Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Review: Return of the Woodland Warriors

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Return of the Woodland Warriors is a fantasy game inspired by animal tales. The protagonists are anthropomorphic animals, heroes and protectors of the Abbey. They go on Quests to protect the weak, save the innocent, and punish the unjust. It is a fairly light-hearted game in tone, simple in design, building on well-trodden traditions. This review makes no comparisons to the original edition of the game (published in 2011).

System Summary
  • The game only uses six-sided dice. The core resolution mechanic is 1d + modifiers vs. target number (usually 5).
  • Attributes are the usual six in the usual range, although the modifiers are really low (because each +1 is huge).
  • Wealth is also treated as an attribute (and thus it is quite abstract).
  • Available races (called Kind; contrasted with other races called Vermin) are the following: Badger, Dormouse, Hare, Hedgehog, Moe, Mouse, Otter, Raccoon, and Squirrel. Each modifies attributes by a few points and provides special abilities.
  • Available classes are the following: Friar (adventurous monks; basically clerics), Scout (trackers and pathfinders), Talespinner (storytellers and bards; no spells but cool abilities), Warrior (the usual abilities), Wayfarer (travellers with monk-like abilities), Wizard (magic-users), and Woodwise (druids with spellcasting and shapechanging).
  • Two additional classes (the magician-like Trickster and the sneaky Rogue) are also presented as NPC classes.
  • Initiative is handled by comparing Dexterity scores. Attack rolls are made as DEX tests (some classes adding some bonus to it) against the target's Defence Class. Damage is reduced by Armour Points.
  • At negative HP, there is a 1-in-6 chance of dying per combat round.
  • Magic is Vancian, except for Tricksters.
  • Characters receive Quest Points as they improve in levels that can be spent to gain bonuses to a roll, make a re-roll, heeal some damage, or save the character from a fatal blow.
  • Levelling is based on the number of Quests completed.
Things I Liked
  • the core of the system is explained on the first page
  • a list of thematically appropriate names are provided
  • Wealth and class together determine starting equipment
  • it is explicitly stated that most class abilities (considered skills in most games) may be attempted by other characters, too (albeit without the level-dependent class bonus)
  • advancement is capped at level 6 (I like levels but I don't like huge gaps in power between novice and veteran characters)
  • encumbrance is determined by the number of "things" carried (I am quite enamoured by these abstracted encumbrance systems)
  • the game considers a lot of typical combat-related situations and offers very simple mechanical support (but mostly just advice)
  • instead of horses, characters ride lizards
  • terrain-based random encounter tables, distinguishing between common and rare creatures
  • the whole thing (except some trademarks and the trade dress of the work) is Open Game Content
Things I Disliked
  • no proofreader or editor is credited (and it sadly shows)
  • no bookmarks or hyperlinks in the PDF
  • starting equipment lists are provided for the rich Wealth rating, but that is unattainable at character creation (unless the +1 per level is also applicable, in which case the broke Wealth rating is the one no one can get)
  • the spell lists are pretty uninspired (it's the standard list, so it's usable; I just wanted something more thematic)
  • lack of example magic items (the guidelines are useful but not enough)
  • the words somecreature and no-beast sound charming at first, but they turned annoying pretty fast

The default setting is not particularly fantastic in nature (by new wave OSR standards, that is), but it presents a simple mini-setting suitable for the game that includes all of its major elements (Stonewell Abbey is a detailed homebase, the Alder Vale presents plenty of opportunities for wholesome fun, while Greyrock Isle is perfect for starting a rebellion against its oppressive ruler). What I found really good about it were the adventure seeds in separate boxes (nine for the Alder Vale and eleven more for the Greyrock Isle area).

There is a sample adventure (big plus!), although it's fairly simple: a variant of the classic caravan-guard railroad (if there were inspiring set pieces, I would definitely let it slide, but sadly it is not the case). The final conflict is rather open-ended, but there is very little meat to it. The advice given is pretty good if you are a beginner referee, I suppose. I would have appreciated specific guidelines (and maybe lists or random tables) to help devise thematically appropriate Quests in general (although one can easily model their own creations based on the adventure seeds presented in the setting description).

Return of the Woodland Warriors was designed by Simon Washbourne and published in 2017 through his imprint, Beyond Belief Games. It is available in PDF at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, and in paperback format through Lulu.

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