What would it be like to know that humanity is but one of God’s many sentient creatures? What if magic had shaped the very course human civilization? What if we lived in the shadows of a wondrous age long past and one that has only just arrived?
If you’ve ever asked questions like these, or if they stir your imagination, look no further than the alternate world of Asiyah and Leaves of Chiaroscuro, a world of exploration, intrigue, and magic Powered by Fate Core. Asiyah is a world not entirely unlike our own, experiencing the Renaissance much as we did but with notable exceptions: in Asiyah, there be dragons! Magicians both meager and magnificent ply their trade along side a new wave of inventors. Strange, beings known as celati walk the streets of Asiyah’s Italian city-states, remnants of when the world was young and enchanted.
Written by Megan Bennett-Burks and Jason Lada, Leaves of Chiaroscuro offers a unique historical roleplaying experience in a world that never was, leveraging the flexibility of Fate to bring its strangeness and intrigues to life. Let’s peel open the pages of this unique experience and take a closer look.
The PDF itself is a unique blend of artwork that evokes the period it is set in, the Italian Renaissance. Each page is made to look like rustic parchment, with a font that hints at being drawn by ink and quill (though not so overstated as to be unreadable). With strong editing, bookmarking, and appendices, Leaves of Chiaroscuro is presented as every bit as polished of a work as those seen from larger companies. Kudos!
The content of the PDF is structured into two main parts: Core Rules & Setting, and The Red City. The first part provides all the additional rules to Fate Core one needs to play in Asyiah and all of the essential setting material. Section two provides a specific city for play, the Red City, as well as adventures to use within it. A book with a pre-made adventure or lots of adventure hooks is always a plus.
Leaves of Chiaroscuro explains only what it needs to, specifically its new mechanics. GM’s and players interested in playing on the streets of the Red City should have a copy of Fate Core to hand while doing so.
Group Aspects and Species are the biggest additions to Character Creation. Group aspects are shared aspects, such as being the part of a particular Mercenary Company. Species take up an aspect on a characters sheet and provide access to unique Stunts. They are simple additions that aid in bringing dimensions to the gameplay unique to Leaves of Chiaroscuro using the tools available just in Fate Core.
Weapons and armor are based on a variant of Weapon & Armor categories seen in Fate Toolkit and Freeport Fate Companion. Combining aspects with weapon & armor ratings, these rules add crunch to combat that isn’t present in main Fate Core. As a GM I’ve moved away from these sorts of mechanics in my own games, but these rules do make weapons and armor an important piece of Leaves of Chiaroscuro.
Wealth is modeled beyond a Skill roll in Asyiah using Wealth Points: essentially Fate points but only for Resource skill rolls. Wealth points decay based on how high your Resource skill is (you cannot have more wealth than two times your Resource skill). This approach has the advantage of allowing wealth to be used as the more typical reward that is seen in other games.
Finally, and possibly the largest mechanical addition, is Leaves of Chiaroscuro. Executing magic is, in my mind, one of the most challenging mechanical implementations using Fate. This risk is that it becomes too crunchy, as seen in one of my favorite games The Dresden Files RPG. While this is a matter of preference, I prefer a lighter experience such as what is seen in the recent Dresden Files Accelerated, for example.
Leaves of Chiaroscuro falls in the former category. Magic, called Thaumaturgy, utilizes another point system called Ka, a skill to use the Four Actions, a condition-like concept called Oaths to police ones usage of magic, and also incorporates the weapon & armor rules. Like a lot of the additional mechanics seen in Leaves of Chiaroscuro, the Thaumaturgy mechanics help to carve the setting into Fate Core mechanics.
The Renaissance, despite its importance to the modern Western-world, has never been a period of time that drew me to its study. Nor have I considered playing in such a time period in my games. That said, Leaves of Chiaroscuro leverages this period for all its worth and creates a setting steeped in Renaissance themes such as exploration and political intrigue. Combined with fantastical elements like magic or the celati, this game brings us an alternate world that delves into a not-oft utilized period of history and gives the market a unique addition.
Leaves of Chiaroscuro is a unique entry to Fate and the RPG scene, bringing us an alternate world in a time-period we don’t see a lot. This gives Leaves a place in any historical role-playing game enthusiasts or Fate fans collection. The additional mechanics wouldn’t find their way into my games, if only because I prefer something a little lighter these days, but they do connect the setting and gameplay together which is a big plus.
On the Ladder, I’ll give Leaves of Chiaroscuro a Superb. Check it out here on Drive Thru RPG!
Writer’s Note: This review, which is a long overdue, is for a PDF which was graciously provided by one of its authors, Megan Bennett-Burks, for just this purpose.