Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tale of Blades and Heroes

Tale of Blades and Heroes (ToBH), the RPG based on Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes miniatures game, was finally released last week. Having read its 50 pages (but not yet tried even a quick session) here are my first impressions:

ToBH is a sort of "rules light" RPG with an emphasis on fun rather than crunch -- but it doesn't ignore crunch altogether, and at its core it has a solid set of mechanics. I can see the game being played without miniatures but  I also think a lot of the experience will be lost by doing so.

It's possible to see two main sources of influence throughout the book. One is the "old school" of gaming, noticeable from the "rulings, not rules" principle (mentioned with different phrasing at the beginning of the book), to constant advice for the game master to interpret and adapt, to the use of few "character stats." The other is, obviously, the Song of Blades engine, craftily adapted for RPG use. Seriously, looking at the size of the list of playtesters and considering the time the game has been in development, it must have taken a lot of work to get it right. In my opinion it worked well, as the rules seem effective and ellegant (for the most part.)

Two really nice touches to the game are the exploding dice mechanic and the magic system. Usually (in my experience) "exploding dice" systems give a random smallish chance of exceptionally good results. In ToBH, it's more of a gamble: on a very good result, you may opt to roll more dice again, replacing that result. So you may actually improve a lot (and statistically, chances are you'll improve at least a little) but there is risk of it backfiring, too. I can only imagine the tension of choosing between an OK outcome or risking it all during play.

The magic system is an open ended affair that reminds me of Ars Magica (but simpler) and Donjon (but with additional provisions to avoid abuse.) As such, it steps away from spell lists, spells per day etc. so common in fantasy RPGs. It also naturally embraces utilitary uses of magic, instead of focusing mostly on combat.

The one point that makes me a little uneasy is the use of "damage tables" (four of them) to determine the result of a successful attack. I can understand how their use moves the game away from bland "hit points" but the fact is that players might have to reference them repeatedly during the game, differently from most other rules in this system.

That's it for now. The fact that the system has simple rules (and combat is similar to Song of Blades and Heroes, which I'm used to) makes it a good candidate to use in solo sessions with Mythic, so I might try that some time (another project on my list...)

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