Cairn RPG First Impressions
This is a reading mini-review of Cairn RPG by Yochai Gal.
What Is Cairn RPG?
Cairn is an old-school role-playing game.
It’s not one of the clones that re-create the old editions of D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), but one of the “newer school”.
We’ve seen lightweight games in the last years in the spirit of old games that broke with the classic game design.
Into the Odd by Chris McDowall comes to mind, as well as Knave by Ben Milton.
Yochai Gal, the author, mentions these games in the foreword, together with other inspirations like Gavin Norman’s Dolmenwood setting.
That’s basically all you need to know to get a sense of Cairn RPG.
Cairn RPG is the attempt to marry rules-light game mechanics from Into the Odd and make it compatible with material for D20-systems.
Thoughts and Observations
The game starts with laying down the principles for players and game master (called Warden).
This sets the tone for the game. It also conveys the author’s intent for how the game should be played.
I like the idea that the Warden should be plentiful with information and use the realism of the game instead of defaulting to mechanics.
It reminds me of how old-school D&D was supposedly played: the Game Master as the ultimate arbiter of the rules.
Cairn RPG also encompasses the ideas of the Free Krieggspiel Revolution, a movement that hearkens back to how games were played before D&D was even published.
The advice for GMs (Game Masters/Wardens) is solid and a good reminder of useful guidelines.
The principles for players codify “good gameplay”: team play, exploration, the focus on making the world as real as possible (“treat Non-Player Characters (NPCs) as if they were real people”), etc.
What about the game mechanics?
Characters have three ability scores, hit points, and inventory slots (Diablo?).
The book also comes with random tables for character traits, name and backgrounds and so forth.
The rules are lightweight.
I’ve played Mausritter this week with my kids, and the rules look almost the same as Cairn’s rules.
Combat is deadly, as all attacks hit. Armor will mitigate the damage, but the rest directly lowers your Hit Points (HP).
If your character receives critical damage, they might gain a scar. Scars might alter a character permanently.
NPCs have the same ability scores as player characters.
I appreciate that the author gave some guidelines on how to convert from classic OSR/D20-games.
The rules portion of the book is small. Spell tables (100 spells), gear, and other tables take a significant part.
The game lives from evoking a fairy-tale fantasy feeling without heavy rules.
As a bonus, a vibrant community around Cairn RPG creates supplements, adventures and other material for the game.
Cairn RPG is also available in other languages, also for free.
I haven’t played it yet, but Cairn RPG ticks all the boxes on what I like about old school role-playing.
It will be interesting to find out if it plays as well as it reads.