Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Mini-Review - Blood & Bronze

This one is another mini-review I originally wrote for EN World, slightly edited.

Disclaimer: I edited one of the adventure modules for the game (Across the White Marsh). Furthermore, the article uses affiliate links.

Blood & Bronze is a sword & sandal game by Cyclopean Games set in a mythic Mesopotamia. The players portray daring adventurers seeking gold and glory in a realm having just recovered from a cataclysmic flood, where monsters prowl the wilderness, resources are scarce, and the gods literally rest in ziggurats.

The setting is painted in loose strokes only. There is a pretty map (with hexes added to help measure distances), and a couple pages are dedicated to the cultures and people of the area, but it's all about providing a tonally consistent feel for the world rather than laying out precise details.

The system is a fusion of the old-school adventuring mindset and a more modern approach to rules. The mechanics are easily recognisable for most gamers (ability tests, damage rolls, saving throws, etc.); however, skills work more like Basic Moves in Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games, as they are available for all characters, and they sometimes offer choices (for instance, if Force is rolled, damage may be avoided if the target yields).

There are six classes (Mercenary, Rogue, Mystic, Desert Farer, Courtesan, and Seer) that come with unique ability choices and starting equipment. Magic is resource-based (lotus powder for Mystics and bone salt for Seers), and it is geared towards utility rather than firepower. Tests are rolled with a pool of six-siders (a handy probability chart is included to ensure clarity), whereas saves are made on a d20. Endurance is a combination of “hit points” and “encumbrance allowance”. Combat doesn’t require a grid, as distances are abstracted into zones. Advancement is based on offering wealth to a god or ruler (collectively called "covenants"), and it may provide advantages outside of one’s class abilities.

The rules are simple and generally worded clearly, and the layout is extremely good (there are a handful of typos, but they only hurt the text’s aesthetic value). Another strong point is how much advice is packed into the otherwise slim book detailing the responsibilities of referees and players (again, similarly to Agendas in PbtA games), how to get the maximum out of the light-weight system, and how to adjudicate situations where no clear rules apply (much of which is applicable to other games, too).

It is a complete game in the sense that character creation, the resolution mechanics, and a general description of the setting are included (the part of the rulebook that pertains to players is also available for free), although enemy stats can only be inferred from a sample random encounter table. There is a neat starting dungeon, Slave Pits of Sippar, while Wonders of the Wild describes a couple wilderness zones (mostly through unique random encounters) – both free. There are also a couple adventures released that you can even get in a bundle along with the core rules.

Blood & Bronze is probably not your game if you prefer tactically deep combat systems, carefully crafted character builds, or vanilla fantasy adventures. I recommend it to those who like loose rules and pulp fantasy, and those really into the DIY attitude, as many cool things are only hinted at (such as the potentials of the covenant-based advancement).