Book Review: Azamar by Brett M. Pisinksi & J. Elliot Streeter from Wicked North Games

Way back when I started playing fantasy roleplaying games, there was Dungeons & Dragons from TSR (now WotC). And it was good. Later on I discovered 1st Edition Palladium Fantasy RPG. And it was also good. Then in the 1990s, a friend and I designed the Moebius Adventures Roleplaying Game, which dominated the majority of my time for most of that decade. We toyed and tinkered and had a great time playing in a variety of genres and settings, mostly sticking to the swords and sorcery genre. Since then I’ve played myriad genres and systems, but those are the three main circles in the big Venn diagram in my head that have remained my go-to games for fantasy.

Sometime in college, we played with the Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games, which was my first taste of the D6 System. Whereas other games used a variety of dice, typically the same or a subset of the dice used for D&D, the D6 System just used one die… the ubiquitous d6. It was easy to find d6s – you could steal them from any number of traditional board games or simply buy a handful at your local game store. But at the time (for me anyway), it was a bit of a revolution to see different dice mechanics at work. Long story short, we had a blast playing Star Wars on numerous occasions.

But what does all of this have to do with Azamar from Wicked North Games? Well, Azamar is a RPG that merges fantasy elements and the D6 system!

Here’s a (very) simplified history of the D6 system that Wicked North is using today… (Brett, please chime in if I misstate anything here…)

  • 1986 – Ghostbusters Roleplaying Game [WEG] is released uses the first edition of the D6 System
  • 1987 – Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game [WEG] is released using a modified D6 System
  • 1996 – The D6 System: The Customizable Roleplaying Game [WEG] is released as a core D6 framework without a property attached
  • 2009 – WEG opens the D6 System under the OGL v.1.0 License (for more info see The Open D6 Resurrection Wiki)
  • 2011 – Wicked North Games creates Cinema6, an Open D6 Variant and releases Azamar

Brett Pisinski and J.Elliot Streeter of Wicked North Games has been a strong advocate of Open D6 for the last several months, between his work on Azamar and with d6 Magazine. Both projects have attracted a ton of attention in the gaming community and I was extremely pleased to see the Kickstarter campaign behind Azamar take off like it did.

So now that I’ve walked through 25 years of history, I suppose I should move on to the actual review of Azamar, right? Right up front, let me say this is a very long review… I toyed with the idea of splitting it up into two chunks, but decided it made the most sense just to leave it together.

Just as a starter, let me kick this off with the back cover blurb from the book, which sums up the game in a nutshell…

An adventure of the imagination awaits within…

More than a thousand years ago, the first Great War ended with the Fracturing, the world sundered and Azamar changed forever. Now you can unleash the power of your mind and weave the fabric of reality in an attempt to heal the Blur and prevent another Great War. Or wield the might to shatter the fragile treaties between nations and create a new empire.

Everything you need to seek greatness or infamy throughout the world of Azamar is here! Hold chaos at bay with powerful magics as you play one of the eight unique races that call Azamar home.

There are no limits to what your imagination can do with the Cinema6 RPG Framework! Explore the beautiful and terrifying world of Azamar today…

Where does your destiny lie?

That certainly gives you a good taste of what’s within the covers, doesn’t it? And if the back cover doesn’t draw you in, the full color front cover featuring art from Tyler Walpole certainly will. The giant skeleton with the burning head looks like he came right out of a Ghost Rider comic book, but I think those heroes have more than a few critters to keep at bay by the looks of it.

Shrave Archer (by Hisham of Hishgraphics)

Honestly, for me the front cover sums up everything I love about this book. It’s creative and you can tell the folks involved were passionate about their work. Does that mean the book is perfect? Unfortunately not, but I think my criticisms are negligible and the book itself offers plenty to chew on.

Beyond the Table of Contents you will find the two-page spread of a world map of Azamar. The map itself is gorgeous to look at, but I found it difficult to read some of the fonts in the PDF, whether reading on my desktop or my iPad. For example, west of the Forest of Azamar on the continent of Azamar is what looks like might be a desert called “Uncharted Territories,” but even zoomed in as far as I could get it without bumping noses with pixels, I wasn’t able to read the labels clearly. Thankfully, they have an interactive world map on their website that is much easier to read. I suspect
that outputting the PDF at a higher resolution or offering a downloadable map at the website with higher resolution might help.

Past the Map, you’re thrown into the story of an adventuring group in the wild, which gives a bit of context to some of the different roles in the world. I was immediately drawn into the story and wanted to learn more about Asceromancers (wizards dedicated to protecting the defenseless), an Immyr named Garn testing boom barrels (crude firearms), and whatever a Tre’uoall might be. These characters obviously have a history of their own, separately and together, and I would love to learn more.

