[Full disclosure: One of the co-authors is a family friend, and he ran us through the Quick Start Rules several months before the book was released.]
Your d12 doesn’t have to cry itself to sleep anymore (nods to Rich Burlew of Order of the Stick). The Eldritch Role-Playing system has a place for that sad die, and all of its non-d20 friends.
Eldritch is a new fantasy tabletop RPG published by Goodman Games. A classic sword-and-sorcery title, Eldritch comes with a serious pedigree. Eldritch creator Dan Cross is the author of Volume V: Insidiae of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds Series, and worked with Gygax on a number of projects.
Cross and Eldritch co-author Randall Petras have deisgned a simple, but elegant system. Eldritch is skills-based, with a point buy distribution. The available races will be familiar to anyone who played 1st Edition AD&D, and won’t come as a surprise to anyone gamer who hasn’t. Action and combat use most of your standard bag o’ dice, with players rolling more and higher-sided dice for each level of skill they have in an ability. Each ability can be improved through three levels in sort of a “journeyman, apprentice, master” system, with each level providing an additional, progressively higher die to checks. Any basic ability – running, jumping, standing still – can be attempted “untrained” with the tiny d4. This eliminates the “I want to climb the ladder”, “You didn’t take ranks in Climb” problem that plagues players with overly-hidebound DMs in other systems.
Combat is fairly unique. There is no “automatic” hit. The attacker rolls the number and level of die for her attack (e.g. a d4, d6 and d8 for a Master archer), and then the defender chooses an active defense such as dodge, roll, or standing his ground. An attacker needs to wear down the physical or magical defenses of a defender before dealing damage. These defenses are skill-based and their “pools” can deplete and replenish over time. This makes a great deal more sense than “Oh look, I rolled a 20. Your armor fails.” (Really, how does the entire world of D&D survive all these saving throws against wardrobe malfunction?)
There is one central “body of magic” in Eldritch, called Arcanum. Players can specialize to gain Mastery as a priest, psychic, etc. Cantrips require little energy to cast, full spells cost considerably more. The most interesting part of the Eldritch magic mechanic is that players are actively encouraged to create their own spells. There is a functional but limited spell list in the book, but there are also detailed rules on how to branch out into your own personal Arcanum.
The Eldritch sourcebook is a quick read. 96 pages, softbound, with five chapters and an appendix. It is clearly written and contains grayscale illustrations where needed. Upon reading the sourcebook, one thing becomes very clear – this is a source book. There are some adventure ideas and a preview of the official campaign setting, but what Cross and Petras have really provided is a framework to Make Your Own Adventure. This is both its greatest strength and its biggest drawback. Experienced DMs and world builders will love the freedom and the new mechanics, but newcomers to tabletop role-playing may find themselves looking for more guidance. I expect this to change once supplemental adventures begin to be released.
At only $19.99 (or $12.99 for the PDF version) you can’t go wrong picking this one up and at least running three or four friends through the starter adventure. If nothing else, it is a a wonderfully inexpensive night of creative entertainment.
For originality, fun, and a chance to stretch your creative muscles, I am giving the Eldritch Role-Playing System Core Rules Book 4 weiners out of 5.
The Eldritch Role-Playing System Core Rules Book is available in hard copy at Amazon, and in PDF at YourGamesNow.com. The official Eldritch website, including free-to-download Quick Start rules, is EldritchRPG.com.