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Tales of the Village» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Tales of the Village: a Semi-Review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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This is a semi-review, meaning I've read the rules thoroughly - some sections multiple times - but have not actually played the game. Take my conclusions with whatever level of salt you judge appropriate.

What Is It?

Tales of the Village is a roleplaying game aimed at 7-12 year-olds. The author wrote it specifically for his eight-year-old daughter, and indeed you can see from occasional phrases ("... before the character(s) can even deal with them") that it was probably playtested at least once with only one player.

It's also aimed more at girls, though the author does go out of his way to say more than once that boys are perfectly fine as Warlock player characters.

For the PCs in this game are Witches (and/or Warlocks). Not "evil witch", but witch in the sense of wise woman: village healer, teacher, mediator, protector from the supernatural, etc. Although the players are assumed to be 7-12 years old, the PCs are probably in their late teens, just starting out on their independent careers.

It's a small book, being digest-sized and less than 40 pages. I like the artwork - the cover is a good representative image of what else is in the book. In fact, most of the illustrations feature that same witch involved in various tasks.

The book is available as a PDF or printed book. Buying the printed book gets you the PDF also, which is a good thing, because the book has no blank character sheet, but a file of one is included with the PDF.

The Setting

The setting is vaguely medieval, with strong overtones of fairy tales. The game title refers to the Village the PCs live in: a sample map of a typical village is given, and it has only 16 full buildings in it, some sheds, and a traveling pedlar's tent temporarily set up.

The village is deliberately small to make the PCs more important: there aren't any more experienced witches to fall back on. You're on your own as far as witching abilities go. You can try to enlist the villagers to help you when troubles arise, but you're the only one who's studied magic and the supernatural. So when goblins, trolls, shades, spirit hounds, etc., show up, the villagers will turn to you for help.

The villagers provide the witch with a cottage, food, clothing, etc., but none of it is actually hers. It's hers to use so long as she's useful to the village.

Nice - I like it. But then, I don't feel comfortable in cities in real life, either ...

Character Creation

Character creation is random in this game. While this is rarely to my taste, I find I don't mind it here. Considering the target audience, it's probably good to expand their horizons a bit.

There are no attributes such as Strength, Intelligence, etc. Instead, there are ten Skills and twelve Witch abilities. Oh, and four magic items.

So random rolls here are not "assign 3d6 to your Agility," but roll on a table and read the paragraph. Each result tells a little anecdote about why you have a certain ability. By the time you've rolled six times, you already have a little story about your character's background - I like this approach.

A PC begins with one Skill and four different Witch abilities, and one magic item. The Skill reflects your upbringing, and ranges from farming skills, to various crafts, to entertainment, to trading, to forest lore, to brawling. There is also a way for you to include other life paths not listed in the book.

You then roll for your four Witch abilities, which include stories about how you first discovered you had witch abilities, and then how you were trained, and then of a life-changing event, and finally your first ability once on your independent path. Each of these tables gives you a Witch ability - some are innate (shapeshifting, nature bond, etc.) and some learned (herbalism, Faerie lore, potion making, etc.).

If you roll the same ability you previously had rolled, simply add +1 to the die roll so you end up with four different Witch abilities.

You then roll for which magic item you received as a gift, fill in details about what you look like, your name, etc., and you're ready to go.

Mechanics

Mechanics are appropriately simple in this game. In each of the five starting Skills/Abilities, the PC is "Trained." In all other things, she's "Untrained." It's possible in future sessions to become a "Master" of certain abilities, but starting PCs are either Trained or Untrained in anything they try.

Tasks come in four levels of difficulty: Everyday (don't even roll the dice), Awkward, Difficult, Very Difficult. When a player needs to roll (anything but Everyday type stuff), they always roll 3d6. If they're Untrained in what they're attempting, each 5 or 6 rolled is a success. If they're Trained, then each 4, 5, or 6 rolled is a success. Awkward tasks need only one success. Difficult need 2, and Very Difficult need 3 successes.

This is pretty straightforward, and the book gives some examples of what tasks are of which difficulty. There are no "Opposed" rolls: a contest with another character is always rolled by a player, never the GM. It's simply either an Awkward, Difficult, or Very Difficult task depending on the skill of the opponent.

At first glance this is quite admirable. And indeed, it's quite playable and fairly easy to understand. It's not really a dice pool system: you always roll 3d6. Adjusting the number of successes needed for task difficulty is easy to understand, and learning when to count a "4" as a success shouldn't be too hard for children to grasp either.

