RPG Tax Review: Elizabeth Chaipraditkul’s Familiars of Terra

What is it?

Familiars of Terra is a fantasy RPG where everyone has an animal familiar, similar to The Golden Compass or Pokemon. Players create and play both Seekers–humans driven to pursue goals that lead to adventure–and their familiars.

Why did I buy it?

I love having animal companions in games. The setting’s tone is complicated but hopeful, a rare combination. I wanted to support a newish designer. I wanted to see how the card-based system worked out.

First impressions?

It has a “This book belongs to” frame in the front! There are little touches like that in the book that make it charming.

The book starts with a “Welcome” section that introduces the setting, tone, and premise. The setting is similar to our modern world, but everyone has an animal familiar and everything is powered by green energy. There was a “Vast War” about fifty years ago, and the world is still dealing with the aftereffects. There are five playable nations; the sixth nation was the aggressor in the Vast War and has since enclosed itself behind a wall. Each of the playable nations is struggling with problems in the wake of the war. I’m impressed that none of them map neatly onto real-world nations, contributing to the feel that this is a complex world and not a simple allegory.

The next chapter is Character Creation, which includes both Seeker and Familiar creation. In the setting, Familiars are more powerful than humans, so humans don’t carry weapons and any fights are between Familiars. (Like Pokemon!) Seekers have a home nation, a Calling (their core motivation), a related Promise (an activity or urge related to the Calling), Attribute scores (Agility, Awareness, Charm, Might, Wit), Titles (epithets that grant perks called Wisdoms) and/or Trophies (rare items that grant powers called Quirks). Familiars have Attribute scores, Traits (deviations from their basic animal form) and Powers. The process is clearly explained, with lists of options for Callings, Promises, Titles, Trophies, Traits, and Powers. There’s a section in the GM chapter about coming up with new options, but the existing ones are flavorful and help set the tone and fill in the setting.

The system uses playing cards. I think each player and GM needs their own deck of cards, but in my skim I didn’t see anything that specified. Cards have numeric values from 1 (Ace) to 13 (King). Simple checks have you draw the top card of the deck, add a bonus or penalty if the GM says to, and compare the value to the relevant attribute. If it’s equal or lower, you succeed; if it’s higher, you fail. In opposed checks, you and your opponent each draw a card, add your relevant attributes, and compare. Highest wins, ties are possible. So far, the system could have used dice.

Combat is where the card-based system shines. Each participant draws a hand of cards, then they take turns in descending order of Agility. Each turn, you pick an opponent, then both of you play cards face-down, use any pre-reveal Powers, reveal the cards, use any post-reveal Powers, and finally resolve who deals damage to whom. Powers range from “Play one extra card this turn” to “Look at the top 10 cards of your deck and reorder them.” It looks to make for interesting hand and resource (Power) management, replacing the spatial-tactical management of combat in D&D 3+. Neat!

The next big section goes over the different nations. I skimmed this, but it each nation has a large problem facing it, and there are little adventure seeds scattered around. It also describes the nation of Plinth, the “bad guys” (they started the Vast War), including some ideas to make dealing with them into a campaign.

The last section is the GM section, and it’s packed with helpful stuff. There’s guidance on running the game, maintaining the tone, running for children, and creating new perks. But a lot of it is about setting up scenarios and creating NPCs. There are a few detailed scenario hooks, then several random tables you can use to generate your own. The NPC section describes how to create NPCs depending on how important they are, but the best part is the collection of generic stat blocks for different NPC and group archetypes–including both humans and familiars–ready to be skinned and dropped into the game.

Overall, Familiars of Terra looks like a great entry for all-ages gaming. I think it fills a niche similar to Ryuutama, a generally heart-warming game with aspects of more traditional adventuring RPGs.