The Long Walk: Life on the Grand Stair (DICELESS)
This HUGE tome for Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (Abbreviated LoGaS below for brevity’s sake) clocks in at 205 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page dev and playtester thanks, 1 page dedication to Steven D. Russell (Rest in peace, you’re missed, man…), 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 199 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This book was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
All right, we begin with a well-written piece of prose before we dive into this book…but what exactly is this? The question here is less simple to answer than what you’d think – you see, this massive tome is at once a kind of meta-campaign setting for the worlds-spanning LoGaS-setting and a massive toolbox, as it features a TON of powers. It also sports some new worlds to explore and acts as an NPC-codex of sorts. In other words, this is a massive book and I can’t mention every detail herein, if I want to avoid bloating this review beyond what would be useful – hence, I’ll be painting with broad strokes here.
The first chapter is pure crunch, showing us new powers: These usually come in different variants for different point costs: You may e.g. learn Aetheric Projection for 35 points…or its advanced brethren, for 55 points. An upgrade, just, fyi, is possible for 20 points – so no, nothing lost there. Each of the powers features herein comes with a distinct definition of its dangers and abilities granted, which, in the best spirit of LoGaS, provide a distinct and diverse variety. The aforementioned ability, for example, would be the separation of mind and body, allowing for potentially quicker travel, visions of other times and concise possession rules; the advanced version allows for the influence of the physical worlds, as well as e.g. the erecting of barriers. Enchantment would be the second power, and does not require Sorcery per se; to use spells with Enchantment, the character will still require it, though. Basically, this ability is about…well, enchanting places, objects, etc. with gossamer material and is thus more aligned with the forces of Umbra. Detailed examples illustrate how it and its two more advanced options work, building on LoGaS’ artifact and construction engine in a sensible manner. Slightly faster Enchantment, disguising it…there are a lot of things to consider here, though ultimately, this will probably be one of the most beloved ability-suites.
An interesting addition to the lore would be the inclusion of Keeper of the Void – this ability represents that the character has come into contact with the shadow between worlds, gaining the shadow within as well as a weakness to both Umbra and Eidolon – but also thoroughly unique abilities that center on the manipulation of, you guessed it, the void – sinister and interesting, it makes for a great option for villains and anti-heroes. Scrying is probably self-explanatory in what it does – it is most certainly a great narrative tool for more intrigue-heavy campaigns.
But what about the existing abilities? Won’t they be somewhat devalued by the new ones, lacking the multiple steps many of the new ones sport? Well, you’ll be delighted to hear that Channeling, Eidolon Mastery, Invocation (which comes with 3 upgrades!), Sorcery (also 3 upgrades), Umbra Mastery and Wrighting all get upgrade/specialization options – this means that you can, power-wise, further escalate the already impressive options at the beck and call of the lords and ladies. Huge plus here!
The second chapter deals with talents, which are intended for use with NPCs – after all, not every adherent of Eidolon/Umbra is an adept/master, respectively – talents represent a limited knowledge or mastery of a power, but they are subject to strict limitations and as not as cost-efficient as buying a proper ability-suite. This means that proper lords and ladies will have an upper hand, but it VASTLY diversifies the arsenal of the GM, allowing for significantly more credible weirdness without an annoying inflation of the appearance of really powerful lords, ladies and wardens. This does manage to alleviate one of my concerns with longer LoGaS-games and diminishing returns for the encountering of such powers – by making them fragmented and more specific, a GM vastly expands the narrative arsenal at his/her command, which, once more, is a very good thing in my book. The fact that you retain full control over how many, if any, of these you wish to include in your game further helps. The chapter, then, constitutes mostly a massive list of these talents – as an aside, the progression from warden to master is covered as well…and in case you haven’t figured that out: It is very much possible to employ this engine for PCs as well, allowing for very fine-grained differentiation and dabbling…and these talents can also be used rather gainfully as a kind of story-reward in-game…so yeah, this section alone imho warrants getting this book.
