This week, several other RPG bloggers and I are celebrating Small Press Week, with a look at some of the works coming out of the smaller publishers in our hobby. And I think this week will show that just because a company is small, that doesn't mean they can't go toe-to-toe with some of the big boys. I'll be linking and rounding up other coverage periodically throughout the week.
I often mention how much I enjoy Dark Matter Studios' ENnie-nominated Epic Role Playing Game, which I consider one of the best-designed rules-medium RPGs out there. Now, I've written a lengthy review of the game before, but to be honest, I know not everyone has the attention span or time for long of the review. So I've come up with 5 great reasons you'll want to check out this small-press gem.
1. In-depth Character Generation—With Tables! My love of random tables and charts knows no limits. There are all sorts of fun tables to roll on during character generation—social class, apprenticeship events, family background, and personality, to name just a few. Best of all, During every step of chargen, there’s a checklist on the page, making sure you’re on track and giving a little more background as to precisely why you’re doing what you’re doing.
2. Guilds & Professions. Instead of your normal structured classes, Epic has guilds and professions. I consider this one of the best parts of the game. If you're used to a fighter class, you may want to check out the Constable of Brightwall for a law-oriented martial character. You could also check out any number of listed mercenary organizations, such as the Archers of the Scarlet Mark. Or, you could create your own—creating guilds and professions (including generic ones) takes only a couple of minutes. There are dozens of Guilds included in Epic to start you out. Each guild also gets potential access to secret Masteries and Grandmasteries (for example, a thief character's organization may name him Nightmaster over the beggars and thieves of his guild, and give him a 10% cut of their earnings—an example from one of my own games). Epic gives you a lot of character hooks within a small space with their guilds and professions.
3. Incredible Magic. Seriously, there's not one, but 6 incredible, diverse paths of magic. After you read them, I think you'll want to try them. Here's a quick description:
Alchemy: Deals with the manipulation of chemistry through both scientific and mystical means. Alchemists can specialize in theory regarding Gases, Liquids, Solids, or overall Catalysts (Reaction). Examples of what an alchemist can do are create maelstroms in water, stop items from deteriorating, liquefy targets (!), weaken materials, reduce mass of an item, and all the other things alchemists who lived in our world wished they could do.
Mentalism: This discipline of the mind requires great concentration and will of thought to affect the user as well as the outside world. Very strong against sentient creatures, it is very limited else wise. One practicing mentalism might be able to detach his body from physical pain, cause others to fall into peaceful or terror-filled dreams, project their psyche for a bird’s eye view, or attack the inner workings of an opponent. Unlike other games, Mentalism in Epic is on par with its arcane counterparts--not too powerful, not too weak in comparison.
Metaphysics: Metaphysicians may choose specialties regarding thermodynamics, gravity, electromagnetism, or even submaterial theories. Arcane reasoning bends the laws of the universe to the whim of metaphysics. One can nullify gravity, change inertia, and warp time and space among many other abilities in this realm. It's like Isaac Newton and Morgan Le Fay had a love child (shudder).
Philtrology: Herbalism and the study of flora and fauna, and imbuing and enhancing properties found in nature. These folks can create potions and compounds of deadly poison, healing drafts, and miraculous effects on the human body. The philtrology section includes a list of herbs/poisons to put the old Rolemaster one to shame. Those in this discipline can often use said herbs and elements naturally for lessened effect. Creating potions is great fun, and leads to this being one of my favorite aspects of Epic.
Shen: Shen has a feeling of an oriental discipline about it, but is practiced by those ranging from woodland folk to religious types. At its heart, it is the focusing of body and mind together through years of discipline. Users of Shen may increase physical performance to pull of incredible jumps or martial feats, make deadly attacks, or improve their defense against both the physical and arcane.
Theurgy: Simply, flat-out demented and brutal. Also referred to as the Black Arts. Often use ghostly or demonic power from beyond as a source of energy. They use a familiar to focus their casting energy. Theurgy has the full range of mystical variants, but is extremely twisted.
There are also rules for making new magical variants.
4. Easy (But Robust) Mechanics. You're looking at a base 2d10, and added skills vs. a target number or base rolls. The 2d10 simulates a bit more of a bell curve than a 1d20, which may be a feature or bug for some. But for being a definitely rules-medium game, learning what to do is simple. This extends to combat, where an awesome damage tracking system and fairly rough melee rules, charts for critical hits/misses, and lots of combat options manage to give you lots to do without feeling like there's a lot of game to memorize.
5. Plenty of "Extras". Epic has an entire chapter dedicated to mass combat, a bestiary, reference tables in the back along with an index, a healthy goods & services chapter, more tables, campaigning tips, and so much more. This game has sort of the same "all in there" feeling to me of the AD&D DM's Guide--pretty much everything has been addressed.
If anything in here has piqued your interest, I urge you to read my review, check out the Dark Matter website and ask some questions, or check out their Epic Quick Start—a fully playable game for only $5 (and a lot more game than you get in many “quick starts”), as well as their many on-site freebies. For some people, the Epic Role Playing Game will "click", and you're going to have a great time with it. Have your 2d10s at the ready!