Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millenium
by Phil Brucato
Laughing Pan Productions, Inc.
[a division of Smoke, Mirror and Muse, Inc.]
P. O. Box 23834
Rochester, NY 14692-3834
322 pages, hardbound
Stock Number: LPD 777
Grade: 4 stars
reviewed by Lisa Padol
Playtesters: Joshua Kronengold and Stephen Tihor
Note: This review was originally written for Games Unplugged, with a word count limit and on a very tight deadline. A brief addendum follows.
I first saw Deliria at GenCon Indy 2003. Flipping through it, I decided that, whether or not it was the best game there, it was certainly the most beautiful. The art alone is worth the cover price.
Deliria is a cross between Neverwhere and everything I've been missing from most RPGs dealing with faerie. The book starts with a familiar premise: that there's a wonderful and perilous world out there. But Deliria tosses the idea that this world is drawing apart from our own because of Nasty Bad Technology out the window, thank goodness. The world of Deliria is indeed affected by our own world, and not all of its inhabitants like this. But many do. One of the things I love about the background is the idea that the faeries are just as fascinated by mortals and the mortal world as mortals are by Deliria and the faeries.
Another thing that feels right is the name of the faerie world: Deliria. It is the etymological equivalent of "fey", but the implication of madness is much clearer to the modern ear.
The first three chapters introduce readers to Deliria, its faerie tale logic, and the kinds of people likely to be found there or crossing between the worlds. The fourth focuses on how to play the game, advocating troupe style play with rotating Guides (GMs). Novice players will do just fine, though a long running campaign may be challenging for novice Guides trying to keep up the mood for longer than a single tale.
The last three chapters describe the rules. Well, most of them -- the book is accompanied by a CD containing advanced rules and options, and other goodies, such as a diceless resolution program to accompany the card and dice based resolution systems in the book. Deliria is a lyrically written game, perfectly named, with great art, lots of extra material, and a wonderful setting that resonates with this reader.
The organization, presentation, and editing do need work. Repeated and restated information could have been replaced by some of the material on the CD. For example, I would have preferred an additional vignette or location description than having the chart of aura colors, tones, and textures repeated. Despite the repetition, my playtesters and I had a hard time puzzling out some of the rules. Passages meant to clarify did not. For example, during character creation, readers are told that Fortune costs "Three points per degree up to 3, three points per degree over 3." (228) But, PCs start with Fortune 3 for free. Raising it from Fortune 3 to Fortune 4 does not cost three points, as one might guess from the text, but twelve points, i.e., the new score times three points (3 x 4 = 12).
I cannot tell if, after saying faeries are as enchanted with mortals as mortals with faeries, the author is really saying there shouldn't be faerie PCs, or if he is saying only that the most powerful faeries are not suitable as PCs. Unfortunately, the author named the mortal lesser faeries "aelden" and the powerful true faeries "aelder" or "aelderfolk". This did not merely confuse me, but also, apparently, the editor: "Only true aelderfolk, it's been said, have enough magic to assume this titanic form, though aelderfolk and shimmerlings have been known to appear as small dragonets." (131)
Also, someone needed to look over the book for things like the rainbow chart with three unreadable lines on page 249, and to look at the page numbers and icons on the printed page.
Despite my cavils, the mechanics work toward creating the feel of a faerie tale. Social and spiritual damage can be as devastating as physical damage, and one can die of a harsh word. The physical combat rules scale to cover everything from the smallest pixie to the largest dragon, no easy feat!
I enjoyed reading Deliria. Several sessions of my home campaign would have been different if I had read Deliria earlier, and I look forward to using it.
Addendum: Josh and I had the chance to play two games of Deliria at GenCon Indy 2004. We noted with amusement that the GM used a few house rules and agreed with us on a couple of points we found confusing. I do not remember which points. We were in the "No, keep going -- who needs sleep?" mode, which is definitely a positive sign. The game mechanics work; our quibble is that they need to be clarified, not changed. I believe that the Deliria web site will be updated with this information.
We also noticed that special advantages, known as Legacies, are amazingly cheap, considering what one gets for them. I consider this a feature, as far too many games make starting PCs mere pawns, rather than characters capable of doing interesting things. Josh has started tinkering with the rules for learning languages, and, as far as I can tell, he has hit on an elegant way to make the system telescope, adding detail while not increasing the complexity past my fairly low tolerance level. While he came up with this on his own, the seeds of the idea were definitely there from the beginning.