Game: Arthurian Campaign Guide
Series: Legends of Excalibur: d20
Review Dated: 5th, April 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
The Arthurian Campaign Guide is the second part of the Legends of Excalibur bundle from RPGObjects. The first half – yet entirely self contained – of the pair is the Knight’s Handbook. You’ll find already reviewed. Ironically enough, the Arthurian Campaign Guide begins by looking at what it takes to become a Knight. Something of a handbook you might say. Don’t let that throw you though. The Knight’s Handbook is an aptly titled product, officially Legends of Excalibur: The Knight’s Handbook, has it gives you what you need to try your hand at a knightly RPG; charging around on horses, saving maidens and being honourable. The first book lets you have adventures and roleplay scenarios inspired by knights in shining armour. The Arthurian Campaign Guide continues on with the /Arthurian/ theme. It’s not just knights, it’s all about Arthur, it’s about the England that never was and the heroes and villains which dominant Arthurian fiction. You want stats for King Lot of Lothian? You got ‘em (he says, writing the review in Lothian). You want to know what happened to Guinevere then that’s what you’ll get here.
Okay. A word of caution here; what did happen to Guinevere? I guess it depends on which poem you read and what you want to believe but this is a campaign setting and in Legends of Excalibur there is a canon answer to “What did happen to Guinevere”. If you’re determined that your mental image of Time of Arthur is entirely right then I can actually see how might well have less time for a roleplaying game which doesn’t fit that. RPGObjects do pick these tricky games to write. And there were giants too. The Guide to Arthurian Legend, chapter 3 of Legends of Excalibur and the first of this PDF, starts right back at the Age of Antiquity. It was a time before Britain was inhabited by man. We get overviews of what was going on in Britain when we only need an overview. We pause to read about a particular scene – dragons battling before the coming of Pendragon – when a pause is helpful. The history is peppered with quotes from Arthurian fiction. It works quite well. I won’t claim that I read the purple prose twice (whereas I tend to read products twice before thinking about the review) but they do certainly swell up the Arthurian atmosphere. It’s a “history section” that doesn’t become a chore to read. Good stuff.
There’s more than just history to the Arthurian game though – there’s the here and now. The here is easy; an England that never was. The now is tricky; before Arthur draws the Sword from the Stone, while Arthur fights to unite England, the Knights of the Table Round, the final battles or even after Arthur’s gone? Just when do you set your Legends of Excalibur game? It’s entirely up to you. RPGObjects divides the main choices up into “eras” and puts a wealth of supporting material into the game for each possibility.
There are a lot of stats in the Arthurian Campaign Guide. There’s a veritable Who’s Who of important and famous names from the eras and the modifications required on these stats (when necessary) for each different era too. See, a lot of stats. I did mention the stats for Lot? Right. Good. I would settle for half as many stats. On the other hand I don’t quite begrudge the presence of this data dump. It’s a thorough cast of characters. I can see just how impressive the knights who quested for the Grail are – epic level stuff. Whereas I do tend to object if an RPG creates an exciting setting and then introduces important NPCs for it later (this is book two) it doesn’t apply here because Legends of Excalibur aren’t injecting these people at a later stage, they’re here already and it’s these NPCs which define the setting more than the landscape, magic system or creatures in the Bestiary could ever do.
In addition to the heft Who’s Who and tightly packed stat blocks there’s a geographical summary tour of Arthurian Britain. No, actually, the tour is worldwide – Amazonia and all. In some Arthur legends he became a Roman Emperor too. There’s not an overwhelming amount of text for each location; be that Atlantis or Russia. Earlier in the Campaign Guide we’re treated to similar but rather more detailed information on smaller locations. We’ve a section on ruined castles, cities, towns and even henges. Ah yes; Stonehenge. RPGObjects are well versed at giving their readers the best of the PDF medium and so you’ll find that the maps which accompany these articles are bundled separately in a folder with the download. This is really handy for making your own handouts or GM notes.
Since the Arthurian Campaign Guide is a core expansion (A core expansion? Hmm. I like that term) you might well be confident in assuming there are bestiary and equipment sections. You’d be dead on the money. The Campaign Guide benefit from not being another Tolkien-esq / Dungeons and Dragon fantasy setting. The bestiary doesn’t put me to sleep (I’ve a weakness for bestiaries for some bizarre reason anyway) and I honestly think, in practical terms, it’ll be a chapter which provides GMs with a great deal of relief. Just what do you terrorise your players with in an Arthurian setting? Yet another Black Knight? Some more brigands? There are fantasy creatures in this setting. This core expansion gives you the official say-so and its easy enough to use them.
This is probably an awful piece of type casting but I suspect there’s not much of an overlap between die hard d20 players and die hard Pendragon players. I don’t think die hard Pendragon RPG players will go for Legends of Excalibur anyway. Whereas Pendragon goes for the low fantasy and subtle magic, Legends of Excalibur massages the genre with more typical elements of a D&D game (prestige classes, feats, character levels, …). This isn’t a bad thing. Legends of Excalibur is extremely approachable. It’s a pick up and play type of game and one of it’s biggest attractions must be that if you “just fancy” doing Arthur stuff for a while then a few, cheap, PDF downloads later you’ve adapted your d20 library. Whereas I don’t quite think the game conjures up my favourite images of Arthurian England it certainly leaves me to enjoy the setting. The Arthurian Campaign Guide is the weaker of the two PDFs, only just worth noting on a scale of 1-10 and it is the trailing product.
It could well be argued that the merit of the d20 system is that it allows publishers to use the established mechanics to produce /different/ RPGs and not just D&D clones. Legends of Excalibur is a fine example of this going exactly right.