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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Waldman

Review: Briar & Bramble

Updated: Mar 4, 2023


Recently I've just got the desire to review Indie TTRPGs, and this one caught my eye quite a while back because of the concept! It is freely available to download, and the full release with gorgeous new art (by Kristin Olsen Askland) is being released TODAY!


So first up, here is the synopsis for Briar & Bramble! Those of you who have seen the game, Escape To Willowbrook Woods that I created with Neil from Fey Earth, will understand exactly why this game appealed to me!

Man came to our woodlands with axes, hounds, and fire. They tore down the old oak, where the birds made their nests. They built upon the glade, where the deer used to roam. They cast us to the wind and forced us from our home.


Only together may we wayward souls find a new place to call our own.


Play as a community of wayward animals in search of a new home in Briar & Bramble, a community focused roleplaying game crafted in the heart of the English woodlands.


I've always had a very soft spot in my heart for cartoons from the nineties that focused on environmental issues and the animal kingdom - The Animals Of Farthing Wood, Watership Down, and Noah's Island being some of my favourites. These (especially the first) have obviously heavily inspired this game and having read it through, I really love the way they've influenced the game design and story potential! I am certain that anyone nostalgic for those shows will absolutely love this game as well! I can't wait to get stuck into this review and reveal why!

 

CONCEPT: The synopsis does a very good job of really selling the concept of this game. In essence, it is a community building TTRPG with a very sweet, cosy feel and a focus on exploration, problem-solving, and building a good story! There are a lot of elements that build this game which means there will certainly be something to appeal to all players - whether you enjoy exploring and world-building, role-play with fellow players and NPCs, moments of combat, or coming up with creative solutions to problems or obstacles. There are also some great safety tools referenced to ensure that everyone playing is happy with some of the topics that may be explored, especially as animal death or harm has the potential to come up a lot.


SET-UP: In order to play, you will need two to six players, one of which will take on the role of the Narrator. From there, you will need the rules, some blank paper and pencils to draw a map, at least two six-sided dice, and printed player handouts. Before playing I would recommend a good read-through of the rules to gain an understanding of all elements of the game. The Narrator's job is to build a world for the players to explore, present them with interesting dilemmas, and encourage a collaborative and reflective story. Players have a little more preparation to do pre-game, as they must build a character. The game comes with a number of playbooks to choose from, and for most of them the players can choose any animal! Each playbook gives the character unlock-able unique abilities, Growth Criteria, and a Defining Moment.

I decided first that I wanted to be an Owl, and when looking though the playbooks available I really enjoyed the description of THE WYRD. This meant that I was able to choose one Community Tag, and I decided on CAUTIOUS. My Starting Ability was A GLIMPSE AHEAD, and I was able to choose one more starting ability, so picked CAREFUL NOW. I then assigned the following stats - as THE WYRD I was given a +2 in SENSE, and I decided to award a +1 for REFLEX, a 0 for FIERCE, and a -1 for SOCIAL. The character creation process was very simple mechanically, which meant I really could deep dive into the personality of my character and their role in the community! I loved the idea of most of my fellow animals passing off my 'visions' and 'strange stories' as a way of expressing my anxieties. The Narrator also opened with a 'group meeting' of sorts in order to set up the exposition of travelling to a new home and introducing our characters in a role-play setting.

GAMEPLAY: Once the players had created their characters and the Narrator had decided upon the scenario they wanted to start with, the game really then begins to focus on it's Move based economy. Both narrators and players have a list of moves they can make in response to each other and to keep the game flowing. There is also a clock-based mechanic to track the game's progress, character development, and the harmony within the community which gives the game a really good feeling of flow as it is a role-play heavy game and there can be the danger of a TTRPG lacking progression if too much role-play happens at the table. As someone who loves to explore, I also ADORED the map-making mechanic!

We encountered a PROTECTED Community at one point, whose guardian hound was WARY and out scouting for potential threats to their SETTLED community of beloved squirrels. Upon realising that a rather ferocious looking dog had noticed that something was amiss and was heading our way, each player was given the chance to respond. We all decided to HIDE and all were successful in their roles (rolling a 10+) except me (I rolled an 8, falling in the 7-9 category). Realising that my scent had been picked up on and that I would soon be discovered, I decided to reveal myself to the dog, but attempt to use my CAREFUL NOW ability to advise against harming us, commending them for being cautious but reminding them that not everyone is out to harm them, and some may even help. I rolled an 11 and was able to convince the battle-weary dog that we were no threat.

The game is made up of a lot of mechanical elements, but the book is laid out well and explains everything in a format that is easy to read. Once the flow of the game was set, we found ourselves having to refer to the rulebook less and less, and completely engaged with the role-play of the situation at hand. Things like environmental hazards are dealt with well also in the book, and it provides plenty of examples within that first-time Narrators can draw from if they get stuck!


CONCLUSION: This game is absolutely gorgeous! There's a LOT of content here and as I said before, it is definitely a game that will have a bit of something fo everyone! That can be quite hard to find in a lot of TTRPGs so I really commend that about this game. Collaborative gameplay is probably my favourite way to play a game too, so the idea of building and travelling as a community is very appealing to me! I think it strikes a really good balance of being wholesome but also including some very real, scary dangers, and achieving everything that the cartoons it drew inspiration from set out to do.

 

I hope that reading this review has inspired you to try Briar & Bramble out for yourself? Currently the Ashcan version is available here and is set for people to pay what they want, but the full art release is available from TODAY thanks to a successful Kickstarter back in October. I was lucky enough to have Freddie Taylor-Bell, the creator, send me a sneak peek and it is stunning! I highly recommend grabbing hold of a copy when you can! Also, here is their itch page if you wanted to check out some of their other games - including Local Traditions which appeared in the Tiny Tome book that I previously posted about; Guns & Guile which involves keeping the peace while waiting for a new Sheriff; and Now We Raid which is a viking-inspired micro-RPG!


Have you ever played Briar & Bramble? What kind of shenanigans did your community get up to? Let me know!

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Finbarre Snarey
Finbarre Snarey
Jan 15, 2023

I have been wanting to introduce my kids to RPGs for a long time, but the idea of all of us having to slog through endless rules has always proven a barrier. This looks just the ticket! Thank you for the review!

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