This is an interesting one. The latest Bundle of Holding features the Kickstarter-funded, fantasy-horror RPG, Shadows of Esteren. The most striking thing about this game is that the books are absolutely beautiful. The art, the presentation, the prose – it’s all so elegant. What can I say? It’s French!
The first tier, which includes the core rulebook, will set you back $9.95. The ruleset seems interesting, and it does appear to be quite accessible. I do think that Shadows of Esteren would be easier to pick up than a standard, middle-weight title like Dungeons & Dragons. The focus is more firmly on the narrative, and even combat is comparatively light compared to most mainstream titles. The tone is also interesting, focusing less on overt horror and more on a quiet, understated malice. Similarly, the fantasy elements are quite subdued, with little high magic, but some grittier, earthier magic permeating the whole setting. There are also steampunk elements because everything has steampunk elements these days. The inclusion of Of Men and Obscurities, which includes atmospheric music to match the game’s tone, further adds to the atmosphere and opportunities for immersion. The full contents of the first tier are:
- Shadows of Esteren Book 0 – Prologue (free): The ideal introduction to Esteren, with a rules summary, template characters, and three linked scenarios, and handouts.
- Book 1 – Universe (retail price $25): The core rulebook that conjures the gothic horror setting with a system that emphasizes story without sacrificing tactics. Includes handouts, character sheets, map, pronunciation guide, and character creation guide.
- Hauntings ($5): A fiction collection of five short ghost stories set in the world of Esteren.
- Of Men and Obscurities (retail $10): Shadows of Esteren is a multimedia project. This collection of .MP3 audio tracks contains ambient music written especially for Esteren.
As usual, the second tier is priced at a threshold. At the time of writing, this is a shade under $21, which seems like a good deal to me. The Travels book is particularly effective in fleshing out the game world, whilst Monastery of Tuath gives more flavour to the people and cultures that inhabit it. This tier includes:
- Shadows of Esteren Book 2 – Travels (retail $25): Explore the Tri-Kazel Peninsula with a hundred noteworthy places, 18 personalities, more creatures, and five short adventures. Includes handouts with maps, character portraits, and more.
- Monastery of Tuath (retail $10): The clerical Temple faction in the world of Esteren — monastic life, the Six Vows, and an investigative scenario inspired by The Name of the Rose. Includes handouts with clues, maps, portraits, and stunning artwork.
- Black Moon Handbook (retail $10): This supplement explores ghosts, hauntings, and exorcisms. Includes notable occult NPCs, new creatures, and four scenarios.
- Game Leader Kit (retail $2): Handy charts and tables.
This is a really interesting bundle, and one I picked up immediately. I seem to be gathering a lot of horror games at the moment. I think I just enjoy telling stories in the genre.