We are not done, though – chapter 3 deals with idiosyncratic powers and qualities, and, while only 2 pages long, represents another MAJOR boon for LoGaS – special abilities granted by tech or magic usually do not work beyond the world of origin. This chapter changes that, providing guidelines to translate such abilities to talent-like options, at the cost of +10 points per Quality, +15 per Power – this uses vampires, fey messengers and e.g. Fantastic 4’s The Thing (minus the IP) as examples, illustrating the process rather nicely.
Chapter 4 provides yet another very welcome expansion of the options of LoGaS, namely character creation rules for beings that are meaningful regarding their power, but not on the level of lords/ladies – the easy to grasp rules and considerations are supplemented by several sample NPCs – and yes, this obviously ties back to the talent-system, which allows for specialized characters with a meaningful array of options at lower power-levels. (As an aside, I am a big fan of progression-style games, so this helps me tremendously – in GUMSHOE, I e.g. transitioned from Fear Itself to Esoterrorists to Night’s Black Agents when the PCs reached milestones in their abilities – a similar process can now, arguably even more organically, be achieved here.
After this massive array of customization options and tweaks, we come to what essentially constitutes a gazetteer of the Grand Stair – we learn about history, customs, language, the Pax Escalara, economy and travel, long-distance communication and the traditions surrounding the deaths of gossamer lords, hinting at the fabled Polyandrium as a mythological resting place, and yes, burial on the Grand Stair is mentioned.
Now, I did note that we’ll get new Gossamer Worlds to explore, and this is where that section starts: We can visit the Academy at Arbanes and learn about the multiversal, massive empire of Bastiano, the Ascendancy, which can make for either hope or deadly foe; we visit the impossible pyramid, bigger on the inside and connected to 4 primal gossamer worlds that otherwise are isolated and share no connections with each other or the Grand Stair; I am not going to SPOIL its details here; suffice to say, unlike the previously mentioned ones, the domain of the impossible pyramid comes with a proper table, and the respective primal worlds are similarly covered. Need a reason to like there? Twin-world. Hurricane world. ‘Nuff said.
The market of agora comes with stats for two unique races taking care of business there, and in less detail, we also gain more information on the black market and the previously mentioned Polyandrium. From there, we move to the unique types of people that can be found on the Grand Stair – we learn about ambassadors, the castellans, the allied guilds of the cicerones and porters, heralds and the bardic praecones.
All right, I did mention that this was a kind of NPC Codex as well, right? Well, there is a whole chapter devoted to sovereigns, and they are creative: A somewhat lecherous, nut sympathetic gunslinger with a heart of gold, the Indalo Kid, and his faithful bull-horned horse, for example, would be the master of Helldorado. Wanna picture Kaspar the Fixer? Visualize him as an orc in a tuxedo, with a cigar in one hand and a glass of bourbon in the other. Lord Sparda should put a grin on the face of fans of “V for Vendetta” or the Dishonored franchise – the masked individual is currently acting as the Ascendancy’s sword…though he shows up, strangely, on worlds impossibly far apart. We also btw. get stats for none other than Luther, oldest of the known Gossamer Lords and a true mystery…he may have won the last Dwimmerlaik war with his designs…but no one knows for sure if he enacted his horrid Stairbreaker… We also meet the archmaster of the impossible pyramid, the general of the Raven Legion. We meet a professor who REALLY knows people; the caretaker of Agora; Sybelle the Arbiter, happy-go-lucky Uwe, who knows the really weird places; the honorable and dutiful Shield of the Ascendancy is btw. a badass Walrus in cuirassier armor.
Now, no matter how powerful a lord or lady may be, ultimately, you need reliable, potent organizations – these are represented by 4 different organizations/knightly orders that are discussed in-depth: The Conciliatore are the foremost defenders of the Ascendancy. They also get their own unique torcqs and sport detailed information on ranks and relationships with others and a sample NPC – a structure that is btw. also employed for the Doormen of Lord Drake and the previously mentioned mercenary Raven Legion. Finally, there would be the Khalderi Host, the step nomads that claim to have always been there. Really cool, btw.: Their entry sports their own glyph-alphabet (numbers included), which I’m *SO* going to present to my players sans comment to decode.