As I started to page further into the book, I learned about the distant past of the world, a bit about the Fabric between worlds, and the strange beings on the other side of the Fabric from Azamar in the Blur, I began to understand a bit more about how the world worked… and then I got waylaid by a description of the Cinema6 system. This is one of my issues with the book. The flow from section to section seems haphazard at best, making it difficult to dive directly into character creation before covering game mechanics. I get why they tried organizing it this way in bite-sized chunks from start to finish, but really wish the sections flowed better one to the next.

That said, I like the idea of Cinema Points, which seems to be one of the main additions to Open D6 from the Cinema6 system. Cinema Points are all-purpose points used not only for character advancement (increasing skills & attributes, buying new features, and modifying other stats), but also to either add at least one Wild Die to the current roll, or activate a feature. CPs would seem to make everything flow in-game very smoothly, using the same mechanic at any point after character creation. So I have to admit I’m a fan of this idea!

Once you get a taste of the system, you get back into character creation – attributes, skills, skill specializations, and races. Kind of like CPs, I found myself really liking the eight playable races for the game. All of your basic race styles are accounted for… Enfri seem to be like gnomes. Dividing Humans into full-blooded, Bu’Col (with some Tre’uoall blood in their family line), and Urbane is an intriguing idea that I’ve not seen before in a fantasy RPG. The idea that there are different “races” of humans is curious, though there seems to be a good basis for it in the world description. The Immyr seem the most like dwarves. The Shrave seem like kobolds, descended from dragons. The Tre’uoll seem to be like Native Americans, with ties to nature. And the Wyvine may be closest to the elves.

Urbane Assassin (by Hisham of Hishgraphics)

What immediately hit me about each of the racial descriptions is the way it’s done… You get a picture, some basic character creation details such as how old they get, main attributes, and any restrictions, along with a detailed background with some creative weaving of world information right into the narrative… And then there’s the “Outlook” section. I love this section. It offers a collection of quotes from members of the race about the other races. For example, an Enfri talking about an Immyr – “These guys build some really, really neat underground cities! Worth befriending, if you meet an Immyr within your travels. Just be sure that when they are grumpy, you remain within their good graces.” Good advice!

So now that you have a bit of character background behind you, you’re given another glance at the adventures of the fictional party from the beginning. This time, you see an event through their eyes… A flight of more dragons than they could count flying by them without as much as a glance. Where could they be heading? Again, the story kept my interest and kept me reading.

For the next few pages, you actually get into creating an actual character. The steps seem pretty straightforward. Nine steps in all from finding a name to getting starting equipment. And then things get weird. The Blur, that world beyond Azamar through the Fabric, can get into you a bit and affect you in positive and negative ways. The “Blur Touched” feature is available at character creation or you can spend CPs to take it later, but being Blur-touched definitely has its downside. For example, when a Corruption Event occurs (i.e. the Fabric is disrupted), the character may disappear into the Blur if he or she is close enough, take attribute damage, lose CPs, or simply take damage. So if your character is close to one of these Events and happens to be Blur-touched, you might want to start running…

Random Backgrounds, rules for Veteran Characters, and descriptions of a ton of character Features continue the character creation section. There are some interesting features to deal with, like “Adverflammian” for Shraves, which gives the character a natural resistance to fire and heat. Or maybe your character is Blur-touched and has “Fifth Rite” – the ability to send out a wave of lightning to stun and damage nearby targets. The lists go on for nearly 20 pages before you start getting into the spells.

The spells themselves are a bit interesting as well. I must have missed it if they defined Tyro, Journeyman, and Mastery spells, but guessed that Tyro must mean “intro” or “beginning” in Azamarian. And once past the spells, you start getting into the different factions of wizards on Azamar. I really like the way different magical philosophies are discussed – from the Asceromancers fighting evil with magic and the Zamaranth which seem vaguely necromantic, taking life force from others for their spells, to the Tatuaxe using glyphs and markings and the Weavers using sounds and words bardically for spells. Each has a slightly different take on why magic exists and how to use it, which I always have fun digging into as a wizard.

