Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Tadhana

Tadhana is a Filipino Tabletop role-playing game that uses tokens, cards, and character sheets to tell epic tales of heroism and adventure. Inspired by Filipino folklore, urban legends, and mythology, Tadhana (which means, "Fate") is a tremendously promising work of passion and for its current pre-order price (which was less than $20), the set is quite hefty.  The package first arrives in a quaint burlap sack, which has the pretty spiffy logo on the front. I really loved the minimalist approach to design. 

Inside, the colors then explode outwards.

The bag contained two books; one rulebook at 242 pages, and a Starter Campaign book called Bulong (which means, "Whisper") at 98 pages. Both have full softcolor softcovers with black and white interiors. Also inside are a pack of 40 cards known as the Cards of Destiny, 5 black and white character sheets, a pretty bookmark, a bag of "tokens" and a photo-print piece of art with a personal thank you message.

So the game uses the traditional approach to role-playing games, with one being the Overseer (which is your usual Dungeon Master, Game Master, Narrator role) and the others are the players. The players then portray adventurers who have four Attributes: Lakas (Might), Husay (Skill), Talisik (Wit) and Diwa (Spirit).  They then have their Lahi (Race) which is one of the six playable races: Aswang, Diwata, Engkanto, Garuda, Tao and Tikbalang.   Each Lahi has Traits which are unlocked at Level 1, 6, and 11. Each Lahi also offers places of Origin, which provide rich setting and inspirational material you can use to flesh out your concepts more.

The game then offers multiple Professions such as the Mandirigma, Albularyo, Salamangkero, Pana, and Sarong. Each offers their own list of Profession Traits. The Mandirigma, for example, have Fighting Styles and Stances used in battle. Albularyo has Soul magic and spirit companions. These allow each adventurer to have some unique touches. The professions have nice callbacks to their inspirations yet have enough meat to stand out as new unique takes on the concepts.

Then, there are Generic Traits which are similar to various advantages and merits from other games, and Magic which the game stresses is accessible for all professions in the game. For that reason, the game refers to them as Powers instead of spells, and are limited by your Talisik rating.  The magic system is nicely crunchy with lots of entries (around 40 pages!) to look through to create your own Powers. This is then followed by around 20 pages of gear, equipment, and trinkets.

Character development is through what is called milestones, and by accomplishing enough milestones, one increases the level of their adventurer. Multi-classing is allowed as the game permits one to have multiple professions, but mentors are required for the second and third professions that are embraced.

Starting page 198, the rules of the game are then introduced. Combat is resolved with Lakas being used against Husay in combat. Husay is subtracted from the attackers Lakas, and the player draws at least one Card of Destiny to resolve the attack. If the drawn cards have no duplicate symbols, the attack misses. If a pair is drawn, then the attack hits. 3 of a kind then deals a critical hit.  It's a simple system that seems elegant in design, but sadly this is marred by the card design they've used.  The cards have one side which seems to have been rushed in the design process due to its simplistic black and white art. The other side looks gorgeous but suffers a fatal flaw in its design.

These are sample cards from the Cards of Destiny. Sadly, the white symbols on the center of each card are the symbols one must use to compare and match to see if you succeed in your challenges. Sadly, white on off-white does not read well at all.  And this painfully mars an otherwise ambitiously innovative game. Had the symbols simply been black, they would have stood out against the card art.  Likewise, this was a place I wish they had more art present. The covers for Tadhana and Bulong itself could have been used instead as additional card designs here.  I personally feel a minimalist cover would have worked given the bag's introduction of a clean design.

Trails of Fate are challenges to the adventurer that may appear during a scene. Trails of Might, Skill, Wit and Spirit may occur and a similar system to combat is used to resolve them. The appropriate Attribute is used in the said Trial, with the difficulty being used to reduce it. The final value is the number of cards that is drawn as above.

The tokens are then used to track the rise and fall of one's Attributes in combat. Lakas is spent when adventurers take damage. Husay is spent from taking certain actions. Talisik is rarely spent as it tends to act as a value used to determine things Power-related. Diwa is spent to use Powers. I do like how Rounds of Combat are split into two phases: Talk Phase and Action Phase, with Talisik determining Initiative.  I definitely can imagine some finding this system a bit quirky, with the tokens being moved around, then the cards being drawn to make sets... then going back to the tokens to mark lost Lakas or spend Diwa. But I always believed any system is daunting until you learn it and most systems become more fun once you master it.

The rest of the main book explores other systems, such as Time, Weather, Training Animals and the like.

Bulong, on the other hand, contains a lot of the meat of the game and I suspect will be the area many will focus on.  They introduce a setting called Sekunda, with Zho as one if its five major continents. The sun is a dark void ringed with silver and two moons accompany the presence of daylight. The book dives in with mentions of 25 hour days, Church of Two Gods, and various scenarios. 

The book is a fun way to get used to the system, acting like both a module and a guided how to play in one.  It also introduces the many monsters and threats in the game, such as the Tiyanaks, the Sigbin and more. A third chapter shares the story of the game's creation story and ends with a list of legendary and rare items.

All in all, the game is clearly the product of love and passion and creativity, and barring some design decisions I feel that could have been better made, I'm pretty impressed with this game overall. Heck, I'd even say it looks damn far better than my simple game, A Single Moment.  While I do feel some art pieces feel rushed (some look like cutouts which didn't seem to look good even if they were an intentional design), or were not given careful editing consideration (forcing colored art to automatically become black and white caused many pieces to suffer), and some of the tables feel very haphazardly pasted into the layout rather than carefully designed to work with the look of the book, the final product is still quite well worth the price.   I do wish the tokens were... thicker stock. Or maybe were a sticker sheet to use with something readily available. But then again, I know tokens are hard to source out for cheap.

The game system is intriguing, with the use of tokens and the drawing of cards as the main system instead of dice. While I'm no stranger to such systems (given I do play at least 12 new games per year), I worry this may become a barrier for others who are more used to simply playing the traditional games and quickly shy away from opportunities to learn new systems.

I highly recommend that people support this game and give it some space on their gaming table. It takes true grit and courage to try to come up with something new and unique and bring it out into the world for others to enjoy. Congratulations to you all, Project Tadhana. You have succeeded in leaving a worthy contribution to the tabletop role-playing game industry.  I hope you find your audience soon enough.  But I really really feel you need to somehow fix those cards. I fear many will give you low reviews because of it.

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