Scimitar Roleplaying (scim1),
Lance and Crown Games, 184 pages, 6.50

'Scimitar Roleplaying' is the first roleplaying product for Scottish company, Lance and Crown Games, their previous endeavors having been in the writing and licensing of PBM games. The products are only available on CD as 'pdf' files to keep down the overheads, so access to a computer with CD-ROM drive, and copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader (v.4 supplied), is required.

'Scimitar Roleplaying' is the core 'book' for the game, detailing character generation, the core system mechanics and background for the world setting. At the outset the designer makes it clear that what they are attempting to offer is a game that is rules light, aiming to concentrate on roleplaying and involvement in the background world. The core of the system accomplishes its part, being fast and simple if lacking in sophistication. In the main, it consists of an open-ended roll involving 2, 6-sided dice, to each of which a player may add any applicable skill bonus. The results are then compared to a target number reflecting difficulty and decided by the GM to discover how well a character has succeeded. This system is modified slightly for opposed rolls where a character is competing against another, but basically means the character gaining the higher total is successful. There are some nice touches that do help to encourage roleplaying in some small measure. Players may augment rolls by using associated skills to boost the main skill for a task and Combat is split into 4 separate rolls: Initiative, Attack, Defense, Damage, where players may split their skill bonus amongst these to emphasise their particular fighting style. The system also uses a 'High Roll' where a player rolls 2, 6-sided dice and treats the values rolled as one of the 36 numbers from 11 to 66. Termed a 'percentage,' it is quite confusing at first, but is really only used for random number generation.

Character generation is also a simple and straight forward affair. Players generate values for 4 different Master attributes: Strength, Agility, Intellect and Presence. Each of these is then split into 2 Slave attributes, for instance Presence has both Appearance and Aura, Slave attributes. Players decide which of the Slave attributes to accentuate in each case as they wish. There are then some Derived attributes such as Hit Total. Skills are chosen as bundled packages called Skill Clusters. Players may have up to 5 skill clusters and must assign values to them indicating those currently favoured. Each cluster includes about a dozen or so skills related within a particular occupational field. One of these Skill Clusters is based on social status or race, but the rest may be chosen. Although not a new idea, it is proficiently handled here to give new players a good idea as to the history of their character as well as furnish them with a rounded set of skills. One thing that is striking is that if a character does not have the Combat skill cluster then they are very unlikely to have any weapon proficiencies at all. Since most tales of daring do usually involve some adversity and risk to life and limb, characters that cannot defend themselves may not last long. There seems to be an ongoing tie-in of the characters to their religion, although the actual religions themselves never seem to be that well explained, especially in terms of a social context. Characters may take a Faith attribute and the higher this is the more re-rolls they get to use during the course of a game for any dice rolls. This of course means that characters with high Faith and strong religious convictions are potentially more powerful than your average atheist. The fact that high Faith also ties a character into more, specific cult personality Traits does not seem to offset the advantage to any great extent. This seemed to be the weakest part of character generation, especially as overall the religious emphasis did not seem to be carred through. Finally there are some tables to generate childhood, family background, etc for the character and rather involved and complex seeming sign of the zodiac determination, which added some flavour but seemed out of keeping with the simplicity of the rest of the generation. This is rounded off with the usual lists of equipment costs as well as notes on currency and trade.

The next sections takes us through combat and then magic. Magic on the whole uses the same straight-forward system as the rest of skill use, but does seem to have both a greater level of depth and complexity not noticed elsewhere, including magical fumbles and ritual spell casting. On the whole magic is a step removed from banging off quick spells in combat. In fact over 30 pages of the document are devoted to various (over half a dozen) magic systems, though in a lot of cases this does seem to be just a list of spells. Some cursory discussion of magic items as well as the various different planes is also made.

For me, by far the most interesting part of the document was the 'appendices' in last half of the book. Here we start to get an insight into the game world background, Thaythorn, although I found that so much was covered here it all seemed have been done in a very cursory manner. But then Thaythorn is a very large place, encompassing a large subcontinent with numerous different kingdoms, empires, city states and wildernesses to explore. To start with there are a number of different PC templates, detailing the kinds of characters and the Skill Clusters they are likely to have in various locales. This also provided an overview of the kinds of people one would find in certain areas which would be very useful to any GM wishing to populate the world with 'reral' people. There then follows what amounts to the monster bestiary, although to be fair much of these are presented as more than just sword fodder, all be it very briefly. The next section is devoted to the history of Thaythorn up to present day and if a little dry in the presentation, does give a good overview for how things have got where they are.

The following descriptions of the various human ethnic groups is both useful and interesting, covering each in a little more detail and this is followed by a more indepth look at 8 non-human races for use as PCs. Apart from a few cosmetic tweaks, a recognisable Elf, Dwarf and Goblin race do appear. But there are some novel races such as the reptilian Cy Kell, the canine Yarinese and the insectoid Ythari. There is a greater level of detail given for these races than for a lot of other aspects of the game and the enthusiasm and thought that has gone into the created background world shows here. Religion is confined to a brief overview and paragraph or 2 on each of the gods. Finally we have a few maps of Thaythorn as a whole, detailing the basic physical and political layout, major towns and cities and also ley-lines. All servicable enough if a bit spartan in presentation. The finishing touches are a character sheet and a few pages of the tables most useful to a GM running the game, a helpful touch.

Whilst the presentation of 'Scimitar Roleplaying' is business-like and serviceable enough, it does appear slightly amateurish. There are some small spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that constantly re-occur, which coupled with the format, tend to undermine the game's legitimacy as a genuine product. The complete lack of any artwork throughout also emphasises this, and you begin to realise that a picture really is worth a thousand words. Given the format, perhaps the lack of artwork does make for easier use. Some colour art would have given the eye a focus and aided clarity. The layout is easy to follow and throughout the book sidebars provide relevant examples and a wealth of background snippets of information, from mercenary companies and magical organisations to key historical figures. The Pdf format can be annoying as one scrolls back and forth through it to find specific things, and I can see this being a major hinderance during gameplay; although the authors have endeavoured to utilise the format to some degree by making a clickable index at the start of the document that will take you directly to the relevant section. I would also have liked a proper index at the end of the document for use if one were to print it out as is suggested. Having said all that, getting around publishing and distribution problems through making the game available on an easily mailable medium is a very good idea, and certainly all credit is due to the Lance and Crown for their initiative, making Scimitar Roleplaying a real bargain for what it is.

Overall, one gets the feeling that, as the author states at the beginning of the document, this is a labour of love and a game and world that has been developed over the years through playing. There is a lot of information but it does seem to lack the depth that I am sure exists and am used to with products from the larger companies. It would have perhaps been better to have concentrated on a specific area of Thaythorn in more detail and left it's development to the numerous supplements promised at the end of the book. Scimitar Roleplaying then comes across as unpretentious and unintimidating, with a simple system and recognisable world full of potential to readily explore and develop, making it an excellent choice as a cheap and easy try to fantasy roleplaying game for any new players, as well as providing plenty of potential for more experienced gamers.




For plenty more news and reviews of all thats happening in the world of RPGing, try Valkyrie Quarterly independent roleplaying magazine. -UnclEvl