Tabletop Review: Birthright: Player’s Secrets of Tuarhieveln (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)

Birthright: Player’s Secrets of Tuarhieveln (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast (Originally TSR)
Cost: $4.99 (Originally $7.95
Page Count: 39
Release Date: 02/18/2014 (Originally 1996)
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If there’s one thing you can say about Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with absolutely certainty, it is that this was the golden age for campaign settings. Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, Planescape and more came from this period, after all. The piece we are reviewing today, Player’s Secrets of Tuarhievel, is from Birthright, an underappreciated gem of a setting in its day whose print versions can be quite costly these days. Please note that, in order to actually use this book, you’ll need a copy of the Birthright Campaign Setting. Otherwise, there will be a lot of references to specific events and characters that will make no sense, as the book assumes you have not only read the books for the campaign setting, but are intimately acquainted with them.

Birthright is very different from regular AD&D 2E in that there is no alignment and that player characters are divinely infused rulers of regions where the focus is more on political intrigue than dungeon crawling hack and slash. It’s a very different experience from the usual AD&D 2e game, with concepts such as regency, provinces, holdings, War Magic (and the associated War Cards) and domain turns being routine vernacular for the setting mechanics. Again, if none of this sounds familiar to you, you really need to hold off on purchasing this or any other Birthright supplements until you have picked up the core campaign setting.

Player’s Secrets of Tuarhieveln covers a specific region of the continent of Cerilia. Tuarhieveln is the sole region still belonging to and controlled by the elves. These elves are not necessarily shining nobility, however. They have enslaved Kobolds and goblins for thousands of years, and have a long history of both xenophobia and racism. Now, in the modern times of the campaign setting, the great nation of Tuarhieveln is perhaps ready to tear itself apart, for a “lowly” human sits upon the Thorn Throne, a living symbol of regency within Tuarhieveln, and it decides who will rule. Obviously, a nation of elves who view their race as superior to all others doesn’t take too kindly to a human being chosen as their ruler, or that the Thorn Throne accepted her. However, the twist is that this human, a ranger named Savane, was the chosen lover of the elven prince Fhileraene, the previous ruler of the realm. Before being forced to be a prisoner of The Gorgon (The Big Bad of the campaign setting), he passed his divine powers to Savane so that they took could be passed to the female child she will soon give birth to. I should point out that, if you are unfamiliar with Birthright, you will have no idea who The Gorgon is or what is so special about him, as the book makes no attempts to explain him. As well, the book’s talk of “passing blood” and the like will come off as a weird way of skirting around things like sex and pregnancy. This is not actually the case, but it’s very easy to read this into the text if you don’t know the particular phrases specific to Birthright

The contents of Player’s Secrets of Tuarhieveln are geared towards helping you understand the political turmoil within the domain so that your character, who would be an elven noble ruling one of the many provinces of the domain, can take actions supporting his or her side. Do you side with the human regent, the missing prince and the Thorn Throne, or do you see to ensure an elf, perhaps even yourself, becomes ruler of Tuarhieveln? Again, alignment doesn’t really come into play with Birthright, so pick the side that sounds the most fun for you. By the time you are done reading Player’s Secrets of Tuarhieveln, you will be familiar with the history of the domain, previous rulers, some of the most important moments from the domain’s past and a list of movers and shakers within Tuarhieveln. Most important is the look at how elves play the political game compared to humans, and how vastly different the two view/broach the topic. It’s also worth noting that the politics section also discusses how erroneously both humans and elves view each other’s games of intrigue. You’ll also find maps, story seeds and interesting bits about why there are no clerics, nor any form of organized religion, with Tuarhieveln. It’s notable how truly unique Tuarhieveln comes across, even in a game as unusual as Birthright.

What’s here is great for Birthright fans, but again, the book is pretty useless without the campaign setting. Much of the intent and purpose is lost to readers unless they have the knowledge of how different Birthright is from your normal AD&D 2e game. Some gamers might balk at the $4.99 price tag, considering the original physical copy was only $7.99, but honestly, Birthright pieces are quite expensive, so $4.99 for this supplement is actually a VERY good deal. At the time of writing this, there are NO copies on Ebay, and other entries in the Player’s Secrets line go for about ten to twenty-five dollars. Again though, you NEED to make the $9.99 investment in the campaign setting if you’re even remotely interested in picking this up. Still, you’ll then get digital copies of this book and the core campaign for about the same cost as a physical supplement for Birthright. That’s a pretty awesome deal. If Birthright sounds interesting, but this particular domain isn’t of interest to you, there are many other ones to choose from. Currently, Wizards of the Coast has put three other “Player’s Secret” books on and Feel free to choose from Ariya, Halskapa, or Medoere if Tuarhieveln isn’t your thing. I do wish the book was a little more newcomer friendly to people who aren’t well versed in all things Birthright, but longtime fans of the campaign setting will enjoy getting a hold of this one.

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