View Full Version : Colonial Gothic Review (Revised Edition)

11-08-2009, 09:43 PM
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Colonial Gothic is a pseudo-historical roleplaying game created by Rogue Games (http://www.rogue-games.net/) and set in 1776 at the dawn of the American Revolution. The players will find themselves in a time where war is brewing and secret societies are manipulating events for their own sinister purposes. Magic and mythology merge with both the horror of the supernatural and the evils of man himself in this unique and intriguing RPG.

The System
The core engine of Colonial Gothic is a light-weight, skill-based system known as 12 degree, which uses two twelve-sided dice exclusively to resolve all actions in the game. The mechanics are simple: roll two twelve sided dice and if the total is equal to or less than the target number needed, then the action succeeds. Target numbers are based on the character’s skill level (1-12) plus his related attribute (1-12) modified by the difficulty of the task, which ranges from "Instinctive (+6)" to "Impossible (-6)." Appropriate to its name, every "degree" of success below the target number improves the results. This system allows for fast paced play. It doesn't try or purport to be a simulationist game, preferring to concentrate on the story and atmosphere of the setting and allow the rules to fade into the background as much as possible.

The game also features some cinematic options for players, allowing the player to choose "Fate Cards," which are special elements of the character’s background or personality. Fate cards help the player by giving him the opportunity to use "Faith Points" to better his chances of success and pull of amazing feats when confronted by a challenge that has to do with something in his background, and it cues the GM in on the types of stories the player is interested in. More interestingly, these fate cards can even be used by the player to weave in elements of his background into the current story, which gives the player the opportunity to participate more collaboratively with the GM in the storytelling process.

The Artwork
The book is almost entirely illustrated with period woodcut images which complement the setting perfectly. In fact, after reading through the book, I would dare say that more modern, full color art would probably not have been as successful at setting the right tone. Only in a few scant sections will you find non-period images, such as the "Monsters" chapter, and the artists do a good job of keeping with the overall style, although you will almost certainly be able to spot the non-period art hiding amongst the rest of the older style woodcuts.

The Setting
The world of Colonial Gothic is set more than two hundred years in our past at the dawn of the American Revolution. The game assumes by default a sort of secret history. Everything that history records as having happened does happen, but there is a hidden story concealed between the pages of the history books. In Colonial Gothic, we find secret and often sinister societies working from the shadows, and stories of ghosts and dark magic which are rooted in truth. Mages work sometimes subtle and often dangerous magic that have left history filled with unexplained mysteries, and creatures that are spoken of in legend lurk in the dark of night, hungry and waiting. Meanwhile, an all-out war between the colonies and Britain is about to erupt. It is no wonder that the authors chose this period to explore. The possibilities for adventure are limitless.

Of course, the biggest impediment to running a game like Colonial Gothic would be the sheer amount of information the game master might feel compelled to absorb to get the historical details right. Fortunately, the authors have done a lot of work upfront for you. The core rulebook goes a long way toward compiling and giving you the absolute essentials for running a game set during the American Revolution, including crucial details about the colonies, religious sects, politics, the economy and even what traveling between colonies was like. This is, in fact, the first RPG book that I have ever read that actually has a bibliography in the back of the book – and a rather extensive one at that. It was this attention to detail and all of the research the authors did putting this together which really make this book such an enjoyable read.

Nonetheless, the background provided in the core rulebook merely scratches the surface. Unless you are a history buff, you are going to have to be willing to fudge quite a bit or do a lot of research into the sections of history that you’ll be using in your game. This is really unavoidable considering the sheer amount of information there is to be had about the revolutionary period. Fortunately, there is a plethora of splat material (aka. history books) readily available both for free on the internet and at your local library to help you along. It's also important to note that while the book does a good job at setting the right mood for a secret society game, it leaves the particulars largely up to the game master. (I have not read it yet, but if you're looking for more inspiration for secret societies of the revolutionary period, Colonial Gothic: Secrets is probably a must have.)

My Thoughts
This is a game where history finally gets interesting. The world of Colonial Gothic is far and away from the dry history of yesteryear that you may remember from your high school days. It drips from the pages with tales of dark magic and even darker, more sinister plots. It is set in a world that is about to witness a war which will have a profound effect on everything that comes after it. The period of the American Revolution and the wild and untamed nature that surrounds and threatens to overtake the colonies is rife with storytelling possibilities. The core book leaves a lot untold, but it is a game that has an awesome premise and a lot of potential to be a springboard for your own stories of horror and suspense.

(As an aside, I really enjoyed the short story tucked between the chapters! And what a fitting end for a horror story, I might add.)

What to hear more about Colonial Gothic? Check out these articles:

P&PG GenCon '09 - Interview with Richard Iorio II
P&PG Member Review by Korhal23