Review by C.J. Bunce

This fall, Italian publisher The World Anvil is publishing a new roleplaying game that flips the worlds of classic fairy tales upside down, where good guys turn bad and villains of yore become the heroes.  It’s called Broken Tales, a mash-up for fans of fairy tale retellings that allows players to dive into their favorite fantasy realms, while providing opportunities to expand their adventures beyond the core game.  Broken Tales is available now here for pre-order.  In advance of the release of the hardcover final edition, gamers can now get immediate access to the 268-page pre-release digital edition–so you can get started on this engaging, imaginative new journey with heroes and villains you only thought you knew.

Broken Tales is a tabletop RPG of dark stories, reinterpreting fairytales from an upside-down perspective.  Players become part of “the Order,” a secret group like the Knights Templar or Order of Assassins, operating on behalf of the Papacy to investigate supernatural events.  Moving through an 18th century Europe filled with mysticism and horror, the main characters are the former antagonists–the villains–of fairytales, thrust into a parallel fantasy world as the heroes.

The World Anvil centers its new RPG on its Monad Echo roleplaying game rule system found in its games Evolution Pulse Rebirth and Valraven.  The game aims for fast-paced action and storytelling that avoids pauses and follows a narrative, cinematic style.  You’ll find Threats, Failures, Penalties, and Wounds, as well as Successes.  The game likens its Storyteller (the Dungeon Master of other games) to a movie director, with players as the former fairy tale villains as Hunter heroes against former heroes who are now “Dark Presences.”  But a Dark Presence can also be an ally.  Get started with ready-made scenarios and pre-generated Hunters, or play longer campaigns with linked scenarios.  An expansion set is planned called The Broken Ones, allowing for human character scenarios.

Roll the dice (use any set from other games) and aim for successful outcomes, but beware–three wounds and you’re out of the game and your Hunter is eliminated, although a wound can be remedied.  Scenarios provided come with “Scene Trees” that allow Storyteller and players to expand and explore the characters and setting.  The variant of RPG really makes the game feel like a movie is in play, forged with each new action and piece of the conversation between players.  Gifts are special abilities that flesh out the roles of Hunters and NPCs.  Gifts are adaptable to any kind of character, allowing characters to shine with features like being an expert in a certain field, duty bound by their nature, thick-skinned, or intuitive and persuasive, or a weapon master or skilled thief.

The game should be easily adaptable to be led by anyone who has previously served as a DM of Dungeons & Dragons or similar RPG.  Instructions for the Storyteller are great fun, allowing his/her imagination to delve into what makes a hero a hero, and how that can (and must) be changed in this upside-down world.  Pre-designed Dark Presences include Ambrose the Sorcerer (from King Arthur’s Merlin), Frog Face (based on the Frog Prince), Hua Mulan the Sword Demon (based on China’s Mulan), the Periwinkle Peer (Prince Charming), the neutral Dragon (based on St. George), the Wild Swans Gang (Wild Swans), the Silent (the Little Mermaid), the ally the Wise Fox (from The Golden Bird), Fire Eater the puppeteer (from Pinocchio), The Masked (from Puss in Boots), Orcus the Guardian, Goldilocks and her War Bears, the ally Sinbad the Traveler, Alfred Leaves the Talking Ghost (inspired by Jiminy Cricket), Oakheart (inspired by Blodenwedd), the Ferel Musicians of Bremen, the Returning Wolf, the King’s Unlikely Tailor, and the Mothers of Fate (based on the Fairy Godmothers).

Ultimately any fantasy universe is fair game for play, and it would be simple for anyone to incorporate characters and settings that aren’t mentioned in the core rule book (like those under copyright protection that couldn’t be specified in the book).

The Storyteller has many tools to keep the game in check, preventing players from over-using gifts, for example, by way of “costs.”  And the Storyteller can exclude certain Hunters if their skills may interfere with a planned scenario.  Which fairy tale should the Storyteller break?  Whichever he/she wants, and whichever is more likely to create more fun for the players, in part by filling in the setting with interesting minor NPCs.  The rule book drives the Storyteller to include features in scenarios reflecting the social, literary, artistic, political, and scientific minds of the 18th century (many are listed in its pages).  About 150 pages of the book are devoted exclusively to the Storyteller with hooks and ideas to get a campaign just right.  Scenarios within the campaign range from settings pulled and twisted from the stories of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, more ancient sagas, and recent adventures.

Here’s what you get:

Hardcover (8.6″x8.6″), full color, 268 pages.  The vinyl jacket includes 14 Hunter Sheets and a summary of the rules.  In the Core Book you’ll find:

  • Rules for both Players and Storyteller.
  • A rich section of insights and tips for the Storyteller.
  • Rules for creating custom Hunters and Scenarios from a reference fairytale.
  • The setting of Broken Europe.
  • Rules to manage a Broken Tales Campaign, and a deluge of story hooks and ideas.
  • 10 ready-to-play Scenarios, based on classic fairytales such as Little Red Riding HoodThe Three Little PigsAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and other works such as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or One Thousand and One Nights.
  • All the sheets you need to play and a map of Broken Europe.
  • The Child Savior fairytale, which serves as the backdrop for the entire setting.

In the vinyl jacket you’ll find:

  • A rules summary to be used as a reference at the table.
  • 14 ready-made Hunters based on well-known fairytale villains: Baba Yaga the Child Witch, Babai the Judge, Garou the Old Wolf, James the Swordsman, George the Holy Dragon Slayer, The Immortal, The Woman of the Woods, Marina the Sea Explorer, Niklaus von Krampus, The Astonishing Piper without a Name, Regina the Thief of Hearts, Sun Wukong the Amazing Monkey, Verdoux Bluebeard and Yukie Onn the Wandering Artist.

A game where Baba Yaga and Krampus are heroes?  Count me in.  If you’re a fan of fairy tales, the dark vibe and vivid detail of the television series Grimm, or you just want to mix-up your next weekly roleplaying game campaign, check out Broken Tales, available now here for pre-order with the instant download access, and hard copies expected to ship in September or October 2022.