12° System. Often the Target Number is your Ability + Skill and rolled under.  In other cases, such as an Ability test, you roll 1d12 and roll under the ability. Opposed Tests include things like combat. There are also Critical Success (double "1"s) and Critical Failures (double "12"s).  Also the degrees of success (or failure) are important.  In combat for example your degree of success is a multiplier to the damage.  So is you need a 15 and roll a modified 10 you have 5 degrees of success.  Simple.
Chapter One covers all the basic rules from Abilities and Skills, to combat, to movement and even common ailments (and uncommon ones) to fear and sanity.
Chapter Two is Character Creation.  You get 45 points to divide out to your abilities (7 is human average).  You can then choose a background ("class" for you class and level types; archetypes for everyone else) and then you get 45 points for your skills.  These point totals can also be shifted up or down depending on the nature of the game.  40 for more grit, 50 for more action-adventure types.
The new aspect is the choice of 5 character hooks.  These provide your character with more detail and background and help explain why your character is an adventurer and not just a common Joe or Jane.
Chapter Three goes into more detail about Skills and Hooks.
Chapter Four covers magic, the magical arts and common spells and Alchemy.  Magic has a price in CG and not everyone is cut out for it.  Witches presented here are mostly evil, but there is some wiggle room.
Chapter Five covers weapons, currency, equipment and trade. This is actually quite an important chapter since goods or the availability of them is not just part of the real Colonial history, but makes a great plot point.
Chapter Six is a guide to the Colonies. It is a nice mix of history, geography and the occult conceits of the game.  If you know some of the history of this time then you have an edge up, but there is a lot of great information here.  Obviously some liberties have been taken, but it is less alt-history than I feared.
Chapter Seven covers enemies and monsters. Both mundane and magical.  At this time even a mundane bear is a threat.
Chapter Eight covers advice for the game master and campaign ideas.

Colonial Gothic: The Player Companion
This is the newest book (as of this writing) to the Colonial Gothic line. Mostly though this is related to the cover.  As the title suggests this is a set of options for players of the Colonial Gothic game.
We get a list of new skills and some additions to old skills.  Normally I prefer it when a game reuses old skills in new ways, esp. point buy games where the budget per skill is not likely to change. After all Character A created with the Core has the same 45 points as Character B created with this book.  In this case though it works both thematically and systematically.
Chapter Two covers Advantages and Disadvantages. Characters are given 4 points to buy advantages and can also take disadvantages.  Works pretty much like other systems in that respect, save there are not pages and pages of them (like for example GURPS).   Most in fact are story related and can be used in conjunction with the character's Background.
Chapter Three covers family and social status.  A must have really for playing in this age.
Chapter Four has a bunch of character templates.  So if you want to play a Native Shaman or emulate your Assassin's Creed character then this is a great place to start.
Chapter Five details more combat options and how to use them.  Think of these as advanced combat skills.
Chapter Six has more magic including Counter-Spelling and more Common and Arcane Spells.
Chapter Seven has more equipment.
All in all worthy, but not really required additions to the game. It is one of the books that if you don't know about it, you won't miss it, but if you do then you will wonder how you got on with out it.
If there is a 3rd Edition of Colonial Gothic then a lot of these rules should be folded into the main core rules.

Colonial Gothic: Gazetteer
This book calls itself a Gazetteer, but "Campaign Sourcebook" might be more appropriate. Written for the 1st Edition of Colonial Gothic it works just fine under 2nd Edition.
Chapter 1 covers the history of the colonies from early English and Dutch colonization right on up to 1775.  Principle wars are discussed and colonial growth covered.
Chapters 2 through 14 cover the original 13 colonies in detail including basic demographics and major towns.  Points of interest are also featured in each chapter as well as anything out of the ordinary.
Chapter 15 is devoted to the Native American people.  An overview of their history and cultures is given, but by necessity it is short.  In truth an entire Colonial Gothic book could be done just on the various Native american tribes and nations.
Te last chapter is a ready to run adventure, "A Surprise for General Gage".
There are two Appendices. First a Glossary and then a Bibliography.  I want to take a moment to point out that all of the Colonial Gothic books always feature a very robust (for a game book) bibliography.   This one is no exception to that rule.  This one includes books, game books and even some online resources.  Certainly worth your time to investigate a few of these.

