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The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG: new fantasy landscapes

The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG Kickstarter campaign is about to ending soon. It’s a fantasy rpg set in Brasil in the 1576. It is taken from the series of stories of the same name, as we have already explained in our previous article. After the interview with the author, thanks to the concession of the draft of the future manual, we went into this simple but full of charm game.

For those who will not arrive until the end of the article, I already reveal my opinion: I was very pleasantly impressed by the lightness of the system combined with the freshness and beauty of the setting. I sincerely hope that the project will go through.

Let’s analyze the manual chapter by chapter!

Chapter I : player’s guide

We begin with a simple premise: with dedication and effort, one can learn anything in this life. That’s what I’ve told thousands of students over the past few years, and it’s something I believe very strongly. Therefore, this game does not use attributes that define physical and mental characteristics as natural abilities. Natural ability does not exist. Those who want more physical strength should exercise. Those who would like to acquire more knowledge need to read and study.

Similarly, this game does not develop characters through pre-defined classes. I have had four different careers over the course my life so far, and do not believe that it is the career that defines the person, but rather the acquired skills that define what a person can accomplish. So we work here with a system of learning skills. The more investment in a skill, the more proficiency the
person acquires. It is a simple concept, which I believe to be a more faithful model of real life.
We control our own development. We start life as a blank book, and we must write our story in it.

I wanted to start with the author’s premise, Christopher Kastensmidt, which makes the idea of ​​how this game works and how the characters are conceived very well.

The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG has no attributes or classes. There are many, many skills to choose from, each of which has three mastery levels. Each level of mastery corresponds to a greater bonus. There is nothing else mechanically. For each test, 3d6 is rolled and the skill bonus and any situational modifiers decided by the narrator are added. There are only 4 difficulties, each with a predetermined number.

This is a very simple system and although I haven’t tried it on the game table yet, it doesn’t seem simplistic. The skills are many, the fight has the right number of rules without being heavy and each character can learn and become what he wants.

To complete the creation of our alter ego there is only more the choice of some characteristics, brush strokes that have an impact only on interpretation and relationships. Having bought some equipment, you are ready to play.

There are some details that I really liked. One of them is the possibility of increasing your endurance (the famous hit points) thanks to the learning of the mastery level 3 of some skills. A very intelligent synergy, just as equally intelligent is the impossibility, left with little resistance, to fully use the skill levels.

Supernatural powers

The chronicles of the Society of Jesus tell of countless miracles performed by the first Jesuits in Brazil. Native Tupinambás swore by the power of their shamans. The babalawos of the Yoruba followed Ifá and the wisdom of Orunmila to practise their
divinations. For those who want a touch of magic in their game, we offer here a system of supernatural powers based on the writings of the 16th-century chroniclers and the traditions of the Tupinambás and Yoruba.

A game set in a magical country like Brazil could not fail to have a supernatural component. The game masterfully draws three strands perfectly inserted in the context of the time and makes them play with the same simplicity that permeates the entire work. You acquire a main skill that allows you to learn, like everything else, the powers related to it. The use of these is managed through a simple expenditure of Energy Points.

The first strand is Faith. A Christianity with significant effects on reality. Protection from evil, prophecies, healings, blessings. Invocations of help to God that go as far as obtaining real miracles.

The second possibility is the Breath, the connection between breathing, air and spirits. There are positive powers of care and protection, opposed to negative powers of affliction and harm. The study of the ones excludes the others. Common to everyone are the neutral powers, with a truly shamanic flavor. Spiritual journeys, control of nature and even magic.

The last strand is Ifà, the study of the teachings of Orunmila, the divinity of prophecy in the Yoruba religion, typical of West Africa and imported into the Americas with the slave trade. There are powers similar to others of care, protection and harm, but also nuances of manipulation of minds and spirits.

Since each of these paths must be pursued body and soul, only one path of the three can be undertaken and for all three the same rule applies. Those who learn these powers must renounce the use of weapons forever. Access to healing in all paths is very practical for the game. It allows you to avoid having to choose between the need to have a character who cares and the preferences of each in choosing their own path.

Sixty slender pages, well written, simple and full of examples. Many options with very few limitations to be able to carve out a custom-made character. An excellent premise for those who want to dive quickly into a balanced but not technical game and live a great story

Chapter II: Brazil of 1576

This chapter, before reading it, represented a fundamental junction for me. If I had to play in a land and time so far away and without having read the stories from which The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG was taken, could I have obtained the right information? On the one hand I wanted an exhaustive and detailed chapter, on the other hand, however, something practical and pleasant to read.

