Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: Blue Rose (True20 Edition)

Blue Rose was published in 2005 by Green Ronin.  The book is 224 pages perfect bound soft cover. Color covers and black and white interior art.  Cover art is by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and the book was largely written by Steve Kenson, Jeremy Crawford, Dawn Elliot, and John Snead

I am reviewing my softcover book I bought at Gen Con 2007 and the PDF.
Full Disclosure in Reviewing: I bought these on my own and Green Ronin has no idea I am reviewing a 10+ year old product.

I printed out my PDF in 2008 so I could write on my book.  I am inserting those notes and observations here.  Most of those were written during my “Black Rose” campaign where I mixed elements of Gothic Horror in with my Blue Rose.

What is Blue Rose?
Blue describes itself as a “Romantic Fantasy Role-Playing Game”.  It starts off by telling us what Romantic Fantasy is, at least in this context.  So. Romantic Fantasy. The premise is simple enough really. Instead of the works of Howard, Tolkien, Burroughs and (to some degree) Lovecraft we are going to base this game on the works of Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, and Diane Duane among others all listed on page 13.  This is the Appendix N of Blue Rose. Also. I seriously don’t understand some other arguments brought about Blue Rose and Aldis in light of these books.  I have the feeling that many of the critics of this game just don’t understand, or have read, this genre.  Calling this SJW gaming shows a profound lack of insight to the source material.  Aldis is Valdemar with the serial numbers filed off.

Now let me pause here and it will not be the first time.  If this was 2005 I would feel the need to keep moving, but this is 2016, and a lot has been said about Blue Rose and I am not deaf to that.  So I will add bits like this where needed. This is the first. Since I am giving over to retrospect we can also dispense with the notion of not knowing was True20 is/was.  True 20 and Blue Rose is a very, very stripped down version of the d20 rules.  All the dice rolls have been reduced to a single d20.  Attack? d20.  Cast a spell or use magic? d20.  Sneak into a dungeon to free slaves? d20s all around.  There are no hit points, only a damage track so no rolling for damage.  Other games now do this. Both back then and today.  This makes things move a bit faster in combat and can make combat very, very deadly.  Sure if you are high enough level you might be fine. Unless your combatant is also equally skilled or greater.

Chapter I: World of Aldea
As a campaign world we get a history of the World of Aldea, from the Mythic Age (when the Gods were created) to the Old Kingdom (the “Golden Age” of the world), the Empire of Thrones (or the rise of the evil Sorcerer Kings) to the present age in The Rebirth of Aldis.  The history of the world is given from the creation of the world by the four greater gods and then into the creation of the lesser gods, demons, and mortal races. This history is compelling and does make you feel there is much more that is not written down.  We can come back to this in the supplement book “The World of Aldea”.  I rather liked the Exarchs of Shadow.  It helps solves the age old philosophical question of "From whence comes evil?" It gives a good explanation of how good gods such as these would have created evil beings.

From the new version, but same gods.  I really like this picture, I think I love that art of Maurenna.
This chapter also covers that background of the world, the half a dozen countries/cultures you can encounter.  We have Aldis, the country of the main heroes and the “good” land of the game.  This is one that characters are most likely from.  Jarzon, a theocracy that shares some history with Aldis but is a vaguely evil, or least intolerant, land.  Kern, home of the Lich King Jarek, is a remnant of the old time before the great shadow wars.

Yes. This is the chapter that introduces us to the now infamous Golden Hart.  You know what else it is?  The last time you ever hear about it.  Unless one of the characters is going end up becoming the next Sovereign of Aldis the Golden Hart will have no affect on the characters whatsoever.   I never once cared how the Lord Mayor of Greyhawk or Waterdeep was elected or even who that person was. It has never affected anything in the last 36+ of gaming for me and neither does this.  It’s really no different than the Lady of the Lake.  Claims that the Golden Hart "tramples" on Role-playing also shows that the person complaining never actually read the book, or played the game.

Information is given on Aldis. Aldis is not just the idyllic land that some have depicted it.  It is “enlightened” but there are still internal strife, crime, the odd sorcerer or even a leftover gates from the time before the Sovereigns, and the ever present threats from inside and outside. A number of threats to Aldea are detailed. Various unscrupulous merchants, a very effective criminal organization known as “The Silence”, fallen nobles, bandits, defective shadow gates,  and the remains of various shadow cults.   In a handful of pages we get plenty of ideas for characters to do.

