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Tales from the Wood» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Tales from The Wood: a semi-review rss

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Steffan O'Sullivan
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This is a semi-review because while I have read the game through (and the tricky parts a few times), I haven't actually played the game yet. Having actually played scores of different RPGs, I think I'm a pretty good judge of how it would play, but admit up front that I may be wrong on some points, and so you should take the opinions herein with a grain of salt.

Overview: What You Get

I bought the print version of Tales from The Wood, but it also comes in a pdf version. In addition, the previous release is available for free at the publisher's site. This is a review of the Revised edition, which is not available for free.

The book is quite attractive and handy, nicely bound with a lovely cover and good looking interior illustrations.

Tales from The Wood (hereafter TfTW - The Wood is capitalized) is a game of roleplaying animals (with one possible exception), and falls among the simpler rules systems of RPGs. Animal RPGs are divided into two main types: those in which animals are basically humanoids in animal form (such as TMNT, Ironclaw, Mouse Guard, Big Ears Small Mouse, etc.) and those in which they are basically animal in form (such as Bunnies & Burrows). The main difference is thumbs: if they have thumbs, they're in the former type, and if not in the latter.

TfTW is in the latter camp. The player characters are animals without thumbs. They don't wear clothing, drive vehicles, use weapons or tools, etc. This is the type of animal character game I prefer, which is why I picked it up.

The book is divided into a number of chapters:

Introduction
Creating a Player Creature
What are the Creatures Like?
Using Abilities, Lores & Skills
Tooth & Claw
The Way and The Bane
The Gamekeeper
Gamekeeper Creatures
Three Tales (from The Wood - adventures)

The Setting

The setting is the British countryside, and the animals are only those found in Britain. In addition, there is one PC type which may or may not be found in Britain: gnomes. I suspect, but don't know for certain, that this type was included for people who just can't bring themselves to roleplay animals. A gnome looks like a small human, just under a foot tall, and associates with animals more than with man. The author lists the fine novel, The Little Grey Men as an inspiration, and gnomes do indeed resemble the protagonists of that book.

There is The Wood, in and around which the PCs live. There's a lovely map, vague enough to be customized to your own taste, which shows the safe parts and the scary parts.

A major part of the story is The Way and The Bane. The Way is being in harmony with nature, which can include the eating of other animals, of course. The PCs are all on the side of The Way, and start with one Way Point. A Way Point is much like a Fudge Point in my own system: you can spend one to influence a die roll, reroll a die roll, make a wound less severe, get you out of a tough situation, etc.

The Bane is the anti-Way. Creatures of The Bane kill for wanton pleasure, destroy and vandalize for the joy of it. Some of the missions in the setting will involve trying to contain The Bane, which possibly comes mostly from humans. There are some suggestions about allowing a PC to have a touch of The Bane in his makeup.

There is no real "magic" as such, but one of the NPC creatures, an Owl, has the Wisdom Ability. This is as close to magic as the game gets, and it's very mild. The author suggests making it a plot to gain Wisdom (as difficult a task for animals as it is for humans) if one of the players really wants some supernormal ability. But those looking for heavy magical powers should look elsewhere - even the Owl can't do very much with his Wisdom.

Characters

Player characters (called Player Creatures - the Game Master is called the Gamekeeper, BTW!) can be any of 12 animal species and one non-animal species. Actually, since the author creates a 13th animal PC type in the Gamekeeper section as an example of how to do this, you could say it comes with 13 animals ready to play. None of the animals are overpowering types, to say the least. Rabbits, mice, moles, voles, sparrows, robins, shrews, frogs, squirrels, etc. - these are not going to conquer the world. And that's good, because it's not the aim of the game!

Character creation is simple - there is a table listing the starting attribute levels for each species, plus possible Abilities & Lores & Skills, and you can then modify the character very slightly from that template.

The attributes: some interesting choices here. Since I usually play Fudge, I'm used to customizing attributes to each setting, so non-standard attributes don't bother me at all. But in those cases, I tend not to use two-letter acronyms! So when I first saw the two-letter attribute list, I was mightily confused:

TO ... ST ... NI ... CR ... FI ... AL

Hmmm - I guessed at a couple (Strength and Fitness), and was wrong on both counts. These actually stand for: Toughness, Sturdiness, Nimbleness, Craftiness, Fierceness, and Alertness.

