Seeds of Wars: Strategy Roleplay
Back in 1984, I acquired the long-awaited D&D Companion Set. One of the things it offered was the idea of characters running their own dominions. This included rules for managing domains and for going to war. It was one of my favorite parts of the game. The next year TSR released the BattleSystem set which included rules for miniatures-based mass combat. I loved the idea of that too but I found the setup a bit too cumbersome for my tastes.
Specta Solutions has released Seeds of Wars, a strategy game. It doesn’t force you to use it with any specific RPG – indeed you could play it as a strategy game on its own—but it does assume it will be used in conjunction with a D&D-type game, D&D 5th edition and Pathfinder both being mentioned. What is the objective of this game? It seems best to let the game speak for itself.
During a SOW game, when your group manages resources, acquires and defends assets, and pursues interests on the scale of an entire realm, that is the game’s Epic Focus.This is referred to as “zoomed-out” or “macro” play, where your actions are those of your faction on the level of competition between realms, and it is this level for which the mechanics of SOW (in subsequent chapters) were designed.
At this level, players take control of factions, not individuals, and use them to take actions to guide the shape and destiny of the world of Ceres. A player controlling an Order faction more than likely has access to military forces, and uses those forces as needed against antagonists and to defend their own holdings. Meanwhile, Magic and Faith factions provide powerful support or misdirection effects to this sort of activity, while Trade and Culture factions wage entirely different kinds of war for the hearts and minds of the folk, or at least their coin purses.
I am reviewing a complimentary copy of Seeds of Wars that was provided to Rolling Boxcars; I only have the digital version as the physical version is not yet available. The digital version comes with the rulebook, an artbook, a battle map file, and a map of the game’s default campaign setting. The illustrations are nicely done full-color portrayals of leaders, fantastic landscapes, epic battles, important people, and the like. I’m not a huge fan of the pdf layout – it’s designed such that a “page” of the pdf consists of two sheets of the book; as if a book is open and laying flat. It’s great for reading on a laptop or a landscape aligned tablet, not as good if you’re trying to read on portrait mode on the train to work in Boston… The PDF has a table of contents, which is something I always appreciate—but it is a bit awkwardly arranged. For example, most of the content can be found under the “Credits” heading. I believe this is an early copy for backers of the Kickstarter so it is quite possible the pdf will be tightened up.
This review is going to be a bit shorter than most of my reviews. Seeds of Wars is rather complicated and I’m finding it very difficult to give you a high-level summary without diving into the details. Overall I recognize it as a game that I like while recognizing it’s not quite for me—I’d have a hard time running such a game without all players being familiar with the rules and interested in such a style of play. If your group has a bunch of Civilization fans you might find this very much to your liking. Well, here goes…
Each player is expected to lead a faction. There are five types of factions, though a faction can have more than one element. The factions are Order, Faith, Magic, Trade, and Culture. The game is broken down into seasons which are then further broken down into three months. Typically, a faction can perform one action per month; there are also free actions available to them. If playing the game to adjoin to a D&D or similar campaign, it is expected you will zoom in to individual characters and zoom out to factions as appropriate for your game.
In the game, one or more countries make up a realm with a single sovereign. When a sovereign rules multiple countries they will need to be concerned with the loyalty of the individual countries. A country might have assets, networks, constructions, etc. These networks might be for trade, magic, faith, etc. Factions need to track their Wealth, Influence, Resources, and Reputation.
I’d mentioned earlier how factions can perform various actions. This can be things like espionage, warfare, create/disrupt networks, spellcraft, traveling, etc. These actions may all affect a faction’s wealth/influence/resources/reputation and, if a roll is required, a d20 roll is made vs. a given difficulty, modified by skill bonuses the faction’s leader can provide.
There is an entire large chapter on warfare, dedicated to battle between different units. The capability of a unit is measured in some or all of the following stats – Melee, Ranged, Defense, Morale, Hits, Move, Sail, Cost, Cargo, Berths, and Seafaring (the minimum seafaring level a country needs to have to build). Sample statistics are given for various default land and sea-based units, with modifiers for different species.
In battle, units are deployed into battle lines and reserve units. The initiative is determined by the leader’s Order skill test. If a unit enters an enemy’s space it is assumed to be in melee combat with that enemy, though before melee is performed missile fire can be made by units, not in melee combat. Units must track their morale level—normal, shaken, and routed. At the start of every combat turn, recovery rolls can be made for shaken and routed units. Naval battles need to account for favorable and unfavorable weather conditions (and, depending on position, the winds may be favorable for some and not others). There is also a quick and dirty resolution system when a full-fledged battle is not desired. This system reminds me of the old D&D War Machine rules from the Companion Set, where the offensive and defensive values are used to determine results in a single round.
After the chapter on warfare, there is an entire chapter on Realm Magic—arcane and divine magic that affects battle units and realms. For example, units can be cloaked in darkness or turned into berserkers. Ley lines (magic networks) can be concealed. Floods can be inflicted on countries. The dead can be made to walk. Pestilence can target countries. Many of these attacks have their corresponding defenses as well.
The next three chapters bring the default setting to life—the world of Ceres, the Land of Many Kingdoms, centered around a medium-sized island. Various countries are detailed, with their various factions, leaders, features, etc. detailed. The history of the world and its cultures are provided in detail. The overall premise is that Ceres was the last surviving outpost in a galactic war, the people of the outpost integrating with those of Ceres, their technology becoming “magic”. The rules themselves support this type of setting but could easily be adapted to a variety of settings, though it will work best in settings that emulate your typical D&D world. It might prove challenging to use in a low-magic setting like A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m really glossing over the setting – though you don’t need to use it, it is a nicely detailed setting, with factions of the various types already detailed, their alliances and enemies scoped out, etc. As I read the earlier chapters of the book I was a bit worried how much overhead a GM might face in generating a setting – all these world-building details do much of the work.
I’ve just scratched the surface of this 200+ page rulebook, hopefully, I have given you an idea as to whether this game is for you. In a Seeds of Wars game, there is a lot to keep track of—both with individual factions and how those factions all fit together. I suspect it would be rather challenging to run a game unless all the players at the table (whether physical or virtual) were familiar with the rules and willing to do their share of the record-keeping. For those so inclined, I believe Seeds of Wars is a fantastic resource for a game where nations square off against nations, with trade goods smuggled, spies deployed, magic used to attack and defend realms, and the faith of realms put to the test. The authors appear to have been cognizant of the complexity of the game as there are many detailed examples given throughout the rulebook.
~ Dan Stack
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