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Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy €22,99 €18,39
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
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by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/20/2017 03:00:57

Blue Rose: Age system Review

This will be a long review that will cover each chapter so buckle in, it will assume you are not familiar with AGE or Blue Rose but that you have some experience with D&D

Introduction Alright here's where we start the review of Blue Rose: a game of romantic fantasy – Age Edition. Before we start with the review proper I’ll cover a short intro of my history with the game and system. This is not my first exposure to the setting of Blue Rose, I have copies of both the true20 corebook and it's supplement. While I was a big fan of the work I couldn't really think of a way to make it appeal to my group as it had a number of rules that carried over from 3.5 D&D to true20 that made it less appealing, but I absolutely loved the work itself and the unique rules and setting it added. So I was both hesitant and excited when I heard it was being released for the AGE system, on the one hand the AGE system has some uniquely good things about it's rules (particularly it's stunts) but on the other hand it had some issues that made me worry which I'll get to in a moment.

The original work got alot of flak for it's optimistic setting and representation of LGBTQ characters and their acceptance in the setting. That has not changed. If anything greater representation is now present as it also works to include trans and nonbinary characters comfortably into the setting and culture. If this makes you uncomfortable then chances are you won't like this book. Personally I like it and find it apart of the appeal, and frankly if you're able to watch most kids cartoons these days then this shouldn't bother you. Next let’s talk about my experience with the AGE system. I didn't like it. I really, *really* wanted to. But I didn't. The Fantasy AGE book was honestly very lackluster and ashes of valkana setting wasn't any better. Both felt very... incomplete. The game was heavily geared towards combat, to the exclusion of all else and said combat was often long and very tedious, the magic had no out of combat use or purpose and being a master of fire just meant you had 3 variations on fireblast for use of setting enemies of fire. While there were magic items and monsters there was little if any help in creating either, for the GM or the players. and beyond that there wasn't much to it. While the stunts system was interesting it was pretty much all the game had going for it aside from decent class customization. Clocking in at under 200 pages it was just... not very thrilling and for the most part didn't cover much new ground beyond stunts. Titansgrave was the same way, it added little and didn't expand on much beyond what it's (rather good) webseries had shown us, it felt like it was the series manual rather than it's own setting. Needless to say I was rather worried about Blue rose, I worried that the flexibility of the skills and choices would be diminished, I worried that the magic would be made into a streamlined combat tool, I worried it would be a short book that didn’t cover much if any new ground for the setting. I had nothing to be afraid of. And with that in mind let’s get to the review!

Opening Okay let’s start with the book itself. It’s very well done. The book is organized wonderfully with an introduction to both it’s genre and it’s basic systems both dice and combat, this was actually quite helpful as too many games dive right into character creation without context for the value of a given bonus. The Artwork is beyond amazing. Seriously this book is gorgeous, with wonderful depictions of it’s characters and scenery, with more fluid, fanciful artwork to lead in chapters and visually stunning but detailed character and scenery depictions throughout the chapters. If nothing else get this book for it’s artwork, you won’t be disappointed. The book is neatly divided into player and Gm sections with the former covering both character creation, systems and setting, and the latter covering gm advice both in and out of game, alternate settings, rewards both tangible and otherwise and a list of adversaries. It’s nicely rounded out with a list of useful appendices. Finally the book is well indexed, with organized bookmarks both for chapters and subsections. You think I wouldn’t need to bring attention to this but you’d be surprised how often things like indexes, bookmarks and a good table of contents are neglected even by modern games.

Player’s Section: Gameplay Chapter 1 The Game First opens with an explanation of combat and it’s dice systems. You do not need Fantasy Age to run this game, as it clearly addresses all of it’s rules here, from it’s dice system to it’s turn order and action economy. The dice system works like this: 3d6 + ability +2 from an applicable focus (specialized skill). The Difficulties for rolls are spelled out here and multiple times elsewhere. It gives rules for conviction (basically this games plot points, inspiration bennies or fate points) and how they can be gained and used. The turn order is standard roll for dexterity initiative, with ties in this case going to drama die (see below) and on your turn you have a major action and a minor action (or two minor actions). Major actions include attacks, defending, healing, running as well as all out attacks that subtract from your defense for damage and charges. Minor actions include aiming, maintaining spells, moving chasing, guarding yourself (+defense -on rolls) readying an action, preparing to chase a running foe and holding your ground to prevent knockback. Overall some good combat rules that make things more interesting than just ‘I hit him with my sword’.

