Epic Role Playing (note: site plays music), from Dark Matter Studios, is a small press fantasy game with large press ambitions. There are four books on the market at present: Rules Manual, Bestiary, Book of the Arcane and Atlas of Eslin, Volume 1.
So what’s Epic RPG like? Overall, Epic RPG is a mixed bag — two of the books are great, one is decent and one is terrible, and some of the game’s best features are hidden behind a bad first impression.
After generously donating a complete set of books to our forum membership contest, Kent Davis (of Dark Matter Studios) asked if I’d like to review Epic. The game looked interesting and there was a GMing angle, so I happily agreed to review it for TT. My full set of Epic books arrived shortly thereafter.
Over on RPG Blog, Zachary Houghton wrote a thorough and excellent review of Epic in which he tackled all four books at once. After some consideration I decided to take the same approach — they really are best reviewed as a package. (Thanks, Zack!)
All four books are $20 apiece, and are softcover with color covers and black and white interiors. They vary slightly in length, but they’re all between 120 and 130 pages (which suggests print-on-demand rather than traditional offset printing). The bindings are solid, and the paper quality is just fine.
Epic is written in a friendly and informative style, which fits the game perfectly. Rules concepts come across clearly, and descriptive text is easy to digest. The writing often feels a bit breathless, as in this sentence from the Bestiary (p. 16): “The baku grow very large every ten years under the full moon and divide in two.” The credits don’t mention an editor, and all four books could probably benefit from having one.
Unfortunately, there are two problems with the layout, one major and one relatively minor. The major problem is the background on each page, which is designed to look like aged parchment. The artwork used in the background is pale grey and heavily pixellated, which makes the text difficult to read.
The net effect is that the text seems indistinct (almost fuzzy, even though the text itself is crisp), and I found large blocks of text very annoying to read. Not using a page background at all would have been a much better choice. This problem is bad enough that if I picked up one of the books in a store, it would prevent me from buying Epic.
The minor problem is the font used for headers, which makes lowercase Rs look like lowercase Is without the dot. At first glance, “Character Creation” looked like “Chaiactei Cieation,” which was distracting until I got used to it.
In terms of organization, Epic‘s approach is well thought out and well executed. All four books have indexes and glossaries, and the Rules Manual and Book of the Arcane both have appendices full of useful forms. Chapters are laid out clearly, and the books make excellent use of offset text boxes to flesh out and summarize elements of the main text.
Each chapter is introduced by an evocative page of flavor text, most of which mention different guilds or other organizations that are part of Eslin, Epic‘s world. These intros do a good job of setting the mood, and they highlight some of the niftier aspects of the setting.
This is the meat of the game, and the book that’s most likely to make or break a browser’s first impression of Epic, so I’m going to spend more time on it than on the other three books.
The Rules Manual opens with a brief, useful introduction to roleplaying. Key concepts are explained, and there’s a sidebar full of great tips for GMs (which Epic calls Guides) and players. It sets the tone for the rest of the book — in fact, the rest of the game — quite well.
The intro is followed by a chapter on character creation, and this is where Epic really shines. When Kent asked me if I wanted review Epic, I asked him if there was a GMing angle. He had this to say:
…I think there’s a couple of things that are very useful for GMs, one of the primary ones being the use of culturally-tied guilds and occupations to launch characters. Immediately placing characters in a cultural context has been for me, as a GM, a huge bonus in terms of creating conflict and story.
The easiest way to see what this is like in practice is to roll up a sample character, so here we go. In a real game, you might prefer to choose from some or all of these tables, but I wanted to see what the system was like in the raw.
A Sample Character
Rolling for race, I get Merethi. The table points me to the Atlas of Eslin, but the table of contents in that book don’t mention Merethis. Neither does the index. The list of tables in the contents, however, shows a table of Merethi common names, and that got me to the right spot.
I’ll call this PC Ascandus, a name chosen from that table. Next up is family, and Ascandus has three or more siblings. After that, social class: Ascandus is lower middle class, which gets him a bonus language and a little bit of money. Rolling for profession, I learn that Ascandus is a wainwright, which gives him Craftsman, Commerce and Animal Handling as base skills.