Aldea with Western Europe superimposed over the top. Original file here

Chapter II: Creating Your Hero

Character creation is mechanically a breeze.  Since it is d20 derived nearly everyone knows what to do here.  The big difference is that instead of scores 3 to 18 you have just the bonuses. So -5 to +5.  Everyone starts at 0 and you are given 6 points to divide up.  In more “Cinematic” games I have given out 10 points.  I also prefer players create their characters together.  With backstories that would either augment or complement each other in some way.   In Romantic Fiction we often have a single protagonist that joins up with others and soon new bonds are formed.  Here we start out with potentially a lot of protagonists.  So the dynamic is already slightly different.  Now when I say created together I mean in cooperation with each other; the characters might not know anything about each other and even come from different parts of the world, but the players have a vision for what they want and should work on it together.

Races include human, vata (somewhat like elves), sea folk, Rhydan (intelligent animals), night people (likewise somewhat like half-orcs) and the human Roamers.

Blue Rose/True 20 only has three classes; Adept, Expert and Warrior.  There are no XP advancement tables; characters level up after a set number of adventures.  To borrow from D&D4, you could level up after 10 encounters, but really it is up to the Narrator.
An aside...the Game Master for Blue Rose is called a Narrator. Personally I would prefer to call them “Chroniclers”. Seems to fit the feel of what I want in my games.

This chapter also introduces “Callings”, “Conviction” and “Reputation”.  Callings are the most interesting of all.  Each heroic calling is associated with a Tarot card major arcana.  These are related to the alignment system in Blue Rose (Light, Twilight and Shadow) and to the Natures of the characters which are associated to a tarot minor arcana.  While it can be used purely as a roleplaying device (as I have done) to guide your character. The mechanical aspect in relationship to Conviction.  Conviction is more or less like “Hero Points” or “Drama Points”.  A similar mechanic can be found now in D&D 5 with the “Backgrounds” and “Inspiration” systems.  They are not 100% the same, but one could be used in the place of the other or used to inform the other.   Personally I think it is a damn shame we never got a set of Blue Rose Tarot cards.

Chapter III: Skills
This covers the skills the characters can take.  Again in something that was new in the d20 times, and became more common later on is how Blue Rose does skill ranking.  Skill check = 1d20 + skill rank + ability score + miscellaneous modifiers.  Skills are grouped into Favored Skills (based on class), Trained and untrained skills.  Need new skills? There is a feat for that (next chapter).

Chapter IV: Feats
Like d20, Blue Rose has feats. The feats are your means of customizing your character.  Want to be a classic thief? Taken the Expert class and the right skills and feats. Want to be a Paladin or Ranger, take the Warrior class with various feats.   Unlike D&D the feats do not have ability score minimums. They do have class requirements and some have other feats as requirements.

Chapter V: Arcana
The magic of the Blue Rose world.  Magic is both ubiquitous and mistrusted.  Nearly everyone has some level of magic.  Either they are an Adept or they have a wild talent or two (taken by a feat).  At the same time magic, in particular the form known as Sorcery, is mistrusted due to the wars with the Sorcerer Kings.
Arcana is divided up into a few categories:
  • Animism
  • Healing
  • Meditative
  • Psychic
  • Shaping
  • Visionary
and finally Sorcery.
You can make a number of different sorts of Adepts using the different types of Arcana.  In particular I had a lot of fun making various “Benders” like those seen in Avatar the Last Airbender and Avatar the Legend of Korra.  You can easily make Air, Earth, Fire and Water Benders.  You can even make a “Spirit Bender” which has a lot of potential.  Of course I have made many witches.
This is not Vancian magic. Once you have a magical gift you can use it all you like...until you can’t that is.  There is a fatiguing effect here. Makes magic really feel different than D&D.

Chapter VI: Wealth and Equipment
Since the accumulation of wealth and the killing of things is not as important here there is an abstract wealth system. Instead of gold you have a Wealth score. If you want to buy something less than that, then you can. If it is greater, well you will need to roll for that.  The system is very similar to what was found in d20 Modern.
As expected there are plenty of lists of goods and services. Aldis is a civilized place.  Additionally there are arcane items that can be bought, not a lot mind you, but some.

