In the interest of disclosure, I would like to state that this review is made possible by the generosity of Patrick Kapera of Crafty-Games, who provided Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer with a PDF review copy of the Fantasy Craft Adventure Companion, the latest product from their excellent Fantasy Craft series.
Take one part Mesoamerica, one part Robert E. Howard, one part The Last of the Mohicans and put it all in a blender and what do you get? Epoch, the second Campaign Setting from the Fantasy Craft Adventure Companion from Crafty-Games.
Before I continue this review, I’d like to take a moment to say that this has to be one of the most refreshing takes on the Sword & Sorcery Genre I’ve seen. Drawing from real world cultures that don’t often see a lot of attention in RPG gaming is a great move, and lends a unique atmosphere to Epoch without making it too difficult to understand or get into.
Epoch opens up with a brief history of the setting, as told in the structure of a Creation Myth of Tuwa, the land of the Children of the Sun, the people where the Player Characters are from. I’m a fan of this sort of approach, as I prefer to keep details fuzzy and filtered through the lens of oral tradition as opposed to the cut-and-dried approach of an encyclopedia. Not to mention it makes perfect sense given that the Children of the Sun fall under the category of the Noble Savage.
I’m particularly impressed by how Epoch also took the time to spin off how each of the other non-human races in the setting came to be. Known as the First People, the Dwarves, Elves, Ogres and Giants all gave something away to become what they are now. (I’d love to say more about this, but it’s so clever that I’ll leave it for the readers to discover on their own.)
In true Sword & Sorcery tradition, the bad guys are really abhorrent in Epoch. The Keepers of the Gate are a violent, cannibalistic and brutal force from the west. Armed with superior weapons, a healthy lack of respect for the Old Ways and a lust for conquest, the Keepers are everything that Robert. E. Howard would have wanted to throw against Conan.
I find it particularly interesting that the Keepers of the Gate are the ones who erect great, sprawling cities that are a pox upon the world. Decadent and depraved, each of these cities carry a pretty ominous name associated with it. There’s the City of Iron, the City of Bones, the City of Beggars, the City of Slaves and the City Skulls. Each of them is a festering pit of all that the Children of the Sun fight against, and yet many of the other tribes have fallen into helplessness and desperation and have joined these Cities in order to survive.
Of course no Sword & Sorcery setting is complete without demons, which Epoch call the Ghula. Similar in form perhaps to the Chaos of the Warhammer setting, these demons seek nothing more than the complete domination of all of Tuwa. Also like Chaos in Warhammer, the Ghula are closely linked to magic, and the heroes that try to dabble in it find themselves corrupted by the very Ghula they seek to fight.
Epoch is a very good contrast to Cloak & Dagger. There’s no room for politics or negotiation in Epoch, as the struggle is one of survival against a foe that will give no quarter. Unlike Cloak & Dagger‘s heavy emphasis on backroom deals and espionage, Epoch is about driving spears into the eye of the enemy for all the pain and horror he’s inflicted upon you.
As a GM, I find the Epoch setting to be well written, covering just enough to give ideas on how to spin it off to a long campaign. That said, I find that Epoch would definitely benefit from a few more details… a longer writeup on each of the Cities of the Keepers of the Gate would be very good material to come out with as a PDF product, as I can see an Epoch campaign centered on the Children of the Sun fighting each of the cities to try to bring them down.
As with the Cloak & Dagger Chapter, Epoch then presents a number of campaign specific character options, as well as rules detailing weapons, materials, alignments and studies. I’m very happy with how they’re breaking it down per Campaign Setting as it really gives me ideas on how to pull off a campaign setting (maybe it’s time for me to get back to work on Jianghu, then.)
Finally the Chapter wraps up with a rogues gallery as well as a few of the Ghula themselves, each of which would make for an interesting opponent to face off against a party. I’d personally reserve Ghula encounters to be rare and serve as setpiece encounters most of the time, as constant exposure might just make the Players too used to seeing them and the Ghula will lose their aura of menace.
Perhaps my only concern about Epoch would be the fact that it might be a hard sell for players who don’t like Sword & Sorcery’s inherent conceit that Magic Corrupts, as well as those who can’t get behind the Noble Savage mindset. I can name a few people who might see the whole thing as Werewolf: the Apocalypse sans Garou forms (which is, in my mind a very bad generalization) but I guess you can’t please everyone.
Personally I say that Epoch lives up to the sales pitch. It’s brutal, vicious, honest, and awesome. Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta would have been proud.
The Fantasy Craft Adventure Companion PDF is available now at DrivethruRPG for $14.99