RPG Review - Outremer
Outremer: A Dream of What Could Have Been
by Flying Mice Games, written by the under-capitalized clash bowley and his ingenious friend Albert Bailey. Published in 2011, 296pp
TLDR: 4 out of 5 for a very fun game, a clever and interesting setting, and some nice bells and whistles.
Outremer is an alternate history/fantasy game that re-imagines what might have happened if the second crusade into the Holy Land had been less disastrous and the crusader states had lasted into the renaissance.
I was first exposed to this game many years ago when Clash ran a great session of it at a con in Montreal. The mechanics and the setting push all the right buttons for me, so naturally I bought it. I've skimmed it many times, but never actually read it cover-to-cover until now.
Introduction (14 pages) establishes the setting as an alternative timeline and follows the logical progression of historical events from the time of the second crusade in 1147 to the ascension of Elizabeth I in England in 1558
Creating your Association (19 pages) jumps right into the nuts and bolts of the setting by getting you started creating a reason for your characters to work together by putting them in association with one another. Are they members of a private club? an arcane mercenary company? a scholarly society? an arm of the church? This section contain a number of evocative tables to help you establish your place in the world and flesh out your hangout and resources. This is like building the covenant in Ars Magica.
Character Generation (66 pages) goes through all the nuts and bolts of character creation, with a particular amount of detail on 'path' characters - those who practice or have access to the 'paths of power' - i.e. magic. Character creation follows a lifepath system that takes you from youth to maturity across several 'careers', which means characters can be focused or multifaceted based on their pas experiences. There are probably some 2-dozen mature careers here, including spies, tinkers, turcopoles, poets, priests, knights, pirates, performers, fencers, herbalists, barber-surgeons, and apothecaries.
The path options are pure gold, and great setting material. You can play half-angels, half-djinns, immortals, esotericists, magi, minstrels, crusaders and ghazi, kabbalists, mechanists, sorcerers, oracles, dervishes, snake charmers, mystics, and faqih (islamic law masters).
Skills and Traits (12 pages) lists the many skills. There are a lot of them, but skills in this game don't limit what you do, so much as enhance what you do, so each character only gets a small subset of what's available.
Religion (20 pages) gives an overview of the main religions in the game. This is pure setting (maybe even pure history) to help GMs and characters think like an Ourtemerian. There are no mechanics here.
Adventure Generator and NPCs (20pp) contain some toolboxes for generating adventures and adversaries. Again, more tables.
Magic (6 pages) gives rules for magic in the game. The placement of this chapter before the explanation of the core rules is a little odd and confusing, as many terms are used which we haven't been introduced to yet. Here we learn that this is a 'Blood Games II' game, though the significance of that is not explained.
Playing Starpool (11 pages) This is the rules section. What is starpool? Sir not explained in this book. This is the core mechanic that Bowley has chosen to run the system, first developed for his Starcluster game, hence the name. Is this a Bloodgames II game, or a Starcluster game? Son of sir not explained in this book. Doesn't really matter, though - the lineage of the game has no bearing on the reading or playing of the game.
Starpool is a super easy D20 dice pool system. The idea is to roll a number of D20 dice equal to your skill+1, and get a number of successes equal to or under your attributes. I've played it - it's fun (assuming you like trad systems, as I do). And it's a good thing it's simple, because some of the subsystems in this chapter are not terribly well explained. For example, under initiative, it says "Players may trade dice with Resolution" which is capitalized, suggesting it's a defined term. But it's not defined anywhere, or even used elsewhere. In the example to the side, the word 'Chance' is used instead of 'Resolution', but that's not defined anywhere either. There are also a few references to SF elements here (unless they do have Plasteel armour in Outremer) that suggest this chapter was copied and pasted here without a thorough look over. This chapter really could have used a good edit by someone less familiar with the rules.
But that said, there's no flaw in here that the average gamer can't surmount.
Creatures and the Spirit World (26 pages) Essentially the Outremer bestiary, and more or less what you'd expect.
Weapons and Equipment (16 pages) mostly lists of things you can obtain. This game doesn't count cash, but weighs your lifestyle against access to things, which I quite like.
**The Nations of Outremer (46 pages) **This describes all the kingdoms and principalities in brief, with their basic political outlook. It's pretty bare bones and consistent with the tool box approach. I would have liked to see more plot hooks baked into the section, however, maybe with some evocative detail, like "the tomb of Sir Rollo of Nicosia can be found here, who was said to have found the toe of Bar Kochba." but Clash mostly leaves that kind of detail to the invention of GMs - which for many people will be a feature!
The Military Orders (8 pages) Another short section and, like religion, is mostly setting/history to help round things out.
**Game Mastering (4 pages) **A very short section in which Clash talks about how he's played the game to success, and speaks specifically to the structuring of scenarios and campaigns.
Appendices, Etc.. This contains some optional rules (Commando-style actions, plot points, active defense, and troupe style play), lists of names, lists o titles, , an index, character sheets and work sheets, and an essay on the food of the period by contributors Sally and Rachel Abravanel.
I love this setting to bits, and the mechanics are a lot of fun, so I'm very happy to have this in my collection. This is definitely a game I can see myself running one day. I'm glad I finally read it - I find it very inspiring. As an RPG product compared to all the others on the market, potential buyers should know that this isn't a slick production. Flying Mice Games is basically a one man show and all the art, maps, design, and layout are by that one guy - and he's not equally good at everything. The layout is functional and designed for reference over reading. The illustrations evoke the setting, but are not the thing that's going to sell you on the book. The writing is generally clear - the organization a little less so at times. But the game is mechanically sound, fun to play, and has a wonderfully evocative setting - and those are really the things that count, aren't they? 4 out of 5 stars.