Saturday, November 24, 2018
The REAL Beyond the Wall Review
Welcome to the definition of a mixed bag. Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is a unique game, with a great idea: make it possible to make characters, draw up the scenario, and play an entire story, all within one session! It is a lofty goal. There's only one other game I know that tries to do a complete story in a single session, Tenra Bansho Zero, which I also own. But that game has gotten no actual playtime with me so far, unfortunately, because of the prep work involved in setting up a session; BtW has no such issue. But as you get past the brilliant character and session creation rules you'll find a mess of rules that just do not fit together. It's not enough to completely wreck the game, but it certainly doesn't help the game or elevate it into the smash hit it honestly should be.
BtW's character creation is unique. Most games will use either an archetype system or a class system of some sort. BtW uses both an archetype and a class system, to great effect. The archetype system is actually a background generator, building you up from childhood to present day, with quirks, traits, relationships, and then hooking that into a class. And this system works, really really well. It's simple, flavorful, and effective. It's actually so effective it makes me wonder why no one else has done something like this before! If anyone reading this blog has run into something quite like this let me know and I will gladly play the hell out of that game. Generating the session is equally as good. It's detailed and dependent on what the players generated in their character building. And this whole process can take as little as half an hour! Yes, you heard me right! Half an hour! It's amazing! And what's more the hooks generated are very good, more than enough to get the session started.
Unfortunately the actual rules for the session are not terribly good. There are three (yes, THREE) different systems of resolution in this game: roll under, roll above, roll and add modifiers. Every single newbie I've shown that to scratches their head. Fortunately the systems are simple enough for even noobs to adapt to, but they shouldn't have to: there are plenty of ways to take the simple roll under system that is the mainstay of the game and do it through the rest of the system. Whitehack presents these solutions, as do other games, and the fact that this game took the worst that the OSR has in it is head-scratching, particularly when you consider that the designers had another system in mind but chose the system they did for ease of use. It's not enough to destroy the session, but it is a drag on it. I'm going to houserule a lot of Whitehack into this game, if only because at that point it'll be the perfectly smooth system they were talking about to begin with.
I want to call BtW perfect, I really do. You can do all sorts of wonderful things with this system and the designers are clearly onto something. And you can tell that they have a really good idea. But all good ideas need some cleaning up, particularly unique ones. Burning Wheel needed it, 4th edition needed it, and this game needs it too. I would highly recommend Beyond the Wall, I would just highly advise to not be shocked if a second edition is made, and I would advise to be even less shocked when it's a clearly superior product to the first edition. These guys are onto something. I hope they chase it down, catch it, and make it perfect.