The Blue Rose setting debuted in 2005 using the True20 System (a d20 System derivative originally crafted for this setting), and was relaunched in 2017 using the Adventure Game Engine (AGE) rules set. Both versions belong solidly to the romantic fantasy genre, inspired by the character-driven fiction of Mercedes Lackey, Diane Duane, Tamora Pierce, and others. Blue Rose caused quite a stir upon its initial release due to its deliberate inclusion of gay, bisexual, transgender, and asexual characters, as well as its normalization of polyamorous and polygamous relationships. The new edition of the game goes even further to be welcoming and all-inclusive, with intelligent, sensitive discussion of characters with disabilities being one new addition to the spectrum of possibilities.
Much as he did in his first novel, Sacred Band (which I reviewed here recently), Carriker puts a great deal of thought into his characters and how they fit into the setting. His trio of protagonists are very representative of the kinds of heroes found in this setting, while being very distinctly their own unique selves. All three belong to the Sovereign's Finest, an organization of diverse special agents serving the enlightened nation of Aldis--the symbol of which, the Blue Rose, gives the setting its name. (In most Blue Rose campaigns, the PCs will belong to the Finest, or aspire to join them.)
- Master Soot is a rhy-crow, one of the many varieties of rhydan, animals who have manifested sentience and psychic powers. All can use mindspeech (telepathy with other intelligent creatures), but Soot has also mastered healing magic and communication with normal animals. He recently returned to field work after some years in semi-retirement training other adepts.
- Ydah is one of the night folk, a race originally created as servants to powerful sorcerer kings in ages past, but since freed to find their own place in the world. Ydah is a tough-as-nails warrior and a skilled ranger, but at the time of the novel's beginning, she is still grieving the loss of her bond-mate, a rhy-wolf who died protecting her.
- Morjin Brightstar is the one human on the team. He is a Roamer (similar to our world's Romani) exiled from his family's caravan, who can tap into seer-like abilities when consulting the Royal Road (this setting's name for the Tarot deck). Most of the time, however, he relies on his good looks and quick wits to gather intelligence as a spy for the Crown--and when those fail, his skill with knives helps him to survive another day.
Soot uses his contacts in the Finest to recruit Ydah and Morjin, who are already in the Veran Marsh and have some familiarity with the region, to help him trace their missing colleagues. Their investigation takes them to Serpent's Haven, a gang-ruled refuge for people who wish to avoid the rule of both Aldis and Jarzon (who border opposites sides of the marsh). Like many newly-formed adventuring parties, these three face some struggles in working together smoothly, but soon prove to be a very effective team. (And, quite naturally for both the genre and the RPG, that team is iconically composed of one adept, one warrior, and one expert--as well as one human, one near-human, and one rhydan.)
The Veran Marsh was created by devastating Shadow magic ages ago, and is still something of a magnet for corruption. From the start, Soot suspects a Shadow cult to be responsible for whatever happened to his protege, but none of our heroes is truly prepared for just how dangerous and insidious the enemy proves to be...
Shadowtide is a very satisfying introduction to the world of Blue Rose, as well as a being a rousing adventure tale in its own right. I anticipate that it will leave many readers eager to try out the game for themselves--as well as hungry for more of Joe's excellent fiction. A sequel, the novella Pit of Vipers, was recently released in e-book format by Nisaba Press. There are also two free PDF tie-ins available: