RPG Review

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The Imperial Age: True20 Edition

From: Adamant Entertainment
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is a RPG Setting Sourcebook from Adamant Entertainment.

I have had a few PDFs in my archives that were given to me to review but due to unforeseen life complications, I was not able to.  I felt I owed those products a review, and since I have started Gamer’s Codex, I have gone back in my archives and found a number of those products.  The Imperial Age: True20 Edition is one of them.

Up front, I have to confess that I am a big True20 fan.  I love the basic d20 mechanic but never liked the clunkyness of the system.  True20 solved all those problems for me in one simple and concise generic system.  I do not want to turn this into a True20 review but in general, this book already has that in its favor.

From page 2
“The Imperial Age is dead. Long live The Imperial Age!

Chapter One is an introduction to this genre book, set in the late Victorian era, circa 1880-1900.  It is an age of great prosperity and great conflict, scientific discovery and imagination, social reform and mystery.  It is also the peak of the great British Empire, which has developed a unprecedented national self-confidence under the rule of Queen Victoria.

The basic concept of the book is to guide you through the various adventure and setting options in that setting.  Inspired by the relatively new steampunk movement in games and literature, The Imperial Age claims to be modular, in that you can plug-and-play any aspect introduced in this game to create your own Victorian Age setting.  You can run a gritty Sherlock Holms mystery, a epic war story on the far reach of the Middle East, a dark occult horror in the allies of New York or London, or a fantasy-laced steam punk in an alternative history.

Chapter Two contains Imperial Age genre information, a brief overview of the world of the late Nineteenth Century, and a timeline.  After a lengthy list of Victorian era subjects like Imperialism, The Great Depression of 1873, Westernization, and Progress & Industrialization, the historical information extensively covers a wide range of subjects; a 14-page overview of the world of Victorian Age.  Following this is a brief overview on how to handle alternative histories, giving a few examples.  From just changing it slightly but keeping the overall events the same to totally changing the environment with magical and occult elements, this gives you good inspiration to take your Victorian Age setting almost any direction you like.

It not only covers the historical facts but it also delves into occult aspects.  In fact, despite being as modular as possible, the writers chose (smartly in my opinion) a default setting, calling it the Age of Occult Steam.  This setting starts in 1880 in a world much like our own at that time.  However, beneath the veil of normalcy, dark occult forces are at work.  The characters are in a world where some more ambitious inventors are toying around with the occult and steam tech, and the encroaching darkness and its supernatural minions and powers are a constant threat.

London during the Victorian Age was the center of the world.  Heart of the British Empire, center of trade, political power and mystery, it is a common backdrop to Victorian era stories.  Chapter Three is an in-depth look at London in all its glory.  After a brief history, each region of the city is described, from the West End to the various Boroughs as well as East End and Westminister.  It is everything you wanted to know about 1880s London but were afraid to ask, at least from a gamer’s point of view.

Seeded throughout are sidebars of interesting nuggets of facts, information and inspiration, to help you flesh out Victorian London even further – items like common men’s clubs in Clubland and common titles and ways to address them in the upper class; notes of Masonic orders in London; and a list of newspapers in London..  The chapter ends with a brief series of campaign suggestions based out of London.

Chapter Four offers additional True20 hero creation rules that broadly apply to all Imperial Age campaigns. This chapter contains notes on social class and how it affects character creation, new backgrounds geared towards Victorian Age settings, new skills and feats, a list of drawbacks players can enhance their character with, and some new Victorian equipment.

One thing that stood out to me as a True20 player was the aspect of Drawbacks.  I had not seen that before, although I had heard Mutants & Masterminds had them.  They act as the flip side to all the skills and abilities the character has, adding more depth to the character.  For each Drawback the character takes at character creation, they gain a starting skill.  The limit to how many a player can choose is left to the GM but generally it is advised to not do more than 3.  I like this enough that I would integrate into my own True20 campaigns.

Another new aspect it adds is a hard currency option for GMs that prefer to conduct business in hard currency rather than wealth system presented in the core True20 books.  Many players may find the abstract system a little weird and prefer a more concrete system.  This gives it in terms of British pounds and translates wealth scores for you in a simple system.

From page 4:
“The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood. –Otto von Bismarck”

Chapter Five Fisticuffs, Swordplay and Chases  is all about fighting styles appropriate for Victorian heroes as well as dramatic rules for chases.  From the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Baritsu Boxing and Fair Defense (martial arts for the fairer gender) to Fencing and Savate, this presents these fighting styles in the standard True20 fighting style structure.  The Pursuit rules are mostly a reprint of the Pursuit rules from the True20 Warrior’s Handbook.

The next six chapters cover various stories that can be generated from the Victorian era and the adventures that can be had.  Starting with Chapter Six, it focuses on Adventure Stories, where characters can explore exotic lands as agents of imperialism, soldiers fighting foreign wars, or explorers seeking lost treasures. Chapter Seven focuses on Sherlock Holms style detective stories, allowing you to craft mysteries for players to investigate.  Chapter Eight takes you into the world of intrigue and espionage as well as terrorism, bomb-throwing and assassinations.

Probably one of the more popular approaches to 1880s adventuring is the horror story.  Chapter Nine, Horror Storie, provides information on designing horror stories, the monster hunter as a character archetype, scientific wonders, magic rituals, and reprints the True20 rules on fear, terror, and corruption.  More a subgenre of horror, Chapter Ten, Occult Stories, provides real world occult traditions, crafting occult stories, and historical occult organizations. Interesting in this chapter are ways to use the Four Laws of Magick in your campaigns.  Finally, Chapter Eleven covers another popular subgenre – steampunk.  Leaving the best for last, Steam Stories provides various types of “steam” campaigns, from steampulp to steampunk. This chapter contains rules for designing engines and automata (including automaton heroes) as well as adding prosthetics to heroes.

Seeded throughout these chapters are special rules appropriate for the story genre.  Some are reprints of True20 special rules like rules on mass combat while other are fairly original like rules for steam engine design and steam engine automaton combat.

In conclusion, overall I think this is a brilliant piece. Not only does it compliment the True20 product line very well, it is very well researched, concise and imaginative at the same time.  It is an extensive volume of information for any steam punk or Victorian age fan.  I highly recommend it if you are looking to play in the genre and want to use a good generic system.

For more details on Adamant Entertainment and their RPG Setting Sourcebook “The Imperial Age: True20 Edition” check them out at their website http://adamantentertainment.com.

Codex Rating: 17

Product Summary

The Imperial Age: True20 Edition
From: Adamant Entertainment
Type of Game: RPG Setting Sourcebook
Written by: Walt Ciechanowski
Contributing Authors: Erica Balsley, Scott Carter, Donna K. Fitch, and Scott Rhymer
Number of Pages: 271
Game Components Included: One PDF
Game Components Not Included: True20 Core rulebooks
Retail Price: $34.95(US)
Play Time: Type {Time per Game}
Website: adamantentertainment.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

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