And now we address AGE’s most interesting mechanic: stunts. When you pick your 3d6 one of them needs to be a different colour from the other 2, this one is called the drama die. When you roll doubles of any number with any of the 3 dice you automatically gain stunt points equal to the number on your drama die. These stunt points can be used to buy advantages of varying degrees of usefulness like knocking your enemy prone, dashing after an attack, piercing armour, and even attacking twice in one turn or moving to the top of the initiative order in future rounds. These stunts have uses in other ways as well: magic can use them to fast cast a spell, affect multiple targets, increase duration or ignore fatigue. Socially they can allow you to make new friends or enemies from the people you interact with, cause laughter to your wit, sway crowds or add flirtatious dialogue to seduce another character. It even works on exploration; letting you decide on an advantageous approach (likely foiling ambushes) enabling searches to be faster, easier and consume less resources or gain a bonus on initiative rolls. Stunts are an interesting mechanic at the table as they ensure that things become less predictable in an interesting way, and compared to crits from other games they occur a great deal more frequently (often multiple times a round) so everyone gets moment to cheer when their dice roll well (or moan when the villains dice work out)

Chapter 2 After that we get into Character creation. It has 9 abilities: accuracy, communication, constitution, dexterity, fighting, intelligence, perception, strength and willpower. What’s interesting here is that several forms of combat that normally fall under strength in most games would fall under accuracy (such as light blades and brawling) or fighting (most heavy weapons like axes or polearms) with strength covering more athletic feats. Abilities are rolled but there are options to both assign them at will or point buy so everyone gets what they want.

