Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: The Godsfall

The Godsfall
Publisher: Godfall RPG
Page Count: 210
Cost: $19
Release Date: 01/2015 (for Kickstarter Backers)/TBD (Everyone Else)
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It’s been a long, weird road for The Godsfall. It started out in Feburary of 2014 with a Kickstarter and a pledge to be part of Free RPG Day 2014. The Kickstarter failed. Undaunted, the creators tried a second one in June of 2014. With the help of 261 pledgers (myself included), this one succeeded, raising four times the amount of money sought after…but only a little more than half of what the original unsuccessful Kickstarter was looking for. The Free RPG Release came out with the rest of the pack. I reviewed it on launch day and found it to be fun but flawed. The best part was the art and the worst part was the lack of explanation of rules and a notable lack of clarity. Still the Godsfall team still had many months until the game was released to fix the game’s weak points and strengthen what works, right?

Well unfortunately, I’ve had my copy for a week now and the final product has the same strengths and weaknesses of the Quick Start Rules from Free RPG Day 2014. I found myself reading this and wishing the team had a better editor who could have helped everyone involve make the game flow better. By the time I was done reading The Godsfall for the third time I realized that the end product is not very good mechanically or writing wise. What’s here has some of the best art you’ll see all year (the fact I can confidently state than in January tells you how good it is) and the world of The Godsfall is a wonderful one. I can’t help feeling that the book would have worked better as a campaign setting for some other system rather than being bogged down by the many issues the book and its rules have.

So let’s start with the positive aspects first. First up – the art. Again, what’s here is absolutely fantastic. The art is on par with Shadows of Esteren which has won out “Best Art” award three years running. The character designs are phenomenal, the art showcase what the world looks like was gorgeous. This is art worthy of a high budget AAA game and hopefully the illustrators will all get to move on to full time careers doing art in this industry, because they all deserve to get noticed. It’s worth picking up the book with its $19 price tag just for the visual feast it provides. It is weird that much of the art used in the Kickstarter did not actually appear in the book itself though. What’s up with that?

Another excellent aspect of the game are the character races. There is a small problem in that humans are missing from the playable races section even though they are referenced frequently, but it’s one of MANY oversights or accidents that litters this core rulebook. Still the other races are interesting. Even traditional fantasy races like Orcs and Dwarves have their own unique twists here. Orcs’ hair is extremely important to them in The Godsfall and their braids essentially tell their life history. Dwarves have no long term memories and as such writer their entire life down in a mammoth tome. They even have cemetery/library hybrids which is such a fantastic idea. Elves are evolved from cats here and the eschew missile weapons. There are also fantastic races you rarely see as playable races in a RPG like Lizardmen, Merfolk (essentially Cthulhuoid Deep Ones) and Tengu. The game’s completely originally races include the spider-people known as the Machandrians, who hyper evolved and are essentially an empire of druids. There are also the Nephroid which are crab people and in an eternal war with the Merfolk. There are some fantastic ideas here and I love all the character races. I do miss the science take on Orcs that was in the QSR though. Not sure why that version was discarded here.

Finally, we have the core world itself. I love the idea of a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. Post-Apocalyptic games are almost always Sci-Fi. Not in The Godsfall. Instead you have a world rebuilding itself after a god LITERALLY fell through time, space and the heavens and crashed into the world causing massive devastation to the entire planet. Now, long after the god landed the world and its races have picked themselves up and more or less rebuilt civilization. In this respect, the game is your usually fantasy world with intrigue, adventures and monsters. However the fallen Elder God? It’s still alive but unconscious. Comatose or dreaming – who knows? What we do know is that exposure to the god drives one mad. Can the god be awoken? Should he? These are questions without answers…and something that your own game will probably never touch on. It’s a cool concept, but only briefly mentioned in the name of the game and at the very beginning of the book. There’s no real definition of the religions of the world and only an occasional passing comment on any god (usually just a name) so there is a lot of potential in the ideas, but the substance provided falls short of what could have been here.

So now let’s talk about the problems. Essentially there are three. The layout, the writing and the character creation process. The book does not flow well at all. It often reads like 1970s stereo instructions with contradictory or outright erroneous information. The more you read the book and play close attention to what is being said, the more it will hurt your head and wonder how the credited editor of the book wasn’t drug out into the streets and shot because it’s terribly done. The writing too is all over the place. The book feels disjointed and scatterbrained which pieces of one section feeling like they should be somewhere else. The entire book feels like it is out of order and that if I ripped out the pages and reassembled them like a jigsaw puzzle, things would flow better and be more coherent – especially to younger or more casual gamers. This is NOT a fun book to read.

