Game: Trojan War
Publisher: Green Ronin
Review Dated: 12th, February 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
Green Ronin’s Mythic Vistas series tends to be jolly good. Ever since the surprisingly on-the-ball and widely acclaimed Testament it has been one to watch. With Trojan War we’re back to Earth of mythic history (and where the series name Mythic Vistas seems especially appropriate). With Trojan War we hit the highs of the series.
The term “Homeric” comes from the famous Homer and is used to safely describe both the Trojans and the Achaeans who besieged the city. Homeric also includes the deities of the time as they took a fairly active role in the ten year war. This isn’t splitting hairs. This is the attention to detail that helps the Trojan War RPG stand out. There’s similar attention to detail in the game play.
There are two basic races; human and divine offspring. There are different types of humans – the Trojans and Achaeans – and each divine offspring is very different. Some classes aren’t appropriate for the setting. That’s an important judgement call for me. I’d be horrified at any so-called Trojan setting that had monks leaping around or clerics covering Achilles’ heel. Other gamers are precious about their core D&D. If you’re one of them I think it is safe to say that you’ll neither like nor get the Trojan War d20 RPG. We’re told which classes are appropriate to each race.
There are new classes too. There’s the charioteer, dedicated warrior, magician and priest. Wizard and cleric are out – magician and priest are in. Dedicated warrior mixes religion with warfare in the sort of way monks “accidentally” mix spiritual harmony with butt-kicking and have a sprinkling of clerical/divine restrictions thrown to compensate for their overtly warlike training. The book introduces three prestige classes as well; Orator, Runner and Seer. The Runner sounds a bit like a wet blanket but in actual fact Achilles was described as a Runner.
As we might predict there are new skills (and new uses for old skills – but we can forgive the book for that) and new feats. This is a d20 product after all. Okay. It’s easy to be cynical here but the truth is the Trojan setting is especially suited to feats. Here we have powerful warriors capable of specialised but better-than-human feats.
I like my history. I have a copy of the Iliad. No, I’ve not read it; but I have a copy. I know so many of the stories and have read so many abridged versions I doubt I’ll ever read it. I think this puts me at the extreme end of the scale too. Fortunately you barely need to touch the “Greek History” scale to play the Trojan War. The book summarises the before, during and after for you. I said the setting is extremely suitable for feats and the supplement itself tells you why. Unlike too many history lessons this d20 supplement won’t put you to sleep (nor will it send you to the headmaster but that’s another story). The Trojan War is such an epic that you’ll find it creeping into other games and other settings. How many fantasy games feature the Greek pantheon? How many modern occult games have ancient Greek threats? Certainly lots of superhero games dabble in the era – and as it happens behind me on the sofa is a copy of Green Ronin’s own Mutants & Masterminds: Annual #1 which features Achilles. This is a coincidence but it is a point proving one. The point? That any gamer is likely to benefit from the summary in this Trojan War supplement.
Should you want more information on the setting – especially with the gaming angle in mind – then that’s there. The Equipment chapter does not just bash out Homeric themed trappings but thoughtfully discusses the Bronze Age. Sure, academics debate when, if and where the siege of Troy took place but this RPG picks its mark and sticks to it. In fact we’ve a map of Troy and a map of Mediterranean which the location of the mythic city marked.
Troy fell, of course. I think the brave but best for role playing decision is to say that it need not do so again. In Trojan War we’re given this reassurance. Let your players change or defend history as the whims of the game must. Remarkably for a d20 product there’s an entire section on “Gaming versus Storytelling”! Similarly we look at gaming foibles such as the dread deus ex machine.
We’re offered help with the unusual situation of a nine year battle. A nine year war isn’t unusual but Troy is almost exclusively one battle and that is odd. There is discussion for the GM, tips and comments there to guide. There are also battlefield rules. There are a few “war gaming” rules for d20 now and Trojan War now adds to those options. The battle system is based around captains and the groups of fighters (not the class) that they lead. Each has a strength. Each can do something. Winning conflicts are those which push the enemy back. There are specialised battlefield feats too. Fine. I admit it. I’m still looking for a d20 battle system that seems abstracted enough and yet reflective enough to truly win me over. That said; Trojan War’s efforts are up there with the best currently available. I’d be happy to run this system with masses of minis and I would be happy to run it without. Provided the PCs could act as Captains then they would have effect on the battle.
There’s a chapter in the book for the Captains of Legend. Here we find the Trojan (or Achaeans) heroes – what they did and why. I tend not to like big chapters devoted to the stats of NPCs as I prefer to make them up and control them myself. Ah yes; but I do concede that the myths of the Trojan War are one of those rare times I’m glad someone else did it. Each group clamed so-and-so as the most powerful warrior, best archer, wisest strategist and even most attractive woman it would be a nightmare trying to put them into any sort of order. In addition there are stories of before and (for the survivors) after Troy which provide additional evidence of greatness (or lack of it). Powerful and heroic captains also enjoys a Tolkien-esq ring to it which can be ignored or exploited at will.
Whereas I don’t tend to enjoy NPC stats I don’t mind God stats. I doubt I’ll ever run, play in or be interested in a game where PCs go toe-to-toe with Gods but I am cheaply won by stat comparisons. That said my favourite religious supplements (like The Book of the Righteous) are ones which don’t stat Gods. What’s the point? If you can express and compare deities without resorting to numbers then that is best case. I do really believe any deity would have a hand and teleport any would-be aggressor off to the bottom of the ocean. Many D&D wizards can do enough damage to level a small mountain but would struggle a mile under water.
There are no wizards and new magic spells in Trojan War. The book does not re-write the magic system but does struggle with the comic book magic native to D&D style d20 and the subtle, off stage and often manipulative magic in the Iliad. The book removes some of the magic classes and replaces them with more suitable ones. The same applies to the spells through spell lists. By providing new spell lists the supplement is able to control the levels of magic and types of spell.
I really did enjoy reading through Trojan War. It grabbed me. I think it will be a battle to escape the D&D feel of d20 and reach a suitable Homeric feeling but I think it’s possible and much easier with this book. I also think it’ll be fun to find a compromise between the two settings and think this compromise will be a great atmosphere for roleplaying stories and adventures.
Trojan War is complete and thorough. It might not turn every stone over in the way I think is best but it leaves no stone unturned. I think the Trojan War is also a doorway to roleplaying; it seems ideal for school clubs (especially in Bible America). Trojan War is one of the few books my non-roleplaying girlfriend picked up from the vast array of games here and made positive comment on. There you go; the book works well as a game and it’s clearly different. And yet this is also familiar d20. I think the Trojan War is ideal for gaming groups looking something safely different.