Monday, March 26, 2018

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures: Review

Pitched as "a zero-prep OSR roleplaying game you can play in an afternoon," Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures has quickly become one of my go-to games to run. Even better, with the addition of the Further Afield supplement, it goes to a game perfect for a no-prep one-shot to a game well suited to a low prep on-going campaign. First, though, why pick up Beyond the Wall?

  • Easy to understand rule-set, that captures the feeling of AD&D with lots of the fidgety bits and rougher edges sanded off. Almost all the rules a player needs are summarized in a half-page as part of their playbook. Speaking of the playbooks...
  • Innovative, evocative and easy-to-complete character creation. With 40 (FORTY) playbooks, almost all of which you can get for free in printable PDF format, there's no shortage of player character options. Named perfectly, each playbook title provides it's own summation of what a character will be much better than "Fighter" or "Arcane Trickster". A few of my favorites include.
    • The Assistant Beast Keeper
    • The Future Warlord
    • The Nobleman's Wild Daughter
    • The Reformed Bully
    • The Would-Be Knight
    • The Village Bear
  • But not only do the playbooks walk a player through character step-by-step with 7 tables to roll randomly on or choose options from, Beyond the Wall uses those same tables to have the players (and gamemaster) collaboratively create the party's home village, generating locations, NPCs and ties between the PCs. (You can hear how that all comes together by listening to the Session Zero of our Antagonist Relations Beyond the Wall actual play podcast).
  • The scenario packs for one shot games are well-designed, no-prep and tie into the playbooks well. The GM adds to the pre-made tables with NPCs and locations created by the players, which means that the PCs start with investments in the plot (You can hear how that ties in by listening to my Lonely Fun Beyond the Wall setup podcast episode.)  This means that the PCs aren't just going to random NPC A for information or hearing about weird location B for the first time in some block text, but that they feel like they helped shape the NPCs and locations that come up in play.
  • Each scenario also features helpful suggestions and sample monsters to use during play, making them easy to use at the table.
  • There are a few things that might throw some people off though...
    • It's definitely low magic, Fireball is a 5th level ritual that takes 5 hours to cast.
    • It has AD&D inspired saving throws that you have to roll above and ability checks where you need to roll below your ability score. (There are optional rules to avoid these in the book, but the assumption is the more OSR style).
    • It's not built for players who want to created highly customized, min/maxed characters or strange combinations. The playbooks definitely focus more on character history than unusual class and race combinations. Also, while there are options for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes and Halflings, Humans are decidedly the default.
Still, it is well worth picking up if you have any interest in having an easy to pick up and play, old school feeling system that's perfect for one-shots. And if you want to hear more about what Further Afield adds, click here to see my review of that supplement (spoiler, I like it just as much).

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