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MIDDENARDE - PART 5
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MIDDENARDE - PART 4
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[#] MIDDENARDE - PART 1
09:52pm EST - 12/12/2016
Middenarde



So, while waiting for the Kult revamp/remake/restart to release, as well as waiting for Desborough to release his Gor RPG which someone made me promise to review, someone actually contacted me, wanting me to look over their Kickstarted RPG before finalizing the final draft sometime around Christmas and releasing. So keep in mind, hopefully what I critique is exactly what the author will fix... though I have my doubts, since my issues with the game are somewhat fundamental. The Kickstarter promises:



Footsoldiers Kickstarter posted:

Foot Soldiers is a low-fantasy, high-mortality game of medieval strife. A pen & paper RPG system set in England in the 1450s, Foot Soldiers challenges you to take the role of a peasant or a commoner, someone without riches or fame to their name, and bring them to greatness, or die trying. Foot Soldiers tells the stories of real adventurers, people who aren't exceptionally gifted or exceptionally lucky, but still have to make a living. Some of them end up as the skeletons that always litter the floor of dungeons. Others survive, but bearing the marks of their trials, missing limbs and scars. They are ordinary people, like you and me, trying to leave their mark on the harsh and divided landscape.



Classless: In Foot Soldiers, you are not typecast. Like in real life, what you are good at is what you pursue, and no two characters must end up alike.



Statless: Human beings are not defined by statistics, but the strength of their initiative, the skills they hone, and the favor of God. Simply put, there is no system of several physical and mental attributes (Strength, Endurance, Charisma, etc.) that govern a character's ability.



Accurate: The book includes a detailed description of the setting, written by a British archeologist, and the equipment is accurate to the time period.



...



In Foot Soldiers, you are not what we consider "the hero." Characters in Foot Soldiers have no plot armor. Every violent encounter is a brush with death. A weapon is a weapon, intended to maim and kill, and even the unskilled can deal serious damage to an unlucky foe.



This is very much unlike what I'd normally be interested in, so I can hardly be considered an entirely dispassionate and objective reviewer, but I'm going to give it a shot. Straight off the bat, though, it's giving me some serious Fantasy Wargaming flashbacks, which is a bad thing(also you should go read that review if you haven't before, I find it consistently entertaining). I'm going to go through the RPG as I read it, rather than going all the way through it first, to give a genuine first-impression as far as possible. So, let's begin!



1 - INTRODUCTION









The text is separate from the actual art in the .PDF, so I'll probably end up copying them separately when they overlap, to show off the art better.



To give the game fair credit, something that I absolutely cannot fault is the art. It's competently done, the style is great, so far I haven't seen any Magical Realm-esque content and... for once it's just nice to review something with art that wasn't made in fucking Poser or was screenshotted from a bad ninja anime. Unfortunately, the rest of the .PDF isn't quite as visually pleasing. There's art separating the chapters, and that's it, the only prettification that the rest gets is a black-and-white border.







It's a functional layout, but really boring, and the large text size also annoys me when the game moves on to listing stuff like skills, since it means more flipping through the book. I'm just generally not a fan, but, that's about all I can comment on with regards to the presentation, let's move on to the substance. As you may have noted, there's a quote on that page, in the upper right. Every chapter starts with a quote, usually from someone that can be called a philosopher of some sort(there's a Sartre one next, for instance), and it just feels really, really 90's. Like in a bad way, not in a funny, B-movie way, just: "I thought we had tried this enough and realized it was a bad idea. Why are you still doing it?"-90's.



You may also note that there's a suggested order to read the book in at the bottom of that first page(or, well, third page, after the cover and the index)... the book is NOT organized in that order. In fact, it's organized almost the reverse of that. It recommends reading the character creation second to last, but instead the character creation is immediately after the introduction and glossary. So why not just organize the book that way rather than forcing the player to flip back and forth? I'm going to ignore this recommended reading order thoroughly.



