What if history as we knew it had holes in it? What if the things that we hold true about the French and Indian Wars or American Revolution were only partially true? What if all of those kooks as Salem were really right? That there were witches and magic and all manner of unspeakable things lurking around in the dark, just out of your field of vision? That’s the premise of Colonial Gothic, a tabletop RPG from Rogue Games, and it’s a premise I love.
The period of time leading up to and including the American Revolution is one of the most fascinating to me. In the American History classes I took in both high school and college, this time was glossed over to degree. Sure, we learned about some of the events, but there were no Americans at that time, so the teachers always seemed to rush on to the Revolution. One of the only sources of semi-historical information about this time period was The Frontiersman, by Alan W. Eckert, a book my Junior High Ohio History teacher introduced me to. So when I opened up Colonial Gothic for the first time, I was really excited.
And I had reason to be. The setting content included in he core book is excellent. It shows that the developers really took their time learning about and exploring the complicated relationships between colonists of differing nationalities, and the native peoples of North America. In fact, the entirety of Chapter 8 is devoted to giving details on the various colonies, the peoples and natives that live there.
As well, the art that is provided in the book is uniformly excellent. It is filled with maps and woodcut-esque art that really evokes the time period. It’s one of the instances where I in no way miss color images. In fact, I think that color images would look out of place in a book like this. Finally, there are plot hooks throughout the book, including an entire chapter for GM on what could be included in a campaign using the material in the book.
However, everything is not sun and roses. The setting content of the book is great, sure, but there’s also a game system included in the book. That’s where things start to fall a little flat for me. The system in the book is called 12 Degrees and uses, as you might imagine, two d12s to resolve all of the actions that take place. The system isn’t bad, per se, but the question that came to mind when I read the mechanics of it was “is it really necessary?” For most intents and purposes, d12 functions in much the same way that a d20 roll does. I know that there are differences in the statistical curves generated by both types of rolling, but for practical purposes, you really could have used a d20 for this system and called it a day.
Another thing that this system brings to bear is Fate Cards. Fate Cards give details about the PCs and can be activated when appropriate to give the player a Faith Point to use to re-roll or to make the Target Number of the roll more accessible. Fate cards sound a lot like Aspects from the, get this, FATE system, and I approve of anything that brings more definition to a character.
All of that having been said, I could take or leave the system in the book. Frankly, if I were going to run Colonial Gothic, I would take every scrap of setting information here and run the game using a completely different system. FATE itself, Savage Worlds, Dread, all of those would be good examples of systems to use, depending on the type of game you were looking for. Hell, if there were some type of classless d20 system to use, I’d be up for using that as well. The point it, I love the setting information in this book. The system, not so much.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for a good setting book for Colonial America, look no further. But I’d use something besides the provided system to run the game.
[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, review, colonial gothic[/tags]