Review by William Underwood

The game Fantasy Imperium  is an intriguing game from a startup company based in San Diego called Shadowstar Games Inc.  It has the purpose of being an “interactive storytelling game” which is to say the point is for the players to work their way through a narrative story that the storyteller lays out.  This ideal subtly affects the way the mechanics work throughout the entire book.

The character creation system is a slightly daunting task, covering 13 steps outlined at the beginning of chapter 1.  If you follow the flow of the chapter you can get the basics out of the way fairly quickly. It only requires some simple math to derive a few stats (such as hits and moral and when your character gets tired) after rolling the 10 base characteristics.  Then you go on to the hardest part of creating a character, choosing skills.  The game has a plethora of skills to choose from and tries to prevent unrealistic powergaming by limiting what you can spend your vast amount skill points (you get 100+d100) on.  Each profession has a number of skills associated with it and you can raise these skills more than non-profession ones.  This is a nice way of preventing people from min-maxing and results in more diverse characters.  There are just so many skills to choose from it could take awhile to decide on them.

The nicest thing about the mechanics is that the percentage system gives you a nice, simple judge of how good a character is at things.  Everybody understands a rating from 1-100.  It also allows for a very broad system where a character can do anything they want, while keeping the system fairly loose. A percentile system also allows a storyteller to creat on-the-fly NPCs. If the he needs an NPC that is good at fighting to help goad the good guys back on track, he can just make a blank minion with 60% in his sword and shield skill. It allows for very minor differences in character’s and NPC’s strengths and weaknesses that can help flesh them out.

The fighting style of the game is designed to be realistic.  Armor can only stop so much damage, swords can be broken or blunted, and you can try any combat maneuver you wish by just stating it and applying some set modifiers.  Damage is even different based on hit location and type of damage (blunt, piercing, and bludgeoning).  This does mean the mechanics for combat are a bit more complicated (you have to roll for damage, subtract armor, determine how sever the injury is, and then you find out what happens to the poor sap) but, as all it takes is ten points of damage making it through the armor to cause some serious health issues, combat shouldn’t take too long.  Also, they have a “quick combat” where you just make a single skill check to see who wins the day (great for those pesky henchman that just aren’t worth your time).  The ease of death is countered by luck points which are used for rerolls (costing 1 point) or to save you from death (costing 5 points).  Since luck is given out by the storyteller, it gives him one more way to reward moving the story forward.

While all these mechanics may seem daunting, Fantasy Imperium is helped by a very good appendix which combines the damage charts, maneuvers, and other mechanics related information into one section of the book.  There are some areas that could use clarification (especially some of the unarmed attacks, where the same move costs different fatigue under two different schools) but every problem I came across I could easily think of a quick and simple solution that wouldn’t disrupt the game.

The game is set in Medieval Europe with weapons and armor from about 300BC to the early 17th century, all of which are well illustrated.  It includes historical background of several locations throughout Europe.  Even though it doesn’t go into text-book detail about any one location, it does provide enough information to give a decent backdrop for a good story.  For the spiritually inclined, and as a nod to the predominance of religion at the time, it includes a section on spiritual warfare where Demons and their mortal minions manipulate most of the governments, including attempts to infiltrate the church.  This evil organization even managed to twist the inquisition to their own ends (No one suspects the Spanish Inquisition!).  This battle is very broad and open-ended, allowing for it to be brought in however is appropriate for the story at hand.

In addition to the God vs. evil side of things, there is also a magick system (complete with the manditory k at the end) that allows for the representation of pagans, devil-worshipers, elves, and the occasional town witch or seer.  Most spell can be learned at multiple levels and then cast at any level upto or below the one that it was learned at.  In order to increase the spell level you merely need to make up the difference between what you know and what you want to know.

In keeping with the Fantasy in the title, Fantasy Imperium also includes several mythical races which, once the basic mechanics are learned, can be implemented by simply multiplying the base characteristics by a multiplier (usually between .75 and 1.25 though occasionally more).  Each mythical race also has special abilities, such as elves being immune to the secondary effects of spell failure.  Fantasy Imperium also includes two different fantasy metals, fine alloy and mythril (you gotta have the mythril) in addition to the more realistic materials such as wood, bronze, iron, and steel.

Ooh the pretty pictures, and the layout as well:
One of the best parts of RPG books, in my opinion, are their pictures.  From Fantasy Imperium’s front cover; it looks like it will be more of the chain mail bikini clad bombshells that have given rise to several stereotypes about role-players (you know what I’m talking about).  But once inside, you notice that most of the pictures are of men or weaponry and that, while well endowed women are definitely present, they are often wearing full armor.  There are the occasional scantily clad girls, but those are mostly in the magic chapters (who knew magic required your shirt as a material component?).  There are full sized pictures at the beginning of every chapter and smaller pictures scattered occasionally through pages and they are almost all well drawn and feel appropriate to the setting.

The pages are formatted into two columns with charts placed near the text that describe them (and they are also reproduced in the appendix for your convenience).  The flow from chapter to chapter is pretty straight forward and fairly easy to follow, though I have some quibbles with the Movement and Fatigue chapter being between the Combat chapeter and Injuries and Death chapter, but none of it really destroys  the flow of the book.  Fantasy Imperium also has one of the better indices I’ve seen in an RPG.  The main problem with the format is that there are several grammatical and spelling mistakes, and a few typos. No more than are to be expected in a 429 page book.

Fantasy Imperium is an RPG that tries to let you do whatever you want within the story laid out for you by your storyteller.  It includes a system that tries to replicate the realities of medieval Europe while adding undertones of fantasy based on the actual legends of Europe.  The writers try to be both broad and detailed simultaneously, and they are generally successful.

Though I wouldn’t say Fantasy Imperium is for every person out there, if you have a group that enjoys being part of a narrative in a world that has a great deal of depth (can’t have a more real setting than the real world) than I would recommend this book to you.  Even if you don’t agree with the writer’s philosophy of how storytelling should be, Fantasy Imperium delivers a solid system and background that, despite some definite rough points, should make for a fun game.  As for the cover, if you don’t like the picture on the front, just turn it over.  It has a wonderful rendition of a woman with in a long, dark green dress holding a purple flower and a rapier of some kind.  Fantasy Imperium is definitely an RPG worth looking at.


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