I went into the second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay with a truckload of reservations, but ended up genuinely impressed that revised game managed to improve upon the original in almost every regard. So impressed, in fact, that I decided to check out Green Ronin’s other big foray into the fantasy RPG realm —
– the Blue Rose setting and system, released in 2005.
The chatter around the game informed me that it focused on “romantic fantasy” and that it had generated a bit of controversy in some quarters. It shouldn’t be shocking to anyone familiar with the geek scene that the latter was due to the former.
“Romantic fantasy” is the polite way of referring to what my adolescent circle of nerdboys used to call “that girly crap.” Think the “Earthsea” books or Mists of Avalon or Mercedes Lackey’s novels — character-driven which emphasize social/personal relationships over faux medieval muscleboys sticking their (figurative or literal) swords into shit. The subgenre tends to be fairly diverse — in terms of authorship, readership, and material — with a strong slant towards what the kids today call “wokeness.”
Blue Rose is set in a fantasy world where an egalitarian monarchy and its allies face challenges from rival nations and peoples who, for the most part, are more ignorant than evil, more oppressed than malevolent. Magic is an everyday thing, talking animals are common, and cultural tolerance is a given. The game’s art direction is suitably wispy and ethereal, evoking an Alphonse Mucha meets Charles Vess kind of vibe.
The game made use of the “True d20″ system, a variant of the familiar d20 rules streamlined for both ease of use and a greater emphasis on social interaction. The handful of character classes follow familiar archetypes, but modified to fit the setting and given an open-ended progression structure. (It’s very much along the lines of the customizable “templates” from Mutants & Masterminds, another Green Ronin offering.) Besides laying out the structure and details of the game world, the gamesmaster section of the core rulebook also addresses topics such as accessibility and player maturity in terms of handling some facets Blue Rose‘s themes and setting.
In a lot of ways, it’s the type of system I was seeking when I tried adapting Talislanta towards a more JRPG/anime focus. You could easily create the cast of the original Phantasy Star videogame with just the core character creation rules. Blue Rose is a conscientiously crafted take on a popular subgenre which had been woefully under-served in the role-playing realm. Though the end results may have been a little on the twee side, it ably accomplished with it set out to do.
So of course a vocal segment of knuckledraggers dedicated a portion of their sad lives towards whining about it. I mean, god fucking forbid there exist one fantasy gaming system that didn’t directly pander to their interests or was aimed at a target demo of “not necessarily them.” “The setting isn’t realistic,” complained dipshits who had no problems with wizards lobbing fireballs at giants or bags of holding or all the other nonsense they will spew if you’re stupid enough to give them a chance to. Blue Rose wasn’t going to to erase your Pathfinder character sheet, lads and I’m pretty certain no one is going to draft you into their romantic fantasy campaign, either.
My favorite thing about Blue Rose has nothing to do with the setting or themes or manchild tears, however. The book uses the same font and similar formatting as Green Ronin’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay releases. Most of the time, the context makes it easy to tell them apart, but there have been moments where I’ve glimpsed over at a fluff fiction sidebar expecting an overwrought edgelordy tale of some chaos warrior eating babies and found a bittersweet story about the romance between two genderfluid villagers.
The role-playing scene could do with more moments of cognitive dissonance such as that.