Races come next and here’s where things get interesting. Every race (including human) get’s to roll twice on a table to get some free skill focuses, weapon training or ability bonuses giving you some bonuses separate from both your class and others of your kind. The races themselves are alot more diverse than most settings. You have humans as your primary race (of course) with a number of cultural backgrounds to add diversity, and then you have the non human races. The night folk (basically orcs) whose race was created by evil sorcerers and have a bad rap for this but are still given full treatment as a race and aren’t forced to be mentally deficient brutes like most games tend to do. Then we have the vata, while you could say they’re elves in reality they’re more like your half elves with the elves being destroyed in the past by the aforementioned evil sorcerers and these guys being their mostly human descendants who crop up in human cultures. You’ve got the light and dark vata (with the only differences being appearence and how good their darkvision is, dark vata have it better but suffer a turn of blindness when they first enter daylit areas) The Sea folk come next: androgynous sea faring people who can breathe underwater and swim like they’re aquaman, they’re are basically human dolphins when it comes to water. They actually need to immerse themselves in water once per day which I could see getting annoying in the wrong game. And then we have the Rhydan. Either the coolest or most annoying thing when it comes to character options depending on how well the gm and players communicate. Rhydan are telepathic sentient animals, with the most common being wolves, horses, dolphins and panther sized Siamese cats, but with rules for a number of other animals including apes, bears, badgers, hawks, owls, lizards and snakes. Rhydan are capable of forming a permanent psychic bond with a humanoid. This could either go very well with interesting and memorable characters that create closeness in a party or it could be a disaster with people playing characters incapable of functioning in any given session, and this would depend heavily on the GM clearly establishing what kind of game the group will be playing and the players not feeling cheated if their cool concept gets vetoed for practical reasons, psychic dolphins warriors would be good for a pirate style game with several seafolk but would be basically unplayable in any other game, likewise a rohirrim style ranger with a rhydan horse could be a cool way for players to become partners but if that’s the case the gm should probably not make the game overly city based. After races come background which establish what culture you are and give you a free skill focus from the list of focuses appropriate to the culture as well as a free language or two. And we at last come to classes. There are three: the adept, expert and warrior (say it with me people: fighter, mage, thief), but don’t let that fool you there is a ton of customization one can do with these classes, from taking some magic as a warrior to become a spellblade style demonslayer, to various social and ranger style abilities, to building up your adept as a monk who uses meditative magics for martial arts. The classes go from 1-20 with pretty much every other level giving new talents (essentially feats that can be taken multiple times for better rewards), along with bonuses to specific stunts and inherent armour bonuses as you level up. Pretty much any class you’re familiar with or want to play can be built using these three classes with the right focuses and talents. Equipment is relatively straight forward. Weapons are generalized by weapon group (such as axes, light blades, lances and bows) with generic examples made for the sake of convenience (axes for example have starts for standard, throwing and two handed axes, rather than making a list of a dozen different axes). Armor goes from 1-3 and has an armor penalty equal to damage reduction -1. Shields give a bonus on the defend. A heroes’ starting equipment is any defensive gear they’re trained in and 1 weapon for adepts, 2 for experts and 3 for warriors. Since dungeon crawling murder hobos aren’t the focus of this game an exact economy isn’t all that necessary and one generally assumes characters would have practical toolkits for skills they have focuses in. From here we go to roleplaying traits: Calling, Destiny and Fate. Calling is your characters general sense of purpose with examples ranging from things such as Justice, True Love, Atonement, Mastery of the Martial Arts to Inner Peace. You gain conviction anytime you pursue your calling. Next up is Destiny and Fate which are basically your virtue and vice respectively and you gain conviction from pursuing either one. The list for these is quite long so you have plenty of options for what you want your character at their best and worst to be. Then there is corruption, basically the dark side mechanic of blue rose. However what’s nice about it is that it only applies in situations where magic is involved. When you use magic in a notably malevolent way (less fireblasts at bandits more flesh warping without informed consent or stealing memories through mind reading) you make a roll to avoid gaining corruption points, likewise commiting wicked cruel or evil acts also requires a corruption roll **only** when they are in an area blighted by dark magic or are carrying a corrupted magical item. This adds an almost ravenloft like atmospheric bent to the forces of the enemy. They go to fight some demons but they suddenly need to watch their behaviour and be suspicious of any in the area not meeting high moral standards, which may lead to paranoid attacks against the innocent, which leads to further corruption. Meanwhile the dark gods are laughing. Artifacts likewise have a One Ring effect where the longer you carry them the more corrupt you find yourself becoming. And Corruption is nothing to sneeze at: each point is a penalty to both constitution and willpower as it leaves you fatigued, paranoid, sickly and mistrustful. They need to make rolls not to regain conviction by following their fate (read: being an asshole) and if the penalties drop to -5 it will kill you and bring you back as a malevolent spirit. Getting rid of corruption requires you to gain conviction by following your destiny (read: being good) and committing 10 points of that conviction to removing each point. Of course if the right path seems to hard and those penalties are making you wince you could always embrace your corruption. When you do you no longer have penalties, sure you can’t regain conviction from your destiny or receive healing from the uncorrupted but you can substitute your corruption score for your magical ability, meaning that corrupt sorcerers are generally badasses, who also get access to all the cool powers like raising the undead, mind control and crushing hearts and while you can’t gain corruption from being a dick anymore you can raise it like any other ability score. And when you die you raise as a more powerful spectre, a lich or a motherfreaking Vampire. And through you it will wield a power to great and terrible to comprehend. Finally on Character Creation we have relationships. This is your relationship to a person or organization of varying degree of intensity (rated 1-5). These can be positive (friend, lover, blood brother, dead parent who you promised to avenge, the knightly order you’re apart of) or negative (mortal enemies who burned your home, killed your family and cheated you out of the prize chicken competition). When the relationship is involved you gain additional stunt points on any stunt equal to the relationship intensity, you also gin access to two of the best stunts ever: ‘As you wish’ and ‘Prepare to die’. You start off with two relationships one with 1 intensity and one with 2 intensity.

