Title: Sovereign Stone Game System Author: Larry Elmore, Don Perrin, and Lester Smith Creator: Sovereign Press Publisher: Corsair Publishing, LLC 168 pages Product Rating: 4 (****) Game Play Rating: 3 (***)
Review by John H. Kim (Copyright 2000 John H. Kim)
cf. other reviews by John
This is the core rulebook for the Sovereign Stone Fantasy Role-playing Game System (SS). SS is a swords-and-sorcery genre game set in an original world called Loerem. It is in the rough genre of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings with some twists to the typical genre cliches.
The rulebook is full-size (8.5x11) and 168 pages. There is a detailed 2-page Table of Contents and a 3-page index, of decent quality. It is primarily rules, but also includes an introduction to role-playing, world background, advice for GM's, and a sample adventure.
The world of Loerem is a twist on the usual Tolkien-esque fantasy. It is a medieval-era continent with nations of dwarves, elves, and orcs. However, rather than subterranean miners, the dwarves are plains-dwelling nomads. Rather than woodland spirits, the elves are sophisticated urbanites. Rather than evil minions of the wastelands, the orcs are free-spirited sailors.
At the same time, they retain many of the common genre cliches. Elves live in crowded cities because of their long lifespans, combined with their territoriality. The Dwarven clans are reknowned for their hardiness and loyalty. The orcs are superstitious and regarded as untrustworthy by others.
The races are part of a general thematic structure of the world. The thematic structure is based around the traditional four elements along with a fifth, "unnatural" element. The races and elements associate as follows:
|Humans||Earth||healing, protection, construction|
|Elves||Air||charms, mentalism, travel, illusion|
|Taan||Void||destruction, necromancy, shadow|
The Taan are a lizard-like race, who apparently appeared on this world only a few years ago. An army of Taan, aided by vampiric undead known as Vrykyl, is wandering about the edge of civilized territory. The Taan and Vrykyl share an affinity for Void magic. This army and plots of related Void magic cults is the central conflict that PC's are expected to become embroiled in.
The mechanics are based on rolling one die for your attribute (i.e. Strength) and one die for your skill (i.e. Climbing) and adding them together. In each case, the die can be anything from a d4 to a d20. If the total is greater than the difficulty number, then the action was a success. In addition, a PC can exert herself to get an third die to add in, which can be from a d4 to a d20. The exertion causes stunning damage which can eventually knock the PC out.
Character creation consists of generating attributes, taking advantages and disadvantages, and then buying skills. Attributes and skills are rated in die type (4, 6, 8, 10, 12, or rarely 20). Advantages and disadvantages are rated as major or minor.
The 8 attributes can be generated either by random-roll or by point allocation. In random-roll, the player rolls 8d6 and can arrange the 8 dice any way he wants into 4 pairs. This is done once for mental attributes and again for physical. Point allocation gives 56 points (i.e. average for 16d6) which can be distributed among the attributes.
PCs are required to take 1 minor advantage and 1 minor disadvantage from a list depending on race. In addition, they can take up to 1 major advantage or 2 minor, which must be balanced by equivalent disadvantages. There are 18 advantages listed along with 16 disadvantages. The advantages include physical, mental, social, and magical. Disadvantages are mostly psychological traits such as greed or pacifism.
A character gets 4 skills free at apprentice (d4) level from a list which depends on race. The total of all the character's attribute dice (count d4 as +4, etc.) is the number of skill points she gets to buy additional skills with. The average number of points is 60 or 64, and the skill costs are listed on a chart. With freebies and points, the average character may start with 16 apprentice (d4) skills or 6 novice (d6) skills or ~2.8 journeyman (d8) skills or some proportionate mix. There are 72 skills listed, plus specialties which are required at higher levels.
It is difficult to start with any journeyman skills and still cover a decent range of skills. Also, it is unclear what some skill levels correspond to. For example, for a dwarven character what level of human language skill is fluent?
Combat is handled by a simple opposed skill roll, Attack vs Defense. If the Attack roll succeeds, then a damage bonus is added to the margin of success to determine total damage. Damage is subtracted from a simple ablative set of Life Points. PC's can have up to 24 Life Points, with 16 being average. Wounds as well as stunning damage count against this. When the total of wound damage and stun damage is greater than Life Points, the character is unconscious. When the total of wound damage is greater than Life Points, the character is dying. Exertion can cost from 1 Stun Point (for a d4) to 7 stun points (for a d20).
There are five types of magic corresponding to the five elements. Besides physical material, each element has abstract qualities it is associated with. Magic is handled by a basic skill roll, which can be aided by exertion just like any other task. In addition, magicians have a racial advantage area and spells known.
There are a total of 128 pre-described spells. These are all classified according to element, but make a fairly interesting mix of effects given the common elemental theme. This is not a generic magic system, but rather a specific one to the elemental themes of the world. There are some gaffes here, but the principles are at least interesting.
The book includes 25 monsters of Loerem, each with a full-page description including an illustration. The monsters chosen are an eclectic mix. There are a few monsters which seem important to the world, but many that are not.
Sovereign Stone is an interesting footnote in the history of fantasy games. With the support of Larry Elmore, it had far more visibility than the hordes of other D&D fantasy games. This one is more of a transformation or deconstruction of D&D, rather than imitation. The mechanics are largely fast-and-loose and have few similarities. The world is full of deliberate reversals of the D&D tropes. It seems like an interesting game and caught my eye. I have not played in a campaign, but it seems at least playable and interesting.