This campaign guide clocks in at 84 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 77 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
So this is the campaign guide (essentially a gazetteer) to the world of Aeliode, in which Mór Games’ impressive “Plight of the Tuatha”-saga takes place – we had so far been spoon-fed quite an array of intriguing tidbits and pieces, but this book constitutes the first extensive look at the world, so does it hold up?
Well, first of all, it should be noted that Tim Paul’s cartography of the world, provided once in a one-page and once in a two-page version, is compelling – a world of two continents, with a third, ice-cold continent at the North Pole, the cartography delivers – beautiful, compelling and a first nod at the things to come, for the original full-color artworks herein manage to uphold this level of quality.
Now usually, campaign setting kick off with races and this one does something somewhat different – we start with the great empires – essentially, we are introduced to the Avitian empire, its latest acquisitions and the other major power-players. Now here’s the smart thing regarding this presentation – the roles of the races are different from place to place. Aforementioned empire has for example waged war against the dwarves and subjugated them, taking the nobles prisoner, while their subjects were allowed to remain – hence the former lower classes remain “free”, while the erstwhile nobility has been groomed into prized accountants, butlers and high-class servants, prohibited from growing or adorning their beards.
Different elven ethnicities and e.g. gnomes besieged by a divinely ordained pogrom, ever paranoid for the shapechangers that seek to end their race provide ample opportunities to flesh out clash of cultures-scenarios, while also providing alternate racial traits for different ethnicities. The elves of the ancient forests of Tir Ydrail, for example, tend to have darkvision instead of low-light vision. Now add to that the fact that the Roman-empire inspired empire has relatively recently been subject to the split-off of the Ceravossian Republic, who seeks a return to the republic as opposed to the Avitian cult of the emperor and we have, alone from the constellation of nations, a massive potential for compelling storytelling.
Want an example for how compelling story-telling is here? To a gnome, “showing your true colors” means cutting yourself to show that your blood is red and you’re not a shape-changer…mind you, whether this custom is based solely on superstition or not is very much left for the DM to decide…
Now apart from political and secular concerns for a character’s identity, the deities of Aeliode deserve special consideration – first of all, they may take an active role in the campaign’s plot; Secondly, they stem from various pantheons and are generally diverse – taking a cue from Midgard’s concept of masks of the gods, they do not sport alignments, being considered above paltry mortal moral concerns, though a typical alignment for worshippers is provided. Even the rather devious or quite simply mad divinities (each of which receives his/her own symbol, by the way) have some kind of revealing quality, with the arguably “most evil” deity falling rather close to what trickster deities in real world religions have wrought. Now interesting would be a distinction among deities – multi-planar deities are the pre-world-creation gods -they span multiple realities and even in death (in one case), make their influence known -here, the classic notion of the world being crafted from the body of a slain deity is reflected. This original sin or “Erblast”, if you will, also resulted in the first divine murderer being cursed with what amounts to schizophrenia, but more on this later. Aeliode is not restricted towards these deities – indeed, mortals can attain divinity, though these types of gods are restricted to the prime material plane – which adds the very real possibility of high-level PCs embarking to the planes to slay a god a possibility. Below these, there is another type of deity, one that has a limited area of influence – within the domain of the god (or saint) s/he/it may wield powers extraordinaire, but beyond it, their powers do weaken.
Why is this important? Well, first of all, you can take a cue from Ravenloft regarding story-weaving and this premise. Secondly, the importance of one’s heritage and ancestor cults is emphasized as a very distinct option -while not as powerful as true deities and limited in the spells granted, the sheer fact that it works (and that the emperor of Avitian has decreed himself to be a god and worshipped…) provides quite an array of cool options that would tie-in nicely with the classic “Requiem for a God”-style material. Now another interesting concept would be that of an enslaved pantheon – outlawed and defeated, the “Gods of Sorrow”, who are anything but evil, make for an interesting option to provide scenarios and metaplot.
Now the entries also provide so-called minor rituals – these can be performed to have a very small chance of attracting the attention of a deity, with the precise effects being left mostly to the DM. Now where the writing in this book hits its undeniable high point is in the creation myth that is provided – here, the scholar can rejoice, for yes, the fully narrated myth can stand its ground. Both in wording and footnotes provided, the concise illusion of a believable genesis myth is provided, depicting the aforementioned original sin and the resulting curse, while in its writing providing even more hooks and ideas to develop heresies around. Now the first murderer-deity (and unwitting creator of the world as they know it), once known as Ocheas, then as Volund was cursed for his unwitting slaying of the mother of creation, cursed with a duality and a new personality, the aspect of Balar – forever changing between the two personalities, his fall also resulted in the creation of the new race herein – the so-called Fomoire. Close to humans, they sport inhuman ability-traits, variyng heights (they may be large!) and should be considered in their violent, yet organized behavior the main threat for civilized nations and the elves in particular – who disperse if more than 10.000 are left in a land, for too high concentrations of them tend to attract the Fomoire… While perhaps a small thing, the fact that they need to drink salt water like other races require fresh water adds a damn cool dimension to the race…and if you haven’t noticed it, these guys could be considered a mix of guys from the iron isles, bacchantes and the fomorians – awesome. Oh, and actually balanced.
