Review: Cloaks, Courts, & Gonnes

Cloaks, Courts, & Gonnes (referred to hereafter as CC&G) is a short (~10 page) but complete RPG set during the Thirty Years’ War in Central Europe, and introduces a new mechanical system called the Ten Tier System, utilizing 10-sided dice. Created by Ben Dutter and published for just $3 on DriveThruRPG, this game follows up Sigil Stone Publishing’s excellent Vow of Honor RPG, and shows that this little design house is churning out excellent RPGs (full or compact) that are easy to dive into and offer a wide variety of traditional and indie game elements.

Cloaks, Courts, & Gonnes

Cloaks, Courts, & Gonnes

It should be noted that the game keeps its low page-count by referring players and GMs to various real-world history books on the Thirty Years’ War, rather than spending precious word count on setting material. While this may be a turn off for some, the fact is that the game’s focus is such that there’s few people who are going to turn to such a game and clamor for a roleplaying-centric treatise on the timeline: it’s a flexible game meant to be used on the whole era, with the GM and players deciding where and when to focus the action.

The introductory text does spell out a good starting point (1625), but otherwise seeks to provide a system to play out courtly intrigue, shadowy assassins, secret agents, and hidden spies. Being able to call on real-world texts, maps, and events allows the GM to build the setting — even an alternate history — that they want to; clearly, this is a game for established roleplayers, not some starter set.

That leaves us with the rest of the text (pages 3+) focusing on Character Creation (1 page), Tasks and Actions (2 pages), GM Guidelines (2 pages), Character Advancement (1/3 of a page), and a Mission Generator that provides the context for plots, common NPCs, factions, and equipment (2 pages).

Character Creation

Character Creation is simply assigning a number of 10-sided dice to Skills, ranking Specialties (which determine what you need to roll on the Skill check in order to succeed), coming up with a Talent (which is sort of like a High Concept or core Aspect from Fate Core games that define your character’s role or occupation in the campaign), and creating a Form (a bundle of 3 Specialties that you are particularly good at, gaining automatic successes when using them in a way that syncs up with your Form). The mix of Skills and Specialties clearly runs the gamut of social, combat, and problem-solving, allowing the GM and players to focus on the kind of game they want to play (intrigue, detective, assassins, James Bond-like agents) with a full suite of relevant abilities.

Tasks & Actions

Tasks and Actions presents the Ten Tier System, which is somewhat similar to the mechanics of Vow of Honor, Sigil Stone’s previous RPG. It involves setting a difficulty, which is a target number of successes that the player has to match or exceed when rolling their dice. They roll a number of d10s equal to the relevant Skill, count successes by comparing them to their relevant Specialty number, and get to add bonuses from their Talent and Form when those are relevant to the action. It’s vaguely like Storyteller or Shadowrun, but with a little bit of Fate thrown in to keep it fast and loose.

The focus truly rests on the character’s abilities from their sheets, because the NPCs and events set the difficulty numbers; the GM rarely rolls dice. Injury (which might be social or mental as well as physical) simply puts penalties on relevant Skills, creating a death spiral effect that can hit any of their skills, and lead to defeat that takes them out of the game temporarily, in a manner very similar to Fate or even Cortex Plus (see Stressing Out or being Overwhelmed in those games).

GM Guidelines

Ultimately, CC&G treats NPCs, factions, vehicles, and so on much like Fate : anything can be as detailed as a player character, or simplified into an abstract difficulty level (in this case referred to as Durability). The GM Guidelines provide ample examples and guidance on how to do this, and what numbers represent a viable threat to different combinations of characters; for such a short game, you won’t be left with many questions about the permutations of the rules.

Combat is fully detailed, as are fortifications for siege-level battles, and social interactions that can affect relationships and loyalty.

Character Advancement & Missions

Character Advancement simply covers advances to the player characters that can be applied after the completion of missions (successful or not!).

It then goes into the setup of Missions, which is the default “adventure”-level element of the game. The Mission Generator that follows provides everything the GM and Players need to actually get rolling with the game. It provides the GM with a Problem, Solution, and Obstacle matrix that can be used to develop missions (or even longer-term campaign ideas), as well as a means of generating a wide variety of NPC stats and equipment.

The rules scale (as noted before) from the personal, to the faction, to the army level, so you’ll see equipment ranging from the crude firearms available at the time to daggers and polearms, all the way up to cannons and cavalry (including horses).

Conclusion

CC&G is a focused, relatively “simple” game in just a few pages, but don’t let that scare away the crunch-fanatic in you! This is a complete game experience providing a robust system for intrigue, assassination, and secret agents in a time of war.

Laid out in an evocative and clean manner, this game is a perfect pick-up game for history buffs, and a fun diversion from hack and slash or overly complex, fantastical settings.

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neuronphaser is an editor, eCommerce consultant, web producer, and analyst living in sunny Hollywood, CA. He's been playing tabletop RPGs of all kinds since 1985.

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