Game: Medieval Player’s Manual
Publisher: Green Ronin
Series: d20: Mythic Vistas
Review Dated: 31st, December 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
The Medieval Player’s Manual has 128 pages but it reads like a larger book. There are two reasons why that phenomenon can occur. The first possible reason is a bad one; lead page syndrome, when the book’s so bad and your stamina for it so depleted that pages might as well be made of lead for the effort it takes to turn the page. The second reason is a good one; the book is so enthralling and the author has managed squeeze line after line of killer material in that you end up combing through every word.
The Medieval Player’s Manual is a great book. I found myself pawing through each paragraph looking for more.
There’s a catch. As so often happens when I find a great RPG I also find myself picking at the imperfections. Take the Bard class for example. Fighters and Rogues are classes which survive the transition from core rules to Medieval, Wizards are out and Sorcerers might scrape through if the GM allows and although Bards are mentioned in a section title they’re not mentioned explicitly in the text. Okay. It seems fairly clear that they’re not acceptable (through a non-magical troubadour certainly seems fine).
Let’s stick with the classes for a minute. I don’t mourn the loss of the majority of them – I agree entirely that they’re not suitable for a medieval based campaign; even one with fantasy magic and mythical creatures in it. We don’t have a list of character classes at the start of the book. We don’t have a whack of world information at the start and the mechanics relegated to the end either. The Medieval Player’s Guide is a hybrid of the traditional (and opposing) presentation decisions. As the Medieval Player’s Guide addresses each issue; Medieval Magic, The Power of God, Prelates, Painters and Philosophers it puts new core and prestige classes right in the thick of things. I think this is a logical structure for the book to take and it’s not too hard to find the class or prestige class you want (check the index if needs be). It also makes the book easier to read as you have intermissions that give you a break (crunch breaks world info, world info breaks crunch).
From the magic section we have the Cunning Man Core Class, The Natural Magician Core Class, The Theurge Core Class, The Necromancer Prestige Class and The Theophanist Prestige Class. The classes from The Power of God are the Priest Core Class, The Crusader Prestige Class, The Templar Prestige Class, The Saint Core Class, The Hermit Prestige Class and the Mystic Prestige Class. There’s also The Artist Core Class, The Canonist Core Class, the Prelate Prestige Class and the Scholar Core Class. As you can see; there’s no shortage of new classes in there!
If you’ve eagle eyes you might spot, amongst the classes, somewhat interesting names there. Saints as a Core Class for example? What the hell is a Theophanist? The Theophanist is a specialised version of the Theurge. The Theurge is someone who summons spirits. The Church sees this is as a sin – and they’re right. If you have any abilities which require you to be free of sin then they won’t work if you’re guilty of theurgy. The Theophanist is a Theurge who is trying to summon God. No kidding. Some Theophanists might be devout and in search of perfect piety but it’s a false trail. The Saints, on the other hand, are truly pious and free of sin. Combine the respect common people have for Saints and the powerful effects a Saint can petition God for and you have someone who can cause a world of trouble for the Church, especially corrupt areas. Saints can be excommunicated and this will not effect their powers – except, as any Saint will tell you, they have no powers. Pride is the worse sin, Lucifer’s sin, and a proud Saint will discover their charisms have no effect.
I like the way charisms work. Charisms are those powers only those free of sin can wield. They’re effectively feats. You don’t need to be a Saint to have a Charism, you just have to meet the prerequisites and spend the feat slot. The class specials for the Saint looks a bit dull – bonus feat, bonus feat, bonus feat. These feats, however, must be Charisms. In effect what the Medieval Player’s Manual has done is gracefully slotted in a whole new sub-system into the game without writing a new sub-set of rules. David Chart hasn’t just done this once but he’s repeated it many times – Alchemy, Philosophy and Charms.
Killing is a sin. If your Fighter has a Charism and he kills someone – a thief, bandit or murderer – then he’ll need to confess and repent before his Charism works again. I think this is great.
You can be a female Priest and still have your powers. Being a female Priest isn’t a sin. God does not care. The Church does, though, and so to be a female Priest you’ll be pretending to be male and will be risking death if you’re caught. Priest is, of course, a Core Class.
You don’t need to know anything about Medieval Christianity to use the Medieval Player’s Manual. There are enthralling and succinct summaries of the Christian belief throughout the book. There’s always enough to interest and never enough to bore. There’s a disclaimer at the start of the book; this isn’t a religious text, the Medieval Player’s Manual makes snap decisions and offers summaries on points people have fought and died for.
I think the Medieval Player’s Manual makes other wise calls in its introduction. Change history. This is an accurate book, in the back we’ve notes on what’s going on and who’s doing it, but there is myth and magic so this is not an historical RPG as such. What happens if the players want to assassinate a king? Let them! What happens if the players successfully defend a castle which historically fell? Let them! The Medieval Player’s Manual focuses on England and Normandy in the time (and after) of William the Conqueror. This is a time in European history which oozes with What Ifs. In fact the RPG supplement tempts us with What Ifs asides of its own. For example; “what if” William the Conqueror lost?
As with the medieval religious issues you don’t need any knowledge of medieval history from this part of the world either. The Medieval Player’s Manual gives you the over view and the RPG significant facts. You have enough to inform and interest but never too much.
Although this d20 RPG is a blend of history and fantasy (as it’s a blend of core rules and supplement) there are some incompatibilities. We’ve seen this already with classes – some classes just don’t fit. We have magic but some of the D&D spells just don’t work. There are no Planes and so planar magic is out and that includes summon monster spells. I really wish the Medieval Player’s Manual had seized the chance to banish detect alignment spells too. Actually, I wish the Medieval Player’s Manual had excommunicated D&D’s default alignment system in its entirety. Some of the monsters from the standard D&D d20 set up will not work either. There are no orcs, elves and dwarves as such. There are no myths of Tolkien-esq demi-humans in European history from this period. There are rules for “Beings of Unknown Form” which can be used to convert elves, dwarves and orcs into a concept and rule set which will work. Beings of Unknown Form were angels who stood aside when Lucifer rebelled. They’re not demons because they didn’t fight against Heaven. They’re not angels because they didn’t defend Heaven either. Many of the D&D monsters don’t suit the setting either – these tend to be the weird and wacky and often planar or aberration creatures. Monsters with an historical bent work well in the setting though.
The Medieval Player’s Manual is one of those RPG supplements where I could write, at length, about every paragraph in the book. I’ve not even looked at alchemy or how theurgy’s magic is in the ritual not the person performing the rite – your rogue could learn some theurgy. Instead I think I’ll say that the Medieval Player’s Manual is a book that just had to be written by Green Ronin. If you’re a fan of both Ars Magica and d20 then you’ll get this. In fact, Ars Magica sourcebooks are quoted as sources and future reading in the Medieval Player’s Manual. David Chart, author of this supplement, wrote many of the Ars Magica ones (and other key figures in Green Ronin are significant figures in Ars Magica’s history).
The Medieval Player’s Manual achieves what it sets out to do – d20 for medieval England and Normandy. The Medieval Player’s Manual scores significant success after significant success as it achieves its goals. Really, if you’re at all interested in a fantasy rich medieval game then buy this book.