The Entombed Crown is yet another tabletop role-playing game that I stumbled across because of the art within the book. I saw the illustrations posted on Instagram and couldn’t keep my eyes off them. Scrolling through the feed for only a few minutes, I made up my mind to purchase the core rulebook. I really have to stop doing that…
The contents of a TTRPG, or any other book for that matter, shouldn’t be judged by the artwork found within its pages. How much can you really tell about a game from an Instagram post? The rules could be bonkers, the story insane, but the art outstanding. So as I hit the “buy now” button, I realized I did it yet again. I judged a book by its cover.
Picking up a gamebook because it looks pretty may not be the smartest approach to finding and reviewing new systems, but that really isn’t my problem. My problem is that, so far, every game that I’ve picked up based on the art has been fantastic! The Entombed Crown is no exception. How am I going to learn my lesson about judging a book by its cover, if the books keep turning out so good?
Well, I guess there are worse problems…
What’s it about?
The core rulebook covers game mechanics, settings, races, character creation, and a general guide for the “Storyteller” or GM. The writing is clear, concise, and direct, so learning how to play is easy. This game is pretty light on crunch*, which I’ll dive into more later, so a large portion of the book concerns developing the world and the people that live there. The writer encourages Storytellers to homebrew, and they give plenty of support by both supplying foundational content as well as suggested methods for writing your own adventure. It’s clear a lot of energy went into developing an interesting world that anyone could jump into or build upon.
The world presented in The Entombed Crown is called Urathun, but is often referred to interchangeably with “the known world”. This world’s ecosystem is extraordinarily harsh and inhospitable, making travel and exploration incredibly challenging. The setting P.G. Harrington describes a fascinating and immersive world, but I’ll get into some of those details in a bit. What drew me to the world of Urathun was how well it serves as a device meant to enable, encourage, and support homebrewers.
The entire world is dangerous, so anywhere you travel, an adventure awaits. P.G. Harrington describes the landscape with rich and frightening detail. Vast barren wastelands that fall victim to constant geological disasters leave resources scarce and the people driven. The sparse terrain also provides the Storyteller material for developing a challenging and interesting landscape. As I’m sure you can imagine, the creatures that live in this hostile environment make deadly opponents. This type of environment reminds me of Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novels. It’s alien, violent, and unforgiving, but above all else, it’s ripe for exploration.
Like the environment of Urathun, the societies of this world are described with concise detail. However, most of the descriptions focus on broad subjects. As a result, you see what the world is all about, but it’s still up to the Storyteller and the players to bring it to life. A variety of unique people roam the known world, and their cultural differences can be a catalyst for conflict. There are ruling fractions, powerful races, and nomads. The goals and needs of these societies oppose one another. There is only so much this harsh and barren world can provide, after all.
The descriptions of the varied groups and societies are detailed and intriguing, but don’t intrude upon the formation of individual characters. You see how the governments work and the needs of the various political groups, but the content isn’t weighted down with tedious detail. The book gives you the framework of a complex society while allowing you to develop the individual goals of an adventure.
They describe the world’s history in much the same way. For every detail the author describes, a question is posed. This instills a sense of mystery that intrigues and ignites the imagination. There are people and locations that live isolated lives underground. They are a mystery and curiosity to the surface dwellers. The 5 semiautonomous nations to the north are called the Parlas and have been ruled over by the Grand Pariun for generations, but tensions arise as bureaucracy stifles the region’s democratic government. The people to the south are considered outsiders, and their territory is hostile. The back story behind these locations and people set the stage for a variety of adventures, but they don’t force the Storyteller into a box.
How does it work?
The mechanics support tactical thinking, communication, and role-playing. The gameplay centers around the in-the-moment decisions the Storyteller makes as the story progresses. There isn’t a heavy emphasis on specific rules laid out across various tables. Instead, common sense and consistent, clear communication determine how difficult an action should be. Because the game doesn’t spell out how every interaction should be determined, the players and the Storyteller need to discuss in detail the actions everyone is taking.
The combat system offers players a large number of options, but these options are very simple to understand and employ. A straightforward modifier system combining racial abilities and skills can help with the attack, but the modifiers are kept relatively low. Players can make an attack and/or defensive action, and they must aim at a specific target; head, arm, leg, etc. Health and damage management feels a little like taking a pass/fail test. You’re either going to make it out of the fight alive, or you’re going to get really messed up. When making an attack, the attacker has to decide what the intention is. Are they trying to knock someone out or chop off a hand? After an attack lands, a random dice will determine if the stated intention was accomplished.
Magic can be just as dangerous, if not riskier, as combat. In this system, spells can backfire. When it does so, it literally takes a chunk out of your mind. Too many spells backfiring and you end up going insane. That’s right, bad rolls can lead to amputation, insanity, and death. Sounds like a commercial for an experimental medication, so the takeaway is to play smart, strategically, and don’t F#@% up your rolls!