I would have hoped for a dozen more pages, but the ones available are remarkable. There is a lot of information, each page is full of ideas, in the right mix of lists, hints and insights. You can find a long list of Brazilian indigenous peoples, complete with a territorial map. Moreover there is a map of Africa with the main Portuguese strongholds and areas of origin of the deported Africans. Attention is also paid to linguistic origins.

Then we talk about Brazil, the Portuguese settlements, their organization, education, clergy. There are units of measurement with the names of the time and modern equivalents. The methods of movement, the animals, the productions are described.

There are certainly the bases to have an initial hook for your campaign or to manage one not particularly linked to the historical reality. As I said, I would have liked a little more information. In the appendices, however, there is a precious chronology from 1500 to 1650 focused on Brazilian events but with hints to the rest of the world to better integrate the game period. Truly a valuable aid.

Chapter III: guide for the mediator

In this game the dungeon master/narrator is called the mediator. Almost anticipating my concerns about the previous chapter, assistance is immediately provided to create an immersive setting with a list of sources to consult and the possibility of taking advantage of further adventures (in addition to that of the manual) by downloading them from the website of The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG.

In addition to general advice on mastering, very practical information is provided such as travel distances, poisons and diseases, trade, service costs and a rather extensive price list. I would have liked some more localized information, for example on diseases and poisons, but there is already a lot of material.

There are further explanations about combat, advice on how to apply modifiers and optional rules. Few pages, also in this case very dense, but intuitive and easy to be assimilated.

The manual is not huge and so far the reading has been fast, touching almost all the key points of the game, yet many pages still remain… why?

A suitable bestiary for Elephant and Macaw Banner

The answer to my question is simple: because, rightly, it has given way to a nice list of monsters. Not only that, also an introductory section that explains the entries well. One of the main flaws of the games with a single volume is that in order to keep a lot of information, the space dedicated to monsters is sacrificed. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen in The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG.

There are many monsters, many animals, fascinating and exotic names for creatures that finally differ from the classic fantasy to help throw yourself into a real new world. The more I read the more I wanted to start a campaign right away … if only I had the time!

The chapter concludes with the inevitable part on magical items. Much less than that on creatures. Rightly and, I believe, also intentionally, because the game is more focused on monsters and human abilities than on powerful magical objects or legendary artifacts. But those who are present perfectly enhance the atmosphere of this strange new fantastic landscape.

Chapter IV: the introductory adventure

In other games I have given less importance to the evaluation of the introductory adventure, such as in Age of Ambition. Even the introductory adventure denotes simplicity and intelligence like the rest of the manual. It is not a linear story but a small sandbox. In this way players are free to manage times and places; various locations are the perfect pretext for giving small samples of Brazil and The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG. There are precise and well-made maps, very different situations that can be managed with multiple approaches, secondary missions that can flavor everything or be cut if you just want to present the game in a session of a few hours. The mystery behind the adventure is interesting and engaging. The fact that, having finished reading it, I would have much preferred not knowing anything and playing it is an excellent sign.

Chapter V: appendices

As previously mentioned, the appendices contain references to deepen the setting and a precious chronology of those years. There are pre-generated characters and all the tables and lists in the manual to be consulted more easily or to be printed, for example, to create a mediator screen.

But the real heart of the appendices is another and I did not expect it. The whole first part is dedicated to the use of The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG in schools, with advices on how to prepare it so that it is not only for entertainment but also for educational purposes. It lasts several very interesting pages, compact and full of suggestions and passion, which end with a separate bibliography on the subject.

If on the one hand I would have liked a few more pages of description of Brazil in 1576, on the other hand I would not even take away one page from these appendices. It is nice to think of the gift that the author wants to give everyone by using many pages to insist on the link between roleplaying and pedagogy and how to make it better.

Art and layout of Elephant and Macaw Banner

The layout is classic, two columns of spacious and legible text with equally bright and easy to consult tables. Character sheets are simple and equally well laid out. The use of different colors for the different parts of the manual helps navigation.

Art is another strong point. The images are many and very beautiful. Not only stylistically and technically, but also in the ability to be homogeneous with what is described. Landscapes and environments with bright colors, costal cities full of light and hope, jungles denses of mysteries and living and exotic monsters. I would have loved to have more monster illustrations in the bestiary.

Elephant and Macaw Banner : a pleasant surprise

I wrote with pleasure the introductory article on The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG, intrigued by the particular story of its author and by the different atmosphere that was breathed in its setting. When it was time to evaluate the material sent to me, I was hoping to find a good product in order to write a positive article. But I thought that I would catalog it within me in the long line of nice games but that I would hardly find time to play.

Instead I underestimated it and I really want to try it! The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG is a simple and smart game, created to focus on varied and colorful stories in a new fantasy landscape full of surprises. It requires little preparation to be able to play, but it offers ideas and a culture behind it that can be deepened much and with much pleasure.

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