31 December 2013

Blade Raiders

Blade Raiders, by Grant Gould, is an 80's inspired fantasy game that uses a simple resolution mechanic (referred to as the CAST System) and has a unique way of handling magic.

Everything in Blade Raiders is streamlined. From the system to character creation, there isn't a lot to get bogged down in (for better or worse). Character creation is extremely straight forward and primarily consists of only three choices: your talents (ranked 3, 2 and 1; 3 being the highest). Beyond height, weight, hit points and money, that is all you have. Those talents are, however, incredibly important and will significantly define what kind of character you are playing.

They come in two equally straight forward categories: non-magic and magic. The non-magic talents give you a bonus to something mundane based on which number you assign to it. The magic talents are similar, the rank being your bonus to using it, but higher ranks will potentially give you access to more powers, or at the very least make them significantly more useful.

Reading through them, the non-magic talents are pretty staid, everything you would expect (move faster, take more damage, do more damage, bonus to hit, bonus to exploring, etc.), while the magic talents are rather unique. They are a collection of daily use powers based on a theme, such as Enchanter (who improves items), Protector (allows you to create Ghost Armor), or Firecaller (it does pretty much what you think it does).

The element that balances these two is in the setting: runestones. These magical objects can be found throughout the setting and cannot be moved or tampered with. Trying either of these tends to cause the troublemaker to come down with a severe case of the not livings. Magic talents will only work in the vicinity of a runestone and the provided map is very clear that there are plenty of areas where magic will not be able to help you. In fact, some people specifically settle those areas for pretty obvious reasons.

While there is no limit to the number of magic talents that you can have, any character that relies too heavily on magic is going to be quickly out of their depth whenever they aren't near a runestone. On the other hand, whenever there is an abundance of runestones around, their magic is more effective than normal. This particular give and take makes talent selections particularly important and gives more importance than usual to characters who eschew magic in a fantasy setting.

As mentioned, the system is simple: roll a d10 and apply modifiers; if you have a 10 or more after all modifiers, you succeed. There aren't any resisted rolls here, nothing fancy - what you see is what you get. The most common modifier you are going to apply will be a skill (or a magic talent, if that is what you are using).

If you are paying close attention, you may note that skills weren't brought up in character creation. That is because, unless you have the Achiever talent, you will not be starting with any. Skills are for characters that earn them and this is very much a zero to not-quite-zero game. Rated from 0 to 3, you can only earn a skill once you have successfully used it. At which point you get a rating of 0 and can improve it with Character Advancement Points (CAPs).

Here is where I start to take issue with the game: to even begin learning a skill, you have to get a 10 on a d10. Certainly, there are bonuses that can be applied outside of a skill, but something extremely easy nets you a +4, while easy just gets you +2. Those are not great odds, unless you enjoy failure (no judgments here). Once you accomplish the daunting feat of advancing a skill to 3, you are still looking at a total of +7 to an extremely easy task. Unless you have a talent associated with that task, that is as good as it gets. For magic, you are not likely to see something better than a +4 bonus total (and that is assuming you put that magic talent at your highest rank) and those powers are once a day.

For some, this may be a feature. Others, not so much. To help defray that, you can spend your CAPs to gain a bonus to any roll after the roll. I have never been a fan of systems that mix your long-term advancement with short-term gain. It tends not to end well. This, however, falls into a category of to each their own.

The one unambiguous thing about this game is the art. It is all done by the author and is uniformly good. Unsurprisingly, it conveys a singular vision for how the setting looks and the common aesthetics that can be found there. For example, the only beasts of burden are a variety of giant lizards known as riptur. Their skin is also commonly used for armor and the section on armor is amazing for anyone that likes to assign each individual piece to their character and get a unique look out of it.

Blade Raider's setting is sparse as presented. The default is part of a continent with a brief history and a list of locations and some of the factions operating in the area. Unfortunately, there are not any plot hooks that capture the imagination.

For some, the unique magic and simple, but challenging system will be of great interest. While for others, the difficulty associated with success and expectation that you will be selling your future for now is going to be a problem.