Price vs Production
Ringing in at $25.00 US, The Saga of Logatroth is a reasonably priced book for what you get. The book consists of over 200 comb-bound pages of heavy (25 lb) bond paper sporting heavy (65 lb) cardstock covers. he artwork runs the typical gamut found in an RPG of modern production values, including both good artwork and bad. Finally, the editing is superb - I have yet to locate any obvious spelling or grammatical errors (let alone any rules errors).
As an aside, while some would argue that the binding leaves something to be desired, I'm somewhat familiar with the costs for such binding (I own numerous free-press games that I've paid to have printed and bound in a similar manner) and felt that the price was more than fair.
The Basic Summary
You are a native of the planet Cree-Zar, and the continent of Malthus. The current social, political, and technological states of the world are similar to those found in Scandinavia prior to the introduction of Christianity. Currently the abominable cult of the Logatroth (the goddess of change and chaos) has penetrated society, working its vile magics upon the good citizens - and you have been chosen (by elders, fate, drawing straws, etc) to combat the menace.
The Saga of Logatroth takes an unusual approach to fantasy role playing. The basic plot here is always the same - defeat the evil forces of Logatroth's underground church and free your people from their influence. Every such struggle against Logatroth's minions is known as a campaign, with each campaign ending when the evil bishop of Logatroth is slain. When a campaign ends, the story starts again anew... a new GM, new heroes, and a new saga about their struggles against Logatroth.
Essentially, everybody gets a chance to GM and everybody gets a chance to step into the role of an epic hero - and before you ask - yes, "epic" is the right word. The word "epic" has been tossed around by a lot of ad-copy guys lately, being a bone of contention in several reviews. Make no mistake - The Saga of Logatroth is all about "epic" - it is about heroes rising up from the lowest ranks of society, being tempered by battle, and undertaking a quest whose end lies in the destruction of a globe-spanning secret cult. "Epic" is the only word for it.
Are heroes born heroic? This is a big question for me - one that often makes or breaks a game for me. It is my belief that heroes are forged by their experiences and defined by their deeds. When a game awards beginning characters - that is, heroes who have not yet done anything to be known as heroes - with various special powers and abilities that far remove the characters from normal society, it almost instantly fails to capture my interest. As you may have guessed, this alienates me from many of the FRPGs available today, which is one of the reasons I was happy to stumble across The Saga of Logatroth.
Character creation in The Saga of Logatroth is simple and straight-forward in execution, but provides detailed results. Our group was able to create four extremely detailed characters in a little under 45 minutes (while simultaneously juggling PS2 controllers). The process is boiled down here:
First, players chose a race for their characters. There are seven different character races to choose from, though our group stuck to humans (as the designer recommended new players do). The race chosen determines how many six-sided dice you roll for each of the eight basic characteristics - Strength, Constitution, Size, Intelligence, Energy, Resistence, Beauty, and Agility.
After you have determined your character's eight basic characteristic ratings and recorded any bonuses granted, you use these ratings to calculate a number of derived attributes - Attack Order, Movement, Dodge Points, Total Health Points, Location Damage Points, and Damage Bonus. This is really the only step of character creation which took our group any amount of time to accomplish - there was some chart checking (though just of one chart, I will point out) and I walked each player through this step individually.
The third step in creating a character is to roll a d100 and cross-index the result on a table which determine your character's social standing - Jarl, Carl, Landless Carl, or Bondsman. A character's social class determines how much Dinar (currency), what weaponry, and any additional skill bonuses that they begin play with. Note that the Jarl social class is the closest thing to "uber" in the way of boons that a character may gain during the creation process - and it is still a long way from being unbalancing. The Jarl character starts play with a few extra pieces of equipment, slightly more Dinar (currency) than other characters, and bonuses to four skills.
After determining a character's social class, basic skill values are computed - and this is really easy - add any bonuses determined during the first step of character creation to the skill values already listed on the character sheet. The resulting sums are recorded as percentages on the character sheet.
Finally, the last steps of character creation are quick and simple - choose a religion, pick a birthday for the character from the calendar of Cree-Zar, determine the character's height and weight, and spend Dinar (see step three) on extra equipment if so desired.
That's all - it's really quite simple. Anybody who has a familiarity with more complex fantasy games should breeze through this easily. I would also like to add that the first thing thing that struck our group after generating characters was how balanced all of the characters were (one player was actually a little frustrated by this). No single character totally out-classed another in any way - all were on even footing. This was, quite frankly, some of the most balanced character creation that I've seen in years.
To answer the question asked earlier - in The Saga of Logatroth, heroes are tempered by experience and defined by deed not born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
The Basic Mechanic
The basics are, well... uhm... basic.
In order to use a skill (this includes combat skills) a player need only roll under or equal to the percentage rating of the skill (on a d100) as determined during the fourth step of character creation. If, of course, you don't like your players knowing exactly what their chances of success and failure are, this may not be your cup of tea (ultimately, it's a matter of personal taste).
Almost everything in the game revolves around this simple mechanic (or slight variations of it). Needless to say, there isn't a lot to teach new players here, nor is there anything that long-time hobbyists won't be familiar with. In the end, this facet of the system which drives The Saga of Logatroth makes the game an ideal choice for both novice RPG enthusiasts as well as hardcore gamers.
