The Saving Throw
Kiss My Axe 2012
My friend your black and when you fly you're wild. I am white. Sometimes I behave just like A child. The Northern Seas are cold, but they're our own. We'll sail your Southern Seas before too long

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Overall Review
published by Sword's Edge Publishing reviewed by Scott Wachter
68 pages, 2012, $3.99 PDF, Print+PDF Bundle $10.12
Game Setting 4.5
Art 3
Character Generation 4
Game Rules 4
Intelligibility 4.5
Review Scoring

For all the influence the Norse have had on the settings of games throughout the years, it seems strange to think that of the handful of historically set RPGs out there none feature Vikings. Enter Kiss My Axe, dubbed 'the game of Viking mayhem' by its designer, Fraser Ronald, which manages to deliver on that promise by the longboat-load.

The game uses a tweaked version of the Sword's Edge system introduced by the Sword: Noir RPG, a basic pair of ten-sided dice plus modifier vs difficulty number set up. Characters are made up of a Concept, the broad idea of a character like captain, or blacksmith; a Faculty, a broad talent, for example poetry; a seafaring score, all Vikings are sailors, if you don't sail you're not a Viking and have to rewrite half the character sheet to suit your style; Traits (mind, body and personality scores); and Qualities, descriptive phrases that modify your other stats, all come with a numerical bonus that can be brought to bear when making die rolls. The game skews very much to the heroic side of the scale, and makes no pretense as to otherwise, meaning that it is quite easy for a starting character to be excellent to nigh god-like in their field of expertise. Unlike many other games, this comes without cost to rest of the character, leaving players capable and competent outside their niche while also allowing them to hit the peak of their character's power arc without waiting half a campaign to reach it.

Combat is where this game really starts to shine. Kiss My Axe is unique in that it is combat heavy without being tactically oriented. Characters' combat ability is broken up into Prowess (raw mechanical skill) and Style (narrative qualities). Prowess has a numerical bonus attached to it while Style is a pool of points that come into play whenever players describe their character's approach to combat within the narrative. The only way to use Style points to improve combat die rolls is to add narrative flourish to the description of the action. Because of this combat shifts away from thinking into an advantage over the enemy and more towards one-upping the epic combat actions of fellow players.

KMA also provides very good historical background on Viking activities and culture throughout the ages. It gives readers enough detail to have a good grounding in Vikingdom and also provides seeds for character and campaign concepts. The book does touch a number of regions during the Dark Ages as and how a Viking might end up there adventuring. Also on offer is a primer on Norse mythology, both the religious and cosmological elements. All these are detailed enough to get players going without ever becoming dry and textbook-ish.

While this game isn't focused on the sword and sorcery aspects of roleplaying, the book does provide an option to introduce an element of magic to an individual's game. Unlike a great many other games the magic is not even remotely rigid or defined. Instead there is a table that plots out range, area of effect, duration, power output and determines a difficulty rating and a casting time (which is always too long to be a worthwhile combat option). Magic is also taxing on the body. Any time a character throws a spell they have to make a Physique check at the same difficulty to avoid fatigue or ability drain. The result is a flexible system that feels very low fantasy while still having the ability to call down sturm-und-drang with enough effort.

There is also a very good game mastering advice section. It blends well with the high-flying, free-flow action of the game and offers some good tips to adapt to any game, not just Viking mayhem. The manual is also well laid out and organized. The art is a mix of the sort of rough pencil sketches one would expect to see in an independent product (nothing special, but serviceable), medieval landscapes for layout images, Renaissance and Romantic art pieces of Viking-ness that are really well selected and placed throughout the book.

Kiss My Axe packs a great deal of worthwhile content into a small package. It gives gamers options for both historical and mythic roleplaying settings without turning itself into a treatise of Viking history and lore. This might be my favourite action oriented game since Feng-Shui. The game's combat delivers high-powered, over-the-top craziness without ever getting bogged down in boring details, tallying up bonuses, and fiddling with ranges that get so stale in 'epic' level games from other systems.

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