Updated: Feb 5, 2022
NOTE: While Magnus Hansen and their team had no editorial input, I did receive a free digital copy of the Red Rook Revolt for the creation of this article.
What is the Red Rook Revolt?
An Empire stretches across the land. It utilizes equivalent to 19th century technologies to build and expand its power. However, magic and spirits lurk in the background of everyday life. It resides in ritual & ancestry, but the greatest magics rely on sacrifice, long training, and strong institutional power. These greater magics help keep the powerful in power from protection amulets that empower the Legions to the reality-bending magicians among the Aristocracy.
And there is a lot for the Legions and the elites they support to fight against. They continue to push the frontiers into culturally disparate lands around them in a "civilizing mission." The elites impose policies that reinforce their regions & families' political and economic supremacy in full opposition to the supposed "free market" and "democratic" ideals the Imperium Alarum was intended to operate with. They violently suppress the work-families (AKA labor unions) that seek to improve the pitiful experiences of the exploited.
Hope from the Mountains
The strongly autonomous and culturally distinct Red Rook Commune was nominally independent of the Imperium Alarum, but has become a microcosm for these tensions that exist throughout the Imperium. Increasing demand for mineral resources to drive the war machine and industries of the core of the empire has resulted in elites seeking to infiltrate the society and economy of the region. When the people sought to resist through boycotts & labor action, the Imperium responded by importing "penal labor" (prisoners-of-war forced into de-facto slavery) to staff the unhealthy mines the Imperial elites had established. The people of the Red Rook will not abide slavery and liberated the prisons. Negotiations broke down and now open war exists between the people of the Rook and the Empire of the Eagle.
The people of the Red Rook Commune are not without means of fighting back against the physical and magical might of the Legions. Called demons by some, ancient spirits known as Geotia can empower those who bind them to their persons. Your character is one of the Rooks that communes with these beings, but they demand great sacrifices, sacrifices of blood and emotional pain. Acting in independent squadrons, they engage in asymmetrical warfare to maximize their harm to the Imperial Legion. They hope their camaraderie and dedication are strong enough to hold the Dark Corruption from their Geotic bonds at bay.
Looking Deeper at the Game
The basic structure of a session of Red Rook Revolt will be familiar those of you who have played Powered by the Apocalypse or Forged in the Dark games. The session is divided into a mission that likely contains a number of encounters and then a period of downtime.
There the characters recover, advance their characters, and defend themselves from advancing Imperial forces if the initial mission was unsuccessful. In a campaign, your characters seek to liberate occupied cities, trying to liberate at least 5 cities to symbolize driving the Imperium our of the Commune.
The game's basic mechanics are more unique, built around rolling individual six-sided dice with modifiers to decide the actions of play. I will not go into detail here, but the character creation process focuses on building your character's past, their relationships, and their demon that empowers their Gun. Their past and relationships can help motivate their actions and keep combat the Dark Corruption.
Speaking of the Gun, combat utilizes and interesting mixture of rolls & called actions. For example, melee attacks are automatically successful but leave the player open to counterattacks if the opposing character was not downed. They are also necessary to gain Dark Power needed to use your Gun and abilities. A Ranged Attack does not trigger a counterattack, but requires some of this power. The varying styles of guns from rifles to shotguns to pistols each have different power requirements and abilities, in many ways creating pseudo-classes.
When I first heard about Red Rook Revolt, I was looking forward to a steampunk political insurrection. While the lore and mechanics of the game does tick some of these boxes for me with its in-depth look into the history and political organization of the Imperium and Commune, I wish Red Rook Revolt spent more game time on the strategy and logistics. The creators are unequivocal that the players should have nothing to do with the Imperium and its supporters, a decision I understand and respect. However, I kind of which there was some mechanical way of representing factionalism within the Commune similar to the political spectrum referred to as a "alignment matrix" utilized by the game Gears of Defiance. If you wish to incorporate elements of this in to your RRR campaign, you will need to roleplay it instead.
Instead the key focus of the character building and mechanics in Red Rook Revolt focuses on relationships between the Player Characters (PCs) and the Non-Player Characters in their lives. This is well-matched to the mechanics & lore around the Geotia demons. They seek to undermine the PCs' connections to the outside world, isolating them through a horrible mixture of externally inflicted impostor syndrome, jealousy, and depression dialogue to make them fully dependent on the demons. The focus of the game, fitting for a front-line fighter, is less on maintaining cohesion or strategy of the Commune and and more on winning external conflict while keeping their internal conflict at bay long enough to see the end.
Overall, I found the game compelling and well-reflective of its real world inspirations like the Spanish Civil War era Council of Aragon. I wish it contained a bit more political action but it benefits from a tight focus on the maintaining healthy connections humanity while delving into occult powers to be successful in their acts of resistance. . The book also contains thematic & compelling artwork.