Beyond the Wall (2013)

Beyond the Wall is another retro-clone, this one configured to play with little to no prep, a task it accomplishes quite well, in part by limiting classes to fighter, rogue and mage. In addition to the streamlined OD&D system, there are luck points and character playbooks that lift ideas from Apocalypse World, keeping everything modular and easy to use. A reworked magic system includes rules for True Names and rituals, making magic powerful, mysterious and a bit more high-risk than you might expect. While there are no real surprises here in terms of system, Beyond the Wall feels a bit like an outgrowth of years of OSR, an evolution of sorts, rather than straight up OSR.

Theme is where Beyond the Wall excels. The game takes books series like Earthsea, The Dark is Rising and The Prydain Chronicles as its inspiration, so the game focuses on coming of age stories. The characters are kids, making their way in the world for the first time. To cement this vibe there are random tables to establish the details of their earlier childhoods. In something borrowed from storytelling games, the players collaborate to create the details of their village, the environs of which will be the setting of their explorations.

The vibe is strong (I admit, I picked this up on a whim because the back cover name-checked the Prydain Chronicles). It is actually a bit odd, I think, that D&D was always so focused on murder-hobos and never chased the kid adventure angle (especially considering that’s basically what the 80s cartoon was about). It is certainly a well-ploughed field in fantasy literature.

I find the illustrations particularly effective in this regard. They’re long on atmosphere over action, some veering into a kind of abstract, multi-hued style that feels very storybook while also channeling the vibes of the otherworld of the fae that is so integral to the wild strain of ancient European folklore of the setting.

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