Game: Tir Nan Og
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Series: Slaine: d20
Review Dated: 9th, October 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Tir Nan Og is the name of the world setting for the Slaine Roleplaying Game. Slaine’s described as the game of Celtic Heroes and does a very good job of getting across what individual Celtic heroes might be like but there’s not so much attention spend on the land itself. Tir Nan Og makes the natural choice for the first supplement.
It’s a 128-paged softcover which makes light use of colour. By light use I mean that the intricate Celtic criss-cross design of the borders are in colour but none of the contents are. The book still benefits from the higher quality of paper needed to support the colour borders though. Throughout the entirety of the book there’s plenty of illustration, comic strips from the original Slaine series and graphic novels are used liberally and this is a good thing. The text density is good too and is on par with the high density used in the core Slaine rules.
The first half of the book is given over to the four main Earth Goddess’ tribes: the Sessair, the Finians, the Fir Domain and the Falians (who I always tend to refer to as the Tribe of the Shadows thanks to the storyline which introduced me to Slaine). Each of these tribes has a powerful ancestral artefact and you’ll find the stats for each of them in the appropriate chapter for each tribe. This is a good start since these artefacts are lost and thus make for an obvious campaign idea. Sometimes there’s a new feat, spell or item which is suitable for the tribe too, for example, the Sessair chapter presents the enlarge wound feat (and that’s your own wound, not someone else’s). Each tribe is presented in a similar style, it’s a geographical tour of the territories under their control, a tour that pauses on all the interesting places and shares the history of the place. Here, while you’re reading about the interesting or otherwise important location, you’re likely to find game mechanics to match. You’ve got the stats for a Slaine style Unicorn just beside the paragraph of information about the Temple of the Unicorn. You even have full rules for the Avanc race when you start to read about the history of the Tribe of the Shadows. It’s not quite a bonus player character race though since it’ll rather awkward to mix them in with a group of non-Avanc humans or warped ones but they’re there for us as villains or for GMs who want to run with an entire party of Avanc warriors. There’s lots of information about the geography of the place and of the tribe’s history but there’s also a present. There’s an assumed time taken from the Slaine series as to when all this applies; Slaine is not yet king. You’re told who the current rulers and leaders are and even given brief stats for them too. There’s a problem though. These first four chapters are haunted by a spectre from the future. Tir Nan Og is not collection of all the Tribes series. There’s a set of books that promise details and all sorts of tempting information on each of these tribes and they’re coming out after Tir Nan Og. You’ll know this because Tir Nan Og tells you so. I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that the stats on the different tribal Kings were so brief because really the King’s likely to be a member of a prestige class that’s yet to be detailed. We might get bigger and better stats for these important NPCs later on and that kind of reduces these stats to the status of a ‘stop gap measure’. It’s not just with the NPCs stats though; I’d be hesitant to do anything definitive with the tribes here. This should just be a niggle rather than a serious worry (even though it’s worrying me and not just niggling me) because there is enough information at hand to have your group of naked Celtic warriors roam the land and for the GM to get the general atmosphere right. More importantly, there’s more than enough history here for GMs to dig up inspiration and scenarios.
The Gaesatae are an elite band of spear-wielding mercenaries, actually there are enough of them to form several bands. They’re a natural choice for prestige class.
The Lands of the Drune Lords hold many more tribes than there are in the northern area of Tir Nan Og but the chapter presents itself in a similar manners to the four Earth Goddess’ tribes. The main Drune tribes are introduced, a tribal fighting style pointed out for them and then the geographical tour around the land begins. As before the important historical notes and hints of the future are pointed out. When it’s appropriate you’ll find a grey box with some game mechanics in it; Sleep Thorns, Hunt Spectres and Time Worms for example. You’ve got the stats for the Drune Lords who compose the Trinity of Carnac and you’ll even get the stats for Slough Feg when the tour reaches The Cave of Beasts. If you’re new to Slaine then I’ll quickly say that Slough Feg’s the main villain (of sorts). I suppose I could compare him to Star Wars’ Darth Vader in the way that he’s the main villain and yet there’s a dark master behind him. Having Slough Feg’s stats at hand is also a bit like having Darth Vader’s stats at hand too – do you really want to use them? Having the rules and stats for Feg’s Time Worms on the other hand makes a lot of sense and they’re a welcome inclusion in the book. Time Worms are another great scenario or even campaign brewing aspect of a Slaine game.
When we get to the Borderlands we’re pretty much out of Drune territory and into Titan land. The treatment is the same again; a tour around the lands, historic and geographical notes of interest are made. You’ll pick up stats for Half-Titans and Titan-Dwarves too. They’re both tempting player character races and you’re given the minimum in the way of attribute modifications to make that happen. Half-Titans, for example, enjoy a +6 to strength. Yes, fear not, suitable level modifications are suggested too. The Fir-Bolg are a human tribe who also inhabit the Borderlands and the rules for playing a member of the Fir-Bolg are detailed enough to include the appropriate Noble Warrior tribe rules for them. They’ve a prestige class all to themselves as well, the Shelgeyr act as shamans for the tribe. This prestige class is fully detailed through ten levels and is restricted to the Fir-Bolg. It’s inclusion is welcome; it means GMs can do something special with the Fir-Bolg early on but I can’t help notice that three of the four “main” tribes are without their prestige class yet. Just through the coincidence in the publishing of the supplements I think most players will want to play either Sessair (who have their Red Branch prestige class included in Slaine) or the rather more obscure Fir-Bolg.
I don’t think there’s too much reason to repeat the pattern for Lyonesse, the Sourlands, and the regions of Midgard except to say that there are details for all of these areas in Tir Nan Og.
The book ends with a couple of pages for scenario ideas and a quick blast of mini-encounter tables. The re-print of the slightly more detailed map of Tir Nan Og appears on the back inside cover too.
Tir Nan Og has left me with mixed feelings. The flavour text of the history and geography of the world is well written and welcome. It’s the sort of thing I’m likely to read once, remember and then rarely need to check up on again. It’s almost the case that there’s a second hidden book in Tir Nan Og though. The amount of rule snippets in the form of new spells, creatures, items, races, prestige classes, feats, etc really does build up into a significant number of pages. These are the sorts of things that I’m likely to need to check up during a game and they’re also much harder to find while you’re frantically flicking pages. Some of these clips of game mechanics are in the index but some of them are not. Some of these clips are in shaded boxes but some of them are not. The Drune Trinity of Carnac have their stats in a grey box but Slough Feg has his stats outside in the normal flow of text. The Sessair artefact, the Cauldron of Plenty, is in the normal flow of text but the Finian artefact, the Spear of Lug, is in a shaded box. The consistently is weak.
If you want to go places with Slaine then I think you’ll want Tir Nan Og and the core Slaine rules are certainly good enough to inspire all sorts of epic games. On the other hand, if you picked up Slaine with the aims of running it every now and then between your more usual cheese fantasy game then you can get away with trying to borrow someone else’s Tir Nan Og.