Thursday, August 29, 2013

Empire by AEG

It’s as though Mike was so frustrated with the idea of a book about building an empire in a fantasy adventure game that he couldn’t stand it, but needed the paycheck
I picked up Empire, by Alderic Entertainment Group (AEG), last Sunday at McKay’s Used Bookstore for less than two dollars in trade. After my experiences with Dragons by AEG you might expect that I would be more hesitant to waste my time on their products, but this one was written my Mike Mearls; and I have been so impressed by Mike over the last couple of years that I decided to give this a try.

The introduction to this book belies a certain futility to the whole endeavor. At the start of the chapter is a quote attributed to Milton, “To sit in darkness here, hatching vain empires” (Paradise Lost, Book 2, Line 377).  I like the quote, but it really strikes me as an odd way to begin the book; it’s as though Mike was so frustrated with the idea of a book about building an empire in a fantasy adventure game that he couldn’t stand it, but needed the paycheck. Anyway, according to the introduction of this book it was designed to give players a new avenue to explore when attempting to play the game: rulership. The book is supposed to provide rules and guidelines that will help players and Dungeon Masters alike through this process.

I had high hopes, but that quote makes me wonder . . .

Chapter 1: Rules of Power
It seems like a more strategic version of Risk only without the fun
This chapter reads like the rules to a board game. It's boring and only half as interesting as Settlers of Catan, which is a fantastic board game if you're into resource management systems. Anyway, turns are divided by seasons and you have to manage your resources, peoples, and money. It seems like a more strategic version of Risk only without the fun of having a single unit defend the Congo against all comers for five hours straight. I don't know, this section is pretty lackluster.

Highlights: 
  • The spell, Greater Animate Dead (pg 14) is nifty though only useful if you have a necromancer in your group. If you have a necromancer as an NPC you don't need an exact spell - remember, you're the Dungeon Master.
  • The Loyalty system (pg 15) would be an interesting port for Hirelings in your game. It's simplistic and could provide a better mechanic for determining the actions of your Hirelings. As it is in the book it's completely useless.
Chapter 2: The Art of War
Don't get me wrong; there are times when I want to have a book that provides me with complex rules and detailed management systems, and when those happen I remember to take my medicine and wait for the moment to pass.
The number of times that I have thrown this book across the room has steadily increased throughout this chapter. Don't get me wrong; there are times when I want to have a book that provides me with complex rules and detailed management systems, and when those happen I remember to take my medicine and wait for the moment to pass. The combat rules in this chapter are clunky and while they are well thought out you'd be far better off with yanking the basic rules from Warhammer and using the Mass Combat Feats (pg 55 - 56)  from this book. You can basically port the races over and run the wars without too much effort. Or if that sounds like too much work and money you could pick up a copy of the long since out of print Chainmail by searching on Google and downloading the damned thing for free. Or ask Chirine about how he would run a mass combat game because the guy is freaking cool as hell. But for god's sake don't waste your fucking time with this chapter! It is clunky and labor intensive with a very minimal payoff. 

Chapter 3: Dogs of War

Pretty fucking useless unless you decide to waste your time with the mass combat rules presented in this book. Otherwise move on.

Chapter 4: Characters and Rulership

Another wasted chapter. I don't know what I want here, perhaps a chapter that brought in some new classes that are better designed for rulership roles and for roles within an empire's political structure. Instead what I got were some bullshit archetypes for the base classes as rulers that you're supposed to pigeon hole your players into and an NPC class that can be found in the Dungeon Master's Guide. 

Chapter 5: The Empire Campaign

This chapter is so dependent on the rest of the book that I found it incredibly difficult to wade through. There are ideas here that might be interesting if you're playing with these bullshit rules but for the most part you might as well ignore this chapter too. Honestly I've been so disappointed with the book that this chapter was a complete waste on me and just felt like too little too late. 

Overall Review
If I had actually paid money instead of trade for Empire I would have been pissed.
This book was such a disappointment for me. I do not regret reading it because Mike Mearls is still pretty groovy in spite of this fucked book but if I had actually paid money instead of trade for it I would have been pissed. There is so little worth keeping in this book and I am just thoroughly disappointed. 

Rating: 1 out of 10

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