Circle of Hands by Ron Edwards

In this book, Ron created a thoroughly interesting setting. The mechanics seem simple and a bit random (in character generation), but that fits the less scripted times that he’s emulating.

The book covers four undifferentiated nations in a very local dark ages setting, with two sweeping magics running through the area and altering the world in their image. The four regions are very similar; there’s little coinage, a great deal of mistrust for outsiders (who, to be fair, are often raiders), a presumption that everyone you’ll encounter is culturally the same.

It’s a direct, honest culture. As players, you make a pair of Circle Knights who are among the new King(ish) of Rolke’s kitchen cabinet–and who are each familiar with both black and white magic. Most of the time you’re in villages; cities over a thousand people are rare and won’t often be visited by the knights on their ventures.

The magic system is strongly thematic, which is reinforced by the cultural implications of magic being introduced before character creation and spell lists. The culture and Ron’s presentation of it is excellent–if you’re looking for a way to play people who don’t feel like 20th century people in costume, this game gives both a complete setting and strong guidelines for conveying that culture. (As a closest analogue, think 9th century Germany or England.)

Playing it is trickier; I’d be interested, but I’d really want fellow players to have read a bit–or at least be willing to set all of their assumptions aside. Since so much gaming is fantasy gaming, there are a lot of assumptions to peel away.

So… mark me as interested, though probably not interested in running it quite yet. With a similarly invested group, I think it’d be interesting to experience in play. The website for Circle of Hands.