The character creation process might be the worst. Essentially the book doesn’t even try to give you some semblance of normalcy here. There’s no actual step by step walkthrough, no blank character sheets for people to follow along with and terribly written examples of how to do things that don’t actually make sense when scrutinized. The book often takes of the excuse of “Your GM is going to house rule things anyway, so we won’t bother to flesh this out properly.” This is extremely lazy and shoddy to me. I understand and agree with the sentiment behind the ideas, but oh man, there still needs to be something set up and easy to follow because some gamers need those rules and guidelines. Especially the first few times they play and/or run a game. Perhaps the first red flag I had was in the sixth part of the character creation process. The book talks about Sample Character A choosing an ability called “Endless Cloud Walk” as his first Mystic Mastery. Then when I turn to the Masteries section to see what that power is…there’s nothing there. Endless Cloud Walk is not in the Mystic Masteries section. In fact, it’s not in any of the Masteries subsection. How do you make that big of an error in the character creation example by including an ability that doesn’t even exist in the game? Sadly, many more issues were to follow. The Godsfall is essentially one of those RPGs that sounds good and makes sense to the authord behind it but they lack the ability, editing skills and narrative tone to properly explain that to anyone outside their own head. The section on “Determine your Health” (yes, they forgot to capitalize “your.”) is written in such a way tabletop veterans can understand what is being said but newcomers will be like “Dude, what the hell?”

Instead of laying things out in a way that reads well and is visualy appealing, this entire section is a massive wall of text referencing mechanics and specific game terminology that hasn’t been described or introduced to the gamer yet. It’s just thrown at you and assumed that you know what the authors mean with these words. Would the average gamer assume that Agility is directly connected to Toughness, the game’s word for hit points/physical health? Of course not, it’s usually Strength or Stamina or Endurance. Something other than lithe dexterity. You’ll read this and go, “What about Strength?” Well, strength isn’t an attribute in the game. Rather you have a skill called Might with sub-skills that represent that. This is all well and good but oh man, make that clear FIRST because most gamers will be used to the jargon and conventional standards of other games. What The Godsfall really needed to do was explain their unique mechanics, skills and definitions first and do character creation second. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here. Combine this with the odd errors and turns of phrase in the Character Creation section and you have a game that is going to give a terrible first impression.

Mechanically, The Godsfall is very simple but people are either going to love it or hate it. You only roll D6s but there are no failures outside of combat. So then, what is the point of rolling you might ask? Well there really isn’t one. Now I strongly prefer role-playing to roll-playing but why even have dice if the only time they matter is with combat. Instead you have “Conditional Successes” when you fail skill rolls. This means you succeed but with a complication. That’s too hand-holding for me and you might as well just be in a feel good group narrative where there aren’t any risks or dangers for your characters. This just does not work for me at all.

Combat is only mildly better. Each character rolls a number of dice equal to the stat they are using. This is almost always Weaponry. So if I have a 1 in weaponry and you have a 4 in Weaponry, you would think the odds are extremely in your favor, right? Well, not necessarily. See, we would then roll the dice and compare who got the highest number. All dice above and beyond the lower score are discarded, so it only comes down to one die each – my one die and the highest result of your four. Thus if I roll a 6 and you roll four 5s, I win. Even though you are far superior in this skill to me. Ties also go to the attacker so this means I could just be foolhardy and attack everyone with my one single d6 and I’d have an abnormally good chance of success. The rules are very simple but as this examples shows, they may be TOO SIMPLE for a lot of gamers.

Look I could keep going with the litany of problems I have with this game mechanically and narrative-wise, from the sheer amount of things miss explanation-wise to how the book is super-saturated with NPCs instead of focusing on telling people how to play the game and the history of the world, but I won’t. The bottom line is that The Godsfall really needed more editors. It’s unfocused, poorly done and probably should have spent another year under the editorial supervision of someone that really knows how to make a game work. Someone not part of the core crew that put this together. I always say you can’t edit your own work because you see on the page what you want to see rather than what is actually there and this is a perfect example of that. This book probably makes total sense to the design team, but anyone outside of it can take one look at the book and go, “This needed to spend a lot more time in development.” In the end I think putting out a QSR before the actual game itself really hurt The Godsfall as you could tell the writers were rushed and stressed to get something out. The end result of which is not something I commend recommend save for the art and core ideas because both of those are fabulous. Perhaps someone with a lot of experience within the industry will take note (and pity) and offer The Godsfall team some help, enabling a second edition of the core rulebook to be released down the road – but one with greater clarity, explanation and narrative style. There’s a good reason why The Godsfall failed its first Kickstarter attempt. I had hoped that between those lessons and the ones learned with the DSR for Free RPG Day 2014 that the team would have learned something but unfortunately from the state of the core rulebook, they really didn’t. This thing is a mess. A gorgeous mess, but one that I doubt will find a following outside the few hundred people that backed this in the first place. It’s a pity, as The Godsfall had an amazing amount of potential. I just wish it had lived up to it in some way.