Volant from Better Mousetrap Games was written by Clash Bowley with Levi Kornelsen and Klaxon Bowley. Clash is widely respected in the indie RPG scene, known for intelligent observations and comments that appear in articles or blog posts and for moderating the Roleplaying Games community on Google+.
You’ve a pick of systems when you download Volant – Kingdoms of Air and Stone. There are four alternate mechanic rule sets in the PDF; StarPool, StarZero, StarNova and StarWorm.
Volant is set in a strange world after a magical disaster. Once there had been two types of wizards; wizards of stone and wizards of living things. The Wizards of living things created hordes of monsters and then lost control. In response, the Wizards of stone cast the most powerful spell ever, one which burnt the seed of magic out of humanity forever. The Wizards of stone’ spell caused the mountains to float.
Civilised man now lives on these floating mountains and chunks of rock – in the skylands. They’ve domesticated giant birds and with their aid are able to fight off the few flying monsters that soar up from ground level to terrorise the floating settlements. Down below there are still humans but these hunter tribes aren’t civilised and share a dangerous world with the terrible monsters of earth.
Not all stone floats in Volant but plenty of it does – allowing everything from floating forts to ships to be built. Another characteristic of rock is that it’ll join with other rock when pulled together if given enough time. A wall will “heal” into a single piece over time and even two Regions of Skylands will merge into a single unit if pulled together with chains.
There is magic in the world too – despite the great spell of the Wizards of stone. Magic still lingers in plants and animals and can be untapped through the use of alchemy.
Volant – Kingdoms of Air and Stone is especially good for GMs and gamers who like to create their own sections of their world. The download has rules for creating your own Skylands, your own ships, your own riding birds and your own monsters.
If you’re not terribly fond of creating a lot of material just to get going with a game the Volant is equally useful as it begins with a series of optional tables that describe the Association the players belong to and that Association’s goals.
The role of Associations in the game – guilds, mercenary groups, traders, etc – mean that the gaming group needs to spend some time making decisions on (or just being aware of) issues like their headquarters, the warships and security forces available, etc. There’s a resource management challenge here for the players to get their teeth in to if the group wants and I suspect it’ll take some time to determine the merits and flaws of each decision. For example, I can see there being understandable debate whether Crossbowmen: Elite or Longbowmen: Standard (both costing 16) would be the best investment for the Association.
It seems hard to do without Associations in Volant. They come before Character Generation in the book and very much feel part of the strange floating world.
Character generation gives a number of options and template trees. I quite like template trees as a system as they show ambitious players what to aim for and make progression a less complex decision for those who overthink or struggle with the options. Volant also has a purely optional system for mutual meddling in chargen through the application of playing cards. It’s weird stuff and I imagine appeals only to those gamers who want to have entirely random chargen.
I really enjoyed Volant. It’s a fantastic world and range of systems to pick from for the resolution system is great. This is the StarCluster 4 system, drop-in resolution mechanics, that lets the GM pick the style that suits. StarNova is quite gritty, StarZero tends to round the bell curve, StarPool is cinematic with short combat and StarWorm modifies StarPool further.
The biggest challenge I had with Volant was the layout. I’m quite used to reading PDFs on screen – in fact, in most cases I’m now reading my RPGs on a 7” device like a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. I didn’t really get comfortable with Volant – Kingdoms of Air and Stone until after I printed all 284 pages out and put them in a ring binder. In particular, I need the pages double-sided and facing each that. That’s the combination that brought the layout to life. Also, to be honest, Volant feels like the sort of clever indie RPG that deserves to be played old school and almost in secret. I’m quite fond of my battered Volant folder now. I’ve not had this many pages punched and sorted since GURPS games of years ago.
Overall? I think Volant speaks to gamers with certain expectations. If you know your gamer group is quite willing to try something different, doesn’t need to chase Tolkien inspired adventures and has the habit of discussing game design or story then Volant will appeal to you. It’s different but it’s good different.
Disclaimer: This is not a playtest review. Volant is available at DriveThru RPG.