Math-light combat systems like this are easy to learn but offer a challenging and exciting game. You have to be strategic and careful; especially when death and dismemberment are a real possibility. When starting out, players should discuss their strengths and weaknesses. You’ll want to create a party filled with characters who complement each other. Everyone is going to have a part to play, so everyone should know every other player’s role in the group.
Character is critical!
The Entombed Crown brings a dynamic system specifically designed to develop a character’s personality. This is unique and interesting because it offers a structure and incentives to role-play. In some games, it’s easy for a player to neglect the personality of their character for the sake of obtaining a better weapon, treasure, or some other goal. Playing a noble and honorable person sometimes means forgoing treasure for the sake of righteousness.
PG Harrington designed a system that rewards exceptional role-playing without overt punishment. The more a character acts like his character, the more points they’ll receive for the personality traits they want to use. These points will help them accomplish actions while role-playing, so there’s a good reason to pick a personality type and stick with it. If you diverge from that personality too much, it could end up hurting your ability to accomplish something in role-playing. This also actively encourages role-playing in the game. You’re going to want to find ways to accumulate more points for your Personal Code.
TEC introduces a system it calls “Personal Code” which evaluates actions taken in role-play and actively rewards points to the aspects of a personality that you are employing. An honorable knight receives points for acting honorable, and a scoundrel receives points for acting mischievously. If a knight should act mischievously, however, his reputation will be damaged. Mechanically, that means he’ll receive points for the wrong personality trait. This is a stroke of genius.
Who is this game for?
The Entombed Crown places heavy emphasis on communication between party members, role-play, and strategic thinking. A group of friends that are comfortable with each other and role-playing characters can slide into this system easily. If you don’t know the other players very well and you’re not all that comfortable with role-playing, you might have a harder time with this game.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t play this game with people you don’t know or if you’re struggling with the role-playing aspect of TTRPG. In fact, you might get more out of this game than anyone else. The simple easy-to-learn mechanics will free up your attention for other aspects of the game; aspects like role-play. TEC provides novice players an excellent opportunity to develop their character and voice.
You’re going to need to strategize, which will take you out of your own head. When the group discusses their next move, you’ll be too caught up in the events surrounding your character to second-guess your role-playing. And because strategy and communication are so important to this game, you’ll be getting a lot of practice. Ultimately, The Entombed Crown is an excellent initiation into the world of TTRPG.
Storytellers, GMs, homebrewers, and writers are going to love this game. I love homebrewing stories, places, magical items, NPCs. TEC not only leaves room for the intrepid homebrewer, it actively encourages and supports your writing. In many ways, the details about the world and its people are like writing prompts. You can take them, leave them, or pick and choose which of them suits you best. Reading about Urathun made me feel like a kid in a candy store. I just got so many ideas for adventures, I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to start.
This game offers a lot to experience and novice players, so it’s actually easier to talk about who this game might not be for. That list is much shorter. If you love extremely crunchy games, TEC might not be for you. However, if you’ve only ever played crunchy games, I would suggest giving The Entombed Crown a try. It’s a good game if you’re looking to step outside of that bubble. But if you know crunching numbers, building stats, and maxing out character potential is what you really want out of a TTRPG, then TEC might not be for you.
That being said, I don’t know many tabletop role-playing game enthusiasts that are only in it for the number crunching. I mean, these things are called tabletop role-playing games for a reason, right? Most players enjoy the role-playing aspect at least moderately if not unreservedly. In fact, I find more hesitation to jump into math-heavy games than role-playing centered games. But I’m a firm believer that there is a game for every player and a player for every game.
Should I buy this game?
Of course you should buy this game. It’s an awesome game and it only costs $10. I literally bought a meal at a sandwich shop that cost more than TEC the other day. It is easy to learn but offers a lot of challenging and dynamic gameplay. This was kind of a no-brainer.
Original Frontiers, The Entombed Crown’s publisher, also offers a couple of modules for this system. Homebrewing is awesome, but being able to fall back on a module is helpful as well. This is especially true when it’s the first time you play the game. Seeing how the module lays out an adventure gives you a close look at how the writer originally intended the game to be played. I find that it’s best to know the rules before you homebrew the rules.
I haven’t read the modules yet, so I can’t write about their quality. That being said, if TEC’s core rulebook is a good example of Original Frontiers’ content, I suspect the modules will be easy to read and employ. I intend to pick them up soon, so expect another review.
If you want to pick up The Entombed Crown: core rulebook, you can find it at DriveThruRPG. Or you can follow the link.
And Check out more content by Original Frontiers at… https://linktr.ee/OriginalFrontiers
Until next time, happy storytelling.
PS: if you have any requests for reviews, please leave them in the comments. I’m always trying to find more games, so if there’s one you’re not sure about, let me know. I’ll read it over and post a review about what I found in the pages.
crunch: a tabletop role-playing game that requires a lot of math.
TEC: shorthand for The Entombed Crown