I got this on Free RPG Day 2021. Blue Rose has been around for a while now, and I’ve been meaning to check it out. Originally it made a bit of a splash back in 2005 because it was a pioneer in being specifically, consciously inclusive of the LGBTQ community. It was originally done as a spin-off of D20 (Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Ed.), but with its newest edition, it uses the A.G.E. system which also appeared in the Dragonage RPG and The Expanse RPG. I got a chance to play The Expanse at a con back in 2019 and the mechanics seemed fine to me.
This quckstart book gives you the basics of how the system works as well as a primer on what Blue Rose is, and what its setting of the Kingdom of Aldis is like. The book also includes a beginning adventure and some pregenerated characters for use with it.
As I said above, I got a chance to play a different A.G.E. game and I thought the mechanics were fine. What playing a one-shot at a con doesn’t give you and what this book doesn’t give you, is an idea of what character progression will look like. I bring that up because this is a class-based game, which is something I’m not generally a fan of. That usually means that you pick a class, and every time your character reaches a certain goal (a number of experience points, certain campaign progress markers, etc.), they improve across the board. This might mean gaining abilities, spells, powers, hit points, etc. I tend not to like class-based games for a lot of reasons, including “power creep” where your characters essentially start to become superheroes after a while. I also don’t like the idea that you suddenly get better at a whole suite of things because you reached an arbitrary marker. I tend to prefer, among other things, skill-based games, where you only improve in the things you actually do and use in the game (see: Call of Cthulhu). It being class-based isn’t a deal breaker. It’s just a mark against it from a personal taste point of view.
Where Blue Rose really lost me was the setting. Let me be clear. I don’t think the setting is “bad.” It just isn’t for me. I’ve mentioned in the past that Fantasy isn’t my genre. Blue Rose almost perfectly encapsulates the specifics of Fantasy that I don’t like. If there were a Venn Diagram of all the various elements of Fantasy that put me off or annoy me, this would be the point of complete overlap. It takes place in a generic Fantasy-land that seems to be an amalgam of the countless books you’d see in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section of a bookstore back in 1992, the kind with blonde women in flowing white dresses, with high-towered castles in the background…and probably a cat. This quickstart specifically mentions Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, and Tamora Pierce, who are certainly notable genre staples (Diane Duane, by the way, wrote a couple of the best Star Trek novels).
It all seems well crafted and well thought out, but it would be difficult to make a setting that more directly captures what I don’t like. Even Forgotten Realms, as much as I hate it, doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head quite so directly. However, if you are into this sort of thing, I suspect this game might be a good one for you to check out. It really does seem like the creators have put a lot of effort in, creating a detailed setting and a system that fits. There are absolutely stories to be told that I think this game will facilitate. I could imagine if you wanted to capture the mood of a Studio Ghibli movie, filtered through that 80s to early 90s Romantic Fantasy fiction, this would be great. Just, you know, leave me out.
The adventure that takes up a good chunk of this small book seems fine. It introduces a few world concepts and gives you a few challenges to throw at a party. Something that I really like about it, and I think this is something that Blue Rose is going for overall, is that the scenario gives you a lot of options for how you can solve problems without resorting to violence. I tend to find combat to be a chore in a lot of games. Even some of the games where combat tends to be the focus, like Dungeon Crawl Classics, I like to keep them to as few rounds as possible. I really like the idea of finding other ways to solve problems. It’s something I hope to work into more of my future games. At least having options is nice.
To sum up, this quickstart seems like a pretty good taste of the larger Blue Rose game. Though very much not for me, I can imagine that it would be great for folks who are into the genre. Until I actually saw what character advancement looked like in action, I can’t really say how that is and if it’s handled better than other class-based games (specifically D&D). Kudos to them for being specific, direct, and purposeful in being inclusive. This hobby is for everyone and I’m glad to see more companies making that clear. Green Ronin was leading the way.
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