Game: The Kandris Seal
Publisher: Hart-Felt Production
Review Dated: 18th, January 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
If you have a copy of the fifth edition Hero rulebook then you know this sentence is a lie. There is no such book. The fifth edition Hero rules are a brick; not a small brick either, a large paper brick that could safely be used as the construction material for the next Fort Knox. The Kandris Seal follows this tradition despite being a PDF product. The 171-paged download has a size of about 7,900KB. My modem heaved and groaned but got there in the end. That’s not over-sized though; it’s not a case of poor PDF creation; it is actually very good for 171 electronic pages. The supplement isn’t overloaded with illustrations (a notorious way to push PDF size sky high) but does enjoy just enough quality illustrations to maintain that hero feel and avoid the sea of text that some PDFs can become. I’ve mentioned the size of the Kandris Seal first because it’s the first thing you’ll notice. Don’t try the download before going to work in the morning or just at the end of your lunch break.
The Kandris Seal is a supplement designed for use with the Hero System and Champions. It does this well; there are no hiccups in the mechanics, the game rules are expressed cleanly and crispy. Right at the start of the supplement there’s a short note that pre-empts possible concerns about the use of END for some Powers by directing the reader towards the GM option rule in fifth edition. As a supplement the Kandris Seal is a collection of new NPCs, powers, equipment, game rules and adventures. All this is based around the Kandris Seal itself, a Seal that keeps thirteen powerful Chaos demons out of Earth’s Dimension and a Seal that is maintained by the Thaumaturgia. There is a wide range of useful rules, NPCs and adventures in the supplement but it’s not really those that gives The Kandris Seal its appealing flexibility. The Kandris Seal is especially appealing as a supplement because it has such a supple atmosphere and feel to it. I’m not being polite here. I’m not saying the supplement lacks a distinct mood. I am saying that it can be used to enhance a whole range of atmospheres, to enrich campaigns with different moods and flavours and that’s an unusual and therefore welcome boon.
It’s not all rosy though. There are no bookmarks in the PDFs and I hate that. It makes on-screen navigation next to impossible. It’s never easy printing out a large PDF either. I encountered an unexpected hitch in the form of the dreaded white square. The font used for the sub-section headings didn’t print. I’ve never encountered this problem before in a PDF but it still might be my fault rather than the Kandris Seal’s. In other respects the Kandris Seal prints well enough; there are no ink eating sidebars or footers, illustrations are line drawn and comment boxes only lightly shaded.
The Thaumaturgia are an order of mages that oppose the taint of Chaos and the demons known as the Keepers of the Broken Circle. It’s an order that maintains Chapter Houses, a Council of Elders, different sects (such as the Dragon Hunters and the Athenaeum) and enjoys a rich history. The Dragon Hunters were once known as the Knights Templar, are the physical force of the Thaumaturgia and are a great way to use the Kandris Seal as a background for a typical superhero romp. You don’t have to have magic in your superhero world to use the Kandris Seal either. Chaos magic can become something else; corrupt or evil Chi for example or even a StarWars-like ‘Dark Side’. Keep that Dark Side analogy in mind because Chaos is both empowering and corrupting. Heroes can be come tainted by it – and there are rules for this. Normals might become super-powered after exposure to it – and there are rules for this too. The Thaumaturgia is a detailed enough setting to be the focus of a campaign in its own right or it could simply be used as the behind-the-scenes sponsor for the Dragon Hunters.
There are more than just the Thaumaturgia and it’s Sects in the supplement. In typical superhero form there is a government agency in on the act and a few villainous groups like the Black Cabal and the Order of the Serpent. All these organisations bring tempting options to the GM and they also bring a heck of a lot of NPCs. We have full character sheets for important members of all these groups and for all of the thirteen Keepers of the Broken Circle. There are too many NPCs for my tastes, quickly skimming through the download I counted nearly 40 fully described NPCs and this doesn’t count the chaos creatures, cultists, dinosaur shaman or aliens either. I read each new NPC less enthusiastically than I did the one before. The suspicion that the author was simply including every play test character or home campaign favourite started to nag. There’s nothing quite like a nagging feeling to sabotage an otherwise enjoying read. An important note is that NPCs are all really rather well done; I hate skimpy NPCs, I especially hate it when important NPCs are reduced to stat blocks and in this respect The Kandris Seal gives me nothing to grumble about. These background NPCs often span several pages. I’ll also admit that lots of nicely detailed NPCs is fairly typical for a superhero supplement and so genre stalwarts might not bat an eyelid.
I did mention aliens and dinosaurs back there. A whole planet has been wrecked by just one of the thirteen demonic Keepers of the Broken Circle. The chaos-corrupted aliens are still battling another group of aliens that escaped the home world just in time. The anthropomorphic dinosaurs appear in one of the sample adventures towards the end of the book. You can play pick and mix with The Kandris Seal. Pick a superhero genre and you’ll probably find something in the Kandris Seal to suit it. On the other hand, if you don’t want one element – aliens, for example – then they’re easy to take out. It’s this pick and mix that gives the supplement that adaptive mood I’m so pleased about. You could play the game with a Lovecraftian feel, as Golden Age, Four Colour or even as a spy game. I think most people will already be mulling over all the possibilities before they reach the page or so in the Kandris Seal that considers them explicitly. I always like reading how the author sees the supplement being used and when it can be used in as many different ways as this one then it’s twice the treat.
I’m no fan of pre-written adventures. There are a few here in the back of the supplement. Treating these adventures as bonus material, an extra offering once the really important parts of the Kandris Seal have been written is a good way to ease my usual concerns about pre-written adventures. Treating the adventures here as bonus material is fair enough, they don’t seem to have been included at the expense of anything else. There’s a load of maps with the adventures. They’re very basic outline maps but at one per page they’re nice and easy to print off. Maps are so much better in a PDF product than they are in a book. These are the type of maps that you’ll want to print off and put down on the table during the course of the game. They’re all printed on a hex background and some use colour.
There is, of course, plenty of crunch in here. Since it’s possible to make mundane and magic items with chaos energy and so there’s a fair few of those listed. There are lots of spells too; especially chaos and anti-chaos spells. You’ve got creation rules for chaos-tainted characters as well. The multi-paged contents and index are extremely useful too (especially since there are no bookmarks).
The Kandris Seal is a success. You’ll want to buy this supplement if your interested in a good way to include mages in your hero game or fancy having some powerful demons as powerful behind the scenes arch-enemies. There’s a nice shade of grey in The Kandris Seal and this is something that’s often very hard to get into a super hero game. The Keepers of the Broken Circle are evil; they want to destroy the world, however, not every one infected by chaos is evil. This could present some dilemmas to the heroes. If you want to try the Hero System (which you’ll need to buy separately) and don’t actually fancy flying around in spandex then the Kandris Seal presents a tempting middle ground.