Light My Fuse – Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart

Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart

Author: Brendan Conway, Mark Diaz Truman, et al.
Publisher: Magpie Games
Page Count: 34
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – Free
Print – Varies on the secondary market

Not all quickstarts are cut from the same cloth, and it is reasonable to surmise that creating quickstart is both an art and a science, which not all publishers have mastered. Root: The Roleplaying Game has three quickstarts released through the Free RPG Day Program Root: The Pellenicky Glade Quickstart, Root: Talon Hill Quickstart, and Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart. Each presents the game’s basic rules and pre-generated characters for ease of play, but the “clearing” or setting sets each apart.

In Root: The Roleplaying Game, players assume the role of woodland creatures called vagabonds who don’t fit into Woodland society or align with standing factions. Exiles, outcasts, strangers, and oddities, or perhaps they are idealists, rebels, criminals, or freethinkers. Whoever they are, they focus on survival, traveling from clearing to clearing, taking whatever odd job they can get to make ends meet—the war provides opportunities. They are often willing to take the most challenging and least desirable jobs. Some resort to thievery to get by. Despite their harsh reality, they have something no one else has—freedom!


Root: The Roleplaying Game is powered by D. Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World game engine (Powered by the Apocalypse [PbtA]), modified for Root: The Roleplaying Game. If you’re unfamiliar with the PbtA system, many variants and derivatives exist. It’s impossible to point to an all-inclusive system primer, so I will do my best to give you a short and sweet primer related to Root: The Roleplaying Game Quickstart.

  • Playbooks – Archetypes – comes with a set of skills, abilities, questions, and more
  • Drive – what motivates your vagabond to do things
  • Nature – refers to the vagabond’s deeper personality type, a way to relieve Stress
  • Prestige – a vagabond’s positive reputation
  • Notoriety – a vagabond’s negative reputation
  • Harm – three tracks – Injury, Exhaustion, and Resources
  • GMs do NOT roll dice
  • GM’s work from three core lists: Agendas, Principles, Moves

The dice mechanic is a simple 2d6+stat (i.e., 2d6+Cunning) to determine the level of success or failure of a Move. On a 10+, you’re successful. You partially succeed on a 7-9, but with a drawback or complication. Lastly, rolling a 6 or less means you have failed to accomplish the task as you had intended; the GM can now impose direct or indirect complications into the narrative (e.g., GM Moves).

Moves are actions triggered by the narrative, typically phrased as “When X happens, Y happens.” There are several types of Moves in Root: The Roleplaying Game: Basic Moves, Weapon Moves, Reputation Moves, Vagabond Moves, and GM Moves. Without breaking down each Move, readers should take away that most, not all, Moves are accessible to all vagabonds. GM Moves are limited to the Gamemaster only and are meant to guide their behavior, and are intended to keep the story moving without constraining the players.

Vagabonds are all rogues to some extent; therefore, they all have roguish feats that they can attempt. Treated as a Move, using a roguish feat listed on the playbook allows the vagabond to roll+finesse. However, they can attempt to use any roguish feat, even those not explicitly listed in their playbook; these are considered unskilled attempts. They will roll the Move “Trusting Fate” and hope for the best.

Every vagabond playbook utilizes various tracks to keep track of reputation and harm. Reputation is a measure of prestige (good) or notoriety (bad) that each vagabond has, with which factions are in play in the story or campaign. Like reputation tracks, there are also harm tracks for tracking injuries, exhaustion, and depletion of resources.

Character Creation

As a quickstart, character creation is not an option. The quickstart has six pre-generated vagabonds; each is diverse, unique, and connected to the clearing in some way. Character sheets in PbtA games are referred to as “playbooks” and would typically have options to be selected and blanks to fill in. Vagabonds are comprised of five statistics (Charm, Cunning, Finesse, Luck, and Might), nature, drive, vagabond-specific Moves, reputation and harm tracks, and equipment, among a few other details. Although the provided playbooks do not allow you to customize your vagabond, you will need to establish your connections to the other players—one friend and one partner.

Woodland & Denizens

The creatures calling the Woodland home are at war, vying for control of the territory and the right to govern it and everything with it. There are three dominant factions taking centerstage in this quickstart. Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart features the Eyrie Dynasties, The Marquisate, and the Woodland Alliance. No faction is “good’ or “evil”; however, all factions do right and wrong. Each faction will help the denizens sometimes and hurt them at other times. All factions have empathetic and honorable members, and each has those members who take up the cause purely for their own selfish gain.

