This is the game that I have always wanted, but never thought that I would actually be able to obtain or play.
I know that sounds rather hyperbolic, (and it is), but the honest truth is that so few fantasy Roleplaying games break away from the classical Medieval or Medieval adjacent setting styles that it can feel like a slog trying to find something that captures the feeling of a different age of our own history. While those firmly planted in the Sword & Sorcery genre are often little more than specific affectations of Conan or other Howard works. That is not intended as a slam or a form of disrespect on those games at all, I enjoy those a great deal. However, It seems rarer and rarer to me personally that things beyond those sources are used for inspiration.
This is not a concern with Jackals in my humble opinion.
Jackals is a Roleplaying game that is inspired by classical Bronze Age societies, cultures, and tales. In particular those of the ancient near east. Taking cue from sources like Homer’s The Iliad, The Torah/Old Testament, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and other tales of Bronze Age and before era peoples and places within our history. What you get is a world dripping with the all important feeling of history, lore and depth. Combine that with the classical Sword & Sorcery aspects of a realm of perilous danger and adventure, of the Forces of Law and Chaos working against each other, and nestled within its own Fantasy realm of Bronze and you have a recipe for excitement that screams to the Heavens its rallying cry of sheer gripping wonder.
In terms of system, Jackals utilizes a simple and easy to comprehend and utilize D100 system modeled on the 2nd Open Quest SRD. Meaning the overall rules are easy to understand. On top of that Jackals introduces what it calls the Clash Mechanics for combat, and I have to admit that this is something I wish more people would steal or iterate on for their own games. In my opinion the Clash system makes combat gripping and engaging in a way that few others actually manage to uphold. From my experience there are a whole host of games that claim to be cinematic in their scope and action, but still manage to be either cumbersome or very static in terms of how things actually handle at the table. Even just watching Jackals in play from the various sessions/videos is engaging in a way that I couldn't have thought possible. All as characters clash against one another in contests of action where the victor is the one that deals their damage. A system that to me evokes the best aspects of those classic duels found in movies and stories, where two warriors bear all their weight and skill behind their attacks. It also provides a robust yet functionally simple method of tactical play at the table and allows caster like characters an opportunity to not feel as if they are left in the dust or high and dry with wasted turns even if their spells don’t go off, but still makes sure everyone feels useful at the table through the use of initiative "slots" as opposed to static sequential order, with other uses for clash points to allow those power attacks and multi opponent hitting swings.
However, combat is not the only aspect of the mechanics that stood out to me. No adventurer can wander the War roads forever, and the game not only acknowledges this, but has systems built into it to handle that. With renown mechanics that deal with how the world perceives the characters and their deeds, and also how chaos begins to seek out these more renowned individuals to make an example out of. To actions taken to strengthen bonds of connection with places across the Zaharets through Seasonal Actions, as well as mechanics to handle retirement of characters should they survive their journeys and the almost inevitable scars they are likely to endure along the way: physical, mental, and emotional- with mechanics to deal with physical scars, and corruption.
I rarely write reviews for anything. Mostly because I always feel that my words will not encapsulate what it is I really want to say. Every so often though something comes along that calls me to action, and Jackals is it. I love this game. Pure and simple. As soon as I purchased it I wanted to sit down and play. I bought the PDF copy first and within less than a week of ownership I turned around and bought a physical copy because I needed to hold this book in my hands. Never before have I so quickly went from PDF to physical without some sort of crowdfunding involved. I cannot wait to start up games of my own of Jackals.
I hope to see you out on the War Road some day.