The Deryni Adventure Game takes the mythical world of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series of historical fantasy, and ports it as a setting for role playing in the Eleven Kingdoms, using the excellent Fudge role playing system. The Deryni novels center around a medieval society which parallels European medieval society, with heavy emphasis on monarchy and religion, with one major exception. In the world of the Eleven Kingdoms is a race of humanoids known as the Deryni. The Deryni are imbued with magical abilities, which certain nefarious practitioners used against the other races of man. Over time, the Deryni themselves became persecuted, and found themselves hunted and considered demonic by the church. The novels are rich with details of this world, and The Deryni Adventure game presents a faithful, if not clinical look at adventuring in the worlds of the Deryni.
Early chapters of The Deryni Adventure Game introduce the game world, its religion, and the daily life of those who inhabit The Eleven Kingdoms, with a focus on the lives of those in Gwynned. The descriptions felt like a travelogue, or even an atlas of the region. Since the world is modeled off of our own medieval history, it was interesting, but the prose was a little dry. Compared with EABA's Dark Millennium (also set in Medieval Europe), I found Dark Millennium's descriptions more interesting and engaging.
Character Concepts and Creation take up a large section of the book, no doubt because Deryni games will focus heavily on character interaction (more about that in a bit). The Deryni Adventure Game uses a pretty standard Fudge Fantasy build, with many suggestions for building characters in the Deryni world. The book presents character generation via the Five Point Fudge and Sujective Character Creation methods, with pointers to review the full Fudge rules for other options. There are only two races in the Deryni world: Deryni and humans, so most of the pre-built templates focus on societal ranking (nobility, knights, clergy, and commoners). The traits and skills are also pretty standard, with only a few related to Deryni heritage, or magical sensitivity in humans. The character creation chapters walk through creating "Sendai The Magnificent", a Deryni scholar, which underscores how the Fudge system can be used to create a character. The Deryni Adventure Game web site (http://derynirealms.com/resources.html) has character sheets for Sendai, as well as a blank sheet you can print out.
The rules for playing the game follow the character creation chapter, and provide a good introduction to the Fudge system underlying the game. There are plenty of worked examples covering basic narration, opposed and unopposed actions, combat, ranged combat, wounds, and other aspects of role playing. There is also the concept of Fudge Points, which the GM can award for "good roleplaying", that the players can later use to influence rolls , or otherwise influence the play of the game. Next is a minor animal bestiary, and a small bit on falconry. A chapter on advanced rules for Fudge follows, with more "precise" rules for combat, and damage. Also enclosed are rules for combat with animals, and a bit on how the scale of an animal can influence the combat.
The Deryni are inherently magical beings, so the next chapter on magic describes how to handle magic in the setting. The first part of the chapter covers the flavor of magic suitable for the Deryni setting, and what sorts of magic are more appropriate for certain characters than others, and what would be anathema. Next is a list of spells and how magic can be used in combat, and in magical duels. Interestingly enough, humans also can learn and perform magic, though whether they are latent Deryni is up to the Gamemaster.
There is a small chapter on gamemastering with some useful advice on running a role playing game, but the real meat for the Gamemaster is in the Stories chapter. With a world like The Eleven Kingdoms, it's difficult to picture just how the characters are supposed to interact with the world. The chapter on Stories provides guidelines for what happens during the three centuries that span the novels, and gives guidance for what sorts of adventures could work in a Deryni-flavored campaign. Unfortunately, the two adventures that follow are pretty standard fare (the first being a "find the heirloom", and the second "is this person a Deryni or not?"). The adventures highlight one of the problems of this book, which I'll mention later. Suffice to say, they're pretty standard fare, and the GM will likely need to create their own adventures to really utilize the material.
The rest of the book is filled out with appendices detailing price lists, a glossary of terms used in the Eleven Kingdoms (handy), several histories and time lines of important events, a calendar of saint days, and a list of places. Also included are notes for converting to D20 (which seem entirely too brief to be usable), and an index of characters from the book, with a short description of the character, and a notation of where the character first appears in the Deryni novels. The descriptions are brief (a few sentences apiece), and none of the characters have any game information associated with them. This also highlights one of the major problems of this book, which is:
What do you do with all of this information?
The Deryni Adventure Game book is chock full of information about the medieval society of the Eleven Kingdoms, but the book suffers from providing lots of little details, and not enough information on how to use the information in a campaign. It's interesting to see how peasants in medieval society live, but there's little a peasant can do in this world outside of menial work. In "The Missing Heirloom" adventure, we have a fully-statted out Lady Fafne D'Ahern, with skills like Needlecraft, Church Etiquette, and Poetry, but the second adventure involving almost guaranteed direct conflict with a powerful character garners no stats at all for Lord Thenial. None. Zero. Worse, none of the characters from the books have any stats associated with them. It's maddening to have a product so closely tied with a literary work, yet the major characters only get passing mention.
The Deryni Adventure Game is an odd duck in the realm of licensed games. I've come to read the Vorkosigan Series and The Dresden Files because of the strengths of their licensed RPGs. The underlying material was compelling enough that I wanted to read the series. With The Deryni Adventure Game, quite the reverse was true: I felt I had to read the source material in order to understand what was going on in the game. I picked up Deryni Rising, and filled in the blanks that The Deryni Adventure Game lacked. Where the novel was engaging, The Deryni Adventure Game felt more like a guide written with the word count ever present. Frankly, there's a lot of material in this book that could have easily filled a companion piece, leaving room in the main book for a much stronger work.
Overall, I'd recommend The Deryni Adventure Game for folks who are either intimately familiar with the Deryni novels, or wish to play in a medieval world where magic works, but is shunned, and considered blasphemous. Those who aren't as familiar with the Deryni novels may wish to read them before picking up this book, as they will provide much of the flavor the book lacks. GMs will have some excellent ingredients to work with in this world, especially if their players are into intrigue with a fantasy bent, but they'll have to make a lot of their own recipes to make it all work. Would Grey Ghost Press be able to release more material for this series, I think it would be well served with a companion piece like the "Our World" book from The Dresden Files, along with some worked example adventures. It would make an already interesting book a standout in an already crowded fantasy genre.