Spain has produced many fine games for a very long time. Aquelarre, Ragnarok. Mutantes en la Sombra, Superheroes Inc. and many others. This, together with an immense wealth of overseas games that inundated our bookshops in the late 80’s and early 90’s, propitiated a terrific and thriving scene that’s still very much alive and kicking. This was very much helped by Dragon magazine, that was translated and published for a few years, as well as a lot (and I mean a lot!) of fanzines. Our group even managed to publish a quarterly fanzine, designed on our Amiga computers. It was a wonderful and exciting time for being a gamer!
Aventuras en la Marca del Este (Aventures in the Eastern Land) is the result of that passion that’s been cultivated for decades and what a result it is!
Remember when you opened your first D&D red box? Remember the excitement, the awe inspiring effect of flicking through the pages for the first time and how it set your mind alight with ideas that would come true over hundreds of games with your friends? Now you know what Aventuras en La Marca del Este is all about.
The game comes presented in a big and very sturdy red box with an absolutely gorgeous painting that makes you just want to open it and find out what’s inside. The box contains a 140-page perfect bound book. It’s soft, but very sturdy, cover again illustrated with a fantastic landscape setting the mood for an evocative and very attractive game that promises never-ending adventures. The box also comes with a GM’s screen. Not particularly sturdy, but good enough, full of terrific information and equally gorgeous paintings. This time, thank goodness, they’re full colour!
A basic set of dice and a pencil are provided. The dice I could understand. The pencil left me a bit curious… why?
Unfortunately the pages are in black and white. It is unfortunate because the illustrations and paintings keep on coming and coming and they’re fantastic. The composition is impeccable, the characters are strong and dynamic and very awe inspiring. And you can’t stop wishing they were in full colour. The warriors, the maps, the monsters, the equipment… they all leave you with the tantalizing glimmer of what they would be like with vivid and alluring colours. Your mouth can salivate at the sight of a meal; your eyes are left wishing they could do something similar to show you how much they miss the colour.
The book starts with a prologue by Alex de la Iglesia. Now for most of you that will not mean a thing. However Alex de la Iglesia is an extremely well known and just as talented Spanish cinema director. To have opening words by such a character is indeed kudos!
The book starts, like many other RPGs, explaining what a Role Playing Game is. I normally read a couple of paragraphs and then jump to the next section. After more than 20 years playing RPGs, I have a pretty good idea what they are. This time I read it all. Not because I had to make an effort, but because it made me excited. Made me want to read the book and get playing. I was 16 again and re-discovering the joy of all the unknown adventures ahead of me.
Then come the mechanics. I was puzzled to start with. I couldn’t help thinking “this is just AD&D with a bit of D20 thrown into it”. There is something equivalent to the THAC0, Armour Class, Saving Throws… everything! Left me wondering where the originality was… what was the point of this?… I could have dug out my old AD&D books and save myself the money.
The character classes left me puzzled as well. There is no dividing of races and classes here. At the time of creating a character, you can be a Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, Explorer, Warrior, Halfling, Thief, Wizard and Paladin. There is no provision to be a Dwarf Paladin, or an Elf Thief. This is the only part of the game that still leaves me a bit cold.
The equipment section is very adequate. To the point, not many explanations of what a sword or any other weapon or armour is. Instead, our eyes are again able to feast on lovely illustrations and drawings that we keep wishing we could see in full colour.
The rest of the equipment, from Holy Water to candles, backpacks, and including basic descriptions of different size boats and ships for adventures in the seas, are illustrated and explained to help everyone get an idea of how to use and what to use everything for. Perfect for newcomers to the game.
The combat is comprehensive and re-introduces a THAC0 style system. In order to hit an opponent, one has to roll a number that will match certain Armour Class. Get the same Armour Class or lower than your opponent, and you’ve hit. The number you have to roll is calculated by looking at a table, available in the GM’s screen. Not as straight forward as the current d20 system but it has the same charm and sense of anticipation that the old THAC0 used to have. Probably having this system is not necessary, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place either!
Magic comes next. Wizards, Clerics and Elves have access to spells. Each class has a number of spells per day available according to their level. Wizards and Elves learn their spells; Clerics pray for them. Yep… VERY familiar!
The chapter on adventuring is really when I started to fall in love with the game for various reasons. The first reason that sprang to mind was the fact that the book starts to make you realise that the game is not about tons of choices of classes, spells, equipment or anything else. All of those elements are just the catalyst for adventures. Instead of making you feel you need to be perfectly catered to brave the dangerous world, it makes you feel like a teenager who goes camping with barely a backpack full of food and the basics. It’s the getting out there and enjoying yourself that counts, nothing else!
Part of this getting ready for the adventure is the ever so important treasure. You can sit back and relax now. This book tells you exactly how to calculate your treasures, how to reward your players and how to do it well. It also comes with a lovely list of magical items of various levels of power and wonder ready to be used. Something else not to think about… just to use it when you need it.
The section on monsters and enemies leaves you again drooling for a full colour book. The basic but comprehensive list of creatures here comes illustrated by fantastic paintings and drawings. Detailed, atmospheric and charismatic. Enough information to fire your imagination, but not so much that you’ll forget a key element of any creature. A balance perfectly reached.
The world comes briefly explained in Chapter 9. Although for mythology lovers such as myself it might be a bit too brief, it just presents you with a few names and locations, as well as some teasers of ages long past. The descriptions match nicely the map that is located in the inside of the two covers and it offers more than enough forests, seas, cities, mountains and locations to play all the adventures that by now will be running through your mind. If you haven’t got one of them right away, an introductory adventure is also provided and finishes the book. It can be read and prepared in about 30 minutes and is rather satisfying in its simplicity and naivety.
I loved this game because I read the book and was ready to play in a day. Nowadays it takes me anything between two weeks and a month to get to grips with a new RPG. I kid you not when I say I was exhilarated at the thought that I could have called my friends and, within two days of having received this game, we could have sat at a table and had a great time.
And that is what Aventuras en la Marca del Este is all about, sitting with your friends and having a great time. It’s not about how much armour you have, how big is your spaceship, what magic item are you wearing today to match your shoes… Forget all that consumerism that has been introduced in games for so long now. This is the real deal, a catalyst for adventures and fun around a table like it used to be in the old days.
This game is absolutely perfect if you want to introduce anyone to Role Playing Games and a perfect alternative to the recently released red box of Dungeons & Dragons. If you are looking for a complex game with tons of depth, then this is not for you. The game doesn’t offer any complexity and for that there are other, more developed games. If you want reasons to have good fun, then buy it… now!
If you ever needed a reason to learn Spanish, this game should suffice. If not, please do write to the authors and start asking for a translated version. This game is what 30 years ago looks 30 years later and it looks and feels as good as it did then.
Let the Aventuras begin!