10 April 2023
Cards, celts and boundless creativity
In any hobby, whether that’s classic cars or opera, you occasionally come across a piece that gets the experienced connoisseurs excited. In the case of tabletop roleplaying, Legends of Avallen is one of those pieces – a game that swells with innovative ideas and cunning iterations of established designs to create something new and exciting.
This isn’t to say that the game doesn’t hold appeal to newcomers, of course. Just as anybody can spot a beautiful car or appreciate an emotional performance, Legends of Avallen’s has plenty of eye-catching features. Most notable among these are its setting and the core gimmick of its ruleset – a fantastical, heroic version of Celtic Britain and a system that switches out dice for playing cards, respectively. Both of these represent quality work and shouldn’t be dismissed for even a moment.
The most impressive elements of the game, however, are only really visible once you get stuck into the rulebook – perhaps the RPG equivalent of popping the bonnet and rummaging around in the engine. It’s only then that you can really appreciate the cunning way that the game guides you into constructing a unique character, for example.
Rather than picking your hero’s destiny at level one, Legends of Avallen gradually introduces a blend of professions, classes and legendary paths (a clear nod to D&D 4E’s beloved ‘paragon paths’). Not only do these all work together to create a custom powerset that expands as you delve deeper into the game, a clever bit of design work means you can comfortably squeeze all the information you need to play these complex heroes onto a single page.
This is but one example, of course, but we could probably fill half this magazine with examples of equally cunning little slices of rules and systems. Even the core mechanic, which involves flipping over cards and hoping to match them with the colour and suit tied to the attribute you’re using, is a delight to play out at the table.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that the creativity on display sometimes seems to push the ruleset too far. There are rules for almost anything you could imagine a heroic fantasy game needing, and while they are almost universally well-built, the sheer volume of them can be overwhelming. It doesn’t help that the information you need to run a game and create a character is not always obvious, and often it’s not clearly presented.
For example, the book waits until page 172 to explain what target numbers the GM should be using for setting skill checks – and even then, it’s in a seemingly unrelated table. This isn’t a major issue on its own, of course, but there are dozens of such small niggles that make learning and playing the game just a bit harder than it needs to be.
Of course, there’s more than RPG than just the rules, and Legends of Avallen’s setting is definitely praise-worthy. Yes, there are plenty of Celtic-inspired games on the shelves already, but few of them maintain the air of heroic fantasy quite as well as Legends of Avallen. Your party of warriors, mystics and mages are much more likely to be taking on an evil wizard from the suspiciously Roman-looking Raxian Empire in an arcane tower than they are to be lying in a bog, dying of an infected wolf bite.
The setting is great fun to explore, especially for those who know their ancient myths and can tackle some tricky Welsh pronunciation, with plenty of scope for setting out a campaign.
Legends of Avallen is not a perfect game. It’s packed with more rules and sub-systems than it needs and is hampered by poor presentation and structuring throughout the core rulebook. Despite these shortcomings, however, the game remains an absolute blast to play. The ruleset is bursting with creativity and shows a clear love for RPG design, with many of its best features drawing inspiration from the highlights of modern gaming.
While it may be hard to recommend to a group still finding its way in the world of tabletop roleplaying, Legends of Avallen is just the thing for helping experienced GMs rekindle their love for the rather worn-out fantasy genre or for those that want a take on Celtic roleplaying that leans into fantasy rather than history.
PLAY IT? YES
A gamer’s game; a fantastical vision of Celtic Britain supported by a stellar ruleset
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Designer: Deren Ozturk & Kurt Samson
Publisher: Adder Stone Games
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