Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana (Review)

Titansgrave

What is Titansgrave?

Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana is based on Wil Wheaton’s show (part of Geek & Sundry) where we can watch a bunch of players experience Wil’s own science-fantasy setting. The game is based on Fantasy AGE (aff). F-AGE is more or less the ruleset from the Dragon Age RPG with serial numbers filed off.

The TV show is produced professionally and Wheaton does a great job as GM to show how enjoyable role-playing can be. This is surely a great way to introduce newbies to the hobby. Furthermore, the F-AGE system is easy to learn and fun to play. It’s not without faults but for beginners it’s a solid choice. (If you want to know more about its flaws, there is an excellent German article by Jens Hölderle.)

I only watched the first 4 episodes of Titansgrave, but it was a fun ride. The setting certainly looks very intriguing and I was immediately interested in learning more about it.

Now, you can buy the Fantasy AGE RPG system (which is required for Titansgrave) and finally the PDF for Titansgrave itself.

Fantasy AGE PDF (aff) USD $15.99
Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana (aff) USD $13.99

I’m excited about Titansgrave

With great expectations, I sat down to read the Titansgrave PDF today. Boy, was I disappointed! Perhaps I should have read the product’s description better.

“… this companion book for the Fantasy AGE RPG gives you background info on Titansgrave, and all the adventures you saw on the show. […]

And please note that on the cover of the PDF there is a small logo saying “An Adventure Series for Fantasy Age” – it doesn’t say a setting book or supplement.

Now, this product is definitely not bad. Still, I was expecting a whole lot of setting information: world information, interesting places, the lore of Titansgrave, setting rules for Saurians etc.
And yes, the book delivers that. BUT from the 95 pages of content, only 23 are “universal” setting information, the rest of the book contains the campaign that is run in the TV show.

For me, playing the same story as I’ve already watched others play on TV has zero appeal. As a player, the things I like about RPGs is that they are open-ended and that I can explore and discover the world and the plot. Having watched it before seriously impairs my ability to experience the freedom I have in role-playing games. I’m sure that there are gamers who don’t have a problem with that, however, for me, the 60+ pages detailing the campaign are almost useless.
Granted, the author states that there are expanded encounters but so far I’ve not been able to spot them in the first sections (remember, I only watched the TV show till episode 4). Perhaps the later chapters go beyond what the show delivers. Even so, it’s not an incentive to play the campaign.
Luckily, there is some interesting stuff and you can surely use some of the material to reskin it to your needs but as a potential GM I was sincerely hoping for more. I’m not happy to have to pick the material I can use if I don’t want to play the show’s campaign.

I’m asking myself: what was the aim of this product? The game show was produced in order to introduce new players to RPGs other than Dungeons & Dragons. Now, the interested fledgling player and GM buys the Titansgrave PDF and is invited to play the same campaign? That clearly doesn’t show the strengths of pen and paper RPGs: the human GM who doesn’t have a pre-planned plot and who can react to players dynamically instead of confining them to a pre-programmed set of possibilites (like, you know, in a computer game).

All bashing aside, the PDF is unquestionably a nice product. As promised by watching the show, the setting is very captivating.
Chapter 1 details the history of Valkana. Unfortunately, there isn’t much new here if you watched Episode 0 of Wheaton’s show. Still, it’s good to have it on paper. Next up is setting information (finally something fresh) about the three city-states: Nestora, Karros and Vorakis. This section comes with cool maps, person of interests and alluring locations. I especially like the duality of Vorakis: the city-state is ruled by either the statue of Lady or the Lord and depending on who’s in charge everything is either benevolent or cruel and despondent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this part, although it’s a bit short (9 pages total in a two-column text layout).
Chapter 2 details the Saurian race, the class modifications for Titansgrave, new talents, focuses and new equipment (3 pages).
Chapter 3 to Chapter 10 contains the aforementioned campaign. It’s well laid out and nicely organized.

Visually, the PDF is a sweet-looking product. As you’ve come to expect from the TV show, the art is very beautiful. The design looks modern and the text is easy to read (two-column style, offset headers, stat blocks and block text). The design is the same as in the Fantasy AGE PDF, so that fits. The maps look gorgeous. The document is electronically bookmarked (yay!).

Verdict

In my opinion, the authors chose the wrong aim for this supplement. While the setting information is superb, the description campaign is something that isn’t of much value to me. I’m guessing that at least some other buyers will have the same problem: they and the other players have already watched the TV show and must now decide if they can use the information which makes the bulk of this product. (If you’re the only one familiar with the show that won’t be an issue, though).
All in all, I’m disappointed although I think that the price of USD $13.99 is fair. I just think Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana could have been a better supplement. Perhaps choosing to depict a fresh campaign would have been a better choice.


Links:
Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana (aff)
Titansgrave TV show
Fantasy AGE RPG (aff)

4 thoughts on “Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana (Review)

  1. I pretty much have the same opinion of the product as you do, but part of me wonders if incorrect expectations has something to do with it. Titansgrave was sold to me as a campaign setting, but I got what amounts to an adventure path for Fantasy Age instead. While the adventures are fine and the setting info that is given is serviceable, the expectations I had for the book were not met, causing disappointment in the end.

    That being said, I think the choice to simply present the exact same series of adventures that were depicted within the show was a misstep as well, mostly because the target audience for this product will already be familiar with them, meaning it will be harder to run without changing things to keep it fresh, but that just begs the question of why buy the product in the 1st place if you’re going to have to rework big portions of it to use it.

    All in all, Titansgrave feels like a missed opportunity to me. I think they should have just created a campaign setting and presented a sample adventure or two in the back for GMs to use as starting points for their own stories. I feel like that would have made for a better book and a better product.

  2. I had a buddy buy it for me at Gencon so I did not preview it before buying. Page 6 to 19 is campaign related and the rest is adventure. I thought the book would explore the world more.

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