Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: Arrows of Indra

Arrows of Indra, written by the RPGPundit and published by Bedrock Games, takes the "standard" 0E rules and uses them as the basis for a game of heroic action set in Vedic India. I confess I've been looking forward to this game since I first heard about it as an adjunct for my own Greyhawk campaign, and (full disclosure) was happy to receive a reviewer copy of the pdf.

Shortest version: I like this game so much that I'll happily plunk down the money for the hard copy version when it becomes available in a few weeks.

There's much here in terms of mechanics that players used to 0E or its descendants will find familiar; there are character classes (priest, priest-shaman, fighter, virakshatriya (a sort of paladin), scout (a sort of ranger), siddhi (magic-user), thief, thugee (assassin), and yogi), character races (the normal fantasy Europe races are not to be found, but we have barbarians, monkey-men, serpent-men, bird-men, and mountain-spirits) with nice bits of Vedic Indian folklore as their bases, and alignment (holy, neutral, and unholy). Nothing feels like a retread of the older material so much as a re-imagining of it because of the new mythological basis, and all is written in a very clear style.

There are new pieces to characters as well, the most significant being caste. It should be unsurprising that caste plays a large role in a game set in a mythological Indian setting, and there are both mechanical (dalits get +1 to CON and -1 to CHA, for instance) and in-game social impacts for each caste; brahmins run the risk of imperiling their family's status if they pursue a career as a warrior, for instance. The importance of family in the setting is strong, and rules for generating one's family are provided to give more background.

Combat is somewhat different than the 0E system, much more in line with modern sensibilities; the basic system is roll+modifiers must beat armor class to hit. There is an extensive section of skills which are linked to each character class; the magical effects of priests and siddhis are treated like the skills of any other class, which certainly makes for a quick, consistent, and easy system for new players.

There are the expected sections of monsters and magic items (both either taken from Indian mythology or Indian-ized versions of familiar D&D examples), but what really sets this work apart is the setting of The Bharata Kingdoms, which is a very gameified and mythologized version of ancient India. For someone like me, whose knowledge of this culture is extremely limited, the presentation of the setting was terrific, familiar enough that I could hang my hat on some things, while at the same time being exotic enough to have a very different feel from most fantasy campaigns. The sections on the Patala Underworld, a sort of cross between the underdark and outer planes, was especially thought-provoking. Rob Conley did the maps, which serve their purpose well and should be easy enough to use during play. There's obviously a lot more in there than can even be mentioned in a brief review, all of it good.

All this is accomplished with what was, for me anyway, just the right amount of foreign terminology and jargon. Too many settings seem to operate under the impression that all it takes to make an exotic setting is to use hundreds of weird names, but that ends up being nothing more than an exercise in frustration for all but the half-dozen die-hard fans who are willing to memorize the glossary. Arrows of Indra avoids that pitfall; a mace is still a mace.

All in all, this is a fantastic game, and for $12.99 for the pdf and $29.99 for the soon-to-be-available softcover (both clocking in at slightly less than 200 pages, with art, maps, and a character sheet) it's a terrific introduction to a lively mythological setting that most people who are used to either Medieval Europe or China/Japan as their default fantasy setting would be well-served to explore.