Jackals: Bronze Age Fantasy Roleplaying | First Impressions

February 2, 2021 by brennon

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Osprey Games' is soon publishing the John-Matthew DeFoggi roleplaying game, Jackals: Bronze Age Fantasy Roleplaying, which allows you to dive into a fascinating world inspired by cultures from Ancient history. Within its pages, you'll find a richly detailed world and the ability to play as larger than life characters that could soon become legends and myths.

Jackals Cover - Osprey Games

Taking ancient stories like The Iliad, the Epic Of Gilgamesh and even The Old Testament as a marker, Jackals allows you to play as diverse and fascinating characters in a world that, whilst taking some getting used to, could very easily become one that you could get lost in.

The Fascinating World Of Jackals

To get us started concerning the game it's worth reading over the blurb for the game...

"The Zaharets, the land between the Vori Wastes and the Plains of Aeco, is well-known as the Land of Risings. Dominated by the rising city-states of Ameena Noani and Sentem, facing each other along the great War Road, the Zaharets has always been home to powerful civilizations. Beastmen ruins dot the landscape, a constant reminder of the Kingdom of Sin and the fragility of the Law of Men. Even older are the great ruins of the Hulathi, the legendary sea peoples, and the Hannic mansions sealed beneath the mountains, awaiting those who would seek out the Lost Folk. Scars abound from the wars between ruined Keta in the north and Gerwa in the south. And, far to the east, the legends of Muadah still beckon occultists and Jackals who seek to plunder its corrupted ruins."

This gives you a measure of the exceptionally deep world-building that is packed into the 270 or so pages of the rulebook. This doesn't even really do justice to the amount of work that DeFoggi has put into explaining the initial four different cultures and then some which make up this world and the realms they inhabit.

The Zaharets - Osprey Games

Maybe you want to play as The Luathi who are searching for purpose in the world and the formation of an empire which could stand for all time? You could be tempted to play one of The Gerwa who have ancestry which stretches back into myth and legend? Whether you play as these peoples or perhaps The Melkoni or The Trauj, you will all be taking on the role of Jackals.

Player characters in this world are the eponymous Jackals. You are heroes that have left their old lives behind and found themselves in search of adventure and destiny on the road. Whilst they will eventually become great heroes like Samson or Achilles; Jackals have to work their way up to that point. That then forms the basis for your adventures when you sit down to play this roleplaying game, with the knowledge that this is, in essence, a heroic epic in the telling and it should be treated that way. Whilst you might find yourself clearing out monsters from dens and saving villagers, there is a great purpose to what your characters are doing and in that way, your stories should reflect it.

All of this is reinforced by a lot of time devoted to painting the picture of the world of Jackals. The book does a great job of introducing the core concepts for each of the factions early on and delivers doses of inspiration to get you thinking about how your character fits into the world. Beyond that, The Gazeteer included in the book takes things to the next level and delivers what every Loremaster really needs, a range of information and detail which they can draw from when designing their campaigns.

Jackals Artwork #1 - Osprey Games

There are pluses and minuses to this of course. You, and your group, have to get your heads around a brand new world and its cultures from the ground up. The Jackals book does a good job of sprinkling all of the information in and amongst the rules (which we'll get to later) but there are a lot of brand new names, gods, cities and monsters that you need to get your head around. If you and your group are looking for something entirely different to get into then this would suit but I will warn you, the Loremaster at least is going to have to do a lot of reading.

To its benefit, there are touchstones to a lot of our own world with which to draw on. Because the world of Jackals draws on cultures like the Minoans, Greeks, Hittites, Assyrians and more, you can very easily use a lot of historical information to inform your storytelling.

Entering into roleplays set within Jackals is then made easier through the inclusion of three adventures at the back of the book which does a good job of setting up a place, its people, your foes and more. These are often very key, especially when you're faced with a sea of new titles, names, monsters and lands that you need to talk about with the players at the table!

The Core Mechanics Of Jackals

At its heart, Jackals is a game which shuffles towards the more heroic side of things with the use of The Clash System. Statistics are based around a d100 mechanic which is fairly simple; if you roll equal to or lower than your skill, you succeed. If you roll higher, you fail.  All sounds pretty easy, right?