Then we move on to the subsections present at the start of most RPG's. "What is an RPG?" and "What's the theme of this RPG?" Normally I'd ignore the former and just breeze through the latter, but in this case, I'm going to actually check them out, because they're a bit different from the standard in terms of content.



What Is Roleplaying? posted:

Middenarde is a Role-Playing Game, abbreviated as RPG, wherein players create “characters” meant to be real people within the fictional setting of the game, and attempt to step into the “role” of those characters. One player is the host, most commonly referred to as the Game Master, who does not play a single character but rather controls the world and the story that other players react to. The process of pretending to be a character in a fictional world and reacting to fictional events as that character would is called “roleplaying.”



For one thing, I've never seen this written so patronizingly, with such a massive assumption that the player is retarded and just picked up the book at random, expecting it to be, I don't know, about accounting or something instead.



What Is Middenarde? posted:

It is and it isn’t. Many RPG systems emphasize “heroic fantasy,” which focuses on stories with an epic scale, typically featuring heroes with superhuman powers, battling grand forces of unquestionable evil, going on quests, and delving into ancient ruins. They are frequently beyond the laws of the land, looked up to by its populace, and relied upon to solve crises. Even fledgling heroes are typically more powerful than fathomable by most human beings, and the course of their experience is a straightforward path from relative rags to unimaginable riches. The only thing heroic fantasy characters have to worry about is where the next adventure is and how to spend their newfound wealth.



Middenarde, on the other hand, is designed to be “low fantasy.” The characters in Middenarde begin their journeys without much fortune, and their upward mobility is difficult and hazardous. There is no definite end to a character’s experience in Middenarde, except of course death, but even the most experienced characters are not wildly super-powered.



And it's always kind of sad when an RPG starts off by taking these petty shots at other RPG's, suggesting that they're not deep, that they're pitiful power fantasies or whatever.



What Is Middenarde? posted:

Middenarde is also designed to be “high mortality.” Mortality is defined as “the state or condition of being subject to death.” In heroic fantasy, characters rarely die. When they do, it iseither because they got in way over their heads, or their deaths serve to move the story forward in some way. They have what is commonly called “plot armor,” which means that the plot of the story protects them from harm unless it is dramatically appropriate for them to be hurt, and they frequently escape from dangerous situations and violent battles with hardly a mark on them.



It keeps on like that for another full page or so and pretty much instantly blows any good faith or good will the game had garnered from the excellent cover art.



What Is Middenarde? posted:

Middenarde is a low-fantasy, high-mortality game, so it may not appeal to people who are averse to death, or are only interested in playing powerful and awesome characters.



Don't play this if you're one of those fun-having scrubs, guys. Then there's the glossary, FIVE PAGES of it. I feel like if you have a five-page glossary, either you're terrible at explaining terms in the actual text, or you just have way too many non-standard terms you made up to feel special when, instead, you could've just used some more generally accepted term for something.





Let's have some more of the art. It's nice.



2 - CHARACTER CREATION



In what's pretty much standard-issue terrible formatting, this game drops character creation on us earlier in the book than the rules, meaning that unless we jump to the back and read the later sections first(though to be fair, the book does suggest we do that), we have no actual idea what the impact of any of our chargen choices are, except in the most general sense. We're also greeted by YET MORE HARPING ON about how we're going to die face-down in the fucking mud five feet off our doorstep.



STOP HAVING FUN posted:

In Middenarde, no characters are intended to be “heroes” at their inception. In fact, most characters will not even be the master of their own destiny, and will have to struggle for their very survival. It’s likely that no one outside of their family and close friends even knows who they are or will remember them when they are gone. Therefore, when you envision your character, you should imagine someone who is at the very beginning of the journey that will define them as a person.



...



Imagine them as the seeds that will eventually grow into a sturdy plant. Of course, there is much competition among flora, and few seeds planted actually grow to fruition.