Eyrie Dynasties – clans of birds who claim to have always ruled the Woodlands, lost their power of bird dominance and oppression of the other denizens through a recent civil war. This resulted in the Dynasties nearly tearing themselves apart. Making their resurgence, they are now faced with newcomers.

The Marquisate – so named for the Marquise de Cat, the leader of the faction of foreign invaders and colonizers. As a new force for order, they are heavily focused on industrializing the Woodland and exploiting its resources, but to what end? Marquise de Cat swept in from parts unknown when the Eyrie Dynasties’ power faded and established a foothold.

The Woodland Alliance – a collection of rebels from various denizen groups who, after years of being free from the yolks of the Eyrie Dynasty or The Marquisate, now find themselves again under the yoke of the two warring parties.


Clearings are the game’s micro settings within the great Woodland setting. Each published clearing is fleshed out with enough detail to make it easy to run but without giving you a rigid adventure outline to follow. Like other published clearings, Bertram’s Cove provides Gamemasters with a vivid description of the location and so much more to entice the vagabond into the fiction.

Every published clearing follows a standard outline, giving the Gamemaster a “core conflict” and several secondary conflicts brewing just under the surface, in addition to important non-player characters. The intent here is for the vagabonds to be introduced to the core conflict upon arrival or shortly thereafter and for the secondary conflicts to arise organically within the fiction. Regardless of which conflicts the vagabonds become aware of, they are free to pursue or ignore them are their leisure. However, each includes a bit of fiction for the Gamemaster, informing them of what will happen if the vagabonds do not get involved.

Clearing: Bertram’s Cove

Bertram’s Cove surrounds the area where the Alberdon River feeds into the eastern shore of the Grand Lake. Resident denizens of Bertram’s Cove cherish the lake as their home and birthright. They have watched a slow and methodical takeover by The Marquisate, and they are fed up! The town itself has been a Marquisate supply hub within its logistics network for many years and is a key location within its military infrastructure. In addition to the Marquisate understanding Bertram’s Cove’s strategic importance so does the Woodland Alliance. As a result, rebel pirates flying the colors of the Woodland Alliance have been raiding Marquisate supply ships, mining transport routes with explosives, and choosing havoc on the water. Bertram’s Cove is a powder keg ready to blow when the vagabonds arrive by boat.

The occupation force has kept the town stable and, to some extent, prosperous, growing the quality of life the residents have enjoyed under their stewardship. The Woodland Alliance offers freedom from the occupiers and the opportunity for the denizens to have a say in choosing their own paths in life. Bertram’s Cover is awash with conflict and turmoil as forces, overt and covert, vie for control. The Marquisate Commandant, Astrid Montague, can be tough as nails and has a bounty for the capture of any local Woodland Alliance rebel pirates. In particular, their leader, Captain Sparrowhawk.


The physical book given out on Free RPG Day is 8.5″ × 11″ and lavishly illustrated by Kyle Ferrin, the same artist who illustrated the boardgame the RPG is based upon. The covers are heavy-weight card stock with the Moves printed on the insides as a quick reference. The interior pages are thicker than one might expect to find in a free product. As a result, this quickstart has stood up to repeated reading and use.

The overall presentation of the information has a wonderful organic organizational flow and was very easy to read and understand. The layout is clean, concise, and not overly verbose. My only gripe is there are no rule examples. That said, there is enough remaining white space that could have been utilized to provide those in-game examples for players new to PbtA games.

Final Thoughts

Root: The Bertram’s Cove Quickstart is a wonderful free product that introduces new and veteran players to the Root: The Roleplaying Game. Although it lacks examples of rules, the language used is such that it should be relatively easy for any gamer to comprehend and get the game to the table.

Bertram’s Cove is a powder keg and provides many possibilities for the vagabonds to explore. What will your vagabonds choose to do? Who will they side with? You’ll have to play to find out! The world in which they live is neither static nor an endless loop. Their actions have consequences, and so does their inaction.

In the introduction, I posited that not all quickstarts are cut from the same cloth, and it is reasonable to surmise that creating quickstart is both an art and a science, which not all publishers have mastered. Magpie Games is one of the companies that gets it. They give you what you need to learn the basics, give you a sense of the wider world, but in a bite-sized piece, and all the while, letting you, the player, feel invested in both the characters and world.

If you are a fan of the Root board game, like anthropomorphic games, or just like the general conceit of Root: The Roleplaying Game, you need to explore this quickstart—it is free; you have nothing to lose!

~ Modoc

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