Jackals Artwork #2 - Osprey Games

Modifiers are easy enough to handle in this game with pluses and minuses ranging from fifty through to a hundred depending on what the Loremaster deems important to the task at hand. The range of values available through a d100 system means that you can very easily adjust things on the fly without things getting unbalanced. Criticals and fumbles are then added into the mix based on rolling a double on your d100 roll. So, eleven or twenty-two would be a good example. Again, a quick and easy system and one which won't be hard to adjust to if you've come from the likes of Warhammer Fantasy Role-play.

Where things get more interesting is when you look into the resource known as Clash Points in Jackals. Clash Points are what set your characters and some of your enemies above mere mortals and are what you'll be using to strike back at opponents as they shoot or swing for you. They can also be used to pay for big abilities like power attacks, rapid firing of arrows and even cool things like striking in a sweeping arc, hitting everyone in front of you.

This turns your Jackals from regular soldiers, mercenaries and the like and into the heroes like Achilles and Samson that we mentioned before, capable of amazing feats and able to face down enemy forces that would overwhelm a normal person. This then feeds into the use of both Valour and Wounds. Both of these are used when looking at damage with Valour being used as a measure of their spirit and luck, near misses which perhaps missed them by a whisker. Wounds are then the strikes that find their mark, letting blood hit the sand! This mechanics helps to build on that sense that your Jackals are heroic individuals who aren't felled by the wild swings of a rough and tumble bandit!

Jackals Artwork #3 - Osprey Games

Being a land of Fantasy, Jackals can also draw on mystical powers from beyond Rites. Thankfully, Rites are easy to use and they are all broken down nicely within the section of the book. They do have a sense of grandeur to them though and I like that, at least from the Rites that I've read, they all do something different and fascinating. I've yet to really dive into this portion of the book at the time of writing but it's good that they've got plenty in there to help budding spellcasters.

A Wealth Of Content

There is a lot for you to get lost in when it comes to Jackals and the stories you can tell. Building on top of those heroic mechanics you've got loads of rules for how corruption affects your characters, how you build up your reputation or Kelos within the world and what you can do when not adventuring. Want to build a home, commission a mighty magic item or upgrade yourself to a powerful level where you can draw on Skill Talents which make you even more awesome? You can do all of that through an extensive set of lists and tables.

Jackals Artwork #4 - Osprey Games

As a Fantasy roleplaying game, you would expect that there would be a healthy Bestiary too. Thankfully, there is one, and it is packed with imaginative and diverse creatures and characters that you can run into when adventuring. Each of them has a neat Combat Range chart attached to their entry in the Bestiary meaning that if you want to work out how a creature should act, you can use that and roll to see what they do next. It's neat and takes a bit more of the heavy lifting away from the Loremaster which is nice.

My only complaint about the Bestiary, and it's one which is informed by having access to the Monster Manual by Dungeons & Dragons, is that it's hard to envision what some of these creatures look like. They are all sorted by their type, undead for example, and include a short description but I would love to see full artwork for each of the monsters in the back of the book. You can read the name Nyssalis and its description as a "multi-headed chaos beast" but it would be great to have more to go on. Obviously, artwork costs a lot of money to add and for those entries which do have them, it's great, but it would still be nice to see more. Kudos to John McCambridge and Randy Musseau though for the work they have put in.

Is Jackals Worth A Go?

From a quick read-through of the book, I think that Jackals could be a fascinating roleplaying game to dive into. I like the d100 system and the way they've used a lot of elements like Clash, Valour and more to make it feel extra heroic.

Jackals Artwork #5 - Osprey Games

I especially like that Jackals steps away from the traditional tropes of Fantasy in order to tell its story. This isn't your classic Western Fantasy tale where you're fighting dragons and chasing goblins out of caves. This draws on the classic stories which inspired those Western Fantasy tales and gives you a window into fascinating and diverse cultures which you've probably not encountered before in a roleplaying game. You're immersed in a world which is informed by ancient tales and is as harsh as it is beautiful.

I would say that if you love those old myths and stories like The Iliad, the Biblical tales of Samson and The Old Testament; if you love your swords and sandals movies, books and miniatures; then this could be worth taking a look at and venturing into with your friends. It might seem a lot to get your head around when you open up this tome but there is plenty in there, especially for a dedicated group who are willing to put in the effort.

Jackals is available for pre-order right now and goes on general release, 4th February 2021.

Let me know if you're tempted to give this game a go in the comments!

"This mechanics helps to build on that sense that your Jackals are heroic individuals who aren't felled by the wild swings of a rough and tumble bandit!"

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"...gives you a window into fascinating and diverse cultures which you've probably not encountered before in a roleplaying game"

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