A Review of Green Ronin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game
By David Munger
In October, Green Ronin Publishing plans to release a new pen-and-paper fantasy roleplaying product, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. Based on George R.R. Martin’s popular epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, it brings the densely populated world of Westeros to life, complete with the knightly combat and courtly intrigue that fans of the books have come to know and love.
Dave Munger recently steered a group of players through the game’s quick-start rules and preview adventure released earlier this year by Green Ronin. Read on to find out all about this unique rule system, and how it played out on a test drive.
In October, venerable games publisher Green Ronin plans to release a pen-and-paper role playing system based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. Earlier this year they released a rules system preview booklet which included a brief introductory adventure. I got my hands on a copy of this preview on Free RPG day, and tried out the included adventure scenario with some of the regulars at my local gaming store.
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying delivers a setting that fans of the novels would expect – a world where magic is quite rare, and in which humanity is its own greatest enemy. The novels are loosely inspired by the Wars of the Roses, and succession wars, on an epic scale, are very much in the narrative’s foreground. Courtly intrigue, feudal politics, and aspects of knighthood including grand tournaments also have a strong presence. Because the material can only be based on what we have seen so far in the novel series, it looks as if the primary story conflicts in the game will result mostly from the connivings and passions of other human beings. There are hints of some great supernatural power waiting in the wings in Martin’s novels, and long term readers also know that dragons have returned and are maturing under the care of an exiled queen in the lands to the East of Westeros. It will be interesting to see how these factors are represented in the upcoming game materials.
The preview game presents what look like significant portions of the game mechanic; enough to get an idea of what will make this game tick. While there are no rules for character generation, six pre-generated characters are included for use with the introductory adventure. The rules for skill and combat mechanics seem fairly complete, as do the rules for the game’s unique “intrigue” mechanics.
Most of the game mechanic is familiar enough that a moderately-experienced RPG player will be able to pick it up quickly. Rules are explained well enough that a player new to role-playing games should be able to get started while learning the finer points of the rules during play.
Tests are resolved using a d6 dice-pooling mechanic. There aren’t the 4 to 6 core characteristics which most role play systems call “abilities.” Instead, Ice and Fire has a collection of what, in other systems, are traditionally represented by skills, powers, and perhaps feats and advantages. Some of the abilities are Agility, Awareness, Deception, Fighting, Marksmanship, Healing, Persuasion, and Knowledge. A character can have specialties within these abilities. For example, a character can have a skill level in Fighting, with a bonus for a specialty in Axes.
Ice and Fire‘s Intrigue component allows a player to use something other than combat or other physical skills to influence a situation or reach a goal. While most role-playing systems resolve situations with persuasion, diplomacy, seduction, and so forth with simple skill tests, Ice and Fire’s Intrigue rules present an entirely self-contained, combat-like mechanic involving game rounds, and even initiative tests. Characters have attitudes and dispositions which function somewhat like armor and health. Enough options are presented that employing Intrigue to accomplish a goal is an appealing and fun alternative. At first, such in-system handling of what is traditionally considered an opportunity for off-the-cuff role playing between players may seem too heavily mechanical for some. However we found that having a system for Intrigue invited us to turn to Intrigue as an equal alternative to combat, and it seemed to encourage more role play than usual.
While the Intrigue rules definitely offer something unique and fresh to the role-playing experience, the combat mechanics are just as solid. In fact, in some regards, the combat rules are a bit more nuanced than a typical RPG system’s. There are plenty of tactical choices and maneuvers, and an interesting approach to weapons: A weapon can be specialized for mounted use, or to be used at short range, or to shatter or pierce, and other options as well.
During play, our group found both combat and intrigue mechanics to be equally engaging and fun, and they flowed smoothly from one to the other. In fact, one of the Intrigue actions is “switch to combat:” When negotiations start to go south, a character can stop talking and draw a sword. Similarly, a confrontation can just as quickly switch from trading blows to trading barbs. Patrick found no trouble in making a character with no combat skills relevant to a conflict in which he simply interposed himself, for he persuaded the combatants to stand down and convinced a bandit to provide information. At the same time, Wiktor, a very tactical player, enjoyed watching the role play between the other characters, but found plenty of combat tactics to explore when fighting broke out.
While impressively detailed and well-thought-out, the introductory rules and adventure are not without their rough edges. The Intrigue system is a fresh and enjoyable concept, but the way the rules are written in the preview makes them seem a little overly complex, and not terrifically intuitive. It wasn’t always clear how to resolve certain portions of the Intrigue steps. In the forums on Green Ronin’s site there is some general agreement that the player characters seem a little overpowered compared to the bandits. We didn’t notice this in our session because we found ourselves so interested in Intrigue that we only pursued about one quarter of our conflicts with combat.
In general, our group enjoyed playing the adventure, liked many of the unique aspects of the rules system, and enjoyed the Intrigue rules. Most of us agreed that we will be interested to see the full rules once they are published. I was impressed enough with the game that I will likely try out a campaign.
All in all, A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying offers an unusual combination of strong tactical rules plus deep and engaging role play mechanics, together in a well-thought-out setting worthy of the spirit of George Martin’s novels. If the rough edges we saw in the preview are worked out in the final, published rules, then I’m sure it will be a game I’ll enjoy.
More information about the game is available on Green Ronin’s site: http://greenronin.com/sifrp/. At the time of this writing, the preview rules and scenario were available on Green Ronin’s site as a free PDF file. Thanks to Games Plus in Mt. Prospect, IL, for hosting the event, and to players Aaron Marra, Kimberly and Patrick McAlpine, and Wiktor Szafranski.