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Minireview: Myrskyn Sankarit -- Suurkuninkaan miekka

Mysrkyn Sankarit – Suurkuninkaan miekka is a Finnish roleplaying game by Mike Pohjola, aimed as first entry point into tabletop roleplaying for children. Funded by (Indiegogo) crowdfunding, it completed successfully as a project and I got my print copy at Ropecon 2013. The name translates as “Heroes of the Storm – Sword of the Great King”, and while the copy I have is the original Finnish one, there is now an English translation available.

The game is designed as a box set, intentionally emulating and taking many design cues from the original Dungeons and Dragons sets. The box contains two staple-bound booklets (one is the player guide, another is the GM guide), along with a map, some dice and some blank character sheets. All you need to get started, in other words. The whole thing is quite traditional, up to the setting; it’s very “plain vanilla” fantasy, with the players (by default) playing rebels hiding in a vast forest, fighting the forces of an evil emperor – shades of Robin Hood there. While the “plain vanilla” design and setting would be a turn-off in a more general, modern rpg, here it’s a good thing since this game is aimed at children. Giving them an easy mental hook into the game (“It’s kind of like Robin Hood!”) is a good thing.

The player guide details the game system, including character creation, and gives a short overview of the main setting. There’s also a “choose your own adventure” -style section. for people who are unsure of what the concept of “roleplaying games” is. Not sure how needed that is, in reality, but it’s possibly a good idea, this is the sort of thing someone who really is new to rpgs might get for their kids. The GM guide has some advice for running games, and contains a ready-to-run adventure “module”. The design here is excellent, since the adventure is very cleverly designed to teach the (assumed new) GM the skills needed. The first section is completely “read from the book”, the next section lets the GM design a small detail intentionally left out of the module, and in the end the GM designs a complete (though small) encounter area. I don’t recall seeing this sort of “intro to GMing” anywhere before. I liked it.

The game system itself is a very simple D&D variant, with some more modern tweaks. Here I have some small doubts as to the wisdom of the design choice; while basic D&D is assuredly nostalgic to the game writer, it’s a clunky and largely obsolete system. Different sorts of dice, armor class, etc… do we really need to introduce new players to that? Why not pick a more modern design? To the designers’ credit, they have tweaked the system a lot, this is not a “retroclone”. So, in the end, while I do wish they had chosen another base for their game system, what they have here is fairly simple and should work well enough in an intro game like this.

On the negative side, there are some small niggles. The box is quite large considering the fairly small volume of actual content, a slimmer box would have sufficed. On the other hand, assuming there are expansion books later, they can also fit in the same box, so it’s not necessarily a fault. Also, speaking of expansions, the included adventure is only the first chapter of a longer story. I’m not sure if the intent here is that the GM creates the rest, or are there plans to write a continuation at some later point. I also spotted a few typos, which is annoying considering there’s not all that much text here. Come on guys, invest in a spell-checker program!

In the “small weird bits” department: one of the character classes is “swineherd”. That’s weirdly specific, considering the other classes are things like “thief” and “warrior”. I could sort of understand it as a Chronicles of Prydain reference, but that’s not a well-known series of books here in Finland. In addition, said swineherd has an impressively high armor class (or was it dodge, I don’t remember). In any case, that’s some serious pig-ninja action. Speaking of character classes: bonus points for not having “elves” and “dwarves”, instead we have two more unique fantasy races as possible player characters. While one of them is “elf-like”, it’s not a direct copy and helps differentiate this game from many other fantasy games.

Overall, taking into account the intended target audience, this is a nice game. The general design is decent, the art is pretty, they have some nice innovations in how they approach the whole “how to teach young people tabletop rpg” thing. In the end: there aren’t that many Finnish roleplaying games in general, and Finnish roleplaying games aimed for children? Well, now there’s one.

If my own daughters were a bit older, I could easily imagine trying this out with them.

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