If you're a history buff, you may have already heard of Nations & Cannons and their recent Kickstarter for their campaign setting, The American Crisis. However, if you haven't heard of it, N&C is a 5E compatible setting in which players create characters who live in a real historical context and engage in skirmishes and secret missions that run alongside the American Revolution in the 1700's. Unlike Flames of Freedom (another American Revolution-era TTRPG), N&C is concerned not so much with the supernatural as it is the real history of our nation. Player characters are anything from Officers in the Continental Army to Grenadiers, with backgrounds of any type, with the classes mostly represented as "reskins" from 5E D&D (example: Grenadiers are basically reskinned barbarians). NPCs include real historical figures such as Ethan Allen or Benedict Arnold. Those who enjoy "flintlock fantasy" games will also find modules and adventures incorporating fantasy or horror elements eventually, but for now the barebones game is strictly historical. Let's dive in and see if the core rule book is worth the price tag.
BANG FOR YOUR BUCK?
We'll start with the most obvious question. Is it generally worth the money? I would say that to me, someone who is interested in running historical games, that yes, the $45 price tag is worth it. You don't really "need" any other rule book aside from the base 5E DMG and maybe some parts of the PHB, so with that $45 you're getting:
3 Chapters of detailed character creation, including historical context, 5 classes, 7 origins (the equivalent of "races" in D&D), backgrounds, and feats.
1 Chapter on equipment, weapons, and ammo
1 Chapter on "Gambits" which are the equivalent of "spells" in 5E (N&C contains no magic, so Gambits are highly skilled actions similar to feats)
1 Chapter dedicated to a Bestiary - including tips on running the game
1 Complete Adventure
1 Section detailing inclement weather
That's really not bad for just 114 pages of content. However, I would be remiss if I didn't say that there are definitely things they could have expanded upon or improved on, but I'll get to that next.
CHAPTER 1: ORIGINS
Overall, this chapter was very detailed, providing some context for where certain groups are located at the time in the 1700's (Ladinos being in the Gulf Coast area for example, or Dutch being prevalent in the Mid-Atlantic area). The "races" from D&D 5E being reinterpreted as almost job roles in N&C adds to the customization. You could be an Officer, or a Pioneer for example, and each entry has a detailed explanation for their historical context and usually two NPC examples of the "origin" in question based on real historical figures. Each origin has a "trait" and each one feels authentic to the origin. One thing I found conspicuously absent from the first chapter which would have helped a lot was a list of name examples, and a character sheet. As it is, for the characters I made I had to find online databases for which compiled names and surnames from 1700's Colonial living. People who may not be historically leaning may find it challenging to create names that sound authentically 1700's.
CHAPTER 2: CLASSES
Overall, pretty impressive to completely change up some of the mechanics of the basic classes from D&D and turn them into American Revolutionary counterparts. You can tell a lot of thought went into these, and each one feels very different. A barbarian from D&D would instead be called a Grenadier in N&C. Likewise, a fighter from D&D would be called in N&C a Turncoat. But these aren't simply reskins of the base classes from D&D - they make N&C feel like its very own game.
CHAPTER 3: CHARACTER CHOICES
There are only 8 backgrounds, so I feel like this is one of the only sections that maybe could have used more padding. With a small number of Origins and Classes, a longer list of backgrounds could have made things feel even more versatile. Still, there *are* 8 backgrounds, so that's still a decent amount.
CHAPTER 4: FIREARMS & KIT
This is a decent section, with illustrations and descriptions of all the weapons and equipment you're likely to encounter as a player in your journeys. I really have no complaints about this section as it's fairly detailed and also covers artillery and traps.
CHAPTER 5: GAMBITS
This section, to me, is a great attempt at creating non-magical "spells" that the Firebrand (something like a Bard for N&C) can use, but because of the very nature of using non-magical spells as abilities, it seems very hard to conceptualize and this might be doubly so for those not familiar with D&D already, since freedom is given to players to interpret how best to achieve the "gambit". I'd like this section to be expanded and be clearer, but it's a very interesting concept.
CHAPTER 6: ENEMY ROSTER
This section actually surprised me a little, because I was trying to think of the types of enemies one might encounter in 1700's Colonial Life and came up short aside from a few factions. However, there are decent stat blocks encompassing a pretty vast array of enemies such as beasts, and other soldiers from opposing armies. One thing I really, really appreciate about their stat blocks is that some of the enemies have "Trappings" which are a small percentage of chance that players discover a certain item on the defeated enemies such as a 30% chance of finding one dose of bloodroot or 60% chance of finding a poultice of greater healing. This is something I've already been trying to implement in my games. I want enemies to feel like real beings, so I try to give some mundane, non-treasure items the players can find in addition to gold, gems, weapons, and armor.
ADVENTURE: INVASION OF CANADA
To be honest, it's really cool they threw in a free adventure. Normally, to buy an adventure with the core rulebook you need to buy a box set of some kind, so it's neat that you get a bonus adventure to use right off the bat. However, they place a lot of the work on the DM, and if a DM doesn't know much about history or about the time, it's going to be harder for them to really expand on things or immerse the players. While the adventure is *there*, it's pretty barebones as far as narrative and historical details go and even with my skills as a DM and with being a history buff, I feel like reading it that I would have a challenging time DMing the adventure as written without lots of prep work. Also, there are basically no maps included of anything, really, except for the east coast of the United States during the 1700's - although the map is pretty hard to read.
The bonus section in the back was actually pretty nice mechanically, detailing lots of inclement weather and other weather phenomena. No real complaints there.
It's a very solid entry into the TTRPG arena. The American Revolution is an era rife with high drama, thrilling and brutal combat, and so far removed from today's world that there exists a touch of whimsy that is very in-line with the adventures in D&D. Overall, in my opinion very well done and as a basic book I believe you get as much as you pay for - however, I wouldn't have minded paying just a little bit more for maps, an expanded adventure, and an expanded Gambit section along with some spots in the character creation like character sheets and a section on names popular in the 1700's. But for just $45 I think it's a pretty good deal as is, anyway.
Anyway, that's my review on Nations & Cannons. Let us know what you think of the game or if you're going to check it out. Until then, thanks for reading as always, and remember to sign up for our newsletter to get free stuff every week! - JOE