I ‘received’ a copy of Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö. It is a finnish tabletop roleplaying game book co-written by my old friend. I decided to read the book through, and give it as uncompromising assesment as possible. So without further ado: My thoughts on Bliaron – The Legacy of Kalthans, a modern finnish indie roleplaying game.
The book is in hardcover, blue with golden adornment. The front cover is stylized, with only the name and the subtitle, but it does not evoke anything specific. What is Bliaron? Who are the Kalthans? What actually is this book? The back cover reveals more information. Based on the blurb, it is a fantasy roleplaying game about magic in a harsh and sparsely populated land, Bliaron. The players are apparently mages and can craft all kinds of spells, but the purpose is not elaborated. To fight the evil Sahens, who control the usage of magic with an iron fist, perhaps? The text, and the whole book, is written in finnish. It’s a political decision which I will not delve in. Suffice to say that I’m sceptical about the market for a (relatively) expensive finnish roleplaying game book.
Onto the contents itself! The book introduces us to roleplaying in a typical d20/storyteller/d6 fashion: What is roleplaying, how is it done, what is the role of players and the Game Master, an example of play etcetera. So far so standard. But then we are immediately plunged into the rules. About ten full black-and-white pages of explanatory rules text. After that is character creation. As I understand, the general convention is to first have character creation chapters, and after that the rules. I would like to know the reason for the decision to have rules up front, since the rules have no framework around them, making it a tad disheartening to read and understand them. Having a ‘Do this and you’re ready to play!’-chapter would have been nice.
The rules themselves? I was actually surprised by them. Bliaron has the typical Attribute-and-Skill-setup, but instead of having both numbers just add up, it treats them differently. In skill checks, the character’s Attribute (Strength, Dexterity, Charisma and so forth) defines the number of d10’s the player rolls, and Skill (Acrobatics, Concentration, Speech…) adds a bonus to the highest one. The result is compared to a difficulty number, and higher one is a success. The system requires little arithmetic and having skill matters in a different way than just being strong/fast/intelligent. High Skill means that you won’t get low results and high Attributes gives better chance to score higher results. I like the dynamic; It makes the characters and situations varied.
Most of the rules are quite abstract and easy to improvise, which (probably) enable speedy roleplaying without being bogged down. The whole noncombat skill check system is explained in three pages. Combat simulation, however, has seven pages of text. This catched my eye. Since combat situations are defined in greater detail, does the game assume a lot of fighting? Based on my vague knowledge on the motives of the writers, the game’s focus should be on roleplaying and discovering magical skills. While I agree that situations where the character’s death is imminent should have clear structure, I think that a game’s rules should support the game’s main theme. Having detailed combat rules brings about the temptation to use them. To dissuade players from unnecessary bloodshed, I would probably condense combat into a single skill check, with a gradual success threshold. (Example: Difficulty is 6. Rolling 6 means you win barely and will probably have to tend to your bruises and cuts, 9 means you emerge victorious and without damage at all, 4 means you escape slaughter with a deep gash in your arm and without your weapon, 2 means you get to see your ancestors today.)
Also, an important point: The most important rule in the game is written in the introduction, rather in the rules: ”Following the rules is suggested especially in the beginning, but as playing the game becomes more familiar, they can be freely changed and evolved”. The typical ‘in the end these rules are just guidelines to fun’-message is important to emphasize, for it enables the most literal-minded among us to consider house ruling or winging, rather than looking up every obscure detail in the book. Like some overtly curious game designers.
The character creation chapter is well-defined, and every step is explained in adequate detail. Though I would like for a summary of the mechanical aspects: The allocatable starting points and whatnot are written inside the text blocks, making hunting them a tedious task. A minor note: The world is not elaborated very well so far, so the reader must skip ahead to get inspirations for his character. The problem is alleviated by having a Game Master helping in the process, though.
Then comes the setting. History, Magic, etc.. Most of the text concerns the setting, which I am not the right person to analyze. Suffice to say that I would explore it mostly out of curiosity, and only if someone would explain. However, for some unknown reason the entire rule set for magic is hidden between descriptions of magic and mage organisations. Seeing as the players are most likely mages, I would be more interested in it and it’s application rather than endless pages of history and culture. The magic system should be immidiately after the basic skill check rules, before combat, so the rules would also reinforce the focus on magic.
The magic rules themselves are a bit more detailed than the basic rules, but still manageable. In short, you can add effects and magnitude to your spell by making the appropriate skill check harder. But I will say that the text is unfocused, many concepts are explained only way after they are introduced and everything really needs a summary. Everything is in big, reader-unfriendly blocks of text which must be completely absorbed to be understood.
The magic is followed by magic group descriptions and creature statistics. And in the back of the bus are campaign ideas and help with GM:ing. I liked the campaign ideas, for they make the setting concrete and give the GM (and players) an idea of what the game is going to be about. I don’t know how, but that section should really be highlighted somehow. I won’t analyze the art or the rest, since I have no expertice and I know the creators were working with a budget and probably couldn’t do anything about it.
To summarize my thoughts:
+ The rules system is intriguing and wonderfully light, and probably supports the intended playing experience. The Attribute/Skill-dynamic is a refreshing change from the usual fare.
– The formatting is clumsy and makes forming a coherent image of the whole difficult.