Shadows of Esteren – Book 0

One of my unexpected purchases at Gen Con was a line of RPG books for a game called Shadows of Esteren. I had heard about this game obliquely as its kickstarters were running. While it looked interesting, I had plenty of other kickstarters to be keeping track of. However at Gen Con, I found myself continually looping back to their booth. I was entranced by the miniatures, the art of the covers, and the components of their Black Rose board game. So by Saturday, I had made up my mind to look over their Gen Con specials and walked away with every book they had (physical copies and PDFs), a number of miniatures, the boardgame, and some very cool metal coinage.

It was not until I got home that I discovered that the first book – Prologue – is available free here. And at that price, I have to recommend you check it out.

Book 0 – Prologue Review


Book 0 is an 83-page PDF. The first thing that stood out to me is the art. It’s amazing. It seems like every page has a piece that made me pause my reading and stare at. The art within Book 0 reminded me a lot of Rackham’s Confrontation line. Unlike Confrontation (or more specifically Cadwallon), Agate RPG (the original publisher of this French RPG) seems to have done a much better job at translation. Some of the passages might require a re-read, but this is due to denseness of the writing and not badly translated sentences.

Book 0 contains everything you need to start a Shadows of Esteren game. And I do mean everything. This book has setting, GM advice, pre-generated characters, a rules overview, and three scenarios.

The setting of Tri-Kazel is Celtic inspired, with a broad gothic influence. It is a land trapped between the forces of tradition, magic, science, and religion. I feel like the setting is embroiled in a conflict that has a very Renaissance bent without moving out of the realm of traditional fantasy. It also contains creatures known as the Feondas, one of the sources of horror within the setting.

The game system is simple and has a slightly different focus than most games. It is focused on psychological attributes instead of physical and mental abstractions. The Ways, which take the place of attributes in most games, are measurements of five different aspects of your character’s personality: Combativeness, Creativity, Empathy, Reason and Conviction. There are multiple interpretations of what strength and weakness in a Way means in the game, like how low ratings can be boons and high ones can be flaws.

The main resolution mechanic is Way + Skill rating + D10 vs a Target Number. If your character’s Way + Skill is equal to or greater than the TN, you succeed without a roll. Combat seems simple and quick, and you can take mental wounds as well as physical ones. The full sanity rules are found in Book 1.

The six pre-generated characters round out the first chapter of the book. All in all, the setting, system, and characters only take up 32 pages of this PDF. The lion’s share of the book is the triptych of adventures. Book 0 gives you some advice on what order to play the scenarios and provides built-in ties to the pre-generated characters. One of the best parts of the Shadows of Esteren adventures is the modular horror of the system. The book breaks down horror into Gore, Suspense, Psychology, and Supernatural. At a variety of different scenes in the adventures, the writers call out how to add or highlight these types of horror for your group. The four types each have a symbol for easy GM recognition. If you group finds gore blasé but is all about psychological horror, ignore the gore, and use every psychology enhancement that you can. The book also highlights GM tips and important information for you as you are running the game. Finally, each scene of the adventures has suggested background music from a variety of soundtracks.


What you get in Book 0 is a free introduction to the system and world of Shadows of Esteren. It acts as a great player’s guide for your group, and the adventures are well written and sure to hook your group. Book 0 is a quick read, and if your group likes George R.R. Martin or fantasy games with a horror twist, check this game-line out! If you like what you see, you can get the rest of the PDFs on Agate’s Drivethru page, or hardcopies through your FLGS. The physical copies are just as gorgeous as their PDFs would suggest. I for one, cannot wait to run this game for my gaming group. Perhaps as a one-shot for Halloween…


RPG Stash Busting Challenge Update 1 – Numenera

Not one to just post a challenge and not compete, I have started the first of my Stash Challenge games for 2015 – Numenera! I have a group of five people, all with characters made and ready for the first session next Monday.

Getting the group together was easy as I am running the game on Hangouts. Character creation was a blast, I even had one player ask me to create a foci for him on the fly (Sees Shatterpoints!). I have had the idea for the plot rolling around my head for a while, so we will see where this goes.  I am so excited that I even created audio clips for the first adventure to play during the session. So far the challenge is going far better than I had anticipated. Sometimes you just have to dive in!

My Updated RPG Stash Busting Challenge 2015 list:

Shadows of Esteren – [In the planning phase.]

Adventurer, Conqueror, King – [Limbo.]

Infinity RPG – As soon as I posted this list, I was invited to the Infinity playtest. So, I immediately got a group together and knocked out the intro encounter and we were hooked. [Damn it, I have to add this to the list but I got a playtest in so that has to count for something.]

Numenera ­– [Characters created. First session on the schedule.]

In Nomine – [A scarier Limbo than where ACKS is at.]

Also, I have a number of writers in the group, so I am hoping I can convince some or all of them to write session recaps.  If that happens, they will be posted here! So stay tuned for more updates, and please post your own!

RPG Stash Challenge!

Welcome to 2015! I have been thinking about 2014 vs 2015 and how I wanted to kick this year of blogging off. Unsurprisingly, the best idea came from my wife.

My wife is a crafter. Her bins of yarn, paper, stamps, arcane torture implements, and hole punches put my gaming collection to shame. She and her friends, in an attempt to prevent their craft stash from collapsing in upon itself and forming some sort of malevolent gestalt sentience, have challenged each other to ‘Stash Bust’ in the year.  Essentially, their goal in 2015 is to create, craft, and burn through their supplies to clear room for new material.