From there on, you get much more detail about the world:

  • The unique pantheon of gods (I really like Mo, but have to admit to half-heartedly looking for Larry, Curly or Shemp!) really sets the stage for how different this world really is. From the nature god Shilutozen (a giant wandering tree) and the deity of beauty Sychorax (a giant ball of fire) to the more traditional roles of Xujof (death) and the Ash Lord (deceit), each has its own flavor for this fantasy realm and will influence how worshipers approach them.
  • A calendar built around 13 months and a list of holidays.
  • A description of geographical areas along with a bit of history for each. Not only does this section work as a bit of a travelogue through Azamar, but it should offer GMs plenty of fodder for many adventures.
  • A bestiary filled with a wide variety of creatures A-Z. Again, there are unique creatures like a group of aquatic creatures who prefer cold water homes to bizarre three legged riding steeds.
  • A folio of fiends from the Blur ready to to dastardly and despicable things to the good people of Azamar if they get through the Fabric… If you liked the beasts, you’ll love these evil critters!

Past that, you learn more about combat, damage, and healing to round out the rules before you get into the “Props” – a section consisting of lists and lists of equipment characters can purchase.

Once you hit the “Game Master Characters” section, you’ve hit the beginning of the GM’s section. Here you learn more about the big NPCs of the world – Zintar, Zamaranth, Lord Nickolas Bowen, Vraach, The Witch, and Divawd Edgot. Each is described in detail with full statistics, equipment, and character features for your use. You get a sample adventure to get you started – The Road to Azamar – which offers a three episode arc to get a party going. And the book ends with a Glossary of terms (always a good idea!) and a rather large collection of character templates to get players started quickly.

On the good side, I think this book offers everything that a player or GM may need to play in or run a game of Azamar, including some gorgeous artwork and maps, some great vignettes of fiction that really help illustrate how the writers want us to see the world, and some great description about that world – people, places, and things. So I think the folks behind Azamar deserve a round of applause for creating something worth diving into and exploring as a gaming group. I’m excited about that.

Unfortunately, the organization of the book left me very very confused. As a GM even contemplating running this game, I would need to tear the book apart and put it back together in an order that makes some sense… A world overview, character creation (including attributes, skills, spells, and equipment), and a basic overview of the rules would be the first chunk I’d need to pull together for players. And then I’d want a GM section that includes a bit of GM overview and guidance, the main NPCs, the sample adventure, bestiary, and fiends. It’s all in there – it’s just not in what I consider a logical order. Really that’s my biggest beef with this book.

My next issue is the layout of the book. You can tell it wasn’t done in Microsoft Word or Publisher. But it has some spots that really took me out of the mode of reading content and made me put my editor and design hat on. It’s a huge book at 193 pages, and from experience I know it’s not easy managing any document of that size. Generally I think the layout works – with the black
and white borders not impinging on the text at all. But some of the pages have huge chunks of white space where one section ends and another hasn’t yet begun (such as between races like between the Enfri and the Immyr). Perhaps the page breaks aren’t as noticeable in the printed version, but reading a page at a time by PDF they are quite obvious. The endless lists throughout the book also could use some help, as they tend to blend together, making it very difficult to tell where one item ends and the next begins. A heading or gray box or something to delineate between items in the list would help tremendously.

And lastly, the maps are very difficult to read in the PDF as I mentioned early on in my review. Perhaps by lightening the background and going with a white background or off white vs. a dark gray, it would make it easier to read the numbers and text. The maps are gorgeous, but it’s very difficult to pinpoint locations.

Ultimately, despite its flaws, I think Azamar has to be one of the most creative fantasy worlds I’ve seen in a long time. For the first product from a new RPG publishing company, I think Wicked North Games did a great job with the content of Azamar, but I would strongly encourage them to look more closely at the finishing touches and organization of any future products.

Definitely check out Azamar at the Wicked North Games website and grab a copy of the PDF for $5 to be inspired by the original content. It’s a great start and I wish Brett and the rest of Wicked North all the best!

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3 comments to Book Review: Azamar by Brett M. Pisinksi & J. Elliot Streeter from Wicked North Games

  • Joel A

    Thanks for the review. I’m still trying to figure out, though, what makes this game different from the rest of the standard fantasy rpg settings out there.

    • Fitz

      @Joel A – That’s honestly a great question. For me Azamar was different as a setting for two reasons. First, the PCs are automatically going to lose the first chunk of the campaign. I’ve never seen that done in a fantasy campaign before. Second, though there are plenty of traditional fantasy elements involved, the two sides of the war offer very unique perspectives on life – order vs. chaos, but it’s more than that. This is sort of like Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar saga hitting the industrial taint of Sauron’s side in the Lord of the Rings, but with a twist.

      Does that help at all?

  • foxtrout

    Thanks for Your review. I’m very intrigued by it and by Azamar (and I’m exploring it’s core book simultaneously with Arduin, heh. For me these two have similar flavor).

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