Tuesday 2 February 2016

Free RPG authors should aspire to Krendel by William J. Altman

Krendel by William J. Altman is a charming generic roleplaying game system with extraordinarily high production values. Aimed at experienced and new players alike, it leaves nothing to chance, taking painstaking effort to explain everything with exceptional examples.

At 206 pages, there is too much joy to detail in a review but I hope to give you a skim that might urge you to download and plunge in.


Krendel provides you with an array of sculptors chisels to carve out your character. Concept first, motivations and temptations (with a list to boot) and relationships (with NPCs and PCs). Before you place your statues amongst your ornate fountains and topiary, Krendel provides a reason for your characters to be together.

Strength, carrying capacity, health, XP and karma all act as you expect. Skills (learnt profession), Traits (natural abilities) and Powers (see below) describe your character. This is a great way to cater for different settings.

Skills are broken down into expertises and each have actions associated with them. This makes for explicit uses of a skill. If you've got Academics then rather than narratively convincing the GM that you're good at puzzle solving, there is an action Puzzle.

Regardless of your setting, your player character is special in some way (as are you, dear reader). Krendel uses power mechanics to give extra actions, or improve the success, or do specific things at certain times. Your character has a power pool to govern their use. A big list of Core powers (common to most settings) is given and if that's not enough for you there is a whole book full of these powers, also free to download.

Generic mechanics, beautifully explained

The core mechanic is a simple target number. You take your skill, add 4 and any GM difficulty bonuses. You then roll a 1D10, equal or under the target number is a success. The neat bit here is that your level of success depends on how big the number is on the die. The bigger it is, the more successful you are and being really successful will give you extra actions or improve your combat.

Failures are dealt with in a modern, narrative way; rather than "you swing and miss the troll", you have "you hit but you've made the troll really cross, it's dropped its knitting and sharpening its bone crunching teeth on some granite".

There are modifiers for help from other player characters and karma to spend to improve the outcome. Damage is served on a platter of types including bludgeoning, corrosive, sonic, badger and mental. It can be lethal, subduing or permenant (can't heal from it). Extensive rules for grids and miniatures allude to its old school, war game heritage and there are attractive pcitures to drive home the details.

Effects and conditions describe limitations (temporary or permenant) that befall your character and are grouped by type. For example, Mutations include effects of cancer, evolutionary and splicing - all with their own rules.

Equipment can be damaged and has a level of quality. You might also be holding an artifact, with magical abilities too. There is an enormous amount of equipment to gorge on! There are crafting rules for players to boost their tooling with setting appropriate effects on play.

Take my hand

Krendel doesn't hang the GM out to dry, but instead guides them through the steps needed to make a setting. A lot of the items in this section would be appropriate for any game system. Scenarios, game balance and encounters are all explained with environment effects thrown in too. There are species (making up a monstrous manual of sorts).

As your approach the end, you'll find a quick start and primer, example characters, species creation, an index and back cover.

New to roleplaying?

The writing of Krendel really does lay itself bare for people new to roleplaying, although the language is more appropriate for older readers. I imagine a GM picking up Krendel but I can't imagine them reading through it all. Do new to roleplaying gamers have the staying power for big rulebooks now?

The core mechanic is simple but the complexity lies in the combinations of modifiers and actions that build up with skills, powers, traits, species, effects, weapon artifact. For a new player to remember all the actions modifiers they have isn't easy. The examples could do with being tied together with an example of play.

Add it to your collection

Krendel is clearly a labour of love, illustrated throughout and rammed with lists. You are probably an experienced roleplayer, begin at the quickstart at the back. It is a huge piece of work that clearly took an enormous effort to complete. The diligence to complete a game of magnitude with such clarity is exceptional. If you're tired of lite systems that force you to invent everything yourself, give Krendel a try. If you just love to read RPGs then the writing of Krendel is a delight.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see you reviewing again. Keep it coming.

Rob Lang said...

Thank you Anon, it's good to be back. Next one out tomorrow! :)