Friday, June 3, 2016

Shadows of Esteren - Is It Worth Playing?

On Monday I started talking about Shadows of Esteren. On Wednesday I talked about what I thought was the strongest build. To wrap things up, I want to talk about whether or not Esteren is worth playing.

I'm not going to talk about whether or not you can have fun with it, because that should be a no brainer. If you have a good GM almost any system can be fun - and that almost is only there because I hate absolutes. No, the question for is Esteren worth playing basically boils down to is it worth it to you as an experience. Does it add anything that's worth seeing how it plays out?

For example: you should play D&D at some point in your RPG career - whatever edition you can find - because the game is so synonymous with RPGs that some people will tell you they play D&D because if they say they play RPGs most people don't know what they're talking about. D&D is RPGs and so you really should try it at some point just to see what the fuss is about. People will assume you have anyhow, so why not give it a whirl?

By the same token, you should also - if you get the chance - play GURPS. GURPS is a wonderful example of a full crunch system where you can easily spend 6 hours building a character just fussing over mechanics and point cost. However, that length of time taken in char creation falls to the wayside in play where the game really does run remarkably smoothly, even while having rules for everything.

On the other hand from GURPS, FATE Core is worth trying for the exact opposite reasons. This is fairly close to the extreme of narrative mechanics while still having dice in play. The fact FATE can do anything is also really cool.

Lastly, I feel folks should try the Chronicles of Amber system, and I also think there is a lot to gain from L5R.

Amber is awesome because it is diceless RP that will straight out teach you how to think creatively. After all, how do you beat someone stronger than you in a contest when there are no dice? Simple: you cheat.

L5R brings little new mechanically (raises are neat, but hardly unique anymore) however it gives a different flavor of game with a strong focus on Order vs. Chaos instead of Good vs. Evil. You can be a high honor character in L5R, be completely in the right, and still be an evil dick bag. It's just kind of how the world works.

So where does Esteren stack up with this, rather lofty, competition? Does it deserve a spot on the list?

Quite simply yes, and for a number of reasons.

While I'm sure there are other games out there the idea of developing your character's mentality with stats instead of defining their physical capabilities is awesome and unique. The Western Fantasy, but low magic is awesome. The classic horror adds a lot of flavor. Combat manages to be deadly, yet still be fun. You feel your injuries, but you aren't crippled by them forever.

Effectively, while Esteren doesn't stand out super strong in any one category, it stands out enough across the board to still be worth playing. If nothing else, Esteren will teach you about approach, and as a player, how to embrace your character's insanity to make them better, stronger, and more unique.

Give it a shot. I think you'll like it.


  1. Well, that's a quite unexpected and very nice compliment, thanks ! Happy to read you had apparently a very good time at reading the books & playing the game :-D

    1. I bought Shadows of Esteren at GenCon 2 years ago because you guys had a sale and the art was gorgeous (other reasons to, but primarily that.) It's still my favorite GenCon find and pretty much the reason I'm willing to take a risk on new systems at cons.