Time again to visit the fictitious Kingdom of Westerly and all its entertaining denizens. But instead of focusing on the amazing world like we did in part 1 of this review, we’re going to focus on character creation and the rules. So back to Critical!: Go Westerly we go…
And amazingly I think we’re starting with chapter 1 – Character Creation. Shocking, I know, to start at the beginning of the book. And really you could skip this chapter and dive right into using some of the terrific pre-generated characters without looking back, but eventually you’ll want your own world-wise and weary adventurer to explore the countryside and maim monsters. (Or was that maiming the countryside and exploring the monsters? Up to you I suppose…)
Characters boil down to Stats, Skills, Habits, and Items. These aren’t the itemized and calculated sheets of D&D or any of a hundred other RPGs. Critical tries to boil things down to the bare minimum so that the focus is on the adventures the characters have, not on creating them in the first place. With four primary stats (Strength, Smarts, Sneak, and Smile), you can bash, think, stealth, or guile your way out of most things pretty easily. You have 12 points to divide among them, with a minimum of 1 and a max of 6.
Then there are some secondary stats that start at various levels and adjust as the character develops – Damage, Fortitude, AC (Alcohol Content), and Gold. How much damage do you do when you hit something? How many hits can you take before you fall unconscious? How drunk is your character? And how much gold do you have?
After stats you have skills… And you make these up. Skills here seem much like FATE aspects actually. You have 6 points to spend and no one skill can be higher than 3 to start. Skills either help you, help others, hurt others, or cheat to bend the rules. Yes, cheating is approved and even encouraged, so long as there’s a reason behind it. So maybe you have a huge barbarian with serious skills with an axe. You might describe it as “Let’s Bury the Hatchet… In Your Head” or “You Never Met an Axe You Couldn’t Use to Kill Something” or something equally goofy. A roguish character might have “You can pick a lock, but you can’t pick your nose…” A wizard might have “Turn Things Into Newts”… And so on. These skills can be combined with other stats where appropriate (like in combat you might add your Strength), as decided at the whim of the Bartender…
Wait – how could I have forgotten the Bartender? Other games have “Game Masters” or “Dungeon Masters” or “Referees” – not Critical! – here you have a bartender. Or as our intrepid authors put it – “The Bartender is there to drive the plot when the story starts to lag, hire the extras that play the folks that the characters’ encounter, and pay off the Monsters’ health insurance, so that they don’t mind fighting and dying over the course of the adventure.” And what’s the most important thing to remember about the bartender? “It pays to suck up the Bartender.” Bribery works.
So after skills, you have habits. These are not always good things, but can be used for good or ill. Again, reminding me quite a bit of Aspects in FATE. Maybe your character is an “Adrenaline Junkie” – which helps in combat to give them that little boost when they need it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help when they can’t sit still and acts as a penalty. “Detail Oriented” might mean that your character doesn’t let the smallest detail go unnoticed, but it also may mean that they’re a pain in the rear and drag their butt quite a bit to make sure everything is perfect.
And lastly you have some items. These are the tools of your trade – weapons, torches, armor, magic items, and so on. You only get 10 gold to start (that’s the default for your Gold stat), so you don’t have a lot of room to maneuver here. But you can purchase mundane items fairly inexpensively, with magic items and potions being more pricey.
I have to say the section on potions made me LOL. You can come up with your own on the fly or use some of the suggested brews on the list… But – and this is a big but – they’re all alcohol based. So yes, they may heal or buff up your character in some way, but their AC is going to go up. Drink enough potions and your character will be pretty dang drunk. Tough to go on a dungeon crawl while hurling, crawling on your hands and knees, or trying to stop the world from spinning!
Character creation is pretty fluid and easy, but there’s a nice one-page summary that walks you through the 6 step process from dealing with stats to buying your items.
And, if you were worried about any complex rules for the game that might blow the simple character creation out of the water, you can forget about it. There’s one main rule. “Pretty much everything that you try to do that’s more complicated than sliding off a bar stool involves two things: Consulting the Success Number table and rolling 2d6.” Pretty darn easy. You pick what you want to do. The bartender gives you a “Be Hit” number. You add any applicable numbers for skills, habits, items or stats involved. Look at the “Success Number” table – the difficulty is along the top, your number is to the left – dial in to find your magic number and boom. Then you roll 2d6 to match or beat the success number. Woot!
So let’s go back to our axe wielding barbarian maniac from before… He has a Strength of 4, the skill “Let’s Bury the Hatchet… In Your Head” at 3, and a Magic Axe that adds +1 to hit. Add it all and you get a total of 8. If the bartender says our barbarian’s “Be Hit” is a 5, the number on the chart is a 4 as the difficulty. The player rolls 2d6, gets 6, and huzzah! He hit the monster.
Other rules include characters helping other characters if they have a “Help Others” skill. The helper rolls against the same “Be Hit” number as the person they’re trying to help, and if they succeed, the “helpee” can add the level of the “helper’s” skill level to their roll. If the helper fails, it doesn’t really help. Some other sections are about bribing the bartender with gold, asking for a roll even if the bartender doesn’t think you need one, etc.
There’s an “Interactions” summary sheet (similar to the one for character creation) that documents all the various places players would need to roll.
The last few chapters of the book are for bartenders only, helping them figure out how to be a better bartender… Giving out gold. Accepting bribes. Dealing with traps and monsters, and so on.
Quite honestly I’m very interested in trying this out if I get an opportunity to do so. The writing is solid and fun (though with lots of niggly little typos). The system is straightforward and concise. And even non-roleplayers might have a good time. I can see running something along the lines of The Princess Bride pretty easily.
Are you looking for a fun, less-complicated fantasy role-playing game? Critical!: Go Westerly has it all – a great world with some real crack-ups running it, a solid rules system, quick character creation, and the potential for a lot of fun. Did I mention it was fun? I may not have, so let me just say… This looks fun!