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FLASHBACK Tainted Grail TTRPG: Song of a Dying World Review

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Quick Look: Tainted Grail TTRPG: Song of a Dying World


Publisher: Studio Agate
Year Published: Just launched to GameFound as of 2/13/2024 Link at Bottom of Review!

RPG System: uses a modified version of the system developed for the award-winning game Shadows of Esteren called the “Story Arc System”, designed to be accessible and intuitive.
 
Find more info HERE.
 
From the Publisher:
In Tainted Grail TTRPG: Song of a Dying World, your characters are destined to become the legendary “Guardians of Avalon”, a group of individuals imbued with Arthur’s power and fated to defend humanity in difficult times against the island’s forces.
Disclaimer: The publisher provided the prototype PDF copy of Tainted Grail TTRPG: Song of a Dying World. The opinions expressed in the review are completely my own.
 

Review:

While I am sometimes reluctant to try out new Role Playing systems, Tainted Grail : Song of a Dying World was most definitely never on my list of games to avoid.

Rather the opposite, after having fully experienced and reviewed Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, it made perfect sense for me to want to continue my adventures in this world.

And to a degree, I have already.  For example, I currently own all of the expansions for Tainted Grail (am still waiting for the newest one for  Kings of Ruin to arrive at my door), and while I have not fully played through all of these yet, I know that based on the illustrious precedent that Awaken Realms has set, someday I will complete them all ; that is a certainty.

If you have read any of my many reviews on epic campaign games, one thing that I constantly mention is that while I may have had some misgivings about the gameplay in the original Tainted Grail board games, the series nevertheless remains the pinnacle of narrative storytelling, and sets the gold standard that has yet to be bested by any other tabletop game I have played. 

**Note that when I say “narrative”, I mean just that—the story, and its ability to grip you in a compelling sequence of events from start to finish. Not to be confused or conflated with “World Building”, as in this respect I feel that for now Arena : The Contest  and Tanares Adventures had the best world building—creation of lore, complex histories, and numerous complex and intricate characters, available primarily in the book The World and Art of Arena : The Contest, and the new 5E RPG books. As narrative, however, Tainted Grail still bests these games). **

 

Tainted Grail : Song of a Dying World begins after the events of The Fall of Avalon’s board game. However, the game design is now a full-fledged RPG system, a la Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, etc. 

 

Please be advised that this preview is based upon a prototype that is likely to change quite a bit between the time of the game’s crowdfunding launch and its inevitable final release. So keep in mind that my words and experience are not necessarily reflective of the final product.

One of the reasons I am sometimes turned off from the prospect of trying new RPG’s has to do with redundancy, the feeling that even though the name is different, I am somehow playing a game I already own or have played before. There is a lot of copycat material out there, and sometimes not a whole lot of originality makes its way out to my neck of the woods. 

After having reviewed some 350 pages of text from the prototype for Tainted Grail’s latest addition to the family, I am honestly quite taken back and blown by what I have seen ; most of the ideas contained within the game are completely fresh and new, and feel like nothing I have seen before. 

Now my understanding is that while some of these ideas may be “new” to me, they are in fact borrowing some elements from a system that I had until just now never heard of before, Shadows of Esteren. Hrmm, okay. Well, regardless of the source of the general rule set, I was completely caught off guard by it. And more on this later, for sure.

 

Perhaps the most dire warning I have to say with regard to the  Song of a Dying World game system is that spoilers abound. 

 

If you have any intention of playing the board games, I would highly recommend that you play The Fall of Avalon first, because if players expect to familiarize themselves with the materials of Song of a Dying World, it will ruin some of the more consequential and epic revelations that occurred in The Fall of Avalon. With that being said, my review is a safe haven from spoilers, so you may proceed to read without peril.

