Shadows of Esteren is a medieval horror tabletop RPG that focuses heavily on mental games and not necessarily combat mechanics. That is not to say there is no combat to be had here - but the world here is far more subtle, and the end result is a far more memorable experience than most tabletop RPG games. Shadows of Esteren Book 0: Prologue helps to set the table for those thinking about delving into this fascinating world.
For all intents and purpose, Prologue is your starter set or box. It introduces an initial journey into the universe, supplying a combination of story elements while also providing a structured framework for how the gameplay should be executed. This comes in the form of six pre-made characters a trio of tales that help teach while still providing entertainment.
What is interesting about the prologue, is that it can be acquired a couple of different ways. I happened to get my hands on the physical book, and I am glad that I did. With a paperback cover it is perhaps not as durable as other tabletop guides, but the paper stock is still quite good and the illustrations are nothing short of gorgeous. If you, like me, enjoy collecting fantasy art and books, Prologue should fit right in with some of your other materials.
However, because of the massively successful Kickstarter around this project, the team made Prologue available for free via this link. This was a great call on the team's part, because it enables those curious about the world to dip their toes in without any financial risk. That being said, the team no doubt hopes that this will inspire gamers to pick up more of the books so they can delve further into the world.
This is not a high fantasy world. There are no dragons and elves, but there is fantasy lurking in the shadows. This is what I meant earlier when introducing the product. The writing in Prologue is fantastic as it illustrates a world that has Celtic and Gothic tones throughout. People are often who or what they seem to be, but those that are not? Those are the true dangers in this world, and it requires investigation, sharp wits and a willingness to role-play.
This is an excellent starting point for a world that looks to be very ambitious going forward. This book is expertly paced, giving the reader plenty to consider but never too much to digest at one time. The end result is something that was actually fun to read from cover to cover (something that many people do not want to do with big RPG tabletop books like this). That said, the book is thinner and not as durable as other similar game tomes on the market and it did leave me with plenty of questions - though I suppose leaving me wanting more is probably a good business model for the team.
Review by Nick