I mean seriously! This is just getting beyond the fucking point of parody now. "You're going to die horribly and no one will miss you! Also my metaphors are painful and superfluous!" This also introduces a link to an online character sheet that we can use to set up our character, that's not too bad, though it does reveal some worrying hints of what's to come, such as grittily-detailed HP, split up over eleven separate body parts, like Right Foot(Major) and Right Foot(Minor). It isn't exactly Eoris, nothing quite that bad, but if your game prides itself on being high-mortality, then shouldn't the sheet be similarly simple, so that if Bob the Baker gets killed by a squirrel or a house cat, I can rapidly generate Carl the Clown to replace him? And then Dan the Dirtfarmer after that?



In any case, at level 1, we get a single skill point, we get to decide whether we're right or left-handed and we 31 pence(though, bafflingly, the shorthand for pence in the book is consistently d. So we'd be starting with 31d). 25 of these have to be spent on a single "heirloom" item, though, and any of them not spent is lost, for largely incomprehensible reasons. The example character gets a weapon that isn't garbage, a shirt, some pants and some hardtack. Flipping ahead to the equipment section, there are literally prices and stats for different types of shoes, for loincloths, aprons and wimples. Holy shit. Literally ALL you can afford outside of your shirt and pants is your single "heirloom item," so try to avoid starting off unarmed or something like that. Jesus.



The next section is to tell us that the example character dies after getting ten level-ups and being "stabbed by a thief." That sure is an exciting life for "Jason Baker," the example character. Makes me eager to tread in his footsteps! There are, thankfully, also rules for not being a dirtfarmer that dies just past the doorstep. But the game warns us before using these...



Starting At Higher Levels posted:

Don’t start at too high a level, though; it’s counter to the spirit of Middenarde to begin with too much wealth and power.



Good thing the author's here to tell me what me and my players should enjoy doing with his game. What a jackass.



3 - SKILLS





So, to do anything in this game, we roll a 3d6 and attempt to pass an arbitrary TN set by the GM to succeed. This is pretty simple. To help us do some of these things, we have skills, in which we can have ranks. Nothing REQUIRES ranks to be attempted, ranks are just straight +1's to the roll. We get one of these +1's starting off. Some "skills" are also just passive bonuses to stuff like damage, blocking and armor.



Difficulty posted:

On a 3d6, you can only roll a number from 3 to 18, and your chance to roll a 10 or an 11 is significantly higher than your chance of rolling a 3 or an 18. However, a Difficulty Check may be lower than 4 if there is no chance of failure unless the person is hindered in some way.







A Difficulty Check may also be higher than 18 if someone without the skill has no chance whatsoever of succeeding, but someone with experience might. For example, on a DC 25 task, someone with 10 ranks in the skill would have a 9.26% chance of success, but someone with no ranks in the skill would have a 0% chance of success. Additionally, a DC 19 task may be impossible for one person with no experience, but two people with no experience may work together to achieve a 0.46% chance of success.



So, a couple of things that get me here. Firstly, why is there even a TN for something you can't fail at? Shouldn't you just straight up succeed at that? Is he expecting people to roll for all of this shit? Secondly, thanks for listing out some random, pointless, percentage odds. Maybe you should, say, provide a table of those odds? Like Godlike does? That would help people have a genuine idea of their skill level, and give the GM a genuine idea on how to set TN's to hit certain odds, at least roughly. And after that little pointless aside on probabilities, we're straight into the skill list. Which ends with an overview of skills, rather than starting with it, and the massive text size means there's barely space for two skills on a page at once.



In an attempt at helping us play the game, each skill has examples of what would be considered Easy, Intermediate and Hard challenges for it. It's not a bad idea, but in practice it... raises some questions.



Acrobatics posted:

Easy: Walking a sturdy log across a stream.

Intermediate: Navigating the ceiling beams of a building.

Hard: Crossing a wide gap between buildings, using a chandelier to swing between platforms.



I mean, again, why are you making anyone roll for walking across a log over a stream? That's the sort of thing I'd only even consider rolling for if it had been a really calm session, so I could pretend at some drama and we could all have a laugh over how Edith the Elk-Herder managed to avoid having her trouser leg soaked. I'm going to skip some of these skills, because a lot of them are pretty standard(though quite a few of them overlap, for instance, we need both Investigation and Visual Acuity, but for some reason there's no Auditory Acuity, and there's both Animal Handling and Riding, there's three different negotiating skills, Psychology, Influence and Mercantile, you've got both Healing and Bandaging as separate skills, etc.), and just going to get to the ones that baffle or annoy me.



