The name’s Davenport. I review games.
So the other day my buddy Scotty the Dwarf came by for a visit to my office. Thing is, he ditched his usual grimy armor and battle axe for some really fancy new duds and one serious hand cannon. What gives, I wanted to know?
“Laddie, today I’m here to talk to ye about Grimmgard,” he says. “In Grimmgard, I’m one of the Dwarven. We’re the sophisticated, amiable types. Got damned fine technology, too.”
“So you aren’t the short-tempered ones?” I says.
“Don’t start, laddie…” he says.
“Well, if you’re the sophisticated fellas, where does that leave the Elves?” I says.
“No Elves,” he says. “But there are Ogres, and Beastfolk, and these wee mushroom gnomes, and a lot more besides. And they have all sorts o’ technology, from airships and trains to plasma rifles and teleporters.”
“Sounds good,” I says. “I’ll get to it shortly.”
“I’m warnin’ ye, laddie…”
Grimmgard presents a fantasy world with some odd twists and turns, largely in terms of technology. Where most of the world sits at a Medieval tech level, various species possess wonders like steam power, airships, trains, battle armor, massive force fields, anti-gravity craft, telepathy devices, and even nuclear fission. The book doesn’t do a very convincing job of explaining what keeps the more advanced species from running roughshod over their less advanced brethren, but the gonzo mix definitely appeals to me. (Curiously, while there are man-portable cannons and flame throwers, nobody has come up with basic firearms.)
Unlike many fantasy settings, Grimmgard offers three distinct ages in which to set your campaigns. In the first, the Annihilation Age, the forces of Chaos rise in an attempt to destroy the Order-spawned world. In the second, the Winter Age, a magical ice age covers the land while the wicked sorcerous Ever-King conquers the Human kingdoms. In the third, the Garden Age, the land faces invasion by the advanced Tyreans from across the sea.
The game features a number of races to play:
- Humans: Noteworthy because they aren’t a “baseline” race, the Humans have their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of attributes. Humans may come from five very different cultures. Most sorcerers are Human, as are all alchemists.
- Dwarven: Like the typical fantasy dwarves, the Dwarven are short, stocky, and good with machines. The similarities end there, as the Dwarven are a sophisticated lot, more charismatic than they are physically tough.
- Cloven: Inquisitive, endlessly optimistic, and quite adorable little mushroom gnomes.
- Beastmen: Anthropomorphic animal people of numerous sorts. The game includes several example species and a do-it-yourself system for making almost any sort of Beastman you can imagine.
- Wolfkin: Actually a variety of Beastmen, the Wolfkin warrant special mention due to their dominance of the wilds and their use of Thundertech, allowing them to throw lightning bolts and teleport.
- Mazigorns: Red-skinned, horned, and fanged, these bloodthirsty creatures glorify bloodshed and thrive on the flesh of those motivated by hatred. Not an easy race to play as a “good guy”.
- Ogres: Unlike the other Grimmgard races, these guys are pretty much what you’d expect: big, dumb, strong brutes.
- Scarrlok: Comical and savage but industrious amphibious goblinoid creatures, they go from being mostly slaves to the terrors of the seas in submersible ships.
In addition, the game offers details on Greater Races as options for those wanting to play a higher-powered campaign:
- Angelics: Basically angels created as emissaries of Order, unusual in that their powers rely on super-technology.
- Phoenixes: Not really a separate race so much as a group of extraordinary powerful individuals of many races who are periodically reborn in a fiery conflagration.
- Merulans: Massive, horrifying, tentacled Mermen who jealously guard the oceans and their attractive, flirtatious Mermaid brides.
- Cetuns: Human/Merulan crossbreeds, cursed with a thirst for the blood of their terrestrial kin.
- Tyreans: Purple pointy-eared tyrannical humanoids from across the sea possessing advanced technology in the form of anti-gravity, fission reactors, and telepathic mind-control devices. They only really make sense as spies in the Garden Age, and well-disguised spies at that.
Grimmgard includes a detailed travelogue of the world and the ways to get around it, including airships, mounts (both terrestrial and winged), and the massive Dwarven train. This section includes stats for various encounters possible, both in specific regions and anywhere on land, sea, or air.
The game also features a whole chapter dedicated to Chaos, with some sample creatures and a monster generator for creating more — a welcome addition.
Grimmgard uses GrimmgardD6 (a.k.a. GD6), based on the D6 System originally seen in the Star Wars RPG from West End Games — basically, an attribute + skill system based on additive d6 dice pools. (You can read my review of that game here.) GD6 introduces a few twists, however.
The attributes are Dexterity, Strength, Knowledge, Charisma, Cunning, and Craft, each with their own list of fairly broad associated skills. For perspective, melee combat is divided into Heavy Weapons (two-handed) and Light Weapons (one-handed). As I tend to favor generalized skills, this is a plus in my book.
At the beginning of every adventure, characters start with 1d6 Luck points. These may be spent to:
- Re-roll any number of dice.
- May a “lucky shot” rather than rolling for a hit location.
- Make a declaration about the current situation to give the PC an advantage.
- Discover a weapon if caught unarmed.
I’m always in favor of this sort of mechanic, so this goes in the “plus” column as well.
