Sunday, June 19, 2011

Unboxing Birthright

The original Birthright Boxed Set had a ton of goodies in it. I had forgotten just how much was there until I cracked open the box again. Here is a list of everything, according to the back of the box:
  • The Atlas of Cerilia: 32 Pages detailing the history and features of the continent
  • The Rulebook: 96 pages of information on royal-blooded characters, governing kingdoms, and the Cerilian Pantheon
  • The Ruins of Empire book: 96 pages describing kingdoms waiting to be conquered
  • Two poster Maps illustrating the lands of Cerilia.
  • A Battle Mat and 112 War Cards for resolving all types of military clashes plus a custom-designed War Chest for storing the cards.
  • A four-panel DMtm Screen specifically for Birthright campaigns.
  • Twelve card sheets packed with handy reference material and descriptions of major enemies.

When I opened the box this is the chaos I was greeted with. Really no that teribble given all the stuff inside. You can see a smattering of “War Cards” and the custom-designed “War Chest” the chest was clearly designed to hold future expansion packs of cards. This just has a basic smattering of Anuirean forces (Anuir being the default starting realm for PCs in this game) Archers, Scouts, Knights, conscripts, siege engines, mercenaries, etc. As well as some common regional monsters, opposing nation units, terrain, and battlefield wide spell effects.

The next book I found was the rulebook. There is a lot of information packed into these 96 pages and will in fact be the basis for most of the remaining posts discussing Brithright and adapting it to 4E. But I think I have rambled a length about some of my ideas. The rest I will present in a more structured format in the future.

Delving deeper I uncovered Ruins of Empire. This is very much a DMs book. It breaks the world down into 5 basic regions. Southern Coast, Western Coast, Heartlands, Northern Marches, and Eastern Marches. Each section discusses some of the regional politics, threats to the area, and meta-plot that might inspire a campaign for the region. Each page outlines a nation for a region, provides a bit of color about the people details about the ruler and factions as well as statistics for provinces and armies. There are three other sections to this book as well. An introduction with world details, instructions on reading a nation’s statistics (necessary reading), and a few other bobs added in. The final sections contain dossiers on several prominent leaders around the world with special focus on the Southern Coast and a short adventure to familiarize DMs with how to structure a game of Birthright. This is especially important because the PCs are not expected to go dungeon crawling as often as those in in traditional campaigns and doing so takes time and resources away from other actions that can be taken during the game.

After that I was present with the 12 card sheets and DM’s screen. These are card-stock nuggets of double sided goodness. The first is a cultural sheet, very fluffy and shows the depth of detail Rich Baker put into this world (probably far more than would be done in a product today. I’m not trying to pass judgement but a game with several pronunciation guides based on region, race, etc. is a lot more effort and detail than I have the time or memory-bandwidth for today). The second and third deal with domain turns and records, emphasizing how important leadership was to this game. The fourth and fifth are maps of the area and hex maps for detailing a region even more. The sixth is a another fluff card with some art depicting the dress of regional military, I like this extra bit a lot because a picture is worth 1,000 words and clothing styles help give a feel for what real world culture inspired them. The last 6 sheets are monsters, some special versions of creatures for Birthright and some abominations special powerful enemies intended to be epic threats in the world.

The final book in the box is the Atlas of Cerilia. This is the fluffiest piece. It discusses the world the migration of races. The history of the people and cultures as well as the regions. It is intended for both players and DMs but I can’t see many DMs being thrilled with the amount of information duplicated between the Atlas and the Ruins books. The forward to this has a very telling story by Rich Baker. In it he describes leaving the navy and writing a 225,000 word novel that was unpublishable. He used it to get hired at TSR to prove he could “write a lot of words”. However, this omnibus was eventually used to create parts of TSRs next campaign setting. What I do not know is if it was Rich’s intent to use so many strange and made up, and often vaguely Celtic words, or just what was the fashion for game design and fantasy in the mid 90s. Either way the trend didn’t bother me then, but it does now. Mostly because today I understand just how badly I butchered the pronunciations of things which I didn’t notice or care as much about back then. Either way this book is good for perusing for ideas but I think it contains far too much detailed about a very broad area to see extensive use in many campaigns.

The final three things in the box are poster maps. The first is a map of the Southern Coast region with nations broken up by provinces additionally there is a domain record log that has Anuirean dates included on it. The next map is the Mattle Mat. This is for use exclusively with the War cards, it allows for a very stylized and abstract mass combat system. A useful inclusion to the game but not something I can wrap my head around right now. The final map is of the continent of Cerilia. This shows all the world’s nations, as well as province borders, however names are left out for either the DM to fill in by guessing and using Ruins of Empire, or future expansions to the line. The continent is impressive and while too well defined to really fit in with POL I am sure something can be done to assist with that.

So ends my unboxing and preliminary review of the Birthright boxed set. I leave you with a photo of what everything looks like when spread out.

Post Script: I was toying with having a semi eclectic background of gaming accouterments to add something to these photos. I don’t think it adds anything and in fact seems a little distracting. Unfortunately, I wanted to get this post out quickly and I don’t have a lot of time for photo editing so these less than ideal photos are getting used. If anyone has suggestions or comments about photographing game components they are welcome to leave them below along with any other comments on this post.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Birthright: A Retrospective

Back in 1995 TSR released a campaign setting. This is not a surprise during this time TSR seemed to me making setting to throw out to suer just to see what stuck. I was very young at the time, old enough to play D&D but certainly not old enough to have the disposable income to buy campaign settings & all the paraphernalia that went with them. 

I am hard pressed to believe the setting ever really caught on with that many groups. But, I recall seeing some compelling art in a Sierra advertisement for a video game that seemed to have licensed Birthright. It also obviously stuck with me because in the near future I hope to go through the boxed set and the interesting supplemental materials and dissect what was important to the game and how it might be adapted into something for 4E. 

But before I do that I wanted to try an experiment. I want to write down what I remember being important mechanics and fluff and why 4E fits or doesn't fit it.

1) PCs have divine bloodlines that grant them additional powers. 4E PCs are already superheroes compared to other editions and they just get better. This just explains why.
2) PCs become rulers of the land and can gain class benefits based on how they develop the lands they own. Instead of making it class based make it power source based.
3) The world has several distinct regions with cultures and peoples populating it. These regions could probably support at least the core races from the PhB1
4) Being leaders of the land PCs will be leading large groups against other large groups. There were rules for mass combat and rules for running fights large that squads but smaller than armies. 4E might have trouble here.
5) The word had few good kingdoms, but several ruled by evil tyrants. This might be workable for PoL but the scale might need to be adjusted.

These are what I remember without opening any books. In future posts with Birthright in them I will look at how to convert the game from AD&D 2nd Ed. to 4E.