Attunement posted:

This skill is used in sensing and manipulating the supernatural. There is plenty of mystery in the world. In the Middle Ages, much was unknown, and superstition was rampant. Because Middenarde takes both the real history of the world and the beliefs of the time as seriously as possible (being what is called ‘low fantasy’), it is assumed within reason that they were all true.



Easy: Identifying the purpose of a potion.

Intermediate: Sensing the presence of a magical item in the room.

Hard: Casting a spell from a scroll with Craft: Literature (Runes).



Like this. This skill and its accompanying flavour text raise SO MANY questions. It's supposed to be based on Middle Ages myth, assuming that most of its real "within reason"(what does that even fucking MEAN). Is the Orlando Furioso real? Norse Myth? Arthurian Legend? Slavic folklore? You can't just drop that in there. And then you've got shit like "casting spells from scrolls," pretty sure that's nowhere in Middle Ages myth, instead being present only in fantasy RPG's for the most part. And I mean, what can I sense, exactly? Can I use it to spot ghosts? Fairies? Do I generally get to use it to manipulate any magical item, like an old witch's crystal ball? Baba Yaga's hut?



Cleverness posted:

The all-around ability to figure things out, especially when your character should be able to but the player may not. The skill may be used to solve a challenging riddle when enough hints have been presented, draw connections between seemingly unrelated pieces of data, or understand when the odds are not in your favor. It’s best used to keep the campaign going at an even pace or to prevent players from making exceedingly poor decisions.



Easy: Understanding that a pit of bubbling green liquid is deadly acid.

Intermediate: Remembering an element of your training, resisting a temptation.

Hard: Identifying Norman architecture from a book you read ten years ago.



Willpower posted:

This skill governs one’s force of will. The ability to resist temptation, the urge to survive, and the strength of one’s conviction are all measures of Willpower.



Ah yes, those BUBBLING GREEN PITS OF ACID, so prevalent both in myth and historical Europe! I'd also like to note that this says its used for "resisting temptation." Willpower, it has basically the exact same description, except that Willpower is just a passive skill(i.e. a static number, there's no mention of what it's used for here in the skills chapter, whether it increases some other value or just matters on its own), while cleverness is something actually rolled.



Concentration posted:

Easy: Solving a crossword puzzle.

Intermediate: Reading a scroll while dodging sword swings.

Hard: Wriggling out of your bonds underwater.



There's also Concentration, which is basically just a weird skill to even have, in that it's straight-up: "If you fail this, and you're stressed, you don't get to do that other skill you wanted to use." Instead of just applying a penalty to the other skill's roll due to the stressful circumstance. Why add a separate skill check? These examples are also weird. The Hard and Intermediate examples suggest what stress levels will require a check(drowning and dodging sword swings, respectively), while the Easy one doesn't, unless solving crossword puzzles just makes the author's adrenaline start pumping, veins in his head throbbing and excitement making it hard to think of anything other than what 11 Across could possibly be.



The Craft skill, which, like usual, is split up into multiple sub-categories, just in case a player wants to be a master wainwright or something. But one of the categories...



Craft:Exotic posted:

In general, anything that isn’t covered here or anything that may be from another time period, assuming the character has the appropriate knowledge to create such a thing.



This just seems like an excuse to get into an argument with your GM about what knowledge is necessary to craft an AK-47. The closest thing the game has to a "knowledge" skill would be other craft specialties, or Cleverness, so if you want to do this by RAW, there aren't really a lot of ways for the GM to limit player knowledge without demanding they roll one of those. There also seems to be no specific skill for MAKING magical items, so I guess Craft:Exotic is also the skill if you want to make Excalibur. Just generally seems like the sort of skill that's a warning sign if any player has it. There are already craft categories for everything INTENDED to be in the game, so why is this one even there?



