Reading A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying by Robert J. Schwalb

I bought another RPG on the summer trip, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, SIFRP for short.

It is based on the book series with the same name by George R.R. Martin, just like another game in my collection – A Game of Thrones RPG from Guardians of the Order. So now I have two games based on a book series that I have not read. When the books are all out I’ll read them, until then I’ll see if I can use the games for generic gritty fantasy gaming. The AGOT RPG is thick like a brick and weighs as much, not something to read in bed or on the balcony in the summer sun, but SIFRP is just 220 pages perhaps I can actually get around to playing that game. Maybe.

The book itself
As I wrote above, 220 pages. Hardcover in full colour, like most other spinoff RPGs these days. The text is a rather boring read, but if you stick with it the actual content is good. All the illustrations are in colour, and surprisingly many of them depict left handed knights, fighting. Seventeen different artists are credited. I would have liked more pictures of the intrigue aspect of the game, but I guess it is hard to make interesting pictures of people plotting.

The setting
The setting is Westeros from the books, of course. Since I have not read them I can’t say how close the RPG is to the source material. But there is not a whole lot of it in the game anyway, a few pages in the beginning with the history and layout of the land, frequent references to characters in the books are used as examples and a bit in the Narrator (GM) section on how important themes from the books are embodied by different characters. The last section contained a few spoilers on the books, the rest of the game seems to be very low on spoilers though. (This is not a complaint, just an observation.)

Of course this is more setting material than we got in many great games in the 80’ies, but I think that I will have to read at least a few of the novels before I try my hand at GM’ing this for players that have read the series.

The rules
The base of the rules is a fixed set of eighteen abilities, usually in the range of two to five, with two being the norm. Roll that number of D6’es, add them together to beat a target value. Sort of like WEG StarWars, but not exactly. Also you can get specializations that grant bonus dice in some situations.

There are both rules for physical conflicts and intrigue (social conflict), the rules are similar but different enough to get a full chapter each. The intrigue chapter comes before the combat chapter in the book, a nice touch. Both revolve around the principle that you have a pool of points and try to reduce your enemy’s pool to zero before he reduces yours. The cool thing is that if you win you get to decide what happens to your enemy. Combat can be very lethal in this game.

The game has a fate point mechanism called Destiny points. Destiny points can be spent to get a small mechanical bonus or add a minor detail in a scene, the points are then recovered when the PC reaches a story goal. Destiny points can be burnt to get a larger mechanical bonus, prevent a PC from dying or to make a larger addition to a scene, points burned in this way are never recovered.

Also, Destiny points can be invested in buying qualities (sort of like feats in D&D), the investment can later be withdrawn, the special ability is lost and the Destiny point recovered. This is a very neat little mechanism in the rules, even if I never play SIFRP I will steal this for another game.

There are rules for running the house of nobles that the PCs are attached to, similar to the companies in Reign or covenants in Ars Magica. Ultimately the game is about the rise (and possibly fall) of the house. PCs may come and go (remember, the combat rules are lethal) but the house will remain as the hub of the campaign. The rules are on the same level of detail as the rest of the system, and I think that the various random tables in it can give some adventure seeds to the GM.

No rules for magic.

Put together the rules are pretty neat and have elements of narration focus in them, this is something that I like a lot. I might even use the rules as they are written for things that I earlier would have chosen Solar System/TSOY for, especially if playing in a gritty low magic fantasy setting.

The Form
The game is about war, intrigue and house politics, at least it claims to be about these things. There is not very much support given to the GM on how to actually write such adventures though. On the other hand the game gives detailed instructions on how to scale the difficulties on challenges in various scenes, and how many scenes to have in each story/adventure. Also the rules for managing the house give ideas for stuff to write adventures around.

Conclusion
The setting is weak. But if the whole group have read the books that should not be a problem.
The rules are very good. A traditional RPG with some narration focus.
The form is weak. The game tries to tell me how it should be played, but I don’t see it. At least not just from reading, perhaps actual play will reveal it.

Will I play it?

Perhaps. It really should be played in a campaign, but getting players for one of those is harder than for a one session game.

Since I have not read the books I can’t run it for players that have, and I want more setting if I am supposed to run it for players that have not. Perhaps I’ll take the rules and play in a home brew setting, co-created with the players.

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2 Comments

  1. Ola said,

    July 19, 2009 at 14:56

    I wantsss it…

  2. Zapp said,

    November 16, 2009 at 21:10

    Don’t bother waiting until the book series is complete. Not because of the risk it might never be, but because it isn’t really very good.

    GRRM would be an excellent Games Master, and his books would make for an excellent rpg campaign and an excellent rpg world.

    So read the first book to get the feeling for the world, but if you’re anything like me you’ll imagine seeing GRRM sitting there at his desk, basically rolling on random events tables to see where to take his series next.

    So skip that and make up your own adventures instead.


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