There’s a little known RPG called “Delve” that is not to be confused with Ironsworn Delve.
Welcome to Delve You awaken on a beach surrounded by the debris from a wrecked ship, you are not alone as others seem to be also awakening from their ordeal. You had no time to pack and all you have is what is in your pockets or what you can find amongst the wreckage. This begins your adventures on the island of Cragbarren. Delve is a fantasy RPG of discovery and adventure, you are on a lost island with no way to leave. The island is filled with dungeons, ruined cities, old caves, mad mages and monsters, with a lot of opportunity for an awesome GM to create their own.
I was intrigued. I figured it’d be an interesting minimalist system. Players couldn’t have much to work with, having woken up on a beach. The cover made me think there’d be interesting rules regarding how you survived through dangerous caverns and dungeons with no resources. Because of the beach thing I figured it might be some kind of rules plus replay-able adventure module.
The reality was a poorly organized, unedited, unfinished world book with new rules for old ideas, cliché racism and sexism, and old D&D monsters. I see no reason for anyone to buy this.
You awaken on a beach surrounded by the debris from a wrecked ship
There’s a quick little loot table to see what you start with. Next you find some caves which you enter for no apparent reason. Here players will have to contend with rules tracking how long their light sources will last.
Eventually there’s a goblin camp, light at the end of the tunnel and a ticket booth with a bored guy who congratulates you on making it past the goblins and tells you there’s a town down the road.
Everyone who washes up on this island comes through those caves. The goblins occasionally attempt to raid the town and are easily repelled. For some reason the goblins don’t bother to eat the guy at the ticket booth, and despite them regularly killing shipwreck survivors and being a nuisance the town doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about them.
When you get to town you learn that there’s no money here. Everything is barter, but in order to make the game a bit easier every item has an abstract numerical value. Some might call it a “price” if “money” were a thing here.
Despite the marketing of washing up on a deserted island, you very quickly find a town with a tavern, a blacksmith / weapon-smith / armor-smith, a merchant, mage’s guild with many members, and everything else you might need to equip yourself for adventure.
As far as the world-book portion of this, there’s a good town (as in not evil) populated with people who’ve washed ashore called “Wreck Haven” It is every medium sized town in every fantasy RPG, but with three detailed NPCs, each with a 1 page description.
There’s also a bad town (evil), the “City of Stench” which has a history multiple centuries old, and known to the old people of Wreck Haven despite them only having been here for 100 years.
If you spoke to the oldest person on Cragbarren they would tell you that the city became corrupt, that the ground swallowed up the buildings and churches and then spewed out death, that deep beneath the island evil dwells and it manifested itself by rupturing and creating the rotten and pungent orifice that now dominates the city, a running pustule of rot and evil.
It is of course, infested with undead, and ruled by a demon. Thus your adventurers who have no possessions, must go there, and risk their lives because…. 🤷♀️reasons. There are some details, a map of the requisite underground portion, and a loot table for this city.
Then there are lots of monsters taken directly from D&D via the Open Gaming License: Ankheg, Basilisk, Blink Hound, etc. If there’s an original monster I missed it.
Good organization is critical to an RPG rule-book. Essentially no-one ever remembers all the rules, and you’re going to need to grab it and quickly find the answer to how Combat works (or whatever).
Here all the reference information is presented inline with a running narration of gameplay. You learn about “Hunger” as you wander the beach. You learn about combat when you encounter your first creature. You learn that you can cast spells and that they cost magic points, at this time too, but not what spells are available, or how many points you have. That’s…
There’s no index or chapter markings for any of this. You just have to remember that it’s somewhere in “Into the Caves”. Technically there’s a “Rules Summary” on page 58 (you just have to remember this). It’s not all the rules that have been presented so far or any that are yet to come, and it doesn’t tell you what page to go look at to find the details on anything.
The armor and weapons tables are hidden in the chapter of the city / town of “Wreck Haven”. You can find them after the page detailing the blacksmith NPC “Er-varin” and before the page describing the flotsam merchant named “Flotsmam”. The table of standard gear in between description of Flotsam and the Mages Guild.
Racism & Sexism
Racism in RPGs is no better than racism in real life. If the dwarves rise up in your game world and start committing genocide or something similarly evil, it’s reasonable for everyone else to distrust them. In Delve though dwarves “…have always been warlike, considered untrustworthy in matters of business, and drunks.”