At this point I'd also like to point out that there are some passive skills, which I haven't been noting, because they're very dull, that give a +1 for every two skill levels. Considering that you only get ONE skill point per level-up, that just seems like a great big old "fuck you" to having any sort of fun. Enjoy spending your entire level gaining a big, fat, nothing.



There's a skill ENTIRELY for using ropes, "Fettering." And a skill entirely for escaping from bonds and traps, "Escape Artist." Those two certainly couldn't have just been rolled into one skill or been made part of something else. Madness. The passive skill Heft which does nothing but increasing your carrying limit, in case you wanted to be the party's mule, tasked with just carrying piles and piles of shit for the rest. Probably the safest occupation in the game, really, since "carrying stuff" doesn't seem to have a skill check you can fail(Heft is also one of the skills that can be advanced in infinitely, there's no skill check for lifting stuff, and XP gains are just tied to "sessions" rather than to actually accomplishing anything, though GM's are advised to offer more XP for accomplishing cool stuff. So nothing's really preventing a given character from eventually being able to lift and carry anything). Investigation is also a weird skill, since it includes both straight-up spotting stuff, and also getting information for people, which seems more like it should have been under one of the three social interaction skills.



Influence posted:

The ability to convince others to do things your way is affected by this skill. Note that it has limits; for instance, no amount of smooth-talking will convince a servant to let a dirty peasant into the lord’s manor without good cause, and people will not betray their loyalties or ideologies. Each day’s worth of pay offered along with this skill adds a +1 bonus. All Influence checks involve at least an idea of what you might say to accomplish your goal; charisma requires substance.



So, in Middenarde, you can only convince people to do what they already want to do or are likely to do, and while you need good arguments to get them to do anything at all, better arguments won't result in bonuses, only money will, and everyone who can be influenced, will also be influenced better by more money. It won't make anyone suspicious at all that they're being offered huge amounts of cash for what seems like a petty task, or offend them when someone tries to bribe them, it's a universal constant. Similarly, you can negotiate with anyone, even if you don't know their language, though it means you're likely to get worse prices.



Blocking, Disarming and doing more damage with Brutality are general passive skills, work for every weapon. Perform, however, the ability to play musical instruments, something which the game in fact straight-out says is a waste of your skill points, is carefully specialized by instrument. There's ALSO a separate skill for actually specializing in a weapon, though. Also in keeping with historical realism, you can invest in Stoneskin which just passively makes you better at shrugging off people straight-up wailing away on you.



Survival posted:

This skill governs the kinds of activities you need to do to stay alive; the basic skills of any outdoorsman, like starting fires. This skill can also allow you to get the bare minimum of food and water you need to survive in the wild, if you roll successfully each time you need them. However, these meagre meals have a DC of 15 for malnutrition. It’s impossible to eat like a king on nuts and berries, no matter how good you are.



Ahhh, yes, rolling to avoid scurvy, the true, exciting depths of an RPG, and fits in well alongside all those mythical heroes of Europe that we're going to be including. I remember that time Merlin got dysentery. Swimming doesn't actually say what the penalties for failure are, they can't be getting dunked under water, because you have to make a swimming check whenever you try to dive and then stay under water, too... how do you fail at diving underwater? Do you become magically bouyant and IMMUNE to drowning? Technically, if the generic answer to "you fail" is that "the opposite of what you're trying to do, happens," this seems to suggest that the safest thing to do if you're a bad swimmer is to keep trying to dive, because then you'll never end up underwater(I actually asked the creator and he confirmed that, yes, attempting to dive and failing would result in staying on the surface.).



So, how's the system doing on those promises after three chapters? Classless, sure, but characters get so few points to customize with that they're basically all clones. Statless? Ha fucking ha, they still have stats, just more defined by their equipment than their character. Accurate? Fucking pffffffffffft.



BUBBLING GREEN PITS OF ACID



And there's still another 150 pages of this. I can't wait to get to the combat rules.

~PurpleXVI

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