Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Wolves on the Rhine (near final)

The Romans. A very popular subject, especially if you watch the History Channel (probably second only to WW2), but also among historical fiction and movies. There have been quite a few roleplaying sourcebooks (AD&D, Gurps, d20 among others), and even one game still in print (Roma Imperious) based on them. But I can't actually recall any Roman themed adventure. Until now.

Wolves on the Rhine is a "programmed" adventure from Dark City Games. "Programmed" basically means you can play it solo if you like, although nothing is keeping you from running it the traditional way, and unlike typical (at least not from Metagaming or Dark City Games) solo adventures, you run a party of 4 characters.

As you might guess from the title, the adventure is set at the Rhine river, the border between Gaul and Germania. You are members of Twentieth (XX) Legion (who later would became famous for taking part in putting down the revolt in Britain). While not exactly a peaceful area, things have gotten worse lately, with the local barbarians raiding forts and towers and such. You've been assigned to talk to some friendly barbarians and see just what is going on.

If you are a fan of the original Conan stories (like I am), you probably can't help but notice a similar feel to some of them, the ones where Conan is on the frontier of Aquilonnia and is up against the Picts. Indeed, the plot (and name) is close to one of those, Wolves Beyond the Border. Although I guess it also somewhat foreshadows the XX Legion's experiences in Britain as well.

Some of the adventures from Dark City Games are pretty complicated. This one is pretty easy, as apparently it was written by a first time programmed module author (having tried to write a choose your own adventure story, I can say these are trickier than you think). It lacks even plot words (basically where if you find or do something, you write a word on your character sheet, and if you have that word later on, it can change things somewhat). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does rather cut down on the replay value. There are actually still a lot of choices, but most seem kind of minor, and the consequences are immediate, rather that happening later on.


They use their own rules set for the game, which comes in a small booklet. The closest comparison is The Fantasy Trip, basically a system similar to GURPs, but simpler and less headache inducing. Characters have 3 stats, usually around 10-15 or so, and various skills. To perform a skill, you roll under that on 3d6 (or rarely 4d6). It's gritty - in that armor stops damage, and characters don't have hit points, but take damage to their ST stat.

Most of the previous adventures used the same set of fantasy rules, but as this is a historical adventure, the included rules was tailored for just for the Romans (complete with Roman armor and weapons).

At first, I thought playing through would be a little tougher than the previous ones, because there is no healing magic. But actually, in practice, my Roman characters had a lot more armor, which actually made it rather tough to be injured in most combats. Most the opponents would only do 1d6+2 damage, while the Romans could have up to 6 points of armor. So only a hit that rolled a 5 or 6 (+2) for damage would actually injure one of my guys. Of course, conversely, all that armor comes with a dexterity penalty, which makes it harder to hit in combat. So combat was a bit longer than in previous modules, with a lot of misses and blows that didn't do any damage.

Except the bear. Like all these modules it seems, the wildlife seems to be murderous (although I guess it's more fitting here), and the bear in this was quite tough.


Previously modules from them featured some snazzy looking cover art, then some average quality black and white interior art. Usually the same art as used on the counters. This does that, but the art is in full color, including on the counters (and the map sheet is in color as well). This dramatically increases the look of the art and the module itself. I actually usually use figures for the characters and foes when playing these games, but to not use the color counters in this made me feel guilty.

Final Thoughts

While I enjoyed this module, I really did find it quite short and well, too easy. It's almost impossible to screw up or get lost in it. Still, I guess it does have replay value, you need to go through it twice to see everything.

Also, perhaps because of its historical nature, it felt less like a roleplaying game and almost more like a boardgame. I mean in the past ones, I had fun creating characters to fit different roles, buying equipment, etc. In this, there's no equipment to buy, and very limited roles - basically either a Roman Legionaire or a Barbarian Auxiliary (I went with 3 Romans/1 Barbarian who was an archer). And no loot, either. Not even an "I put down a Barbarian uprising and all I got was this shirt" T-shirt. So to a certain extent, it was a bit harder to develop a connection with my characters, since they were all basically alike in terms of abilities and possesssions.

On the other hand, the production values are definitely the best so far, with the interior color art and color counters and map sheet. If you are playing a Roman game, I can almost see buying this just for the counters.

So, it gets a 3 out of 5 (or average) for substance, and 5 out of 5 for style.

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