Chapter 3 From here the game goes on to detail various focuses and talents you can take. Focuses are basically just your skills: weapon groups, self discipline, various magical specializations, deception, romance, natural lore, drinking, smithing, the works. There are actually quite alot of skill focuses but it’s pretty easy to figure out what a given character would specialize in. Talents are what really define your character. They are basically various class abilities and unique skills that will define your character, from magical powers to having connections, magic item crafting to weapon specializations, performance to holy light, oratory to thievery. Each one comes in three levels you you may generalize taking the novice level in several talents or specialize in order to master fewer talents for greater reward. Alot of them are quite fun with cool bonuses and effects, giving a large degree of definition to basic classes. And if that weren't enough you also get a class specialization with a unique talent that you gain more ranks in as you level up, these cover things like assassin, duellist, hunter, sacred warrior, shapeshifter, spirit dancer, pirate, noble and martial artist. These are actually really cool and provide further definition and ability to the characters, I particularly like how it says that while you gain your specialization at level 4, the gm may state you need to find a teacher, manual or applicable quest to learn your specialization. It adds a level of depth that makes the character progression feel less artificial.

Chapter 4 Magic. That’s what this chapter covers. And boy was I scared of this one. Magic in true20’s blue rose was this interesting art form. It didn’t have mana or spells per day, instead you had a number of schools of magic (animism, meditative, elemental shaping, healing, psychic and visionary) and a number of powers tied to each school. Each power was flexible, for example fire shaping let you ignite and increase fire as well as create light, manipulate objects had a huge amount of creativity and you could even wield weapons other abilities let you read an objects past, create psychic shields and empower weapons with magic. None of this was limited, if you could do it, it was as easy as a skill, the abilities were apart of your character, you couldn’t run out of magic and suddenly be a dude with a stick. The limiter was fatigue, when you used some of the more direct and combat based powers you would roll against a fatigue test and if you failed you suffered fatigue levels which gave a dice penalty and slowed movement until you eventually passed out. Fantasy AGE on the other hand had a mana based spell system where all of the talents had highly specific combat based effects such as firebolt, wind blast and water wall, abilities that were purely based around combat 9/10 times and didn’t really feel integral to the setting. You were a magic cannon. That’s it. Well fortunately Blue Rose has converted over it’s previous magic system to age and it is wonderful, the abilities are flexible and can be creatively used, are integrated into the setting and don’t presume that npc’s have access to abilities that the player’s don’t such as identifying magic items or summoning. There are rules for all of these. While I was disappointed to find the ritual magic rules didn’t make it over it wasn’t a big deal as the magic was plenty flexible and powerful on it’s own and ritual magic’s greatest use (summoning elementals and darkfiends) was still present as a normal ability. Overall the alternate magic system alone is a good reason to get this book for use in other AGE products. it’s probably on of my favourite magic systems in any rpg: flexible, well defined, evocative, able to be used at will and not gamebreakingly overpowered.

Players Section 2: Setting Chapter 5 These chapters cover the setting of blue rose and boy is it well done. Chapter 5 covers the mythology and history of the setting. From the time where the gods of nature created the world, to when one of them went a little loopy and accidentlied 7 gods of shadow to the response of the others who created 7 gods of virtue and made the spirits of the world take mortal form to protect them, to the time of the sorcerer kings who basically created a magitech utopia before going nuts, turning evil and becoming liches. Then they went to war with each other, unleashed hordes of demons, made the nightfolk and corrupted tons of cretures into monsters, levelled a few countries into barren monster infested wastelands and exterminated the elves of this setting. What a bunch of dicks. To make a long story short they either killed each other or were killed in a revolution made by the combined efforts of the various races with the help of a new player on the field called the golden hart, basically a demigod of good... who was also a deer (this character got alot of flak in the previous version as a deus ex machina for the setting, I honestly don’t know why, he’s barely ever around, vanishes otherwise and is better behaved than alot of old powerful creatures, I mean elminster and gandalf were way worse than this, and the average good dragon in D&D is more capable of being a deus ex machina). One Lich got missed for awhile but life went on.