 

With that being said, however, it is absolutely not essential to play the board games first. The text is set up as to nicely synopsize the history of a few of the games, and while some of the more critical events from the original  games made their way into the descriptions, this was done to give more essential context to the world you will find yourself in. Rightly so, not every trivial detail makes its way into the annals of  Song of a Dying world, but there is just enough information to get players going. And even though based on Arthurian legend, there is no prerequisite knowledge of it required to play before entering this world, as the characters bear little to no resemblance to what you may have read about them in other incarnations..

However one thing I will say is that as of now for this preview, having a bit more spoiler-free background information will be vital to the game (more on this later). Now I must reiterate that I have no idea what the devs have in store for the final publication ; perhaps there will be a bit more to be seen in this area of development. We shall see.

Regardless, the essentials of gameplay are all present in the preview that I have been shown. The game is designed to be utilized with a leader (GM) and a variety of player-generated characters. And here is where things start to get really interesting…

 

 

This is not at all what I have come to expect from character generation, nor gameplay…

It is very much like someone at Awaken Realms ran the TaintedGrail.Boardgame file on their computer into a format converter and set the output into a “.RPG” extension, and the computer cranked out a TaintedGrail.RPG file that transformed the material into an entirely different mechanic that nevertheless manages to retain the essence and soul of its much acclaimed predecessor. 

That is quite a remarkable achievement.  

Because many of my favorite elements of the board game somehow “magically” ended up being carried over to the RPG system.

 

For example, one of the most unique, realistic and compelling aspects of the board games had to do with the protagonists themselves ; they were far from the ideal heroes that we all have grown accustomed to. The everyday tropes we have come to expect in many genres were nowhere to be found, and instead we were left with hollow shells of people who not only were imperfect, they were in fact greatly flawed in many (or even most) respects, often lacking basic good character or even the most marginal proficiencies. 

 

 

The game system for Song of a Dying world retains this core aspect, and ironically makes it the most fun aspect of character generation. 

Instead of rolling for perfect statsyou know, all of those precious 18’s—every player instead starts out by creating a character who is essentially gifted in nothing. For example, one’s Hit Points and general overall well being will remain consistent between players—no large gaps in Hit Points will exist between magic users and barbarians, for instance. In fact, everyone will be the same in this regard.

Furthermore, I almost immediately noticed is how easily character generation seems to have been tailored to the world of Tainted Grail.

 

Most notably, gameplay elements that had a home in the board game somehow manage to ubiquitously sneak in to the RPG system. For example, it feels eerily similar in the ways in which PC’s recover from dying / zero hit point status or utilize magic points. 

Another example of this would be how the game handles character advancement. Again, no one starts with any particularly “gifted” aptitudes. The most knowledge a starting character will have at the commence of the game is 5 points, which, in the way that this game scales skills is still fairly rudimentary. 

A score of 1 would be zero knowledge at all in an area, while a 2-3 might be just knowing that an item on the table over there is a weapon—but not how to hold or wield it. 

A 5 in this case may just represent knowing how to crudely swing it, but still not having enough know-how as to make the most practical use of the weapon. 

 

 

All in all, at this time in Song of a Dying World 20 of such broad “Domains”, or general fields of knowledge , all of which are interesting and perhaps tied to your character’s back story.

These Domains represent very basic fields, such as general medicine. Gaining any more ability requires focusing into very specific disciplines, which is represented by going over a “5” points in a domain, and then choosing to focus in a very narrow (but branching) pathway. And again, all of these pathways are interesting, making for very unique combinations as well as seemingly infinite opportunities for character builds, as no player will be able to come close to being able to excel at everything. This should greatly encourage team dynamics.

Heck, if you have spell casting in mind, you can’t even use a single magic spell at all until you manage to go into a Discipline and get more than 5 points in a domain. How cool is that? 

Exceedingly, in my opinion, as it really helps reinforce the idea that no one is born into their talents in this game, they are all achieved, and this really highlights one of the system’s great strengths in helping give a good sense of attachment to your characters.

