Tuesday 1 September 2009

Once you visit The City in Verge by Nathan Russell, you won't want to leave

Verge is a fantasypunk roleplaying game set in 'The City', enclosed, crawling, sprawling, overcrowded, dark and beautiful. It was Nathan's entry into the 1KM1KT 24 hour RPG Competition and a particular favourite of mine. If you're running a fantasy campaign, then throw The City into it. Your players will thank you for it. This review will treat it as a complete game, which it is, but the setting is breathtaking.


You play Vergers (which made me smile, in rural England a Verger is someone who looks after a church. Normally quiet, kind people with beards - not as described...), people who live on the bleeding edge of society. They go where normal people do not, they twist morals into an ever deepening helix. They are mercenaries but with intrigue and more grit that a snowy road. Creation order is standard: start with a concept, assign Stats, Edges, Traits and define an Agenda. A Concept is a little like a class (without any tight banding), some good and setting specific examples are given.

Stats are Strength, Wits, Grace, Attitude and Prowess. Each valued from 1 to 5. Initially, you start with 15 points to assign. Edges are advantages to the character, such as a weapon or 'handsome'. There's an excellent example list that gives you an idea of what edges you might choose. You get 5 points to assign amongst up to 5 Edges. Traits consist of Health and Reputation and are derived Stats. Finally, the character needs to have an Agenda, or personal goal.

The Setting

Take Neotokyo from Akira and rinse with liquid Dickens. Cram overcrowding, slums and a gulf between social classes and you have the setting. Beyond The Cage, a huge wall that surrounds and protects The City, lies The Great Betrayer. The Great Betrayer and its villainous minions are the evil of the setting. Iron Lords represent the ruling classes, living in massive iron towers that command areas of the city. Magic is mysterious and dangerous. Technology is the steam age but only on an industrial scale. Your place as protagonists leaves plenty of rocks to dash against. My plot shooting anarchists would feast on the sheer volume of plot devices and depth here.

I am undecided of the cause but as I read I found the sleeping GM in me spurted plot ideas. The prose draws you in, envelopes you and consumes you entirely. It speaks volumes in mere pages. I would love to distill the essence of Nathan's writing that has that affect, synthesise and reproduce in Icar. If there are any professional writers reading my meanderings, please enlighten us all in the comments. What steps do we take to write like Nathan? To think that he did this under a time and family constraint is remarkable.

Mechanics et al

The system is familiarly elegant: roll as many D6 as you have in the relevant Stat. The GM also rolls some D6, depending on difficulty (the more difficult, the more dice). Dice with values of 4,5 or 6 are successes. For each success, the GM and player take it in turn to state something about the action. If any of your Edges, Agenda or Traits apply then you get more dice. Reputation points can be used to improve the number of successes. Combat is dealt with is much the same way.

The Gamesmaster is looked after with techniques for running Verge. Budding GMs will also find some plot hooks and and a sample bestiary.

Where to go next

[24 Hour Proviso] As beautiful as Verge is, it would benefit from some pictures. I can feel The City, for all its sooty grim and filth but I would like to have it illustrated too. Verge could also do with a map and a list of some nobles to get the GM started. Also, I'd move the character sheet to the end. I'd also change the name. Verge does not scream fantasypunk to me. Finally, I'd change the back cover to something more printer friendly for those putting to paper at home.


In sixteen pages, Nathan has marinated Verge with depth, colour and a grit that rivals longer games. Writing and presentation are artful. The City is coherent, fascinating and could fit into any fantasy campaign. When I wrote Cloudship Atlantis, Verge had set the bar very high indeed: it is possible to produce a very, very short period of time.

To Nathan Please, please, please expand Verge. A setting this good should be a book of 90 pages, rather than 16. If you pump it up, I'll review it again.

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