A few months back, we were granted a preview copy of a new title. Having played copious amounts of D&D over the years, this game got me thinking about the origins of so many fantasy elements. D&D in particular is a melting pot of Western, and to some extent Eastern, mythologies. Legends of Avallen takes the approach of focusing on Celtic mythology in Roman Britain to create a familiar yet distinct fantasy setting.
Legends of Avallen (LoA) is an Iron Age, card based, TTRPG set in the land of Avallen, inspired by Roman Britain. The people of Avallen are known as the Vallic, who are divided into five clans each ruled by Brenin (Kings and Queens) with distinct cultures and backgrounds. In the south of Avallen there is the Raxian Empire who have carved out a large ever expanding section of Avallen for themselves. The Empire itself mirrors the arrival of Roman influence on historical Britian. Currently these factions have an uneasy truce, but are well aware that it could break at any moment. In addition to the politics of Avallen, the island is home to an untold number of mythical creatures:
- The Fae – Fairies, Sprites, etc.
- The Ffieidd-Dra – Abominations that come from the Otherworld including Giants and beasts of legend.
- The Fiends – More human like abominations the Werefolk. Often times these creatures will have animalistic or unnatural features, and all of them are out for something.
- The Unshapen – Undead, ghosts, and vengeful Spirits.
- The Wyrds – Otherworldly creatures like Wyverns and Dire Beasts that serve no allegiance, but are no less dangerous.
As a player, you take on the role of a common person who breaks free of their traditional life in search of adventure, and must navigate powers both human and mythical alike.
Creating a character in LoA is both easy to understand and streamlined. Simply put, a character consists of the following:
- Profession: There are ten professions to choose from, each granting a specific ability. They are Alchemist, Bard, Crafter, Merchant, Priest, Scavenger, Scribe, Socialite, Tamer, and Thief. Characters have to choose one profession and stick to it.
- Attributes: Vigor, Agility, Spirit and Wit represent the four main attributes. The values begin at zero with a specific alteration allowed during character creation.
- Personal Aspects: This describes a character’s Motivation, Virtue, Flaws of Deficiency and Flaws of Excess.
- Origin, Name and Appearance: Origin refers to the region of Avallen from which a character hails (either one of the Clans or the Raxian Empire). Once chosen that will help to determine things like common names and appearance. For instance, a Raxian will have a more Latin sounding name and Roman like appearance as opposed to the clans.
- Equipment, Coin and Supply: Every character starts with appropriate adventuring gear, personal items and some money. Supply represents food, equipment or the like that you may have on you, and you can expend supply to pull it out of your bag.
When a character is complete, they are truly distinct from one another. The Professions allow for some interesting abilities like potion crafting, performing or tinkering. A character will gain levels in this specific profession until level five at which time they are able to take Legendary Paths.
One area where LoA stands out is in the mechanics. This is a dice-less game utilizing a deck of cards for all resolutions. Each suit of the deck corresponds to one of the four main attributes. When a character needs to resolve something like a skill, the GM assigns a Check Difficulty. They play will draw a random card and compare the result to their specific situation.
There are also advantages and disadvantages allowing for more cards to be drawn. For instance, if a character has one noted advantage and two noted disadvantages, they would draw two cards and use the one with the worst value for that situation. Overall, players want to match the suit they need in order to succeed. Kings, Queens, and Jacks are worth more, and the Joker is worth the most of all. If a player comes up with a critical success, they gain an Edge, which acts as a portable Advantage that the player may use before any roll.
Lastly, players can exert themselves to alter failures into successes, but this is something that cannot be continually performed by a single character, and has repercussions.
In my opinion, Legendary Paths represent one of the most interesting features of LoA. Obtaining one of these paths will open up the game to exciting new mechanics like magic, but as a character thy must have completed a legendary trial to do so. Truly once your character ventures on the legendary path, they are in essence becoming a hero of myth. A character at level five will fall into one of four paths (Warrior, Reaver, Mystic, mage) that can branch into specific legendary paths. The list of legendary paths are as follows:
- Druid – Allows for shapeshifting abilities
- Fae Touched – Has luck and advantage based abilities
- Fili – A bard like path using music to has magic spells
- Gladiator – A martial class that uses flourishes to enhance combat ability
- Magister – a mage that enhance, multiply or alter spells for devastating effect
- Maleficus – A mage that can bind unshapen to their whim
- Primus – This is like a battlefield commander that uses spells to aid others
- Slayer – Utilizes openings to exploit vulnerabilities and devastate opponents
- Swyn-Pict – A warrior mystic that can summon weapons, cast some spells and inflict high level damage
- Teulu – A warrior that utilizes fury to gain edges and advantages, along with some resistances
The core book (229 pages long) details everything a GM will need to run a game of LoA. In addition to the sections mentioned above there are rules for adventuring, journeying, magic, combat, social encounters, and buying/selling. Additionally, there is a section that details the very specific lore of Avallen. I personally like that the lore of Avallen is not over detailed, but gives the reader enough to work with. In many ways I’m reminded of the core book of 7th Sea, as both titles give enough detail to get everything moving and allow for the GM and players to fill in the rest of the setting to make it their own. Also, a special mention to the artwork, as it truly helps to breath life to both the land of Avallen along with the creatures that dwell within.
Legends of Avallen stands out as a setting that is both somehow familiar and unique. It takes the history of Britain and combines it with myth for an interesting result. Also, this setting would be absolutely perfect as a launching point for a TTRPG spiritual successor to Gladius! That comparison alone should make anyone (well… anyone who played that game) excited.
Some may not be a fan of using playing cards for task resolution. Personally, I do not mind it, but there will be a little learning curve at first. Just know that the card mechanics are not a deal breaker in any way, nor do they hamper gameplay (see my reviews of the 2D20 system).
I’m sold on Legends of Avallen! It hits all of the right notes for someone who likes the fantasy genre, but wants something different. Give it a shot!