Sub Rosa #22 Review

Sub Rosa Issue 22: The Repository of Many Riches, August 2020

This is the first issue of Sub Rosa that I’ve ever read, and I’m fairly impressed by the quality of its presentation and content. It's a far cry from the mimeographed zines I read in the early '80s.

Under the Rose
There was no byline for this article, so I’m not sure who wrote it. The author tells us the issue’s theme is treasure, laments the lack of ArM 6 but goes on to note that ArM5 is still a great game and Atlas Games are still invested in its success.
From Atlas-Games
Justin Alexander discusses ArM’s core experiences and game structures (both mechanical and social) as he sees them. The article provides insight into how he approaches game development with an eye to how to facilitate good stories. Interestingly, he does not consider combat to be one of ArM’s core experiences, which is a great segue into the next article.
Storyguide’s Handbook: Combat Options
Gerald Wylie gives us a bunch of tools intended to make combat a little more interesting. He starts with scene (heavy rain, muddy terrain, etc.) and condition (drunk, restrained, etc.) modifiers, along with some various ideas for how and when to apply them. Next, he discusses some uses of Confidence Points, such as using them to give allies bonuses or carrying over some Combat Advantage from round to round as was done in previous editions of the game. An option for regaining Confidence Points by voluntarily failing in narratively interesting ways is included. He concludes with a rules suggestion for mooks and minions, followed by a brief section noting that combat magic should have a meaningful effect on morale.
Companion Piece: Diana the Treasure Hunter
David Agnew gives us a companion-level character, presented with lots of ways that she can add to, become involved in, and/or drive stories.
Treasures from Odin’s Realm
This is a collection of magical items, legendary vis, and vis sources drawn from Norse mythology by Thomas & Trine Lunde Sørensen-Hygum. Most of these are taken directly from stories about the gods, though a few are from Scandinavian folk traditions. Originating from outside the Order, many of them, such as the Well of the Norns and Ydun’s apples, violate the limits of Hermetic magic in very beneficial ways. Most of the descriptions include notes about how the given treasure could affect a saga. I liked the variety of what was presented, as well as the note at the end discussing how deep into Europe some Viking settlements were, making the majority of these treasures a possibility even if your saga isn’t set near Scandinavia.
Novel Rewards: Beyond Vis and Experience Points
As the title suggests, David Agnew’s second article discusses a variety of things other than Experience Points and loot to reward characters with. These range from access to training, to temporary modifiers and alleviated flaws, to things that are valuable to other people. There are a lot more suggestions in the article, and there are some very good ideas in the mix.
The Seven Swords of Wayland
This article, by Christian R Andersen, brought a smile for its mention of Robin of Sherwood, which was a great show while it lasted. The swords are discussed in detail, partly using rules from the next article. I really liked this portion of the zine. The rules for the swords allow them to influence a character’s trajectory through a saga without removing player agency. Much of their impact on their wielder is handled through personality traits in a fluid way that allows the owner to affect the sword as much as it affects them. The benefits the blades bring fit each sword’s theme well, facilitating a character’s ability to act as a champion of that theme in his or her own way. Andersen has done a good job of making weapons that act as catalysts for character development and interesting stories, rather than as mere collections of bonuses to add to combat scores.
Weapons as Extraordinary Treasure
David Agnew’s third contribution is an overview of the ways that weapons can be useful to characters. These include the bonuses that highly skilled mundane craftsmen can provide, gains to one’s reputation for having a famous weapon, weapons with added shape and material bonuses due to their history, weapons as arcane connections, and much more. The supernatural weapons include arms from all four realms, with some nice examples.
Mutatis Mutandis: Taking the Initiative
Gerald Wylie appears again to offer more ways to make combat a little more interesting. This time, he discusses eight different ways to handle initiative. I rather liked the shot countdown method, which is much more of a rewrite than a tweak, borrowed from the Feng Shui 2 RPG. I’ll certainly give it a try the next time I run a saga.
The Elk of Lough Neagh
Guy Leopold’s first article presents a faerie treasure from Hibernia. The story behind it is interesting, as is the treasure. Thanks to the Wayland’s swords article, the picture included in this one made me think of Hern the Hunter. The link at the end is worth following.
Treasures from the East
In this article, Robin Bland gives us a broad overview of the wonders provided by the Silk Road and what a trip along it might entail. He also discusses trade along its many paths and provides some pointers for covenants that might want to use it as a source of income. Sidebars give some details about Marco Polo and ideas for stories. There’s some very nice artwork, too.
In the Laboratory: The Crucible
Guy Leopold’s second entry details a powerful enchanted device for the laboratory of a magus who wants a safe way to perform dangerous experiments. I appreciated the idea of a sort of lab within a lab. It’s well thought out and fully detailed, complete with the lab bonuses it provides and ideas on how the crucible might be improved upon.
The Treasure in the Wash
Paula Moore answers the question of what it was that King John lost as he crossed the bay between Lincolnshire and Norfolk in the last days of his reign. The details added to the historical event are well thought out and interesting. The skeleton of a treasure hunt story is given, with suggestions for where characters might begin to look. A well-done map by Troy Taylor is included.
De Anima
This fully detailed story by Berengar Drexel is a sequel to two adventures in previous Sub Rosa issues. I’m not familiar with those stories, but, as is noted by the author, the tale stands on its own and could take place in any university town. The adventure kicks off with the PC’s being asked to investigate a magus who’s started lecturing at a relatively new university at Padova, in the Roman Tribunal. What follows is an increasingly tense situation involving religious fervor, local politics, and ethically challenged magical research. Grounded in the city’s history and full of the flavor of medieval university life, and taking place in a setting in which magi need to be careful with their magic, the adventure rewards clever thinking and social acumen over brute force. I almost regret reading it, as I’d love to experience it as a naïve player.
The True Rings of Verditius
Guy Leopold’s third article investigates the Order’s greatest crafter and his most famous creations. The source of Verditius’ magic and his history prior to meeting Bonisagus are discussed in detail, with his legendary abilities modeled using existing rules. The result is a very believable and unorthodox magical artificer. The rings’ several abilities are fully described and a character sheet for Verditius is proposed. I like this take on the man well enough that it’s canon in my sagas from now on.
The Sword of Mars
This short article by Robin Bland presents Attila’s sword, its qualities, and its likely whereabouts.
Curses for the Virtuous Magus: Protecting One’s Property
What do you do after you’ve collected an embarrassment of riches, learning, and power? Protect it with all of the tools you can find, of course. Paula Moore’s second offering is an overview of various methods for doing just that. Options from all four realms are discussed, with ample examples.
Andrew Gronosky presents a new RPG that he and a few others have been working on for the last few years. It’s a historical fantasy set in renaissance England, using the Fate system as the ground for its rules. The project sounds interesting to me, as I spent a good portion of my college years immersed in Elizabethan literature.
Mappa Mundi
The zine’s outro talks about making and using arms and armor, with a collection of links to YouTube videos on those subjects. I found them worth watching.


I haven't read 22 yet, but I did appreciate the source of the pseudonyms....


There was already another careful review of Sub Rosa #22. I put a link here to keep them together:

I'm just glad I didn't miss a new issue dropping.