Now thankfully, Aeliode does not have “common”, so some attention to detail is given to languages and secret languages. A new 10-level PrC is also provided with the skald, who receives d10, full BAB-progression, good ref and will-save progression, full spellcasting progression and 4+Int skills per level. These guys can identify monsters per knowledge skills, receiving bonuses and also may wilder spell-selection wise in both bard and druid lists. Personally, I’m not sold on these guys – they receive too much – full BAB, good HD, full spellcasting with increased lists – and honestly, no cool abilities to set them apart. The skald should be required to pay for the increased martial prowess and spell-lists with more than 2 paltry skill points per level. For the first time in a supplement by Mór Games, I have to say that I won’t allow this PrC near my table.
The book also introduces a new skill, interrogate, to obtain information and provides rules for so-called “Wars of Words.” How do these work? Well essentially, they are a way to codify those endless discussions/roleplaying discussions some groups (mine including) are wont to indulge in. They are performed one-on-one. Each character receives a resolve point score of 5 + int, cha and wis-mod and a very limited array of wit-points, with which s/he can modify throws – the latter is based on level + bonus wit points that scale upwards with increasing levels. The fact that a character receives level wit points could have been more clearly emphasized in the rules here. That being said, each participant selects in secrecy one of various general strategies that have a damage and a defense assigned, which then are revealed to the discussing partners. The partners then start fighting, with the victor reduced to half points meaning a compromise is required. I really enjoyed this system, though it does require additional material – more options and especially the option to properly run it in discussions with more than two participants – while group discussions are mentioned, the suggested solution is rather unsatisfactory, but due to space concerns, the brevity is understandable.
Now what works perfectly is the renown-system that determines access to prestigious places and organizations, while at the same time requiring different celebrations in different lands. On the downside, the more famous, the easier obtaining knowledge about the character is… gaining renown is handled with concise, cool mechanics and fluff – kudos!
Now there is also a third cool system introduced – emergences. these are essentially story-benefits that can be obtained and lost -from breathing water to being able to eat just about anything, rituals, quests, achievements, curses and blessings – emergences are a powerful tool to portray the change of a character,. a glorious story-telling device and perhaps the strongest innovation of the book.
Beyond exceedingly cool, flavorful traits, we also are introduced to an array of damn cool NPCs with high-quality artworks to supplement your Imperiums game. Now a book steeped in so much world lore, we also receive an uncommon 6th chapter – containing 6 typical recipes for the diverse regions. Real recipes. And they actually deliver rather tasty results (at least the Paella-recipe did) – though one recipe should probably not be attempted – it’s rather cruel and thematically fitting for the setting, but not for real world reproduction.
Editing and formatting are very good, but not as good as in the other Mór Games-supplements – I noticed a couple of easily avoidable blank-space-glitches etc. Not many and not crucial ones, but they’re there. Layout adheres to Mór Games’ beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with gorgeous original full-color artworks galore – production-wise, this definitely is a premium product. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the print-version comes on quality paper and the colors remain true – a quality softcover.
William Moomaw’s Aeliode has charmed me, I admit to that. The world-weaving of this world is awesome, superb even. The world jumps from the page, feels alive and compelling. Know how good the writing is? I actually, after staring at files and texts all day, took this one to bed with me because I simply didn’t want to put it away. I can’t wait for more insights into this world and the things to come for it. So that aspect is definitely one that can be ranked among the apex of products and well worth 5 stars +seal of approval. However, roleplaying games are fluff and crunch – art and craft. And in the craftsmanship-department, the relative inexperience becomes somewhat evident. While the new race, the actually relevant traits and the renown system are awesome, the Prestige Class is unbalanced and, sorry to be so blunt -boring. The poor skald needs some unique tricks and balancing. The War of Words makes for a great basic system, but one that could use some finetuning and especially a revision that allows for discussions with multiple participants – it does show promise, but it feels somewhat unpolished.
Now these gripes apply to the minority of the content herein and I’d e.g. be game for a whole book of emergences, more renown benefits etc. – the content that does work, which is the majority, is awesome and this book should be considered a great gazetteer, a promise of the glorious things that hopefully are to come, with enough space to develop all the cool ideas herein. Though it breaks my heart in the face of the GLORIOUS writing, I can’t rate this book higher than 4 stars -but still, if you want to see a Roman/Gaelic campaign setting that makes sense, that is different in texture and style, then this should be considered a must-buy.