Review – Shroud of the Ancients – Part 3
Welcome to the final installment of a three-part, deep-dive review series. We’ll be concluding our review and leaving you with some parting thoughts on Shroud of the Ancients, from Dark Tavern Press. Make sure you check out Part I and Part II. If you already have, welcome back, and let’s get to it!
A Dirty Little Secret
As I said in the previous reviews (but you may have forgotten), I haven’t yet played a game of Shroud of the Ancients. Not one.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have provided Dark Tavern Press with extensive editing and copywriting notes for the next version of this book. They are fully aware of this, and I’m not going to sugarcoat what comes next.
I don’t think I will ever play this beta version. There are just too many typographical, grammatical, and punctuation errors in the book. Without getting too far into the weeds, I’ll just say that there was an unreasonable amount — though a relatively small portion of these had a material impact upon the game and my understanding and learning it.
So my decision not to play it has nothing whatsoever to do with the game, or the mechanics, or the world. I’m waiting for the next version, the cleaned-up and streamlined version, to appear.
The Adventurer’s Guide to the World of Terrath was a successful Kickstarter in 2013. In the authors’ own words, this was to be their first draft, a beta rule set. It was to be their first pass at getting Shroud of the Ancients off the ground.
It’s not an uncommon scenario: a publisher uses Kickstarter to see if the world is interested in a game like this (it was), and if the market will bear it (it would), so they set about putting out their first version of the book. A completely reasonable situation, and I have no problem with that. But if I had been a Kickstarter backer, I’d have been disappointed to receive a copy with so many errors in it. I say that as somewhat of a copy editing snob; it’s what I spend a significant portion of my day job doing, so seeing blatant errors gives me the creeping jibblies.
The good news, however, is that the guys are already hard at work on the next printing, and they have assured me that all of these errors (and more!) have been corrected. And I’d love to take part in a game with the Dark Tavern guys, to see if my assumptions on combat and magic from Part II are true or if I’m way off-base.
More on the Book
One thing that you’ll note is that very little of the book (~30 pages) is given over to explanation of the world – it’s primarily focused on the rules. Character creation takes up over a third of the book, but there are only four pages of monsters and very little information for the Shroudmaster. This does make sense, though, given that it’s essentially a player’s handbook.
As Randy noted in the interview, they decided not to provide a 400-page book and tell players that 200 of those pages are only for Shroudmasters. I get it, but that doesn’t keep me from hoping to see more of the world’s background fluff in a future book.
Additionally, there are no adventures to run. And, while we have the nuts and bolts of how to play the game, we don’t have an actual game to play. Some Shroudmasters love having a completely open world to do whatever they want with, but in a brand new world of a brand new game that I know very little about, I’d prefer to have some sort of direction.
I’m not saying we need to be led around by the nose, but a first adventure would be great. Just a short intro; something to get you started both as a player and as a Shroudmaster. Right now, there is no SM guide, so all you’ve got is The Adventurer’s Guide. The good news, though, is that a fast-play adventure is in the works, designed to get PCs and SMs into the world of Terrath and familiarize both sides with how the system works. I can’t wait!
One of the neatest aspects of this book is that they fully admit some of the information in it could be untrue. It’s based on what an adventurer or the general populace would know of the world, which may or may not be the real story. You find out that there’s overcrowding, a lack of food, infighting, corruption, and that the outer shield is beginning to buckle but the people don’t necessarily know why.
There are churches, monger (merchant) houses, and the reigning queen all vying for power, with the commoners stuck in the middle of a lose-lose situation. People are eager to get outside. There’s a lot of intrigue, backstabbing, and conflict, but you only know that it exists. Very little information has come out as to why these things are happening.
Plus, there are lots of funny homages and tongue-in cheek pop culture references in the book (Star Wars, The Princess Bride, etc.), so keep your eye out for them. And it’s full of fantastic, unique little nuggets that I’ve never seen or thought of in role-playing games. For example:
- One of the lesser-known races, the lizardmen known as Certaess, actually record their written history on their shed skin. It’s how they pass knowledge down.
- If you have a low Intellect, you’re afraid of fire.
- Characters with higher Might scores have more muscle mass and need more oxygen so, when they’re taking a breath in, say a noxious gas cloud, they’ll naturally inhale more.
- When immobilizing someone, it’s just as effective to simply make them believe that they cannot move, instead of actually immobilizing them.
Finally, one thing that really bugged me is that this book doesn’t have an index. I can’t tell you the number of times I read something that triggered a thought about X rule or Y topic and I turned to the index, only to find it wasn’t there. I can’t say it enough: every book needs an index.
The Adventurer’s Guide to the World of Terrath is a neat little book with a lot of potential. Both the mechanics of the game and the background and lore have a lot to offer. There’s a heap of backstory and history that’s waiting to be told of Terrath, and I can’t wait to learn more. The designers and authors know their players, they know their world, and they know what they want out of this.
It does have its blemishes, and it is by no means perfect, but it’s got off to a really good start. The typos need to be cleaned up and just a few aspects of the game could be tightened up and streamlined to make this one truly solid.
+ Classless, level-less system is free-flowing and allows you to create the specific type of hero you want to play
+ Being able to choose the type of campaign you’re playing adds a dimension to the game that can fit all player types, from nitty-gritty low fantasy players to min/maxers
+ Tons of backstory, political intrigue, and power struggles just waiting to be exposed
+ Handbook reads like the journal of an adventurer, immersing you in the world of Terrath from the first page
- Magic and combat feel like they could be somewhat cumbersome at best, a real slog at worst
- This book unfortunately has no index and typos, typos, typos [in the review edition; to be fixed in the next version, per DTP.]