The only choice I really have a problem with is Toughness. To me, that implies what other games call Constitution or Health. But in TfTW, it doesn't - it means, basically, Strength. I guess he chose it to match the "...ness" pattern, but I would have made a different choice there, myself. But that's okay.

Toughness and Sturdiness have to do with dealing and receiving damage,
Nimbleness adds to physical Abilities (which are basically animal skills),
Craftiness adds to Lore,
Fierceness adds to fighting (called Tooth & Claw), and
Alertness is overall perception and aids in the Tracking Ability.

Abilities: the animal skill section is fairly small, with most types having 1-3 Abilities. When I translated Bunnies & Burrows to a skill-based system, I wanted lots of skills to distinguish the characters because they were all rabbits. But having few Abilities works in this game where the different characters are most likely going to be different species. Abilities include such things as climbing, leaping, intimidating, flying (for the birds), swimming, hiding, fleeing, etc.

Lores are generalized knowledge of a specific habitat. There's Wood Lore, and Field Lore, and Tunnel Lore, and so on.

Skills are only for gnome characters, whose only innate Ability is Hide. The skill list is fairly short, but includes some important ones, such as fire making, crafting items, weapon use, etc. Animal characters may not learn Skills.

Game Mechanics

TfTW uses a very simple system. Generally you roll one die and add the relevant attribute, trying to hit a target number. If you have an appropriate Ability, you roll 1d10. If you don't have an appropriate Ability, you roll 1d6. Simple, straightforward - and it works nicely. Normally I don't care for flat distribution systems, but this accomplishes its goal in such a simple manner I have to like it.

Fighting has its own chapter, with Fleeing being an important Ability, because do you really want to fight a fox if you're a mouse? Damage is determined from the difference between the opponents' die rolls, modified by the winner's Toughness and the loser's Sturdiness. Wounding is in levels, as in Fudge, and works very well.

Conclusion

I don't want to give the adventures or the Gamekeeper sections away - best not to know those things if you might be a player someday. So I'll just sum up by saying the author gives adequate advice on running a game of TfTW and the three adventures are entertaining reading, at least, and probably playing.

I'm looking forward to running this game. I may run the setting in Fudge, but I may just run it in its own system - as I said, I'm impressed with the simplicity of the game mechanics and I don't say that very often. I think he's made it a bit too cheap to gain Way Points (each one can be used once per day), judging how they resemble Fudge Points, but that's a very minor quibble.

Mixing the different species looks like fun, and since only the gnome is more "powerful" than the others, it's easy for each player to share the spotlight and contribute to the plot. That's something I value in an RPG - I really like it when everyone has to turn to the quiet one at the table and beg her to help them out of their current plight!

Recommended!
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Oh, sorry - I forgot to mention NPCs. NPC animals are divided into two main types:

1. Those of The Bane. These will be dangerous for the PCs to be around.

2. Those that are neutral. These either have both The Way and The Bane mixed in their makeup, or are of The Way but not suitable for player characters because they would be too powerfully unbalanced compared to others in the party.

A fair number of both main types are given as examples, with both full stats and descriptions of behavior.

The Gamekeeper section also deals with human dangers: guns, poisons, traps, etc.

And finally, I want to say that I'm quite certain this game would work well with children, with adults, or with a mixed group.


[Note: this is one of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products.]
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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Having re-read this yet again, I now think of his distinction between The Way and The Bane in terms of the Light and the Dark in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. While none of the PCs are of the level of Will Stanton in those books, the NPC Lord Stag probably is - and it's him the PCs serve on their missions.

This is not a perfect analogy, but it helps me understand The Wood a little better and it also makes the setting a bit grimmer than I had been envisioning it, I confess, and the stakes a little higher.

... And it also makes me want to re-read Susan Cooper, which I haven't done in too many years!
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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncton_Wood

my first thought was the Duncton Wood books that I enjoyed immensely many years ago. I'll be looking at this rpg. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
This is also my first RPGgeek post! Did I come over to the dark side or the light side? It's hard to tell anymore...
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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collapsing wave wrote:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duncton_Wood

my first thought was the Duncton Wood books that I enjoyed immensely many years ago. I'll be looking at this rpg. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

I haven't thought of Duncton Wood in years, I confess. I read it when it was first published, but not since. Maybe I should revisit it.

Quote:
This is also my first RPGgeek post! Did I come over to the dark side or the light side? It's hard to tell anymore...

It's all shades of gray - or, since this is a British RPG - grey ...
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