Ann Arbor Game Day
Shadows of Esteren
Elevator Pitch: Ravenloft meets Call of Cthulu set in a fantasy Ireland version of Game of Thrones.
Core Resolution Mechanic: 1d10 + Modifiers vs. Target Number
Dice Used: 1 d10
Old stories tell of a time when the peninsula of Tri-Kazel was ruled by the Feondas, monstrous beings that defy all understanding, while humans huddled together in the darkness for protection. Legends say that humans who learned to speak to the spirits of the world and use them to harness the power of nature, calling themselves demothren, eventually helped drive back the creatures, sealing away the most powerful, and giving humans dominion over the land.
On the peninsula, three kingdoms emerged, eventually united under the same crown. But when outsiders arrived, braving the impossible passes of the mountains to the north and the brutal, largely considered unnavigable waters of the seas around it, the ancient alliance splintered. Now Gwidre follows the Religion of the One God, and the Temple views the Demothren as outdated and superstitious relics. In Reizh, the ways of Magience bring modernization to its great cities, protecting them from the outbreaks of plague and the like that still occur elsewhere, but the mining process that extracts the Flux that powers their wondrous devices wreaks havoc on the land when done recklessly. Taol-Kaer holds most closely to the old ways, but it remains precariously balanced between the three extremes. It stood with Reizh when it went to war with Gwidre, but that alliance is threatened by growing anti-magientist sentiment.
Even as the great human kingdoms squabble and build monuments to their own cultures, the vast wilderness of Tri-Kazel remains a constant threat; beyond the harsh land itself and wild fauna which have little love for intruders into their territories or the threat of bandits and partisans of various factions looking to gather intelligence for their kingdoms who would leave no witnesses of their espionage, sometimes it’s whispered that old threats still lurk in the dark places of the land. Deaths are blamed on the feondas, but their existence is hard to confirm; was that a monster or a beast? Are the murders plaguing a town the work of a demon or just a madman? None can truly say what lurks in the shadows of the world of Esteren . . .
Players rank their characters’ aptitudes in the 5 ways from 1-5 (higher being “better”). These are sort of like attributes in other systems, but represent the character’s personality more than gross physical/mental capacities. They’re also double-edged: for instance a character with Way of Combativeness 5 is very pugnatious and good at direct conflicts, but is also going to have trouble if asked to compromise as she’s also obstinate.
Characters then have ratings in Domains, which are a set of branching skills: they start narrow, but after reaching a certain rating branch into more granular subskills such that a character who’s good at Close Combat is generally proficient at anything therein, but might be especially good at particular subsets of the thing.
Finally, characters may have Advantages that grant them particular benefits or Disadvantages that work agaisnt them; these represent things like having an Ally or being Beautiful.
Actions are resolved by adding a Way and Domain to a d10 roll (plus anything granted by an advantage) and comparing it to a difficulty threshold. In combat, the difference between the total and the defense becomes the damage inflicted; characters have fairly small health pools, with death-spiraling consequences, making conflicts brutal and deadly. Characters have a small pool of Survival Points to draw on, but they are by no means safe from the dangers of Tri-Kazel. The traumas of the harsh world can also take their toll on a character’s sanity . . .
Many characters are armsmen of some sort; all three countries have martial service requirements of some kind, which pays off in the dangerous lands they inhabit. Some characters might practice Magience, gaining wondrous devices powered by Flux, a substance whose properties vary based on what it was extracted from (in the case of living sources, killing them). Others might perform Miracles granted to them by their faith in the One God of the Temple. Or perhaps know some of the old ways of the Demothren, allowing them to summon up power from nature. Some might be varigals, members of an old order of messengers who brave the wilds.
Loch Varn (Book 0. Prologue)
An investigation of the ruins of an abandoned magientist’s laboratory reveals dark secrets from the past, as the players struggle to recover their own minds and memories. A very unusual scenario, told partly in flashbacks and without chronological coherence. Prepare for a weird ride through a dark story.
Getting the Game
You can get the free PDF of the full version of Book 0 Prologue from DriveThruRPG which contains a quickstart version of the rules. Note that this is the book the scenario we’ll be playing is from, so please don’t read it!
You can buy PDFs for Book 1 Universe and Book 2 Travels on DriveThruRPG as well