By James Desborough, Post Mortem Studios, $10 PDF
Cloak of Steel is a game of Anime-inspired giant mecha combat in a fantasy world. It's a PDF from RPGNOW.COM and an OGL product, so it uses lots of familiar D20-style notation. However, there's a fair few tweaks to make for a "more cinematic" experience, more on this later.
First thing you notice is that it's got some great manga illustrations, of a quality much akin to Exalted. For a PDF is's got some very nice design quality and lovingly prepared maps. It's pretty obvious that lots of effort went into the production design. A few illustations are re-used, but for a small-press game we can forgive them that. It has PDF bookmarks, which make navigating it onscreen very easy.
Cloak of Steel is set on the world of Teirplana, and we get 70-odd page rundown of its various continents, seas, nations, gods and races. All with illustrations of characters, iconography and Cloak (mecha) types. That's quite a lot compared to some PDFs I've seen, and it almost suffers from being too dense to pick up anything at first reading (there's everything from calender and language details to ocean writeups and approprate names).
This is a background heavy setting, so it would probably need a summary for the casual player. There's lots of setting colour to pick up and run with here as a GM: We have a flat earth, a variety of nation states vying for supremacy, some religious factions, civil wars, all ripe for possible conflicts to use in game.
Character creation is described in a solidly organised way. You can play humans or a varity of half-animal breeds. All the typical hybrids are here, but it's good to see a game with Badgerfolk and Toadmen in too. Character creation is basically a modified D20 one, with abilities, skills and feats, but no classes. Instead of classes, you choose 15 skills that your character can learn more easily. Starting stats and their maximums are determined by age category. There's a section of Bonuses and Detriments, background traits to tweak your character at creation. It's nice to see this in an OGL context. Another addition to OGL is dividing hit points up by location. I'm not sure how appropriate this is to the setting, but that's a taste thing.
Combat gets a big section, as you might expect from a game that owes something to D20 (roll, add numbers, compare with target). Characters get 3 normal actions and 3 reactive actions (dodging, parrying, reflecive attacks) a turn. The three actions make combat fast against weaker opponants, especially when combined with hero points. In addition, you can use an extra action to perform a stunt, narating a cool maneauver, rolling the two actions and gaining bonuses to the results and extra hero points. Again, reminiscent of Exalted, but that's not a bad thing.
Rules wise vehicles, and Cloaks in particular, get a good deal of explanation. Cloaks (and their smaller cousins, Squires) get their own feats to buy, which make each suit nicely unique. There's lots of equipment for you to arm your characters and their not-quite-mecha with. There are also rules for airships, and I'm a sucker for airships, so was pleased by their inclusion.
The Magick (yes, with a K) section has some cool spells and trinkets to play with; From golem-arm bionics to clockwork guns. Spells are briefly described with lightning and curses and all the effects you'd expect. The different styles of magic add flavour, from magic based on sacrifice to sword magic, the varieties tie in to information given in the background chapter. Spells use Mana points (a new derived attibute) to be enacted, not revolutionary, but very workable.
There are plenty of suggestions for adversaries and monster design, along with special powers for them. There's also advice on converting from standard D20 stat blocks to the CLoak of Steel variant.
Cloak of Steel sells itself as cinematic, and whilst more cinematic than normal OGL/D20 it's a long way off something like octaNe, since it retains a good whack of tactical-style play. It does have things like Hero points to soften some of the sharper system edges, but your 6 second rounds, hit points and modifiers are still here. Now obviously, depending on your tastes, this could be a good thing, but it clashes with my personal definition of cinematic.
There are a few places where the text slightly irked me, typical things like telling you not to do things that the rules seemingly encourage. But generally the text flowed well and leaves you with a good feel for the game and world.
Overall: Cloak of Steel is a solid RPG product. It's pretty heavy on rules, and its tweaks on the OGL/D20 system seem solidly thought out. It's not going to be to everyone's tastes, but if you like anime-inspired fantasy, mecha, or D20 tweaks it's definitely worth a look.