TL/DR: It’s great!
The English translation of Aquelarre was kickstarted by Stewart Wieck back in 2015. Aquelarre has a venerable history. It was published in Spain nearly thirty years ago. Tragically, Mr. Wieck passed away before it was fulfilled. Fortunately, Nocturnal Media and (I think) Chaosium stepped up to see this project completed. I do know they’ve had some trouble shipping to international backers.
Aquelarre is a mighty tome. It weighs about five pounds, over 560 pages long, glossy interior, beautiful illustrations and layout. The binding looks good, but with a book of this size you will want to treat it with care. The campaign did offer a “Brevarium” – a black and white rule book that was supposed to be half the size. I sure wish I had picked up a copy for the gaming table.
Before jumping into the review, I want to take a quick detour and talk about the language of the book. The author is loquacious. I’m pretty sure this book could have been half the size and lost none of the content with a tighter writing style. Here’s an example from the section on Poison:
As if there weren’t enough situations that can injure a character, one more must be added: poisoning. Whether administered with malicious intent, used by certain animals or creatures, or consumed totally by accident, characters may encounter the pernicious effects of poison on a multitude of occasions so that they might wish to raise their Taste percentage and different Knowledges, if they don’t wish to end their days with their face planted in the bowl of hot soup they were savoring.
The Introduction contains many of the standards you see in role-playing games: what is a role-playing game, dice conventions, glossary, history of the game itself and an example of play. After that, the book is broken into five sections each consisting of several chapters.
Liber I: Mechanica describes character creation, the game system, healing and combat. Characters can be generated randomly or with the “free choice” method. Throughout the chapter they provide examples of each. Characters are fairly detailed, you determine the kingdom you are form, religion, profession (which determines your starting skills), and so forth. There are “Boons and Banes”, essentially advantages and disadvantages. The game system is described next. Aquelarre’s game system is obviously derived from Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing system (BRP). If you are familiar with BRP, you will find Aquelarre and easy game to pick up. If you are not familiar with BRP, I am not sure if this is the best presentation to learn the system. It depends on how easily you can digest the author’s prose. Healing and damage are described in the next chapter. As the game is set in medieval Spain and there is not a lot of magical healing available this is a pretty important chapter. This is not a game where your hit points quickly regenerate after a fight. If your character is injured, you can expect to be laid up for a while. The final chapter in this section is devoted to combat. Again, those familiar with BRP should be right at home here. Combat looks deadly. Wear armor if you can. From a mechanical standpoint, Aquelarre is one of the crunchiest BRP variants that I have seen. It’s got hit locations, major wounds, a different damage bonus system based on weapon type, a fairly lengthy selection of skills and character choices.
Liber II: Metaphysic describes the character’s world view, magic and theology. Your character’s world view plays a central role in this game. Do you believe in an orderly universe, ruled by God? If so, you are rational. Conversely, if you believe in magic, and the fae, you are irrational. There are game mechanics around this choice and they are on a sliding scale of 100 points. As you become more irrational, you lose points in rational. This remind me of traits from Pendragon such as Chaste/Lustful. Irrational characters are drawn to magic, and if you desire to play a magician that is the path you will take. Rational characters are drawn to God and may perform miracles of faith. It is very hard to maintain rationality in the game. Seeing demons will often cause you to become more irrational. It’s a really cool system. The next two chapters in this section describe magical spells and the powers of faith. The spells and rituals are very evocative.
Liber III: Cosmograpica is the “Monster Manual” of the game. There are over 100 pages of creatures to spring upon your characters. An entire chapter is devoted to devils and demons. Angels get their own chapter too. The last chapter in this section is devoted to the monsters of medieval Spain. While many of the creatures are familiar, they all have an Iberian spin and are sure to surprise and challenge your players. You could build a great scenario around each of these creatures and ideas kept popping into my head while I read this chapter.
Liber IV: Medievalia describes the game world. Aquelarre is set in reconquista Spain in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries. The actual time of the game is left vague, but timelines of major events are provided to help game masters give a sense of the campaign. This section was fantastic. It is a period I know very little about and I am impressed with the detail presented by the author. There are descriptions of all the kingdoms of the period, the various social classes, what it was like for Jews and Muslims during the time, life in general. The author wants your game to live and breath the medieval and provides you with all the tools you need to immerse yourself in this period. The section ends with a chapter on game mastering Aquellare. It’s great stuff!
Liber V: Tales contains three adventures. The first is a solo adventure, the other two are more traditional adventures. I don’t want to describe the adventures too much for fear of spoilers, but they look like fun and will at least help game masters come up with ideas on what to do with this game.
The final section is this book is a series of appendices containing information on equipment and goods, the monetary and measurement systems, names, locations, a battle system, maps and character sheet.
I highly recommend this game. Even if you do not run it, this is a beautiful book chock full of terrifying monsters and history. At the time of this review, Aquelarre does not appear to be for sale. There is a translation of the introduction available at DriveThruRPG. Keep an eye on the Kickstarter I guess.