After the war the kingdom of aldis was formed which is the assumed location the game is centered around, basically a liberal meritocracy. If you ever wanted to know what a lawful good setting would look like, this is basically it. Nobles are based on qualification, magic allows for decent health care and it’s explicitly stated the printing press is a thing, so the setting is at about 17th century level technology... with a bit of a throwback to the medieval in some respects as reliance on magic tends to stifle the need for some forms of development. The Country’s electoral method basically has the golden hart show up and pick someone (sometimes though not always the previous monarch’s heir) the day after the last monarch resigns or dies. The nobles by contrast are chosen with the aid of a mystical item given by the rhydan, which detects the presence of corruption, competence and the desire to be useful to the land, however it’s explicitly stated that it only works once and nothing stops nobles from becoming corrupt after they’re given their position, even the monarch isn’t immune as two of the previous ones have lost their marbles after ruling competently for a time, and the current queen was betrayed by the previous prince to the lich king. Speaking of whom the last lich king who was around in the previous edition is dead now, after teaming up with the traitor prince. I was nervous at this as he made for a great sauron like villain in the last version. However it’s stated that all of his 7 chief lieutenants survived and are all fighting eachother but are more than happy to try and conquer aldis by force if they get a chance. This may actually work out better, as they may lack the menace of the lich king but there are more of them, each quite powerful and well established with dark armies, but unlike the lich king they are enemies the players can reasonably fight as opposed to the nigh unkillable lich king who was mostly just a background threat.

Chapter 6 Chapter 6 goes on to detail Aldis in various ways, from the societal to the geographical but it avoids going into overly deep trivia that would just become fluff and details a number of interesting npc’s and organizations the pc’s might belong to. It’s actually quite engaging as it manages to set the atmosphere well and would make it easy to run a multitude of campaign styles. It makes it clear that Aldis is a good place, somewhere worth fighting for, also a place with a lot of problems, from invasions from surrounding countries to demons spilling out of long closed gates, corrupted artifacts surfacing around some poor bastard who doesn’t know how dangerous it is, psychic crime syndicates, pirates, demon haunted islands, bandits, corrupt nobleman abusing power, ancient monster of the shadow wars, vampires. It addresses all of these threats and more and it really makes you feel that any given area could be rife with adventure, and more importantly it would be adventure that would feel rewarding. The game makes a big deal about immersing your players, getting them to connect personally to npc’s and the groups they’re apart of. It discourages being a combat monkey murder hobo, instead trying to make you really feel like a hero in this land. The game leans far more heavily towards playing Aragorn or the Dread Pirate Roberts over Conan and tries to make that feel like the proper playstyle. Far less gritty ‘game of thrones-esque’ realism and far more the narrative heroism of lord of the rings or the princess bride, which are probably the best comparisons you can make to players who want to understand the setting and are unfamiliar with the authors this work is based on.

Chapter 7 Chapter 7 is basically just Chapter 6 but smaller for the surrounding countries, their history and politics and how they view and treat the kingdom of Aldis. Jarzon is a theocracy that comes down hard on corruption and sorcery and is willing to go further in order to root it out, becoming rather oppressive in their methods and society, you know the drill: patriarchy, intolerance for other races, negative views on magic but not exactly evil. They’re the well intentioned but misguided extremist. Which is somewhat justifiable as they haven’t had nearly the easy time that aldis has, their sorcerer kings didn’t go down easy and they are bordered by a haunted swamp on one side and a blasted monster infested wasteland on another. It makes sense they’d be more xenophobic and have firmer stances against magic particularly considering their theocracy was what saved them. Jarzon get’s the most attention of any other country as it tends to have the most mixed and prevalent interaction with Aldis. Other countries include Kern where the aforementioned 7 evil kings fight for power, Rezea which is made of nomadic plainsmen, the rainforest kingdom of wyss, the tropical matriarchy of Lar’tya, the pirate isles (guess what’s there), and the shadow barrens (see monster infested wastelands above)

Narrator’s Section The Narrator’s section needs less explanation so I'll cover it more broadly