The final section of this module presents a campaign outline, namely the “Dwimmerlaik Inquest”, intended as a potential sequel to the adventure “The Gathering Storm” featured in the LoGaS-rule-book; this goes beyond a few, fluffy lines, mind you: cast of characters, timeline, suggestions for alterations, using factions, etc. – all detailed in a rather nice and helpful manner.
The book also contains no less than three brief adventures; in order to avoid spoilers here, I will be brief: The adventures follow a similar structure as the outline of the campaign – cast of characters, structure, etc. – a plus would be that they are pretty character-driven, allowing the PCs to make meaningful interactions. The modules deal with the PCs being chosen to undertake the Last Walk and put a deceased Lady to rest; in the aftermath of this module, the PCs may learn about the Impossible Pyramid while investigating the cause of death of the Lady…but the third module is where things get really interesting…though, frankly, module may not describe it adequately: The connected realms of Iridess, unique in composition and nature, come with details, NPCs and are absolutely inspiring – this section could carry a whole campaign!
The book btw. also contains talent flow-charts (!!) that break down the respective powers (super convenient and amazing), a detailed index, and form-fillable character, creature & artifact and domain sheets – Wow!
Editing and formatting are surprisingly good for a book of this size: Perry Grosshans and the cadre of proofreaders did a great job. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s neat two-column full-color standard for LoGaS-books. The artworks deserve special mention: There are a ton of nice original pieces herein, and while they do not adhere to a unified style, I haven’t seen any of them before – and they stand out. This is a beautiful book. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked with detailed and nested bookmarks, making navigation easy. I can’t comment on the print version yet, since I don’t own it – but oh boy is it on my to-get-list!
J.P. Brannan, Thierry De Gagne, Perry Grosshans, Adam Easterday, John Lee, David A McCreless, Selene O’Rourke, Joel Saul and Cliff Winnig would be the developers and contributors to the work of lead author Christopher “Kit” Kindred.
In more rules-heavy systems than Diceless, reviewing a core book is often rather tedious, particularly if it’s based on D&D; you’ll inevitably have the standards covered; it is only with the second book, for PFRPG the Advanced Player’s Guide, for 13th Age “13 True Ways”, that these systems really come into their own, become distinct – and it is these books I will most fondly remember in the years to come. While the core Lords of Gossamer and Shadows book was already a reinvigoration of Amber and Erick Wujcik’s engine, it is in my opinion this book that really makes it come into its own. While purists may scoff at the talent system presented herein, it is exceedingly elegant, easy to grasp, and the flow-charts simplify the process of using it to the point where it is a no-brainer. The system not only exponentially increases the array of options for the GM, but also for the players; it allows groups to explore a vast plethora of new and exciting narratives with the system.
Beyond that, the book also represents a MASSIVE setting sourcebook of the quality we have come to expect from Rite Publishing’s “Lords of Gossamer and Shadows” – the new vistas depicted herein are diverse, intriguing and captivating; they provide options without being prescriptive, adding political angles and details to the Grand Stair without infringing on the GM’s ability to customize what the Grand Stair means and represents in his/her game.
In short, this is art from adversity. The author has evaded blindness as a kid, courtesy of transplants; now, these transplants and the scarification cause crippling headaches and impede his reading and writing ability. It is testament to his passion and vision that this book exists; indeed, it can be *felt* that this was a book he *needed* to write. When you read as many RPG books as I do, you get a sense of when someone is phoning it in, and when someone is really and truly passionate about a task. This book not only represents a true must-have for any Lords of Gossamer and Shadows-group, it should be considered to be the essential work for it. This is a masterpiece, worthy of 5 stars + seal of approval. It also qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017 and receives the EZG Essentials tag for Diceless roleplaying, meaning that I consider it an absolute must-have for any such campaign I’d run.
You can get this massive, evocative tome here on OBS!
Curious about the game? You can find the core-rules here on OBS!