RPG Reviews – Jackals (Osprey Games)

You don’t frequently find the Bronze Age used as a source for game settings. Besides Runequest, some indie games, and the implicit default setting of Mythras, most fantasy settings are either Medieval, faux-Medieval, or fantastical. It’s a shame, because there’s such a richness of material to draw on from that era in world history and it’s perfect for adventuring. John-Matthew DeFoggi and Osprey Games seem to agree, because they’ve given us the delightful Jackals.

Jackals is a d100 fantasy roleplaying game with mechanical roots in the OpenQuest incarnation of the BRP system. It has enough flair to really make the game its own and has a setting, lovingly-crafted by an expert in the field, that has so much adventure potential you could run this game for ages out of the core book content alone. I don’t have a specific art credit for the included images, but the beautiful illustrations were done by Guillaume Ducos, Veronika Fedorova, John McCambridge, and Randy Musseau.

The setting, Kalypsis, is based on the Ancient Near East, and the focal region of the Zaharets, or Land of Risings, as it slowly rebuilds itself after the fall of the beastman kingdom of Barak Barad. Apart from the Takan, who ruled that kingdom, the inhabitants of the world seem to be mostly human, and the cultures focused on in Jackals are drawn from Ancient Egypt, Greece, Canaan/Israel, and the Arabian peninsula. Each is described sufficiently with the expectation that individual tables can fill in setting gaps by drawing on the same inspirations. The Luathi, who rebelled against the Takan, are the predominant power along the coast of the region, the area known as the War Road. The setting has a great amount of verisimilitude in its presentation, even extending to the use of language – you can see the construction of certain names and terms and how they are similar to related words. It’s both cool and helpful, since there are a fair number of setting terms to internalize, so any coherent system helps it make sense. Player Characters are “Jackals,” wanderers and mercenaries who journey about the Zaharets for pay or their own purposes. They may begin as near-zeros, but their destiny is to be heroes in kind with Gilgamesh.

I also want to take a couple of sentences to talk about the gazetteer portion of the book, where it really dives into the setting. In short, it’s outstanding! It gives you just enough information about each area to have a strong idea of how to present it, while giving you leeway to make it your own. Then each area concludes with a fistful of rumors from which you can draw adventure seeds. But then, it gets into the secrets of the Zaharets and you get even more adventure material. It’s easy to present a “cool” setting – the trick is then showing how it’s gameable and Jackals certainly does that.

Magic and religion are intertwined, as should be expected from the inspirational material. Magic is a part of the world, achieved through ritual and pact with beings of the spiritual realm, whether the monotheistic worship of the Laws of Alwain or Heka alchemy, or the mystic stories of the Trauj. The mechanics are nice and clear and operate off the same basic system as everything else (one of many things I appreciate about BRP-related games.) My favorite part about magic is that each Rite has, in its description, the location in the Zaharets where it can be learned. It’s this sort of engagement with the setting that I really like and helps give further breath to the world. The corrupting forces of Chaos also have a foothold in this world and various actions can gain Jackals “Corruption Points.” These can, over time, cut them off from their spiritual patrons, or alter their mind and body. Magic items exist either as unique artifacts or by awakening a mundane item through specific usage or rites.

As Jackals is a BRP- based d100 system, most rolls are made against Skill ratings, the target number being derived from a character’s base Attributes. So Perform has a base rating, which is then modified by the sum of a few Attributes. When making a Skill roll you roll d100 and aim for as high as possible while staying under the number. Doubles count as Criticals (successes or failures, depending on your rating), granting additional effects. Characters have flavorful Traits, that allow them to roll two “ones” dice in certain circumstances, helping avoid critical facilities and achieve critical successes. It’s a nice way to help ensure areas of expertise are really showcased and is one of the first steps on the path of epic, mythic heroism the game aims for (over time, of course.) I’m overall a big fan of the Basic Roleplaying system in any form, as I like percentiles, and Jackals is no exception.

Combat is conceivably dangerous, with a pseudo-hit point system, but intended to allow Jackals to tackle hordes of enemies in time. During each combat Valour is generated based off a character’s Mettle. This is subtracted first when taking damage, but once it’s all gone you start taking Wound damage, which will reduce your Valour at the beginning of the next fight. Mettle will also reduce through fatigue and environmental factors, which will then reduce your starting Valour – so things can begin to spiral. Speaking of fatigue, considering how much travel Jackals will undertake, I am very appreciative there is both encumbrance rules and travel rules, to help bring the War Road to life. Combat is primarily governed by the use of Clash Points – an action point system which allow you to oppose attack rolls, invoke magical rites, aid other combatants, or enhance the effects of your attacks. I typically like this sort of resource and it looks reasonably arranged in Jackals.

Even if Jackals are outcasts, they are still tied to the communities of the Zaharets. As they adventure, and their name becomes known, they gain Kleos, or Renown. This gives them advantages in their communities, but also draws the attention of the forces of Chaos – to the point of its agents seeking out the Jackal. As a huge fan of downtime actions I really like that the community aspect of Jackals is reinforced through the taking of Seasonal Actions, which involve research, atonement, carousing, seeking a patron, or even establishing a home. By making it a core part of gameplay it should help players become invested in both their characters and the setting.

The Bestiary includes an excellent selection of foes inspired by the cultures the game draws on. These include jackal-headed Annubi giants, Nyssalis (hydras), Anzaim (Lamassu I believe), a variety of spirits, the reviled Takan, and a variety of mundane opponents.

The three adventures that conclude the book are quite well-constructed. Mysterious murder and disappearances and the dark secrets of the Zaharets take centre-stage and give Jackals the opportunity to begin increasing their Kleos. Included with each adventure are further plot seeds, showing what new stories can be generated from them. Combined with the robust and thorough GM (Loremaster) chapter, you should have a very good idea of how to run Jackals as intended and how to keep a campaign going for a long time.

You can pick up a copy of Jackals in print or pdf here and follow the blog for additional content, as well as follow Osprey Games on Twitter (@OspreyGames).

You can also purchase it from the below Affiliate links:

DriveThruRPG (PDF)

Amazon (Print)

This title was provided for purpose of review.


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