Rivers of London: The Role-Playing Game, Chaosium, PDF £24.26, Website
Review by Seth Stauffer
Follow the footsteps of Peter Grant into the weirder side of London, England. The Rivers of London novels by Ben Aaronovitch have been brought to the gaming table by publisher Chaosium. Gamers will get the chance to become investigators, even joining The Folly, and look into strange supernatural crimes in one of the greatest cities on the planet.
In full disclosure, I haven’t read the novels and am not able to comment on how faithfully the original source material was built into the game. What I can say is that Aaronovitch himself worked on the game, including his own insights into the series to help recreate the atmosphere. That last point is a bonus.
There are sidebars throughout the text where Aaronovitch comments on how ideas, such as genre (urban fantasy and NOT horror), should be interpreted to remain as faithful as possible to the stories. This game is aimed at fans of RoL first and foremost, and there’s a lot for all those hungry readers. Don’t worry, there are footnotes to keep track of where individual books are referenced, in case a reader had a favourite.
Set in a class-based historical England, players become investigators, likely as members of the Metropolitan Police, but possibly as civilians. Player characters will investigate strange phenomena that rank-and-file officers of “The Met” aren’t necessarily equipped to handle. Mechanically, RoL is a percentile-based system that is relatively straightforward. Pretty much everything is derived out of dice rolled against some percentage of 100. Also, this is a fantasy world so magic must be present, right? In RoL, this is a ‘Newtonian’ system that offers an interesting way to present magic. Spells build on each other in a sort of evolving web of increasingly sophisticated concepts.
Something that really stands out is how well it can introduce players to tabletop role-playing games. It absolutely excels in this respect. Everything is readable and clear. It’s intelligent and explicit without being condescending. There is an introductory solo mission to teach people how to play the game, and there is a one-shot at the back of the book. Pretty much everything someone could want is here in one handy, full-colour manual. There’s good advice for how to bring the game to life, and while some of it doesn’t really innovate, such as the tips for running games, everything is practical. All in all, if this was your first ever role-playing game, you’re in good hands.
One aspect of the game that felt off was jurisdiction. Say the characters are investigating a crime ring, only to find out it’s headquartered outside of the Metropolitan Police’s territory. What are the players to do? Typically, this wouldn’t be an issue in a tabletop role-playing game, but since Rivers of London is so focused on the British capital it wasn’t clear how to handle this. Would the players be expected to ask permission? Should they pass the responsibility onto the next police precinct? How do players interact with other administrations? This gap makes a strong case for more source books, but without being treated in the core text it’s a bit of a miss.
This is a solid game, and while aspects of the core book don’t really break the mould, what’s offered is a fantastic gateway into tabletop role-playing games. It’s an attractive full-colour book that stands out for its clarity of concepts. If you’re a fan of the series of novels, this game is probably a must-have. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something that isn’t loaded with well-worn fantasy tropes, then this might be worth considering, especially for novice gamers.
As with other Chaosium releases, if you purchase the PDF they will send you a discount coupon just before the physical book goes on sale to offset the PDF purchase price you have already paid.