Sorry, did you want to play an honorable dwarf? Tough shit, everyone’s going to treat you like an untrustworthy drunk. And every species is like this except the Half-elves. These quotes are all taken straight from the book:
Elves are often seen as haughty, adventurous, jaded, cruel and pompous all of which are justified and are opinions
Halflings had for years been seen as small communities of happy and social people… but that is all just a façade. Halflings are thieves, and not only thieves but also assassins, spies and murderers.
Half orcs have been known to attempt to remove their teeth, lighten their skin and even slice their own faces in order to become less orc like…To be a half orc is to be hated, untrusted, despised and rejected
But humans are tenacious and will turn a blind eye to the suffering and death of others, even their own kind just to line the pockets of the few.
The half-orcs are especially depressing. Everyone hates you so much that you despise your own skin and try to pretend you’re another species.
Why would anyone want to play in a world where before you even start, everyone hates you and has terrible preconceptions about you based on your race. No matter what you do, most of society is going to be prejudiced against you for the rest of your life.
Don’t worry though, we’re not done. In addition to the baked-in racism we also have baked in sexism
Witches can be seen differently from the Mage within society, seen as evil or less powerful many are viewed as the mad old woman, or the strange hermit. They spend a lot of time gathering herbs and fungi for their brews.
Yeah that’s right ladies; if you have any power they’ll see you as evil, less powerful than the men, or mad, and you’re expected to spend your life “gathering herbs” and cooking potions while the men go off and do manly things.
There are rules for all sorts of things: parrying, attacking from horseback, how long light sources last, hunger, called shots, firing into melee, etc. It’s simultaneously more than most players want to bother with and not enough to satisfy those who would crave a “realistic simulation”. They’re also very difficult to find in the book.
Everything is percentage based, which you’d think might make things easier, because you’re just rolling two d10s all the time, and seeing if you beat the odds, but what percentage you have to beat is constantly changing based on circumstances, and may frequently involve summing three things and subtracting from your base percentage, or whatever. As a bonus, unlike d20 systems, where you roll and immediately know what number you got, now every roll you make now involves figuring out which of the two die that just rolled across the table is the 10s and which is the 1s, then doing the math to add them up.
I saw nothing in the rules that was innovative, new, or even a new twist on an old idea, other than the fact that you can only level in a Tavern.
Delvers can only level up in a tavern, they cannot level up whilst adventuring and I recommend that GMs wait until they reach a tavern before handing out experience points.
There’s only one tavern on the island though, so players best hope it doesn’t burn down.
It’s a fairly standard manna point magic system. The two magic classes are “Witches” and “Mages” There is a strong implication that witches are female and mages are men, but it’s not explicitly stated (see sexism above).
You learn spells via the conveniently located and surprisingly well staffed mages guild with its stores selling potions and magic items and library… in a small town on an island comprised entirely of shipwrecked people and their offspring.
Spells are typically once sentence long and inconsistent. Some ranged spells mention how many feet they can go. Some don’t. They’re presented in two columns of center aligned text for no apparent reason. They’re located at the end of the chapter on Wreck Haven between the information on the Mages Guild and the City of Stench.
Literally the only good thing I have to say about this book is that I liked the description of the three NPCs. Every time I think about the rest, I’m pissed off by the blatant racism and sexism. The whole shipwreck thing is pointless because other than an excuse for starting with nothing you promptly find yourself in a well stocked town with every convenience. Magic potions, magic items. “Anything can be found at Flotsam with rarer items appearing on a d6 roll of 4,5 or 6.” If it’s not there today, just wait. No matter how rare it is you’ve got a 50% chance it’ll wash up shortly.
The organization of the book is frustrating at best. The drawings are cobbled together from a variety of artists with inconsistent styles. The monsters are literally taken straight from D&D with minor tweaks for this game system.
There’s no concept of alignment, which is fine, because everyone is a fucking racist who hates everyone who doesn’t look like them so it goes without saying that essentially everyone is Lawful Evil. And that’s ok, because the dwarves are all alcoholics, and the halflings are all murders, and the half-orcs hate their bodes, and and and….
Please don’t buy this.