In “standard” D6, one die is the “Wild Die” and open-ends. In Grimmgard, this is replaced with the Luck Die. If the Luck Die comes up six, the player rolls again. If it comes up six again, the character gains a Luck point. If the Luck Die comes up one, the player rolls again. If the Luck Die comes up one again, the character loses a Luck point.
I like this idea conceptually, as it makes expressions of good luck something that the player makes happen rather than the random outcome of the Wild Die in other D6-based games. On the other hand, it looks like a lot of extra dice-rolling to produce the desired effect.
Characters also have a rating called Heart, reflecting their morality. An act of profound goodness adds 1 Heart, while an act of great evil subtracts 1 Heart. For every +/-10 Heart, the character gains Feat Point worth an additional D6 for every 10 Heart on a single skill roll (i.e., a Feat Point earned at +30 or -30 Heart would be worth 3D6). I appreciate the way this makes morality matter tangibly in the game.
A bit confusingly, Grimmgard refers to selecting a “class” as part of character creation. In truth, these are more akin to templates for character types common to the setting, suggesting the two primary attributes and three primary skills for these sorts of characters.
Race determines the number of extra dice that may be applied to attributes. Humans, for example, get 10D6 attribute dice. Players then assign 8D6 to divide among their characters’ skills. Easy enough.
One of the most noteworthy distinctions between GD6 and the standard D6 system is the Battle Throw. This is an initiative roll based on the combatant’s combined Dexterity and Strength. Between two combatants, the one with the higher Battle Throw each round is the only one who gets to attack.
I get what the author was going for here, but I think some method of reflecting momentum during combat would have been preferable. As it is, this makes very large, strong creatures almost unassailable, even by ranged attacks. I think I’d discard this mechanic for a more conventional means of determining initiative.
Damage is rated in terms of Injury level and Pain level. Injury and Pain levels rise together, and Pain level is what other games might call the wound penalty to actions; however, at the end of each round of combat, characters get to make a Grit skill roll to “shrug off” some or all of their current Pain level. Therefore, Injury and Pain are tracked separately. Once again, I’d rather not have the extra dice rolling involved here, but I do like the concept.
I also like the concept of Horror damage that the game includes. The GM pits a creature’s Horror dice against the target character’s Willpower skill. If the Horror roll wins, the target suffers a random Horror Effect — minor if the Horror won by 0-9, major if it won by more.
The section includes relatively simple rules for warfare, featuring stats for various units of troops as well as for siege engines and warships of the sea and air.
Equipment warrants a special mention in this game. Rather that a simple list of products for sale, Grimmgard includes the requirements for crafting the items, the difficulties of crafting items of four levels of quality, and the stats for an item at each level. It’s an interesting approach that I haven’t seen before.
The section includes information on Magecraft, the ability to brew magic potions, with 15 example potions given. This is a big deal, as Magecraft is one of the main advantages Humans possess over other races.
“True Sorcery” is the game’s term for spellcasting. To access it, a player must sacrifice one of the character’s Attribute Dice and must spend double the Skill Point cost to improve their chosen Art, of which there are eight:
- Elemental Sorcery: The power to manipulate a single element beyond just the four usual suspects of air, earth, fire, and water. Other substances such as wood and iron are also possibilities.
- Chaos Sorcery: A corrupting, destructive power based on all manner of negative emotions.
- Divine Sorcery: The power of life.
- Elder Sorcery: The power of Order.
- Macabre Sorcery: The power of decay and death.
- Mazigoric Sorcery: The power of fear, anger, and hate.
- Odic Sorcery: The power of the heavens.
- Feeric Sorcery: The power of luck and good fortune.
Sorcerers can learn only two Arts — three, if one of them is Chaos Sorcery.
The spells under each Art are known as “enchantments,” and each Art has several of them. The number varies quite a bit: Chaos Sorcery has seven, for example, while Elemental Sorcery has only two. In addition, some (but not all) Arts offer a “Valdechant” (master enchantment) to Sorcerers who attain 7D in the relevant Art.
(As a nice touch, each enchantment includes the magic words required to cast it.)
All of this adds up to sorcerers who are fairly limited in the scope of their powers. Whether that’s a good thing depends upon your tastes, I suppose. I should point out one oddity: Some enchantments don’t require a roll at all, meaning that the sorcerer’s level in the associated Art is irrelevant.
The book could use better organization. Stats for creating characters of the various races are found at the far end of the book from the character creation rules, for example. Stats for creatures are scattered here and there throughout the travelogue. And equipment is divided between the actual equipment section and the sections for equipment specific to individual races. So, if you want stats for an owl, you’ll have to know that they’re native to the Northern Woods. The lack of an index doesn’t help matters, although the table of contents is fairly thorough.
On the other hand, the art is very good. The images of vehicles are stunning, for example, and some of the pictures of creatures are downright creepy.
I enjoyed the writing, which makes the many details of this setting easy to follow. The good layout helps with this readability, and I noted very few typos.
It’s an intriguing fantasy world unafraid to think outside of the box, and with a tried-and-true system. If you want a setting that’s different from your standard fantasy world without being totally alien, and if you’d like to play in this world with a system that’s both totally serviceable and easy to use, you could do worse than giving Grimmgard a try.