The local gaming convention is coming up and together with some friends I am hosting an indie gaming event. I have been scrounging through the shelves for neat games to bring, and one of them has caught my attention, Roanoke – A Role-Playing Game by Clint Krause. The following excerpt is from Daniel Bayn’s foreword.
Roanoke raises the spirits of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and the wire-fu masterpiece Brotherhood of the Wold. It embraces Lovecraft’s motif of doomed characters coming face-to-face with forces beyond their ken, but gives them license to go toe-to-toe and win … at least for a while. It supports extended play and one-shots with equal aplomb, thanks to its versatile Doom mechanics. It’s a perfect game for All Hallow’s Eve.
All Hallow’s Eve, the weekend of the con, this must be investigated further.
The book itself
At 40 pages Roanoke is not a very big book and the layout has generous margins, I read the game in about half an hour, including the time to stop and think about some of the rules that needed thinking about. Actually, writing this review took longer than reading the game. Aside from the cover and a blurry photo of the author there are no illustrations in the book.
As the name implies the game is about Roanoke, or rather the mystery of the disappearance of an English colony on that island in the late 16th century. The back story has some real historic background, as the colony did indeed exist, and also did indeed disappear. Around the colony live tribes of indians, magic using indians. The three pages devoted to describing this setting don’t give much in the vein of details, of course, but enough to run one-shots together with the adventure seeds at the back of the book.
The rules are Wushu with some minor tweaks. Wushu can be downloaded for free from the Net if you want to take a closer look at it before getting Roanoke. But the basic rule is to first say what the PC does, take one d6 for each statement and roll them all together. All dice that are equal to or less than the PC’s trait is a success. There are no traits given in the game, the players are expected to come up with their own.
One minor issue that came up during reading was that all sample characters have something called “Fatal flaw”, that is not explained in the rules text, nor is there a box on the character sheet for it. I guess it is an artifact left from a previous rules revision.
The game is about horror, and the end of each story is known, the colony disappears. As for the form of the game it is described in some detail. The most important thing being The Principle of Narrative Truth which is that if someone says something that is the way it is or happened. The rules merely indicate how significant that fact was to the resolution of the scene. Since everyone, not only the GM, have this power it is important that everyone are on the same page regarding the style of the story that will be played.
The setting is weak, not so weak that it is hard to play, but a quick visit to Wikipedia or the library might be in order before the game. Or you add a step of world building before char gen to make up your own details about the colony.
The rules are weak, on one hand they cover any situation imaginable, but on the other hand they don’t give much variety or depth. I would not want to play a whole campaign with these rules, but for a quick one-shot they’ll do fine.
The form is good, if you consider the adventure seeds, with their hints of how to run the game, part of the form description almost half the book is about how the game is played. After having read the descriptions I have a good feeling of what play will be like and how to run the game.
Will I play it?
Probably. I’ll take it to the con, and if someone asks for a horror game I’ll suggest it.
www.interaktivhistoria.se/savcon – SävCon, the ‘local’ friendly gaming convention.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roanoke_Colony – The Roanoke Colony entry on Wikipedia.
wiki.saberpunk.net/Wushu/WushuOpenRules – Wushu Open Rules, where the Wushu rules system can be downloaded.