Disclaimer: This is not a paid review. I did not receive a free copy for a review.
If you aren't aware of what Swordsfall is, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. Brandon Dixon, the creator, has done an amazing job of fleshing out one hell of a world. On top of his World Anvil page, he has books on amazon, graphic novels in production, and a whole ton of incredibly sweet merch out there to promote his world and the people who are helping him bring his world and his products to life.
Swordsfall is much more than a Role Playing Game franchise. Brandon clearly has plans for it to be a multi-media juggernaut, and considering his tenacity and how prolific he is, I think it is only a matter of time before he achieves that. That said, he did release the Summit of Kings: Battle for the Supreme Jalen a love letter to rap and a preview of what the Swordsfall RPG will look like.
Too Long, Didn't Read
Summit of Kings is a worth while entry into the One Shot RPG Adventure genre. While it has some minor pitfalls thanks to a minimalist approach in scenario and setting development in the one shot PDF, that also means there is little to get in the way of the core point of getting into the game and having fun with your friends. This is a solid and fun product.
Summit of Kings is a 27 page PDF that goes for $9.99 on the main Swordsfall website (currently on sale for $4.99!) In those 27 pages you get an introduction to the Swordsfall world, the core system mechanic for resolving skill rolls, the Jalen's rap battle/flow mechanics, several NPCs, examples of mechanics in use, and ideas for things to flesh out the adventure of the Summit of Kings.
The system is most similar to Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars/Genisys systems. Players roll dice for their character's abilities, skills, and bonuses against dice for the difficulty, things that upgrade the difficulty, and situational penalties. In rolling players get successes, advantages, critical successes, failures, disadvantages, and critical failures. You cancel out the success/failures and advantage/disadvantages against each other and see what is left for your roll result.
The layout of potential results on each die type is different from the Fantasy Flight System, but there is an easy to follow chart to show you how to use normal dice and get the results. After a few rolls it was easy enough to keep those results in mind and not even need to consult the chart unless I wanted to double check my work.
Ultimately, I really like this system of rolling. I like rolling for more than just success/failure, and I like how you can succeed with bad things happening, fail with good things happening, or other mixes of results. It adds a lot of narrative flair to rolls and makes things both more interesting as a narrative, and more cinematic.
There is surprisingly little for the scenario setup in the book. A page breaks down how the summit of kings work, which is a bracket style tournament of rap battles between the Jalens. This is a minimalist approach that I like as it leaves me - the GM - free to set things up as I please and place things as I want, customizing for each group, but other people's mileage may vary. There is no box text to read to the players, no setup, no 'twist' as the Summit of Kings is attacked by some group of outsiders. This is a one shot for running 2-4 PCs through a Rap Battle Tournament with the entirety of a world watching on and cheering for their favorite Jalen.
Like the scenario there is surprisingly little in the PDF going over the setting of Tikor. That said, the Swordsfall World Anvil page is free and full of all the information you could possibly want if you need to immerse yourself in the world. What is there is also enough to get you the idea of a premiere event that is going to have full crowds, celebrity, and tons of chances for about anything you could want to go on. All focused around the PC and NPC Jalens that are there to compete and be crowned the Supreme Jalen. Again, minimalist, but I personally like the room to make it my own and customize it to each group I run for.
You can't talk about Swordsfall and not mention the art. The art in Summit of Kings is up to the quality the Swordsfall brand has everywhere. The art is evocative and does a lot to communicate the style and tone of the world. This is art with a purpose beyond just drawing the eye. It helps sell the world, and it helps ground you in the world.
The Best Part
To me the best part of Summit of Kings comes in two related packages. First, while the section covering it is called 'Combat' the combat in Summit of Kings is non-violent. This isn't a game where you shoot other people, or stab them, or rob them. This games combat is rap battles. The only thing getting injured here is pride as Jalens trade exchanges trying to get the better of their competitor. In other words, you are competing in art. I think that is a very important distinction and is something that makes Summit of Kings stand out for me among other one shots.
The second part is that the 'combat' system is built around a single roll and then building your own combo out of your abilities. Upon rolling players choose their opening for their verse, and then can choose to add transitions, finishers, or to use advantages to gain insight into their opponent or just shore up their defense. I love having the ability to build my own combo attack, or choose to go for a solid shot but get a lot of utility out of my roll, and it is a very creative use of the Success/Advantage system. The benefit you can get from your Advantages are significant enough that it can be a real choice between grabbing that utility or just going for the most damage you can inflict in one go. Especially with the other side potentially being able to seize your moment.
The Worst Part
The worst parts about Summit of Kings are both situational to me. I like the rolling mechanics of this game, however it is a rolling mechanic that is best employed with specialized dice. Specialized dice mean an additional cost - or knowing someone good at coding who can whip you up a supporting online dice roller. You could, in theory, use your Genisys compatible dice, but the results do not match up as well which could also cause problems. Without specialized dice, some players will need to refer to the charts a lot which can slow down play.
The other worst part I touched on above in that there is very little setup to help a GM with the world or the scenario that is going on. You have enough you can wing it, but that makes it hard to tell if you're running the world right or in line with what the creator wanted well or not. This is easily enough fixed by checking out the World Anvil page, but also merits mentioning since Summit of Kings advertises itself as not needing a corebook.
Overall I think Summit of Kings is a great adventure. It is a fun one shot with a simple premise that leaves a lot of room for fun and player expression. I think it adds enough value in how it approaches things that it is worth the $10 cost of admission, and could serve as a great entry into the world of Tikor. There are the notable pitfalls of the minimalist approach to the scenario and the setting, but this also means that they don't get in the way of the point of a one shot RPG adventure: getting into the game and having fun throwing dice with your friends.
Furthermore, as a preview of what a Swordsfall RPG will look like, Summit of Kings has me excited. I love the narrative implications of the dice system. I love the combo system for the Jalens' flow, and I am excited to see how both are used across a broader spectrum RPG to explore the world of Tikor.
Overall, Summit of Kings is worth checking out.