Forbidden Lands – Your Characters

The first thing that strikes me on reading the chapter on character generation is a similarity with Symbaroum – humans are portrayed as the invaders. When I started playing these games, the fantasy trope was of humankind threatened by the “other” be it dark Lords, orcish hordes or whatever. There may be something clever to say here, about the American concept of Manifest Destiny, and post-colonial European guilt, but it’s too early in the morning to get my head around that.

Let’s stick to the simple things. The races or “Kin” players can chose for their character are human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, halfling, wolfkin, orc, and goblin. Most of these are par for the fantasy RPG course. Traveller’s Vargyr make an appearance as the Wolfkin (ie wolf-men rather than werewolves), relatively rare in other fantasy rulesets. Orcs or half-orcs are common PC’s in F20 games, but there are no half-orcs here. The goblins are an interesting addition, though I am sure you can play goblins in D&D, it’s not one the basic options in the players handbook. This games take on goblins is an interesting one too – goblins are the “dark” brothers of the halflings. Not that there isn’t a pretty dark side behind the halfling smiles, which comes out in their description.

Indeed each description is very much from the point of view of that Kin, and to read most of them it’s hard to believe anyone would co-operate with another Kin enough to form a functioning party. But you have to remember, these PCs are rogues and outcasts from their own societies, and will have to get along with each other to survive. You also get an idea that each kin’s story is their own foundation myth – elves dwarves and orcs all blame each other for failing to keep the invading humans in their place. Somewhere between all their legends might lie the truth.

Then you get to chose a profession. Your profession doesn’t limit your character development as much as a D&D except in one way – you can never learn another profession’s unique talents. But there is nothing stopping you learning their skills, as long as you spend the XP. Your choice of profession then allows you to start with some skills that you are good at – every profession has a list of thee skills that you can start at up to rank three. All the rest you choose can only start at rank one. How many points do you get o allocate? Well, that depends … Every PC except elves get to choose whether they are young, adult or old. Elves (not half-elves) are ageless, and so are all adult. Your age determines how many points you get to spend on attributes and skills. Young PCs get the most attributes points and fewest skill points. The older you are, the more talents you get too.

This a quick and easy character generation system, but they mention an optional method of randomly generating a character in the separate pamphlet named Legends & Adventurers, “if you want to spend more time”. I am not convinced it would take more time. I find most of the time spent in modern point-buy systems like this is in reading all the options. Rolling the dice takes that time away, you can read about what you have created later.

Anyhow, however you have chosen your kin and profession, and allocated your points it’s time to choose a pride and a dark secret. Your pride has a mechanical effect, once per session if you fail a roll related to your pride, you can roll an extra d12, with an extra 50/50 chance of success. Your dark secret is a hook for the GM to narratively mess with you, but if it comes up in the story you get an extra XP.

You need define to your relationships with the rest of the party. This sometimes feels a bit clunky to me, and in Coriolis, I have suggested to my latest party that they don’t need to do so until after a couple of sessions. I guess in Coriolis you can change the nature of the relationships, but in this game it’s made explicit:

After the end of a game session, you are free to redefine your relationships to the other PCs as you see fit.

You can similarly change your dark secret if you so desire.

Your profession itemises some gear that you have, and a number of things you can pick from the equipment list. You also get a small amount of money, and can spend that if you desire. And some consumables like food and water. But beware, the game has a simple but potentially punishing encumbrance mechanic. Encumbrance is a thing I have hand-waved in pretty much every game that’s had it. But not this one, which at its heart is a wilderness survival game. This system is maths free and easy to check. So it WILL be used, and woe betide the character that ventures into the desert over encumbered. With the wilderness survival theme in mind, the game uses resource usage dice, which I first saw in Cortex+ Firefly, but many credit to the Black Hack for consumables. The intention is to make resource tracking easy and pleasurable, and to add risk to expeditions without adding accountancy.

Finally players are prompted to describe their character and choose a name. There’s a nice little feature earlier in the chapter to help with this – each Kin has male and female name suggestions, and every profession has nickname suggestions. So together your Wolfkin Druid might be Kekoa Windwalker. Or if he is a fighter, Kekoa Grimjaw. A lot of what I have been reading makes me think of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series of novels, but nothing more so than the Rogue nickname Half-finger. (“Still alive…”)

Then we move on to Experience and Reputation. The XP cost of advancement is a lot more demanding than in Coriolis. In that game, each skill level costs just five points. In this version of the system, it’s five times the level you are aiming for, so mov8mg from level two to three costs fifteen points! Talents are generally cheaper, with a multiple of only three times the rank. Except magic – if you can’t find a teacher, the cost is tripled again!

There are narrative costs for other talents and skill too. For example:

Learning a new skill (at skill level 1) costs 5 XP. Also, you must either have used the skill and succeeded (without skill level) during the session, or be instructed by a teacher (at skill level 1 or more) during a Quarter Day.

The reputation mechanic looks better than the sledgehammer-nutcracker version in Coriolis. Young characters have zero reputation, old characters two. Those are the dice you roll to see if anyone recognises you (which makes me think that perhaps young characters don’t get a nickname until they have earned it, like the Northmen in the First Law books). Deeds you do, good or bad may earn you another point. Your Reputation may well impact Manipulate rolls just like they do in Coriolis, but in this game, the bonus will be well deserved.

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