Book 1 - Universe
This is the review of the first full book of the Shadows of Esteren. Universe is a large book (289 pages) with a lot of information inside. This book highlights the history, Geography, Topography, Social, Political and mythology connected with the land of Esteren. It then has all the system mechanics required to make characters and run the game. The final part of the book has scenarios and bestiary for the Game Leader to utilise.
Name: Shadows of Esteren - Universe
Publisher: Agate RPG
Author: ForgeSonges Collective
Category: Fantasy Horror
So, as stated the first part of the book is the background. This is handled in a unique way that I find very enjoyable. The back story of a bereaved lord, seeking understanding and vengeance by getting a servant to understand the land and the factions there in is a nice touch and sets as to how the information is then imparted. The following pages are set as notes, letters and maps sent from across the land and then gives the data in an enjoyable format that stops a possible dry subject becoming a chore, which is a trap many other books of this type fall into. The prologue from pages 10 and 11 sets the scene….
Chapter 1 – Tri-Kazel
After the interlude on page 12, this chapter begins with the landscape, climate, languages of the land. It has to be said that the different names can be confusing and a little difficult to understand. Luckily the great folk at Agate RPG have supplied a free pronunciation guide for those who booked the book on Kickstarter and as it is so useful I have included it on my site…. HERE…
From page 26-34 is the history of the lands. This is in the same format and has A LOT of important information. There is enough material here for several campaigns and is great to read. It takes the reader from The Ancient Times, through the Foundation of Tri-Kazel up to present day (year 907).
Page 34 is about the Feondas. A Feond is a monster about which there are many stories but very little hard evidence. There form the Cthulhuesque feel to the RPG. There are stories included here of hordes of Feondas smashing down palisades and attacking villages but then showing apparent fear of places dedicated to the one god. Yet none of these are confirmed and who would be brave enough to test it? The pictures in this part really capture the atmosphere and the darkness associated with these creatures.
Page 40 then gets into the social aspects of the setting. The peoples, societies, structures and mentalities of the people of the land. There are indepth looks into the lands including who and what can be found there. This lasts up until page 88 so you can see the level of depth the writers go into. It is nice that each land have quite unique characteristics and these are easily seen in the descriptions. There is plenty here for players to get a real depth of flavour for their characters.
Chapter 2 – Lifestyle
After another interlude to set the scene for the chapter, we get in the social structures of the people of the lands. Their customs, habitats, handcrafts. The guilds, calendar, traditions, education are all covered. In addition there is architecture; different societies; justice and monetary systems. Currency, arts and even bards are covered. Really the level of detail in this chapter is quite humbling.
Chapter 3 – Factions
As could be probably guessed, there is a lot of intrigue in the land. Factions covers the main political bodies and how they react and interplay with each other. The Three main beliefs are Demothen (the old religion); The Temple (the new religion of the one god) and Magicientists (a mixture of magic and science and a really cool name!!). This chapter also includes rumours that give even more adventure and campaign seeds to gives Game Leaders even more food for thought.
Chapter 4 – Game system
OK – fan-boy simpering over with. Now time for the crunch as the game system is now on the table. Page 174 and only now does the book begin to show that this is actually a game!! There is some advice on page 178 about how to play characters and general role-playing in general. There are Archetypes (Varigel, Warrior, Demorthen, Monk, Magientist and Bard) and skills to choose and then the character creation that takes stages on how to create and play a character. Again those on Kickstarter were sent a character creator that should help. It is HERE!
There is some nice comparisons to new and old school gaming and how the OSR approach adds to the flavour of the game. I think this is a nice touch and warmed me more to the system. As this is a LIGHT system. Got a D10? Roll it, add any modifiers and see if you have reached the target number from the Game Leader. There are automatic successes if your modifiers are above the difficulty threshold. The idea of the lightness is to give more time and thought to the roleplaying experience. This may be strange to those of a more crunchier bent and used to systems like Pathfinder or 4E!
I must say as I am used to both types the combat system is very simple and straight forward. Order is D10 + speed. Attitude is then determined (and player indecision is taken into account!!). D10 + attack rating is compared to the victims’ defence rating and damage is then awarded. There are conditional modifers but that is it in a nutshell! One page and the system is done! Death and injury take a bit more space than the actual combat system.
Demorthan Art is on page 245 and takes the players through the runic ways of the Ancient Religion. This is very druidic in nature and can seem a little over complicated for what it actually is. The fact this takes up 10 pages should show how involved it is.
Next are the Miracles of the Temple. It follows the same system as the Demorthan arts but relies on the faith of the priest (Exaltation rating). Miracles have six Power Stanzas and cost Exaltation points when cast.
Finally page 262 has the Magience system. The mixture of science and magic requires the crude Flux to power these abilities. Flux has to be extracted to make a crude liquid and has to be of a specific type for the output they require. One side effect of this is the pollution they may cause and the spoil that needs to be carefully disposed of!
The final part (Before the obligatory glossary, character sheet and index)is sanity. This seems to be a direct lift from the Call of Cthulhu system, with sanity charts, trauma points and mental disorders. In a system that is very much a dark, horror fantasy setting I suppose this was unavoidable.
So my thoughts are this: A lot of work to get the flavour of the world but every effort put in is more than rewarded with a glorious depth and detail that is truly humbling. The art in this book is just brilliant (and the Ennie well deserved). I really think that everyone would enjoy this tome but the cost is a little off putting. I really am scared on the amount I have spent on these books, both in getting the first books at UK Expo and then backing the next two on kickstarter!!
Oh and the artwork is awesome (not sure if I mentioned it?)
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