The Combat (Briefly Explained)
Combat operates simply as a number of additions and options to the basic mechanic. Given the design of character creation, some of these options make combat extremely deadly. This is, I think, how it should be - simply put, players tend to look to potentially less fatal options for overcoming an obstacle before they draw their weapons. Not being a proponent of hack and slash games, I look upon a combat system that actively discourages its own use with favor.
An example for your benefit:
A dagger (the weakest man-made weapon in the game) does damage of 1d4 1 and any damage bonus that a character may be entitled to. A beginning character's chest has roughly 10-12 health points. A few hits to the chest can outright kill a beginning character.
Keep in mind that unlike in some other games, hit points in The Saga of Logatroth are gained only when certain characteristics are raised (which happens very rarely) and you should get the idea. As in real life, armed combat is a serious affair not to be taken lightly.
Like many other parts of The Saga of Logatroth, the combat system's foundation of the basic mechanic (as explained earlier) makes it extremely modular. Simply put, the complexity scale of combat slides easily - a GM may make combat as simple or complex as he or she likes with minimal work (a feature that our group was thankful for).
Note that combat is normally resolved on a grid map (such as a Battlemat from Chessex)- but don't let this scare you away - The Saga of Logatroth is actually not at all dependent upon the use of such a map. Merely, the map is a convenience which is used to alleviate rules disputes about who is standing where during combat - it is not a necessity (our group did just fine without it). In fact, the only real downside of the grid map resolution, is that such a map is not included with the game (so it may be just as well that it is not a necessity).
The Magic (Briefly Explained)
There are more than enough spells to keep those players who enjoy assuming the role of a spell-wielder happy. At the same time, the game isn't drowning in massive spell lists which will rarely ever be used to their full potential. Over all The Saga of Logatroth does a nice job of striking a balance between "too sparse" and "too unwieldy" as far as spells are concerned.
While the spells or the system are neither terribly original or fresh, both manage to do their job. In this respect I find them on par with magic systems found in other FRPGs (as I have yet to see a magic system or list of spells in any RPG that is totally original). The magic system is non-discriminatory, that is to say that all characters may wield it (some more efficiently than others, of course).
In order to cast a spell, characters must expend a number of Energy points as outlined in the spell description, with most spells being considered automatically successful. In fact, only the spells classified as "agressive" must be rolled for as far as our group could tell, but I will be quick to point out that this is a nice touch (especially if you happen to be on the receiving end of such a spell).
Overall the magic system is little more than a variation on a them, but it is both servicable and simple - two big bonuses.
The Religion (Briefly Explained)
Religion plays an important part in The Saga of Logatroth, perhaps more important a part than it does in any other FRPG that I've owned in years past (save perhaps In Nomine or other similar games). In fact, some potential players may be turned off on the whole idea of any structured religious system in an FRPG, and if this is the case, The Saga of Logatroth is definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you are tired of games which have somewhat two-dimensional rules governing religion and have been looking for a game which adds a little more depth, then you'll find a lot to your liking in The Saga of Logatroth.
First we have a creation myth which is covered in detail and a single pantheon which derives directly from this myth (in a logical manner, no less). In addition to the creation myth, there are rules for sins and sinning, detailed descriptions of each primary deitiy's church and teachings, a section discussing how the churches and deities feel about combat, and an overview of power structure within the pantheon.
As mentioned earlier, the core plot of a game revolves around the destruction of the the cult devoted to the evil goddess Logatroth. Keeping this in mind, it should be readily apparent why so much emphasis is placed on this section of the rules, but to the end of making the game much more believable and enjoyable.
The Setting Proper
Up until this point, small and bits and pieces of the setting have been revealed through discussion of the rules. This is much the same way that the setting is conveyed in the game itself, the rules deliberately detailing and supporting certain portions of the setting. While this is a good thing (genre or world specific mechanics are always a good thing in my book), it does make getting a good solid picture of the world a bit difficult.
There is a highly developed social world hidden among the rules, with rules of society being fleshed out in great detail - but - a bit more organization would not be a bad thing. Perhaps if the game sees a second printing we'll get a chapter which is dedicated to covering the numerous facets of society and races.
Now, before you "setting makes the game" folks (I'm one of you) discount the idea of buying this game, let me remind you of the aforementioned unusual nature of this game - it is meant to be played time and time again without changing the basic plot. I've already established that between campaigns, the GM changes, the characters change, and the story changes - well, the world changes, too. This, I think, is one of the reasons that there is not a wealth of geographic/demographic information presented.
Note that there are no maps of population centers, highways, etc - this is because each GM is responsible for creating these things on his own (and, yes, there are sheets/charts to aid in such tasks). While this does entail some work, it also ensures that you never play the same game twice - each GM has their own vision of Cree-Zar and Malthus, and is fairly free to express it as they see fit. The information that is presented is more than enough to serve as a base for your own interpretation of the world (it was for mine).
I found The Saga of Logatroth to be both a nice tool for breaking down the GM/Player paradigm, and for introducing new players to the hobby. Additionally, I found The Saga of Logatroth an entertaining way to burn away the small hours of the morning. If you have a few extra dollars to burn and are looking for a slightly different FRPG experience, take a minute to drop by the Logatroth site at: http://www.logatroth.com
Or visit my web-site (which is currently under construction): The Oblong Box