From the Shelf of the NPC: Celtic Legends

As I’ve promised before, I’m adding reviews of books “From the Shelf of the NPC,” regardless of age or how good (or bad) it is. These can be considered “filler”, but at the same time, I like the idea of finding random books (usually on the cheap) that people may have missed in general and why one should find (or avoid) them.

This little gem is a book from 1992, was originally published in French, and somehow landed in my collection 25 years later thanks to a friend finding it at a yard sale.

That book is Celtic Legends.

==The Pitch==

Celtic Legends is part of the Legends series of RPGs published by Descartes. This particular one is set to allow you to play during the times that the legends of Celtic Mythology took place, or at least early enough after they took place that they are still common knowledge (i.e. during the Roman Empire).

==What You Get==

The book itself is under 200 pages and is split among different chapters/books.

The first part of the book is dedicated to the setting of the game, namely the history, culture, and myths (as well as some language notes) about the people we know as the Celts. This section includes gods, heroes, family dynamics, names, and more.

The next part is character creation, which is randomly generated with a percentile roll for your parents, multiple four-sided dice for your attributes, then some derived attributes to round things out. You then follow up with your Apprenticeship (what you learned and how long it lasted) to help determine your age (randomly generated), spells learned (with more time added to your age), and a few more more derived attributes like Stamina (your health). This chapter also includes a number of “average” characters for each character type/class (blacksmith, knight, bard, etc).

Next up is the mechanic itself (and the GM chapter), which is overall pretty simple: determine what sort of skill you need to roll, modify it by any modifiers (such as a storm when rolling for sailing), and roll 1d20; your goal is to roll low. Simple as that! Anything you beat your target by is a Margin of Success, which determines how well things went and/or how much damage you cause.

The rest of the book after this consists of an adventure (with pre-generated characters), a chapter on Apprenticeships (how long they take to gain a point, how to use them, difficulty modifiers, etc), and a chapter on Magic (how it works, what each spell does).

==The Good==

The best part of this book is the first chapter on the Celts. We are given an extraordinarily well-researched collection of information about Celtic history, society, rulers, languages, heroes, deities…just about anything you’d want to know if you were just getting started. This chapter really sets the stage to help you properly understand the timeline and the cultures you and your groups will be interacting with.

I’m not going to lie, this part was my favorite part of the book, because there’s something about being able to quickly pick up the basics of the myths and history, but still knowing more than just the basics.

The book itself is also rather detailed, with every major mechanic being clearly presented. Curious about how Seduction works? Turn to the related skill and you’ll find a section on Seduction.

One thing that made me chuckle was the different types of magic. They really broke down the magic based on what type of character you are, as some “classes” are clearly better at that type of magic (or are known for guarding specific secrets) than others. You have magic for the Bards, Druids, Blacksmiths, and a few other magic options scattered around at the tail end of the book.

==The Bad==

While I’ve been playing RPGs for a while, I have to say that one thing I am grateful for is the change in the quality of the books. This book is of such horrendous quality that I’m surprised anyone even bought it (and it would attribute to why you can’t find it anywhere).

Upon trying to read it, the glue immediately snapped and a few pages started to come loose. By the time I hit page 30, almost an entire section of the book was almost split from the other pages, and the book itself was almost separated from the cover.

I thankfully got through the book before it crumbled to bits, but it is not a book that’s fully intact any longer, and I am exceedingly grateful that a number of newer books aren’t this bad about pages. I know this problem occurred frequently until the early 2000s (AEG’s books were notorious for losing pages, and some of my WoD line lost spines/covers over the years), but my newer books (2010 onward) seem to be much sturdier.

The big stinkers of the book (outside of binding) are easily summed up as art, layout, and mechanics.

The art in this book is mostly nothing to write home about. Each smaller picture is used two or three times, and the larger pieces are just okay bits of black and white artwork. Some are decent, but some are just…awkward. Weird poses, odd faces, and generally quirky lines within the art just bug me.