Colonial Gothic Bestiary
I have said it many times. You can never have too many monsters.  The Colonial Gothic Bestiary satisfies that craving and then some.  At 110 pages it is full of monsters and many are illustrated.  The artwork varies.  Personally I am a fan of the older wood cut images, but I know those are are difficult to find perfect representations of various beasts.  The monsters themselves are a varied lot; some local monsters like the Jersey Devil and some "from back home" like the Gargoyle and Gorgon.
I think this is a good mix, but I am more fond of the local fauna than something I can find in any book.  I do have one nitpick (ok maybe two), first there is no Piasa Bird.  A local legend from here in Illinois that I am surprised didn't make the cut. Supposedly the first mention of it is in 1673 (or the 1920s),  Sure Illinois is way away from the Colonies. Though it was a very nearly a full state (1818) by the end point of the game, The War of 1812.  The other was that the Chupacabra was included. The Chupa, for all it's fun, is squarely a 20th century invention.  But these are only nitpicks, not criticisms.  There are plenty of American Indian monsters too that could have been included. Some like a naaldlooshii would be good too (I know, Navajo and not near the Colonies...). Maybe A Bestiary 2 is in the works.
The indexes in back are quite useful since they also include creatures from the core rule books.
Lots of great creatures here and fully worth the price.

Colonial Gothic: The Grimoire
This is an expanded and updated version of the older Colonial Gothic: Witchcraft book and the Colonial Gothic: Secrets book. Both of which are out of print. It also has plenty of new material as well.
Chapter 1 covers new spells, Common and Arcane. The advantage of adding new spells to this game is one can easily say that the knowledge was just rediscovered.  Some new book sent from overseas, an old book in the collection of a wealthy man or any other contrivance.  There are quite a few new spells here to be honest.
Chapter 2 follows with a discussion on spell books. Their uses and how to get them. A few sample books are also included.
Chapter 3 introduces magical talismans to the game. Sort of Spell storing or keeping magical power. Not a lot here, but plenty of ideas.
Chapter 4 covers the related chapter of relics, items that have magical ability to them due to divine providence or some other happenstance.
Chapter 5 is dedicated to Witchcraft. Like the book it replaces, there are no rules for playing "good" witches.  Fitting with the times all witches are assumed to be evil.  Personally I would like to see a good witch, but I can make due.
Likewise Chapter 6 deals with occult items such as cold iron and holy water.
Finally Chapter 7 deals with new magical creatures.  There is quite a Lovecraftian feel to this one.  Not generic "Lovecraft" but actual monsters from his mythos.
There is an appendix with the Create Talisman and Witchcraft skills.
There is also a combined magical index of spells between this book and the Colonial Gothic core.

Colonial Gothic: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
This is a great little book to be honest.  The first half is the story of Sleepy Hollow and the second half is how to use it in your Colonial Gothic Game. The geography of Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson and the Tapan Zee are discussed as well as Sleepy Hollow's role in history.  It reads like a small campaign guide.
This book is not very big, nor does it cost very much, but it is certainly punching above it's weight class in terms of content.

Colonial Gothic True20 Version
The world of Colonial Gothic using the True20 system instead of it's normal house system. Typically when a product is converted to a "generic" system some of the style and feel is lost. Though I will say that CG survived with much more of it's soul intact. The system is normally a very easy one to learn so the conversion here does not sacrifice complexity. The game is still same, one of a supernatural New World as it becomes a new country, America.
The conversion does highlight many of the pluses of the game including it's atmosphere and style of play. It also allows you know to bring other True20 that might be helpful. In some ways I prefer this to the original, but the original is still very, very fun.

Colonia Gothic is really just a fun, great game. There is just so much potential here that I want to pull it out and just run a few games with it.

If you are into American History, Horror, or even just the thrill of exploring something that is both well known and completely unknown  then this is the game for you.

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