Chapter VII: Playing the Game
This includes the very typical combat and physical actions found in every game; especially one based on the d20 rules which has D&D in it’s ancestry.  There is good section on social interactions. If run properly a good Blue Rose game will include people that can talk or socialize their way out of problems as much as fight their way out.

Chapter VIII: Narrating Blue Rose
This is the GM’s section.  Again, I much prefer the term “Chronicler” to “Narrator”. “Chronicler” also implies that the characters are doing something worthy of Chronicling.   The chapter has the very pragmatic “Assigning Difficulties” which works well for any d20 derived game, which includes D&D editions 3, 4 and 5.  It covers Blue Rose’s particular form of level advancement.  There are guides for roleplaying situations like Romance and Intrigue. Again, while situated in the Blue Rose and True20 systems, they could be used for any game.  What is particularly useful is the very old-school like table of 100 Adventure ideas.  Need an idea? Roll a d100. Each one of these can be expanded into an adventure. This flies in the face of any notion that Blue Rose is a limited game.  Equally useful is the section on “About Evil” which gives advice on how to handle evil NPCs.  They suggest avoiding using “mustache twirling evil stereotypes” or “evil for evil’s sake” NPCs. Though I will point out that some of their source material does exactly that. They favor a more nuanced approach to evil, reminding the reader that no evil person thinks of themselves as the bad guy.

Chapter IX: Bestiary
There are some familiar names here, but don’t automatically assume you know what these creatures are about.  Griffons for example are given more emphasis and intelligence here than in their D&D counterparts.  This is completely due to how they are treated in the Romantic Fiction novels, in particular the novels of Mercedes Lackey.
Also, unlike the books, there are a lot more creatures here than what I recall reading.  So there are plenty of creatures that can either guide, beguile or challenge the characters.  There are about 70 or so creatures here. Adding more would be easy, really TOO easy to be honest.  Most creatures need have a good reason to be in the game/world. For example there are no Manticores here. You could make a very good reason for them to be there as something like anti-griffon or even a magical race the bred true to fight griffons.  Maybe they were created during the Shadow Wars or even before in the Empire of Thorns. They are rare now since most were killed.

Introductory Adventure: The Curse of Harmony
What it says on the tin. An introductory adventure featuring some of the different aspects of this game.

Appendix: D20 System Conversion
Of course you know I loved this.  The ability to mix and match from d20? Hell yes.  In fact I did just that for my own Blue Rose/Ravenloft mash-up.  I found that it works best to convert to Blue Rose than trying to convert Blue Rose to some d20 system.

And True20
True20 came out after Blue Rose and offered some improvements on the base system. For example Toughness no longer increases with level.  This is a good change.  As my gaming in Blue Rose increased I found I used more and more True20.  In particular anything with a horror, supernatural or magic bend to it.  Plus the True20 system, as published,

Normally at this point I make a case as to why you should buy this book.  I figure most of you have made up your minds about this game long ago.  So instead I am going to say give this game a try.  It is fun. It is different that most of the Murder-Hobo games out there.  Even if you don’t like the game there is the setting. If you don’t like that then there are plenty of mechanics and ideas that can be used in any other game.  If nothing else check out the Quick Start version of the game that Green Ronin still gives out for free.

There is a lot here that could easily be added to a D&D5 game.  Indeed, some of the roleplaying ideas in D&D 5 share at least some history with Blue Rose and True20.  Maybe a D&D5 version of Blue Rose is in order.

Also found on Green Ronin's site:
Next I am going to see what I can do with Blue Rose and it's supplements and some other games.


Mark said...

As it happens we did get a Blue Rose tarot, or at least a Stephanie Pui-Mun Law one:

Timothy S. Brannan said...

FANTASTIC! Thanks for that link!

Tim Emrick said...

The Law Tarot deck is by far my wife's favorite of the 4-5 she owns. Lovely art, and good-quality cards.

One nitpick: it's Aldis, not Adlis. (Sorry, I did a ton of fan errata for BR and True20 back in the day, so it kind of jumps out at me.)

I'm looking forward to the rest of these!

Timothy S. Brannan said...


I'll have to fix that. Thanks.

JB said...

Since I know almost nothing about this brand of fantasy fiction...I have no idea how to react here. Besides being intensely curious. I LIKE the sound of it, but I wish I knew more about the genre.

I suppose that's why Wikipedia was invented.
; )