The Reviewer Rants - Apologies in Advance

I do have one major reservation though: the odds involved.

This is clearly a game in which the designer should have told the GM the odds involved. Not for the players: I know from personal experience that most 8-year-olds have no concept of what "10% chance" or "75% chance" means. But the GM should be aware of what they're setting their players up for.

So I'll give you the basic odds. Most PC rolls will be at the Untrained or Trained level, so I'll skip Master, Feeble, and Incredible (which are also covered in the rules).

A Trained character will succeed at an Awkward task (which includes conflict with an Untrained opponent) 87.5% of the time. A Trained character will succeed at a Difficult task (which includes conflict with another Trained character) 50% of the time. A Trained character will succeed at a Very Difficult task (which includes conflict with a Master) 12.5% of the time.

These numbers are fine, and pass the logic test. It *should* be easy to beat an Untrained person, and hard to beat a Master, and a 50% chance to beat someone equally skilled.

But the numbers for Untrained characters are frankly wonky:

* 70% chance to pass an Awkward test;
* 26% chance to pass a Difficult test;
* 4% chance to pass a Very Difficult test.

In order to really see why this bothers me, phrase it to show the contested tasks:

* An Untrained character has a 70% chance to beat another Untrained character;
* A 26% chance to beat a Trained character;
* A 4% chance to beat a Master.

Those last two aren't bad, but that first one makes no sense. And there's an awfully big gap between Awkward and Difficult.

But what I really wanted the designer to do is say directly to the GM: "If you're giving them a Very Difficult test in something they're not trained in, they have less than a 4% chance to succeed (1 in 27). Those are the same odds as saying 'I'm thinking of a number between one and twenty-seven - what is it?' Do you really want to crush their young spirits with too many of these tasks?"

And with that simple caveat, I do think the system is fine.

Experience

After a successful adventure, the player may either raise one Witch ability from Trained to Master, or may add a new Witch ability (that is, from Untrained to Trained). Simple, straightforward - nice.

GM Section and Sample Adventure

Aside from the missing odds of success, the short GM section gives adequate advice. There isn't much detail, but he does give a strong sense of the type of stories he expects will work with this system and players attracted to being (good) witches.

A map of the village is included - one for players, and one with numbered buildings for the GM.

A short adventure is also included, an incursion into the village by goblins and their minions. Again, suggestions on how to handle encounters are a bit vaguely worded, but give a good feel for the game.

There is also a separate product you can buy, a pack of twenty cards. These include descriptions of the skills and abilities to hand out to young players so they know what their characters are capable of. Also included are the monsters found in the sample adventure. I don't own this, so can't comment on it.

So, What Do I Think?

I love the setting and definitely want to run it for the daughter of a friend, who's just about the right age and likes the thought of being a witch. I like the selection of skills and abilities, but realize that the game can easily be broken by an adult power gamer. (I learned this about Shapeshifting when playing Faery Tales with some friends ... man, can that power be abused!) But I doubt a young girl would abuse the power to the point of breaking the game.

I'm less enthralled with the mechanics, though I don't hate them. But I'd probably just run it in Fudge, to be honest. Still, if someone offered to be a GM and let me be a player if I promised not to break the game, I'd happily play with these rules. They're fine, really.

I'm a little taken aback that one of the Witch abilities is Curse. The back cover and introduction make it very clear you're playing good witches, so I'm not sure why Curse is included. But reading it through, it's not too bad: it lasts one day, and basically all the subject's tasks are more difficult by one level. That's it. I suppose it's a mild rebuke, or even "combat" skill, though combat is not emphasized at all in this game.

I didn't mention combat. Neither does the author! Only one of the life skills (Brawling - your father was a castle guard) is combat oriented, and even that says you're not good with things like swords or bows, just at rough-and-tumble fighting and a wooden staff. And a shapeshifter could certainly fight if the one animal form chosen was something like a wolf. All other PCs are Untrained in any fighting skills, though some of the Witch abilities can be useful against supernatural beings. So it's not a combat heavy game. As someone who loves Bunnies & Burrows, I'm used to this and even applaud it, but you may not. Be warned.

So, all in all: this was a good purchase. I like it; I got my money's worth even if I never play it.

[Note: this is part of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products, which I've neglected for way too long, sorry ...]
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