When I heard about it, I thought it was a great idea. I mean, I have tons of games on my shelf that I collected over the years. I am intrigued by them, I spent money on them for some reason, yet they have yet to see life at the gaming table. So I am putting out the challenge to any and all who will take it up.  RPG Stash Busting Challenge 2015. Comment here or on my G+ thread. List four games on your shelf that you want to bust through this year. Run said games. That simple.  To make it a true challenge, one shots don’t count. You need at least four sessions of a game for it to count. Give the game a chance. Air it out and take it out for a run.

My RPG Stash Busting Challenge 2015 list:

Shadows of Esteren – I have read all their books, and am supporting their Kickstarter but have yet to even make a character for it.

Adventurer, Conqueror, King – I have run a couple of sessions of this in the past. This year’s goal is Dwimmermount. Or at least get a group to D@W levels.

Mindjammer – This game captured my imagination and I want to get it in front of my group. They love Fate, and Mindjammer solves most of my group’s issues with the system.

Numenera ­– Another game that I have only run oneshots for after a failed campaign in 2013.

In Nomine – My first game-line that I collected for the sake of collecting!

What is on your list for 2015?

Something Exciting

Back in September, I reviewed Book 0 of Shadows of Esteren. I have devoured the rest of the books and hope to get a group of the game started next year.  That being said, the Esteren Team has launched a new Kickstarter, here.

The Kickstarter has three components.  First is the Occultism book. Occultism is a thema, much like their book The Monastery of Tuath. Monastery covered the religious themes of Esteren and included an adventure, and it sounds like this book will do the same for mysticism. This Kickstarter also includes the third album for Esteren, Rise. I have Of Men and Obscurities (their first album), and it is a great instrumental album that I listen to while working, in addition to using at the table. Finally, they have the Ghost Stories add-on, which includes two books The Black Moon Handbook (a kind of manual about ghosts) and Howlings (a collection of short stories).

They have made it super easy for fans of Esteren to jump in with this Kickstarter.  If you already have Esteren books, look for pledges with the title ‘Farl’ and you will be getting just the new material from this Kickstarter. New to Esteren and want to get it all? Pledges with the title ‘Varigal’ are geared towards you.

The Occultism Kickstarter runs through January 21st, 2015. Check it out here if you are interested!

I will be doing one more post this year, as Christmas and New Years fall on Thursdays.  Next Monday, I will look at this year in review and hopefully will be able to give some insight on where I will be going in 2015.

Four Best Days of Gaming Indeed!

It is hard to distill my time at GenCon into a single blog post. My wife, and three members of my gaming group traveled there from Colorado. There are so many events, people, and products that I want to talk about! Seeing as the products will be discussed over the next couple of weeks (or months!) in review format, I am going to talk about the events and people that made my con.

13th Age

Putting faces to the voices of people I interviewed on Iconic was great. I was able to meet Rob Heinsoo, Wade Rockett, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. The announcement of 13th Age in Glorantha was big news that broke as I headed into Gen Con, and I was able to pick some brains about that. As a huge Glorantha fan you can expect reviews and interviews in the next couple of weeks about that!

We, my gaming group and I, were able to meet up with Tim Brown for dinner. Tim is a great guy, so this was a blast. We talked about the Dragon Kings project, the Cubs, and generally had a good time. He did drink the Tavern on South completely out of Railhead beer! He has to be part dwarf! Or elf.

Wait... I think I feel something....

Tim Brown at dinner.

 My first purchases of the con were 13 True Ways, the Book of Loot, and Shadows of Eldon.

So much 13th Age Goodness!

 Also, I was privileged to run some 13th Age for Pelgrane. Both games of the Wrath of the Orc Lord went well. My love of 13th Age is well documented, and I was thrilled to share it with new players.

Shadows of Esteren

This was my unexpected haul from the convention. The booth was gorgeous, the books doubly so. But the people running the booth were truly amazing. Thomas and Nelyhaan and all the rest of the team were very friendly to all of us, and walked me through the products and game. I ended up with all you see below, and some of my friends walked away with copies of the books, minis, and games after looking at mine. The first book – Book 0 – Prologue – is available for free here. It contains setting information, rules, pre-generated characters, and three scenarios. Basically, everything you need to take this game for a spin. Go check it out if you like amazing art, Game of Thrones or just good fantasy horror.

Shadows of Esteren and Glorantha sexiness!

Shadows of Esteren and Glorantha!

Glorantha and RuneQuest

The people at Moon Design/Design Mechanism booth and seminar were the highlight show for me. First of all, I got to meet Greg Stafford, the creator of Glorantha! I picked up the Guides to Glorantha, and got them signed by Greg and the rest of the authors. The Moon Design guys were down-to-earth and very welcoming. You could tell they had a great love of Glorantha and wanted to share that with the con.

A buddy and I hit the RuneQuest 6 seminar, and we in the crowd were outnumbered by the presenters. So the setting turned into an informal discussion of RQ6. Lawrence, Peter, Mob and Colin were great guys. We got a behind the scenes look at RuneQuest 6, their upcoming Mystic Britain book, and a look at their product schedule. Both my buddy and I were sold on Mythic Britain (he doesn’t even play RQ6). Getting to hang with these guys, getting the low down on their card games Unfamy and Creedo (both to be reviewed here soon) were my number one unexpected pleasure of the convention. I hope to have the chance to hang with them again.

Wrap up

There were many other things about the con I could talk about, but these were my highlights. I walked away with a ton of new contacts for interviews both here and on Iconic. All of us who went loved it, and want to go again.

If you have never been before, shoot for 2017. It will be the next time I will be there, and I would love to go grab coffee with you.