David A. Hill presents new worlds to conquer for fans of the original White Box edition of the game.
Being a review of the first in David A. Hills “Avremier” series of supplements for Original Fantasy RPG.
The creation of fantasy worlds is a tradition among roleplaying enthusiasts as old as the hobby itself. Gygax, Arneson, Bledsaw, and Hargrave led the way in the formative years of the industry, adding new material (and in Hargrave’s case, new rules and options) to the rapidly-expanding canon. Most fans of the game have created their own local game world or played with someone who did. Many of these have gone to print. The market is crowded and vibrant, standing out in this bazaar of alternate realities for sale is a protean task. And yet, quietly beckoning from a shaded stall almost out of sight amidst all the hustle and bustle we find Hill, and his wares are unlike any other.
Avremier is Hill’s personal vision of a fantasy roleplay world. And vision is the correct word, he sees the tropes of the game in a different light. Therein lies the appeal. Things are different in Avremier, and it is the differences from the standard things that everyone knows by rote about the worlds of the Oldest Roleplaying Game that justify (perhaps even mandate) purchasing the work. Hill’s changes are not Arduin-style alterations of the mechanics, but rather conceptual changes that reflect the world that he has created. In true 70s fashion, he has taken the concepts from the booklets and shaped them to fit his needs.
The format is the familiar booklet style, and the breakdown follows the format established by the originals: Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. Hill provides the text, maps, and illustrations. The quality of all is equal to and in some cases superior to the 70s originals. Unlike some attempts at this format I have seen, the books are correct not only in size but in the paper and cover stock. A small physical detail that gives these books a feeling of legitimacy that they might otherwise lack. Psychological? Certainly. But in a game of imagination, this is impactful.
Examining the Differences
In true 70s fashion, Hill has taken the base ingredients from the original books and bent them to his will. Some character classes and races are absent, replaced with new-but-similar creations specific to the game world. From the beginning, D&D (and most of the FRPGs that have succeeded it) spring from the same defaults: Tolkien’s halflings, elves, dwarfs, rangers, orcs, and goblins. Wizards and magic pulled from Vance. Moorcock contributes the concepts of the multiverse, law, and chaos. Bits of Barsoom are visible early on (green martians on the encounter charts). These defaults had some inherent conflicts that the DM was left to decipher on his own. The books and supplements gave you a basis to work from, expanding even further the default components of the game.
Building a world out of such disparate influences is a challenge, as many of you can attest.
Hill steps into this arena with some very specific answers to the question “how do I make sense of all the parts?”
Avremier represents an immediate departure. The relationships between the races (and the depictions thereof) are largely uniform from world to world, and traceable to the the influences heretofore enumerated. Avremier does not embrace the racial default relationships familiar to us from Tolkien. Elves, men, dwarfs, and halflings are not a loose confederation of “good races” opposed to another confederation of “evil races.” While this is a huge and criminal simplification of Tolkien, it is a fair and honest depiction of the standard FRPG setting. The assumption is that these races have been together, and mainly allied, for a very long time.
Hill takes the colonization of North America as his starting point. Humans were invaders. And it did not go well. Humans are allowed to live here, but this is not what Gary Gygax called the “humanocentric” game that most are familiar with. This gives the setting a very fresh, very new feel. While this is not a 180 degree spin that put humans on the bottom shelf, the dynamic of making humanity one race among many and taking them out of the dominant role works.
The races have some adjustments made, as well. Humans cannot breed with other races: no half-human options exist. Elves prefer the coasts, with a subtype more adapted to living inland filling the role of the missing half-elf. Dwarfs are descended from Azer and are split into two different races, highdelvers and lowdelvers. Hobgoblins are a playable race, related to Ogre Magi and descended from the Djinn. Orcs do not exist here. Halflings are called Bucca, live nearly everywhere, and claim to be descended from Brownies. All of this imparts an alien feel to the setting. Things here are different than expected.
The concept of deities here takes a sharp left turn. The Gods are much less powerful here. There are no greater or lesser Gods, just beings called Deminities. Until Hill releases Deities, Deminities, and Personalities book, there is not much information beyond a list of names and spheres of influence. Worth noting: Clerics still function as normal, so these beings are still mighty enough to grant spells to their clerics. The assumption I make as a DM is that there is the possibility that these are creatures that conceivably be slain by adventurers. The Briar King and The Tumblebridge Hag are two names pulled from the listing. All are original, and the list if very intriguing. If Hill is guilty of leaving us with a lot of questions, he can be forgiven. Mystery is like a seasoning when it comes to the Gods.
Another very powerful new concept that Avremier brings to the table is that of the Armiger class. A lot of designers have dropped a lot of character classes into the game down through the years. Creating one that stands out is admirable. Creating one that is corrects longstanding problems with an iconic traditional character class is astonishing. I’m going to suggest he has done so. Let’s talk about the Paladin for just a moment. The Paladin is not drawn from the same pool of conceptual material as the rest of the game’s ingredients. The Paladin comes to us directly from Christianity: a mix of the iconic Knight in Shining Armor from fairy tales and the Crusader of the Middle Ages. St. George the Dragon Slayer serves as one of his prototypes. He typifies a kind of pure Lawful Good that exists outside the pantheistic bounds of the game’s assumed settings. He didn’t fit everywhere, and in the fullness of time became so watered-down conceptually that the name ceased to have the same meaning.
He didn’t fit Avremier. The Armiger fills the role. The Armiger is a champion both of an alignment (Law, Chaos, or Neutrality) and a Court. There are eight Courts, each serving a different alignment master and each with it’s own symbol, heraldry, and abilities. The noble, selfless paragon is still possible–run an Armiger of the Court of the Gryphon. Each Court has an immunity, a creature they gain special bonuses against, and a special power called a Heraldic Manifestation. No one but a royal can assume this class, and no party can have more than one Armiger–penalties accrue if they adventure together. The Courts are the ruling powers of the human lands in Avremier, and the fact that such mighty magic is tied to them carries with it a lot of great story possibilities. This also ties the player to both an alignment role and obligates him to honor his Court. This also opens up a lot of campaign options for the DM: Court against Court intrigues could fuel a whole campaign.
Avremier also contains new creatures, new magic items, maps, lore, history, and artwork. I’ve done little more than scratch the surface here. Hill’s writing is composed of equal parts brevity and eloquence, a package that transmits much information and is eminently readable. I have to admit that his work inspires the kind of jealousy that one feels when meeting someone who does the things you do, only better than you do. What can you do about a guy like that?
Buying his book is nice start.
Avremier (Supplement 0) is the first book in Hill’s Original Fantasy RPG series. Supplement 1, Dhavon, will be reviewed soon.