As has been our way, whenever a publisher comes to us and asks us to review a product, assuming it’s in our wheelhouse, we do it. This week, we have another opportunity to do so. We were approached by Magnus Hansen to take a look and do a review on his product: Red Rook Revolt. Funded on Kickstarter on March 3, 2020, the campaign offered PDF rewards as well as an option for a coupon code for an at-cost Print on Demand copy (in much the same way as the LowLife 2090 Kickstarter we backed). For this review, we were gifted a copy of the PDF by the author.
Production and Manufacturing
The PDF of Red Rook Revolt we received is a single-sheet formatted document of 125 pages. The artwork is consistent and, while simple, moderately thematic in a way that adds to the presentation. The layout and font choice makes the content readable and reasonably easy on the eyes. Interior to the PDF, the Table of Contents is linked to the appropriate pages in the book, but the file itself, in a PDF viewer, does not have any bookmarking at all, one of my biggest pet peeves. Not doing this makes using the PDF very frustrating for me personally.
Red Rook Revolt is quite a bit different than other games we have on our shelf (both virtual and physical). While this game is absolutely a role-playing game, in my estimation, it carries with it in its pedigree some elements and inspiration from fantasy tabletop board games as well such as the Dungeons & Dragons games and Descent: Journeys in the Dark. The game itself is a very narrow setting. You play rebels that are fighting an oppressive regime using dark magic and firepower. Not only that, this is the only play choice in the game. What really narrows the setting down for me, however, is the campaign concept. With a fairly detailed map, the idea is that your rebels go on missions in order to recapture/free cities in the land. According to the book:
“This game assumes that you’ll capture a city with almost every mission. You’ll need to capture five cities before you can assault the capital and lead the revolution to triumph.”Red Rook Revolt, p. 76
On reading the game, I did not notice anything that suggested that one mission was equivalent to one session, but if it is, you’re looking at 6 (maybe 7 if you take two to do the capital) sessions and you’re done with the campaign. If it’s two, you’re looking at 12 to 14 sessions. The latter is not “tiny”, but it is still more stringent than I’ve typically thought of a campaign being. The idea of capturing cities and using the map to plot it out very much reminds me of the “scripted” campaigns of the tabletop board games I mentioned previously. Obviously, there is much, much more opportunity for roleplay in this game, but for me at least, the association was there.
After the introduction, the first 34 pages discuss the setting of Red Rook Revolt; what’s been happening, who the power players are, how things work, and what the player characters are walking into. On reading this, I know a lot of people that would probably back away; not because it is poorly written or anything, because it isn’t. It would happen because this game is a roleplaying game about very specific themes using a very specific “campaign” to illustrate them. Rather than having a “generic” system that a GM can then refine down to such a game, the whole game revolves around those themes. I will state, for my part, this is NOT a bad thing. It is simply a design choice. Admittedly, it is one that will limit the interest in the game, but that does not make it inherently bad. Red Rook Revolt knows what it is, and more importantly probably, what it isn’t.
With the themes of the game being family, memory, connection, and the potential corruption of those, Red Rook Revolt attacks the mechanical issues of a roleplaying game in a way similar to FATE. A character is defined by Lines and Memories and how they feel about them. This immediately brought FATE’s Aspects to mind, the idea of using a narrative phrase/sentence to power a character concept and a mechanic rather than quantified attributes or skills. The basic mechanic of the game is the roll of a single d6 (which keeps it simple and broad-reaching – almost everyone has a d6 somewhere in their home). The result of this roll is read from an appropriate table; using combat as an example, perhaps an attack table or a defense table.
The dice roll can be modified in one of three ways. There can be a Modifier, such as using a Memory to modify a Challenge roll. Another player can lend a die by Aiding an Ally and the player keeps the higher of the two rolls. And the third is by using one of your Lines (this also felt very FATE to me – not a bad thing). In a format similar to games like Blades in the Dark,
“A game of Red Rook Revolt is divided into two kinds of time: missions and Downtime. Missions are what your characters do for the Red Rook Commune. They consist of a series of combat encounters, with non-combat challenges providing ways to affect those encounters before they start and tying them together into a coherent narrative.Red Rook Revolt, p. 76
“Downtime takes place between missions. During Downtime, Rooks return to their friends and family, lick their wounds, regroup, share in the spoils of war, and prepare for their next mission. It’s the time you heal, reconnect with your community, and care for your body and soul.
“If you fail your mission, you do not experience Downtime. Instead, you get tossed into a gruelling fight to defend the commune. These battles are called Barricade Fights.”
After the sections on the rules, there is one that discusses the campaign, followed by a section for the GM that contains some brief advice about running the game as well as some generic NPC’s with details that can be used on the fly. Following that is a section with some pre-generated characters to give the player (and the GM) an idea of what a fully built-out player character might look like and what kind of information the player is going to want to have at hand in order to successfully play the game as-written as one of these revolutionaries. Finally, I would also note that each section offers an introduction that has, what I believe the industry refers to as “splat fiction”, that gives flavor to the world and helps the reader begin immersion. These are reasonably well done, short (and thus, mostly unobtrusive as far as the book production goes), and worth the time to read them.
Having not actually played the game yet, there is quite a bit I can’t really comment on from a playability standpoint, however, there are a few critiques I would offer on the overall production. First, as I mentioned earlier: PDF Bookmarks. Please, if you are making a PDF for a game, and especially if your game is ONLY in PDF (or only in PDF at the moment), please have bookmarks in the PDF file itself. Make chapters/rules sections/highly used tables easy to find without having to remember page numbers or relative location to where one has to scan the book. Pretty please?
Second, and this is another pet peeve of mine, when you include splat fiction (and I like well-done splat fiction), make sure that you set it apart somehow visually from the rest of the text of your rulebook. The first time Joann looked at this particular game, she was confused because both the fiction and the rules are in the same size font, the same style font, and have the same bordering. When the text transitioned, she had to question the intent of the author and it made the reading difficult. While I did not have quite as difficult of a time with it, I can understand the problem. For clarity, it is a good idea to set apart fiction from rules text somehow other than simply with a header that looks like every other header in your book.
Third, while having filled out character sheets as examples is good, there is no blank character sheet for a player to fill out included in the book or in the purchase from DriveThruRPG. A rulebook for a TTRPG needs one, preferably one that is form-fillable if it is going to be in a PDF. Finally, as I was wandering the internet looking for supplemental information about this game, I noticed that no live plays of the game came up. I know for a fact that one of the ways that are fast becoming common for a GM or a player to learn how to play a game or even to make a buy/no-buy decision is to see the game played. With as many streams out there as there are, even though a lot of them are focused on the giants in the industry, there are still a lot of options to be able to stream a live play of this game that could then be advertised on the product page or a blog somewhere.
Red Rook Revolt is a TTRPG by Magnus Hansen that was funded by Kickstarter and is now available on DriveThruRPG for general consumption. The game is HIGHLY thematic and is likely not for everyone. However, if you are looking for a unique experience at the table that is different than what is commonly available (D&D, Pathfinder, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, etc…), and your players are willing to accept some heavy character limitations for the sake of the story, Red Rook Revolt might be a game for you to investigate. It is absolutely a different style of game than any we have looked at before and that may just be right up your alley. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles