Game: Rune Stryders
Publisher: Politically Incorrect Games
Series: Rune Stryders
Review Dated: 19th, February 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Rune Stryders is a Politically Incorrect Games RPG from the creator of Ninja Burger. It’s a 242-paged PDF and frightfully cheap at around US$10.00. But wait; let’s just say you’re not a PDF fan and aren’t ever likely to be a PDF fan either; you want to hold a paper product and can’t be bothered with the electronic fuss. Rune Stryders is also available in paperback. Just pick the edition you want.
As you’ve guessed, this review is based on the PDF.
The Ninja Burger reference is likely to imply that Rune Stryders isn’t especially vanilla. If that’s your guess then you’re right. It’s true and one of this fantasy RPG’s strong points. We’re reminded in the author’s introduction what fantasy is all about. Traditionally a fantasy game is supposed to be about an alien land and unusual characters yet the “fantasy” RPGs we play have become all too familiar. Elves, dwarves, dragons and magic by memorised spells. He’s right. I agree. The questions are; what are you going to do about it and should you do anything about it? Mike Fiegil and the Politically Incorrect crew make no judgement on popular fantasy RPG models but they do present Rune Stryders as an alternative. There are no elves, dwarves or wizards in pointy hats here.
Rune Stryders is a nice blend of low fantasy and high magic. That combination isn’t necessarily a paradox of mutually exclusive terms. We have high magic; Rune Stryders are magically powered (by runes) war machines of stone, wood or exotic materials. We have low fantasy; the mundane dangers of politics, mistrust and hunger. In Rune Stryders you could play a street thief forced to steal for a living or you could play a heroic Rune Stryder pilot. You can see two Rune Stryders on the front cover; a steel cat against a humanoid tree. It’s not actually a Black Dog Stryder body, not a cat. If you get mecha vibes of the Rune Stryders then, well, you can flex the RPG in that direction too.
Rune Stryders is also a nice blend of systems. Let’s say you’re playing a young street thief who spends her time dodging alleyway cutthroats – you’ll want a melee combat and a conflict system. Well; you get that with every RPG. What if you’re playing the Rune Stryder and find yourself leading a squad of other Rune Stryders who are charged with defending the kingdom’s borders. War machines, kingdoms, border defensives… this is beginning to sound a little like a war game and Rune Stryders is able to cater to that too. A RPG-cum-wargame isn’t an entirely original idea but it certainly does help Rune Stryders be that different sort of fantasy game.
The combination of RPG and wargame helps give Rune Stryders an impressive scope. It’s a flexible game. If we want to talk about flexibility then Rune Stryders can bend over backwards and tickle its own ankles. Everything’s compartmentalised. If you want to use the Rune Stryder system for your own campaign setting; then you can easily. If you want to use the Rune Stryder setting with your own system; then that’s easy too. If you want to isolate the war game elements then that’s done already or if you want to take the rune magic system and run then you’ll be pleased to find that that’s waiting to be picked up. In addition to introductions and appendixes there are seven more or less separate books inside the Rune Stryder covers. The Book of Creation, the Book of War, the Book of Runes, the Book of Stryders, the Book of the World, the Book of Roles and the Book of Destiny.
The Book of Creation is character creation. If you’re familiar with the Politically Incorrect Games’ system (that’s the dice system used in many of their books, not the diceless one) then… this isn’t it. That said, this d10 system will look familiar, and that’s a good thing. We’ve a fair degree of randomness and a difficulty based system. Changing your character’s stats (skills with experience points) will noticeably increase your chances of success.
The Book of War dives into the combat and conflict resolution systems. Rune Stryders describes itself as rules light. I suppose it is. Once you’ve read the rules then you’ll be able to play the game with the least amount of fussing around. However, “rules light” doesn’t mean that there aren’t enough rules or even fuzzy rules which need to be shaped and then applied to tricky situations by the GM. No. There’s no shortage of combat rules and options for warriors who want to get tactical. Rune Stryders doubles as a war game after all, tactics and strategy are an easy and rewarding focus for the game.