Chapter 8 covers the narrator’s job, fairly self explanatory for an experienced gm but it has some good advice setting up adventures and managing things like intrigue and romance and on dealing with problem players. Chapter 9 Covers playing the setting and gives advice for themes of high and dark fantasy (yes you can play this game in a gritty way it just isn’t normally aimed for this), horror games (i’ve already mentioned the ravenloft like effect of corruption, and i’ve heard doing a crossover with ravenloft is doable for this game, and with the rather impressive monster list a horror game is definitely possible if one chooses to go there) swashbuckling adventure (which seems to very much fit the themes of this game) and high romance (for your more roleplaying and feelings over combat style game) It also addresses alternate settings for blue rose, which I have to admit was the last thing I would have expected from a setting book but this one goes all out, it has science fantasy, post apocalyptic mars frontier, narnia style coming of age fantasy, time travel and even a rather hilarious premise of the pc’s being wedding planners (an idea so outrageous that I have to try it sometime just to see what happens). Chapter 10 is mostly about rules arbitration and handling ability tests, whether to favour the rules, the players or the story, considerations in combat (like cover or obscured vision), hazards and traps and how to do npc personalities on the fly Chapter 11 is about rewards. Since hard cash isn’t really a thing in this game. It covers things like gaining levels and exp, honorifics (such as demon slayer, protected by destiny or famed artist) that players can pick up and give small infrequent bonuses, mostly social, various titles and noble recognition, memberships and ranks within various organizations, companions (like bodyguards, squires or lovers) and of course special equipment. Equipment rewards in this game comes in both masterwork and magical form. It has rules for different qualities that an item can possess and the bonuses it gives (such as durable, well crafted and deadly) as well as how hard such things are to make. Magical items come in 3 forms generally: elixers (magical potions that give temporary buffs), arcane stones (simple wonderous items mostly with various useful qualities) and magic weapons (which can harm spirits and other such creatures, it also lists the cryston which is basically a magical crystal phaser wand that’s set to stun instead of kill) Chapter 12 is the final chapter and it lists (what else) adversaries. The game lists a number of different kinds of enemy and includes rules for buffing them up accordingly from members of the classes (which given their flexibilty covers alot of ground with minor tweaking), various animals; magical, intelligent and otherwise (including various familiar options including classics like winged cat and tiny drake), nature spirits, elementals and the faeries (with the lovely statement that in corrupt areas the spirits themselves become corrupt... fun!), shadowspawned monsters (basically your gnolls, harpys, betentacled horrors, ogres, naga and so on), a variety of undead from various ghosts, zombies, ghouls, liches and vampires, Darkfiends (basically demons, they come in 4 basic varieties and get modified depending on which sin they embody) and finally a list of additional qualities you can mod monsters with such as aquatic, magical gaze, regenerative, vulnerability and winged. All in all it’s got a great list of creatures many of which would seem familiar enough to those who’ve played D&D but maintain enough distance to be interesting. The game closes out with a sample adventure that’s pretty good to start your game off with. I won’t spoil it but I may run it depending on what kinds of characters my players create. In the back is an appendix of useful notes worth printing: a stunts reference sheet, a list of combat actions quick reference cards for npc’s and a pretty (if somewhat ink demanding) character sheet.

In Conclusion This is a wonderful game with vast potential that gives players a great deal of freedom to develop and use their characters in a setting where your connection to it matters. It’s optimistic, lighter shade of grey approach to the setting is a breath of fresh air. The system is solid and simple, able to be learned and used quickly and mastered within a session or two. The stunts system keeps players on their toes and makes them look forward to rolling.

This is a great book and an easy 5/5 for me. I look forward to playing it, I look forward to running it and I hope to see more of this setting in future Green Ronin works. My only regret is I do not yet own a hardcover copy of this book

Get this game if you want: -A good fantasy game that creates a more immersive setting than the standard fare -To see the AGE rules at their best and perhaps use them for another work -a game that favours investment from the players and heroic adventure -representation of LGBTQ characters as a common thing in an rpg

  • to basically be playing the princess bride meets lord of the rings


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy
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