Saturday, October 6, 2018

Eorathril: Not Just Another Fantasy OSR Game

I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary PDF of the soon-to-be released Eorathril: Old School Fantasy Roleplaying, published by Gallant Knight Games and written by Alan Bahr. I was not asked to review the product, but after reading it I feel as though to not do so would be a disservice to the game itself.

There are more OSR fantasy RPGs out there than there are kobolds in a ruined keep, so why bother addressing another being added to an already bloated library of selections? I mean after all, I myself have written two complete fantasy RPGs and written a slew of supplements for others. It's an over saturated market, there's no getting around that. Given that, why is Eorathril worth your table time?

A great many things appeal to me when it comes to Eorathril. First and foremost, it's built about a chassis of Swords & Wizardry White Box, so that means there's a ton of material out there which can be easily incorporated into the game and that it's both easy to learn and fast-playing. Secondly, the layout is clean, yet evocative. One of my favorite features is that unlike many authors (myself included), Bahr doesn't use his sidebars to discuss house rules -- instead he gives readers a peek into his mind as a designer and lets them know why certain aspects of the game are designed in the fashion presented. It makes an already rules-light game feel very approachable. But, I think the biggest appeal of Eorathril is that it's a well-presented low-magic setting that is structured around the aforementioned OSR engine with which I am most familiar.

Let's be clear here: Eorathril isn't just "White Box with the magic stripped down." Bahr is clearly building his own unique game with elements he wants to see in the game. Tweaks are present in every aspect of the game: Attribute calculation, hit points, magic items, races, and classes are all modified to suit the "low magic, high adventure" style that Eorathril is meant to evoke. That evocation is present down to the visual design. Both layout and art feed into this theme.

There are no non-human player character races available in Eorathril, in keeping with the low magic feel here. There is, however, an optional rule where the region of the implied setting (which is also the product's title) can grant a bonus to a single attribute. The implication is that intelligent races other than humanity do exist, but they're not human, strange and alien to human sensibilities. In short, they're magical. The classes provided are where Bahr's creation really starts to shine, and I'd like to take a minute here to highlight them:

  • Barbarian: Your classic savage warrior, they are swift and brutal. At higher levels they can seem nigh unstoppable and through simple rules Bahr does a great job of creating a juggernaut worthy of Howard's legacy.
  • Fighter: This is less a generic warrior and more a professionally trained soldier, the Fighter has access to a collection of unique abilities that make them excel at specific combat methods as well as gaining additional attacks per combat round -- a rarity in most White Box variants.
  • Knight: This is exactly what you think, but it is not a Paladin. This is a lord-bound mounted warrior in full armor, as at home on the field of honor as he is in the middle of courtly politics.
  • Ranger: This class clings close to tradition, as skilled hunters and trackers who specialize in eliminating a chosen foe across a wild landscape.
  • Sage: This is the closest thing that Eorathril has to a "magic-user," and even that's a stretch. They do get spells, but only very few and only at higher levels. Instead, they gain insight through long study and keen observation. More Gandalfish or traditional Merlin than D&D fireball-slingers.
  • Swordmaster: The author openly states that this class is inspired by the Wheel of Time series, but I read it and immediately was drawn to the swashbuckler archetypes of Madmartigan and Dread Pirate Roberts from Willow and Princess Bride respectively. I love, love, love this class.
  • Thief: Similar to the Ranger, this class hangs close to its traditional counterpart. It does, however, add specific uses for disguise and poison use, which give them some more diversity in application.

As is befitting a game where heroes are martially-oriented, the weapons offered are extensive and diverse. At the same time, they're not ridiculous or out of genre. He also has a few simple weapon traits which add to that diversity without bogging things down. Also, there's an Arming Sword. Thank you so very much for distinguishing that from a Longsword. They're different weapons and that has always been a tiny pet peeve of mine.

Combat itself is standard White Box fare, with one simple addition: Exploits. If you roll a critical hit with a weapon you can opt to do an exploit instead of doing extra damage. This includes things like disarming your opponent, breaking their shield, or even breaking an object held in someone's hand. He also includes Intimidation and Manipulation rules, which were first introduced in his grimdark fantasy RPG For Coin and Blood.

Spell and Magic do have their own chapter, but given the low-magic theme of Eorathril, you won't see fireballs and magic missiles here very much. In fact, magic missile is the only direct damage spell in the book. Spells only run to third level and while most of them are OSR standards, spells are meant (at least by implication) to be utilitarian and not ground shattering displays of power. Again, only Sages can cast spells -- and even then, only at higher levels.

Magic items exist in Eorathril and all the standards are here that you'd expect. However, when it comes to magic weapons, Bahr has opted to use a variation on the Myth Point system introduced in The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying. Obviously, I'm a fan of that system and given the low-magic nature of the setting, I feel it's a very, very good fit.

The monster list has everything you'd expect and nothing you wouldn't. It's concise, complete, and highly utilitarian.

Finally, Eorathril closes with a few unique magic items tied specifically to the implied setting that's given some small detail in the beginning of the book. Between these two features, Narrators are given enough material to build the foundation of a fantasy setting with the freedom to take things wherever they'd like to go.

In less than 120 pages, Alan Bahr's Eorathril creates a clean, concise low-fantasy adventure roleplaying game that is as home in a Tolkienesque campaign styled after Lord of the Rings as it is in a Hyborian Age sword and sorcery campaign. I really can't recommend this game enough. It manages to build on the familiar foundation of so many OSR roleplaying games while having enough new material and unique flavor to be a worthy addition to the growing library of fantasy RPGs on the market.

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