 

Another standout is that the story itself is not necessarily dictated by the leader/gm, but rather the players, and this degree of involvement is a focus starting all the way back during character generation. Each player will choose a sort of path of progression such as blue, brown, red, etc, each with its own traits. This essentially represents the nature of the personal undertakings a player may undergo—blue may be apt to healing for example, whereas red may be more keen on conflict as a very crude example.

Following your chosen path to the highest degree possible is not only helpful for role playing , but also for making the narrative (as, avoiding spoilers, there IS a reason, for example, why no two players can choose the same two colors). And this facet is exciting, because this aspect really does tie into the world and theme quite dramatically if you know the history of the game world…

 

Other noteworthy facets of character generation again (as with the board games) have to deal with character flaws—no character is bereft of these. Due to the circumstances of the game setting, virtually no one is free of the consequences of living in this particular world, with some having underwent significant trauma in childhood, while many others may be tainted with a pervasive form of madness that permeates the environment. Regardless of the nature of the origins, these impediments serve as excellent catalysts to keep things interesting at all times. 

 

I like the magic system. Simple, but elegant. Not a system to become drowned in with hundreds of spells available, but nevertheless one that lets you customize your use of what magic is available to your needs, with a robust Magic Point system.

 

Moreover, the fact that your PC may be in constant state of a sort of “developmental flux” is another highlight of the gaming experience. The best example I can think of if this were DnD would be the idea of a Fallen Paladin—you character may somehow manage to achieve their own personal goals that they chose during creation, and essentially achieve a sort of nirvana, and yet, always be susceptible to being corrupted by not following their chosen paths and ideals. Even in achieving “perfection” it will quickly become evident that your character is never really at the peak that you think they are, which is a wonderful asset to keep gaming from ever getting stale.

 

Combat, to be brief, is also unique. There is no d20 system, but rather a d10 with modifiers, and while this in itself may not seem ground breaking, when paired with elements such as a “Stance” mechanic, this is about as new of an experience as I could expect. The flow of battle will constantly shift to and fro as, each change in stance affects your capabilities during fighting each round.

 

 

This is but a brief summary of what I have been able to gauge so far. And there is much, much more , trust me.

 

Do I have any concerns? Well, yes, and no. As things currently stand now, I did mention for example that players could probably use a bit more background and lore within a dedicated source book (maybe even contained within this same book). The reason for my saying so has to do with the way the RPG sets up the storytelling, which is exclusively in the hands of the players in terms of the direction it takes. Consequently, it takes a lot of familiarity with this world to be able to set such specific goals, so in this regard, the more information one can have prior to setting out, the better.

 

The Items and Bestiary lists seem a bit sparse right now. This could actually be a good thing to keep players focussed, but as things stand now, there is not a whole lot in this department. However, as mentioned, this could possibly be a good thing…

 

As someone who has purchased virtually everything related to Tainted Grail with my own money in the past, I would say this is must-buy on multiple levels. 

 

While I have not enjoyed everything from Awaken Realms, this is one product line that has as of yet failed to disappoint me with its immersive qualities. There is huge potential for Tainted Grail : Song of a Dying World, and with careful planning and revision, I could see this RPG system completely replacing DnD for me someday, which would be no small accomplishment.

 

I am eagerly awaiting to see how this pans out!

 

After reading Jazz’s review, if this sounds like a game for you at the time of this posting Tainted Grail TTRPG: Song of a Dying World
will be live on GAMEFOUND. Check it out and back it HERE or below.

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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer

 

Jazz Paladin is an eccentric at heart — When he is not learning to make exotic new foods at home, such as Queso Fresco cheese and Oaxacan molé, he is busy collecting vintage saxophones, harps, and other music-related paraphernalia. An avid music enthusiast, when he is not pining over the latest board games that are yet-to-be-released, his is probably hard at work making jazzy renditions of classic/retro video game music tunes as Jazz Paladin on Spotify and other digital music services.

CD’s are also available here!
See Jazz Paladin’s reviews HERE.

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