Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Children of Fire

Review:  Children of Fire
by Erich Wamback of Methods in Madness
Rating: ★★★★

Angels.  That is the main focus of the game Children of Fire.  And while other games such as Steve Jackson's In Nomine approach it with a sense of black comedy, or Anima which gave angels a more mythic fantasty setting to play in, Children of Fire approaches the concept with much focus towards the researched sources (the website mentions Gustav Davidson's A Dictionary of Angels, and even Florentino Garcia Martinez' The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, which frankly give the game a much more interesting touch) and less towards the Bible itself nor popular fiction.  The game outright explains it does not take ideas from the concept of the Hollywood angel, which frankly I found very refreshing an approach.

In the game, there are more than one Heaven and Hell, and there are a variety of threats that exist that seek to endanger mankind, from fallen angels to sorcerers and artificial intelligences (called the Godless Machines).  

Angels are created in game with Orders, Aspects, Virtues, Forces, Temptations, Providences, Signatures and Grace.  Orders define the role the Angel partakes in its duties, which can range from Guardians to Ministering, and the like.  Orders define the Primary and Secondary Forces that the Angel will have.  Aspects are like your typical Attributes in a role-playing game.  Here, they are Knowledge, Understanding, Power, Vigor and Glory. Virtues are similar to Virtues in White Wolf's Exalted, which are expected to affect how the character's attitudes are portrayed.  Forces reflect the Angelic powers at their disposal.  Temptations are the things the angel finds fascinating and are resisted with the appropriate Virtue.  Temptations are not bad things, per se, but do distract the Child of Fire from its duties.  Providence is an area of expertise which grants the child of fire a bonus in appropriate rolls.  Finally, the Signature is a specific way an Angel will always manifest.  Like always appearing as a child.  Or always appearing in green clothing.    Grace is the final stat, which reflects favor in the Almighty that can be useful in affecting one's rolls.

System Sounds Familiar
The dice system of the game reminds me much of In Nomine.  Forces, when used, generate shockwaves that allow other Celestial beings to sense your actions.  The game uses d10s which is added with one of the character's appropriate stats and typically have a target difficulty of 20 (which can scale higher for more taxing actions).  Snake eyes (rolling two 1s) is always a failure, while rolling two 10s always means a success.  

I do however like how they approached combat.  In this game, a single roll reflects the over-all feel of a fight.   When the roll is made, giving the players the clarity of who has the advantage of the fight, then the players can describe the fight as it unfolds.  The difference of the roll is compared to the Vigor of the combatants to know if the loser is injured or destroyed.   

Experience Reflected
The game does include systems on how to reflect the growth of Grace and the rising of one's ranks among the Celestial that serve the Almighty.     The thirteen different kinds of Forces allow for greater variety as the Child of Fire learns to harness more and more power.  

Professional Mindset
The game is very generous with information too, having sections devoted to Demons and their corresponding systems (other games provide such in a separate book, or in the case of Demon: the Fallen, a single windowed text box!) as well as why the Children of Clay (humans) can be important allies and threats, and not just people you had to protect.

The chapter on how to run the game provides ample tips and suggestions and can be a great jumping point for ideas on how to give your game a different twist.  All in all, for a free online product, Children of Fire is very impressive.

They are even kind enough to offer free downloadable PDF and HTML versions of their books.

So is it worth playing?
Definitely.  The game deserves a look-see if not an actual play through to grasp the well-researched meat it offers.  (I ran this before for two players, and for a two player game, it really was pretty intense.)  Now yes I am certain there will be some who won't find the religious slant of the game comfortable and that's quite understandable, but my perspective to the game was more like this:  If you want to play a game where you actually DO feel like you're playing angels and not just super powered winged people, this game is definitely the game you should consider trying.

Rating Breakdown:
Concept: Parts feel derivative, however the fresh take on giving Angel lore a more realistic and serious tone really works in their favor.
Crunch: Pretty lite given Stat + Roll to reach 20 is practically the basic rule for the whole game.  But the diversity of Forces gives the game added crunch.  The free second book on the Children of Clay also offers neat ideas you can explore.
Layout: Very impressive.  One of the cleanest and well-laid out products I've ever seen free online. The artwork nicely supports the mood of the game.  I would have loved to see how they would have done a printed book of this game.
My favorite part: The realness of it all. No fuzzy dice from hell.  No questions on whether the angels are good or evil.  The black and whiteness of the game matches the source material of the research very well.
What I wish was better: The Children of Clay supplement seems to be the last book they've released.  The site mentions that was way back, around 1999.  I would have loved to see more material for this game.

Eric Franklin informed me on Google Plus that there actually was a Kickstarter campaign that successfully launched the print edition of this game! So for those who'd want a physical copy of this game, head on to Amazon and grab one today!

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