Publisher: Living Imagination
Review Dated: 8th, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 13
Average Score: 6.50
Damn. Charge! isn’t a great book but it comes annoyingly close. Charge! is a good book. It’s one of those times I find myself spending more time wishing Charge! had gone that extra mile and been perfect for me and less time reflecting on how well it does almost everything else.
In my mind Charge gets off to a great start. The book outlines what it hopes to achieve. Charge! is about war and aims firstly to make war an important part of fantasy worlds again (it’s central in Middle Earth, after all) and secondly to ensure Player Characters feel they’ve a real role to play in the war.
This is classic. There are d20 skirmish rules out there and Charge! isn’t one of them. That said there are some “mass mechanics” in the book – such as rules for working dealing with lots of archers (flaming missiles including) shooting at one area. I don’t have time for skirmish rules but I have a lot of time for dark forces threatening the lands of men. Unfortunately what Charge! doesn’t have are abstracted rules for battles. I really want to see some quick-and-dirty rules for gauging the strength of an army (perhaps the product of Challenge Rating and numbers) with “special” points set aside for especially powerful mages, monsters, magic weapons and perhaps the actions of players. Throw in some tactics and strategy modifiers (again modifiers applied here based on clever PC suggestions) via the generals and field marshals. My gosh, I just did the basics of something solid then and there without 0.312 seconds of thought! Sure; I’m basing this off memories of a GURPS game but one day a d20 publisher will come up with something just as good.
As you may have gathered, Charge! does not have any abstracted battle rules but it does have almost everything else and it does try hard to find things for players to do. There are battle missions and events (even terrain) which the GM can roll up and throw at the players. Characters tend to be treated as support or special units rather than rank and file.
Most of the successes in Charge! are in the various macro views of warfare. We tend to think of medieval warfare when we think of fantasy armies. Yet, in d20 a conveniently bundled group of low level warriors (your troops) are ridiculously easy to put to sleep or vaporise. Medieval armies and the fantasy setting don’t make sense together. Castles should be brooding atmospheric plot and strategic issues but they’re not; magical doors, teleportation and huge damage will make mince meat of the thickest stone walls.
Right in the heart of the book you’ll find a host of new magic spells. Actually there are only three new spells. Mass Magic Weapon, Teleport Locator and Teleport Queue are spells I hadn’t thought of but which make perfect sense. Teleport must make people feel very insecure. Teleport Locator lets you know when someone teleports into an area. Teleport Queue forces mass in-coming teleports to slow down. The majority of the new magic in Charge! are magic rituals. It was only on the second read through of the book that it occurred to me you’d probably need Living Imagination’s Spellbound book to get the most of the rituals and understand the references to korba. If you’re confident in your abilities to take a good idea and turn it into a spell or ‘plot-magic’ then Charge! has excellent magic even if you don’t have spellbound. Let’s teleport proof our walls. Suddenly a castle is worthwhile. It can actually prove to be a formidable obstacle. Let’s magically enchant guard posts so guards stationed there can see the invisible. It makes sense. I think it’s with the magic that Charge! has many of its successes; it makes war and strategy important in fantasy RPGs again.
In many ways Charge! is a stalwart d20 supplement. The old traditions are strongly represented here. What are the old d20 traditions? Prestige classes and feats, of course! Charge! also has new core classes and… I think this is a mistake. We’ve the soldier, mariner and monarch. We don’t need the soldier. The highly abstracted fighter should cover that (though I fear the plethora of highly specific prestige classes has all but obscured d20’s abstract origins) and the monarch, well, maybe but I’m sure that’s a status thing if it’s not a prestige class. You could have a wizard king or warrior (fighter) king. The mariner is the exception as none of the traditional d20 core classes even know what water is; certainly not the druid. We’re on to safer grounds with the prestige classes. Here we find a pillaging of European history – but the good sort of pillaging, one that roleplayers and Vikings would both be proud of. The loot includes; the Bounder, the Centurion, Chaplain, Conquistador, the Coassack, the Cuirassier, the Dragoon, the Gurkha, the Housecarl, the Keshik, the Lancer, the Landesknecht and the Trench Fighter. Some of these prestige classes relate to current British affairs; we still have the likes of the Queen’s Own Lancers and the Gurkhas (who should receive equal pensions) and I suspect lots of armies have Chaplains too. I suppose it would have been politically unwise to include something like the “Mujahadine” though I think that would represent a classic prestige class.
Charge! talks about war issues and tactics. There are war crimes – and notes on why they happen. There’s a lot of hate and anger in a war. There are problems with exotic mounts in fantasy worlds – they might try and eat each other, for example and will certainly eat a lot of meat rather than happily graze grass like the humble but effective horse. Then there are exotic mounts like elephants, those expensive, are the best of both worlds – dangerous yet relatively easy to handle. This is the sort of topic that Charge! does well on.
Another of the “academic yet practical” chapters in the book covers the loose collection of “Culture and Economy”. Its here we study issues like promotion and the related chain of command. We look at how alignments might factor into war issues; evil alignments might attack and loot villages whereas good alignments might trade with villagers. Feeding an army is always an issue.
There are new monsters in Charge! At this stage we’re looking at bonus material because monsters are not needed, they’re an added extra but aren’t going to save a struggling supplement. It’s clear that Charge! has offered up its pearly bits and isn’t going to give me the abstracted battle-with-PC-influence rules. That said the monsters are as effective and as enticing as any you’ll find outside of the full colour and glossy bestiaries. Charge! is not a struggling product. As the book points out; one of the unique challenges of a fantasy battle is the local fauna and flora. Only in a fantasy battle might the local wildlife turn out to be twice as powerful as the combined armies.
There’s new weapons too.
There’s something for everyone in Charge! There’s an “optional” chapter on how to encourage good roleplaying. There’s even an example of rolling diplomacy and roleplaying diplomacy. Gosh. For me, this chapter is one of the highlights. I think it can be very tricky to focus on the characters and yet concentrate on the backdrop of huge armies and massive movements of troops. It’s easy for a war roleplaying game to turn in to either a war game or a roleplaying game with boring and game consuming dice rolling. Roleplaying helps avoid that! I’ve no problems with war gaming, I’ve done a bit of it too, but don’t always find it complementary with roleplaying.
I think Charge! is mainly successful with one of its goals. It makes war important again. Buy Charge! and you’ll be able to throw your campaign world into a whole new spin. I don’t think it’s so successful at getting the player characters involved; especially not at low levels. This shouldn’t be seen as one out of two, though. It’s more like one critical success and one partial success which combine to make one good success. It’s a book that I’m going to keep on the likely to reference often shelf (if not in the pile of supplements on my desk). Charge! is unique. There’s nothing quite like it (certainly not in my shelf of core supplements) and although it’s not a must for D&D players it is one which every DM tempted to run a war campaign should look at.