Arena Review: A Song of Ice and Fire RPG

In Brief

The ever-increasing popularity of George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire book series finds its home in the sturdy and functional Green Ronin RPG of the same name. It uses its own classless system and has a steady emphasis on noble houses and the sweep of history. Green Ronin is a solid company with a good reputation and it’s simple and elegant Song of Ice and Fire system is definitely something to try out, especially if you want to make a big event of Sunday’s Season 2 launch with your gaming group.

Genre: Heroic fantasy-realism.
System:
d6-based original system.
Potential Library: Small (3 sourcebooks and 2 adventures).
Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing.

The lands of Westeros sit upon a brink. Robert Baratheon sits the Iron Throne, having taken it in a rebellion against the Mad King, Arys Targaryen. The seven kingdoms are hardly at peace, however, when the Ironmen of the western islands are still fuming over their recent rebellion, the Dornish in the south still smart over the death of their beloved princess in Robert’s rebellion, the Riverlands lords and the Westermen constantly squabble, and the North and the Eyrie remove themselves as much as possible from supporting the king. Everyone wants the Iron Throne and they will need to go through King Robert to do so. But in the Game of Thrones you either win or you die.

There are a couple different RPGs based on A Song of Ice and Fire and I won’t go so far as to say this one’s the best. However, the older (and currently hard-to-find) Game of Thrones RPG from Sword and Sorcery and the persistent-world Game of Thrones mod for Neverwinter Nights both use the d20 system which has the feel of being D&D set in Westeros. That’s pretty sweet in itself and really great if you want to bring Song of Ice and Fire elements into your campaign, but for the real feel of a Martin novel this is definitely the way to go.

Best Products

There are only three sourcebooks and two adventures so if you want to get into this game you shouldn’t expect a big investment. Try things out with the free quickstart pdf, then I would recommend the whole slew of products in the following order.

Core Rulebook: Obviously, the core book is a must-have for this series but it also has a ton of information and help bringing the world to life. There is a chapter on mechanics and a chapter on character building, but there is a chapter just as big and important on noble houses.

The mechanics for houses fall somewhere between the random-generation tables in the first edition Dungeons & Dragons books and the complicated kingdom building of mass-combat games. There is also an intrigue system that is just as robust as the combat mechanics, to create the sort of shift from duels to secrets and back again that is seen in the novels.

There’s not much on the setting, but if this is the only product you have you can use the Wiki of Ice and Fire at westeros.org for the background info instead. Green Ronin also has a new Game of Thrones edition coming out, but since I haven’t read it I can’t say much (but would love to review with a free copy, hint hint!).

Chronicle Starter: The newest of the three core books is my second choice since it is the sourcebook with examples of new houses invented specifically for a campaign. There aren’t any new mechanics here (slim and simple is the design for this RPG) but there are some excellent houses that you can put heros into or set up against the noble house of your PCs.

Even after I was sold on the RPG and thought I knew the possibilities in the system, reading this book really opened my eyes to how much creativity you could have in a world that was already extensively chronicled. If you read the core book and like it, I’d heartily recommend this next.

Campaign Guide: Even though you can get a lot of the setting details from reading the books and surfing A Wiki of Ice and Fire, you’ll be constantly reinventing the wheel without this book. In here you will find succinct and helpful descriptions and stats of the major players and houses in Westeros, from the frozen north beyond the Wall to the court in King’s Landing to the red sands of Dorne. There are other sources out there on Martin’s wider world but they are written for readers and not for potential actors in the setting.

Peril at King’s Landing and Wedding Knight: These two adventures are great and a good way to introduce the game to your group without all the pressure of writing an adventure falling on you, the Gamemaster. If you want to write your own adventures you should be able to with just the Core Book (and certainly the Campaign Guide) but the inspiration in these books will give you fodder for future adventures as well.

Weaknesses

The setting material is written up to just before page one of Game of Thrones, which is great for those who are still reading through the series but want to try this game. However, this means that a lot of the more fantastical elements are left out of the series.

Spoiler Alert! There are no rules for wargs, for instance, or the face-changing antics of Jaqen H’ghar. Even Daenerys’s dragons receive no mention! If you want a game that reflects these developments, you’ll have to write them yourself.

Also (spoilers done) the material is definitely focused on Westeros and not the broader world. Having just read through Dance with Dragons, I’m all excited about the Free Cities and Slaver’s Bay, but there is zero support for this part of the world in this book. There’s also not much for those who want to play wildlings or other marginalized peoples in the book series.

Verdict

In my book, all of the failings of this system are in the presentation of the setting which is easily remedied thanks to the legions of fans writing down every little thing that Martin says. The system is simple (even by Fourth Edition standards) but hits every single note it needs to for the series. If you want something more, it shouldn’t be too hard to develop and if you want a gaming experience that captures the feel of A Song of Ice and Fire book series then look no farther!