The layout is also atrocious. Due to the nature of the book, they put Magic and Apprenticeships in their own respective chapters, so if you are building a new character, you will need to flip from the chapter on character creation to the chapter on Apprenticeships while tracking how much time occurs for each step. It’s a poor design choice, especially with the shoddy binding.

Finally, we hit mechanics, and I will try to be brief on the two major points.

First off is character creation. They use random generation that would make a D&D grognard feel right at home, but also be a bit frustrated as it is all d4s. You have to roll to see your base stat, then roll for your bonus points, then roll for your social standing which gives you extra Apprenticeship points, then you’re randomly generating your age with d4s and adding time based on your Apprenticeships/magical study…and on and on and on. It’s not fast or intuitive, and is a total mess to deal with.

The second point is the Stamina mechanic. In this game, Stamina is your basic Hit Point pool, but it is also your pool to take long-term actions. If you are studying, carousing, or crafting, that takes Stamina. If you are hit, you lose one Stamina for each Margin of Success. If you cast a spell, you lose Stamina equal to 21-(your difficulty).

Therefore, if my Bard with 17 Stamina decides to Perform for four hours (let’s call it four rolls for one Stamina each), he’s down to 13 Stamina. If a barfight breaks out and he decides to try for a Song of Courage (difficulty 15 base; 13 due to wanting to cast it in 4 rounds), he’s spending 8 Stamina to cast, bringing him down to 5 Stamina. If someone were to then stab him and roll well (and his dodge failed), and he takes 5 or more damage, he goes into a Coma for d12 hours. If that hit were to somehow knock me down to -17 (or if I continue to get stabbed/hit until I hit -17), I die.

Full stop. Die.

This whole Stamina mechanic is a mess. While I like some elements, wrapping all of it into one pool makes doing anything a risk you really don’t want to take.

Honestly, I don’t see very much in the way of legendary heroics here…

==The Verdict==

Giving a book like this a verdict is a rather moot point. It’s near-impossible to find; in fact, I only got it because a friend stumbled on it within a lot of games/toys. I found one copy of the book, in English, on eBay…in the UK.

Yeah, it’s THAT hard to find, and I don’t think it’ll be much easier. There’s not even a PDF (legal or otherwise) out there that I’m able to find anything out about, so even if you WANTED to see an e-copy, you’ll be hard pressed to find it.

That said, if I HAD to rate the game, it’d be at 2 buns.

Mechanically, it’s a clusterfrak of messy random numbers and derived stats, as well as being an ugly combat mechanic thanks to the stamina system.

The biggest appeal to me (and why it got 2 buns instead of 1) was due to the front end of the book: it is extremely well-researched, from the legends referenced down to the culture. If anything, the front end of this should be it’s own stand-alone book as an intro to Celtic legends and society and it’d probably do pretty well.

If you find a copy of Celtic Legends and it isn’t crazily priced (and fully intact!), grab it up if you are a fan of Celtic Mythology. Otherwise, you’re better off giving it a pass.


==In Other News==

There’s still plenty of content, both new and “From The Shelf of The NPC” in the future, so don’t count me out yet! That said, some actual news!

  • Still waiting on news from Toy Vault Regarding the RPG for The Princess Bride. A recent post claims that we should see the Kickstarter go live sometime this month. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to storm the castle!
  • I now have a Patreon to help fund items I review! If things go well, I won’t need to drop my posts to bi-weekly (or even monthly!) for new content, and I can consider doing more blacksmithing related posts for you all as well if things go well! Do considering backing me, as I’ll be working on a number of projects there!
  • The Kickstarter for Dragons Conquer America is off to a good start, but it can use more help! It’s about a third of the way complete, and it deserves quite a bit of love as I stated a few weeks ago.
  • I haven’t had a chance to read this week due to a wedding and then a stomach bug/food poisoning picked up at said wedding. I hope to get back to work this weekend, though! I have early reviews of Cortex Prime and Scion 2nd Edition on the docket, as well as a need to finish Tales From The Loop for an upcoming review.

Stay tuned for more shenanigans!

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