The Book of Runes presents the runes and the magic of the world. Runes are magic. If you can learn the rune then you can wield its power. You don’t need to be a mage or divinely blessed, you just need to be able to handle the rune itself. This is another attempt to step outside the tried and tested usual rules for a fantasy RPG and I welcome it. It opens up one of the best aspects of a fantasy RPG to all the players rather than limiting to a select few and then making them sacrifice something else in return. If the rune system does sound appealing then it might be twice as appealing when you consider its so easily brought into your current (or next) game.
The Book of Stryders does two things. Here we find a sampling of Stryder body types – and I think mech fans and war gamers will lick their lips at this point. Look at the running costs or the art/profiles. I appreciate the decent dose of game information that comes with each one too. Before we even get to this stage, though, we’re told how to go about creating our own Stryders. Excellent. I see this as being one of the most involved aspects of the game. Create your own kingdom and then create your own Rune Stryder to defend it. You’d be an unusual kingdom too; most armies in the world are groups of mercenaries brought together for one campaign or another. Mercenary campaigns are just the ticket for a war game campaign.
The Book of the World, as you might expect, talks about the world. This is a nicely complex setting; politically I mean, and that means you can ignore it if you want. For some reason I’m never happy unless there are suitably impressive maps to show both the political and natural divisions of the world. Thankfully that’s what we have here. There’s also the world history to consider – just where did the Rune Stryders come from initially and why? I’ll be spoiler sensitive and shush.
The Book of Roles is there if you want a suitable template to help create a character. This is good for players who are new to the system, people who want a quick start and GMs in a hurry. I much prefer to be able to custom build my character. I can do that too. Roles aren’t forced on you.
The Book of Destiny is an adventure. I’m not a fan of pre-written adventures but I have a grudging respect for the argument that one pre-written adventure with a new RPG is a good idea as it shows the style and atmosphere in which the authors imagined the game played. I don’t think Rune Stryders particularly needs an adventure to illustrate this but we have it anyway. But I’m lying, I miss-cast the scene deliberately. We’ve actually got five scenario ideas, rather fully detailed ideas but outlines nonetheless. This is much better, I think, than just one pre-written adventure too. It’s the best of both words; an illustration of how the author can see the game being played (in different ways too) and ideas and plot bits which can be inserted easily into a current campaign by a GM or used as the basis of a scenario.
The RPG closes with a series of handy cheat sheets – everything from combat tips to worksheets for characters and stryders.
I like the look and feel of Rune Stryders. There’s quality artwork throughout. There’s also an on-going story which continues for a page or two between chapters. It’s well written but I just found myself skipping it and moving on to the game world or crunchy bits – and I normally read the story first and then go back to read the rules later.
The PDF has all of PIG’s e-book experience. It scrolls quickly (the pictures aren’t bloated), there are bookmarks, which work as expected, but I’m glad I read the document on my widescreen laptop otherwise the automatic re-sizing would annoy me.
I’m normally perfectly happy to have a PDF product but I suspect I’d much prefer the paperback issue of Rune Stryders to the electronic one. I think it’s the war game element as I want something to hold and plot behind during the battle.
When it comes to the war game potential I have to wonder whether we’ll see something from PIG’s Disposable Heroes line to support that.
There’s nothing that I’m going to fault Rune Stryders on. I can go through each bit of the book and safely say “I like that”. But… the pieces don’t quite add all those “I like that” together and I find myself short of the “Hey! Great!” mark. I don’t know why but I suspect it’s because Fiegel has succeeded in putting together a fantasy RPG that doesn’t fall so easily into the safe and warm duvet that is a traditional fantasy game.
It might not be a warm duvet but I really do think Rune Stryders is worth checking out. It’s especially worthwhile if you’re starting to get bored of your usual fantasy dablings, if you’ve heard of Ninja Burger but couldn’t quite bring yourself to give the strange name game a go or if you’ve heard good things about Politically Incorrect Games but don’t like PDFs. Rune Stryders could become one of those cult classics, you know, like Kult, The Whispering Vault and, er, Ninja Burger.