The Childhood Events table says, “Learns that he/she was ‘immaculately’ conceived.” Odd, but interesting. During his apprenticeship, Ascandus “Falls from a cliff and survives, suffers acrophobia.” I guessed that that meant “fear of heights,” which it does, but it isn’t actually defined in the table.
Since my interest is mainly in seeing how fleshed out Ascandus will be at the end of this process, I’m going to skip past stats. Next up are unusual traits, and my roll tells me that Ascandus is deaf. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t tell me what that means in game terms.
The section on occupation is what Kent was getting at in his email: guilds, secret societies and other organizations that ground the PCs in the world. The book points me to the Atlas again, and the realm Ascandus is from, Rullaea, offers 45 different occupations.
They all have colorful names, from the Illustrious Guild of Shiplords (a guild of sailor-spies who can learn to tell undetectable lies) and the Blades of Ehr (a guild of thieves specializing in cat burglary) to the Shrouded Hand (assassins in service of the king of Severness) and the Society of Lupus-Mur (a secret society that provides skilled members with a hidden bodyguard, automatically present in any sizeable community).
These are awesome. Reading them makes me want to play the game, and fills my head with possibilities for characters. They’re flavorful, evocative, immediately useful and just plain cool.
I love the idea of this deaf former wainwright eventualy becoming one of the secret masters of the world, so I choose the Society of Lupus-Mur. Last but not least, Ascandus needs an Ethos. Rolling three times, I learn that he’s obedient, egotistic and motivated by revenge/hatred.
So what kind of PC did I wind up with? Born into a large lower middle class Merethi family, Ascandus was apprenticed as a wainwright. During his apprenticeship, he nearly died in a fall, and has been afraid of heights ever since. His parents told him he was immaculately conceived, which went to his head — Ascandus’s ego can get him into trouble.
Growing up, Ascandus was tormented for being deaf, which left him filled with hatred. As an adult, he became withdrawn and observant, with an obedient streak born of a harsh apprenticeship. This made him a perfect candidate for membership in the Soceity of Lupus-Mur, where Ascandus has a bright future as a behind-the-scenes manipulator of commerce and society.
Having been created with random rolls, plus one important choice (guild), Ascandus sounds like a pretty interesting character. He wouldn’t fit into a party-driven game where the PCs are all supposed to get along, but he sounds like fun to play. With a couple of tweaks, I could easily make him more of a team player without sacrificing much of his flavor.
There are some kinks in character creation (like not defining deafness in rules terms and not pointing me straight to the Merethi section of the Atlas), but overall it does what it sets out to do: provides a host of flavorful options to spur creativity, and creates PCs who are connected to the game world right out of the box.
Skills in Epic are distinguished by a system of specialities and masteries. The skills themselves are fairly broad, but each provides two or more specialties — and each specialty includes a mastery and a grand mastery.
So a character could start out with the Medicine skill, which provides basic knowledge of anatomy, healing and surgery, and later take the Forensics specialty. Forensics allows the character to glean information from corpses, and has Mind Development and Mind Perfection as its masteries.
Once you’ve spent experience points to buy a specialty up to +2 or higher, you can then buy a mastery. When the specialty hits +4 or higher, you can take the grand mastery. In the case of Forensics, the mastery raises a mental stat by 1 and the grand mastery raises a mental stat by 2.
Overall, the skill system is rich and flavorful, and I like the way that specialties and masteries work. The skills themselves, however, are a frustrating mix of vague and specific. Let’s use Medicine as an example.
The medicine skill description is very broad, and includes references to both of its specialties, Forensics and Healing. Forensics is explained pretty well, but there are no guidelines for the GM as to how it can be applied, whether it requires tools or what modifiers might be appropriate. Is it harder to identify cause of death from a corpse that’s 100 years old than from a fresh one? Probably, but it’s left up to GM fiat.
On the flipside, Healing is specific and unambiguous. It has to be performed within an hour after injury, it takes at least 10 minutes, it requires special tools and it heals 1 point of damage.
In addition, once you subtract the two specialties from the base skill’s description, one area — anatomy — is left undescribed. Can a PC use their knowledge of anatomy in combat? Or to find out what’s wrong with a patient through observation? Personally, I’d prefer either more specifics or fewer specifics — the middle ground is unsatisfying.
After skills comes Goods and Services, which is illustrated primarily with what looks like public domain artwork from period texts — swords, suits of armor, etc. Epic is lightly illustrated in general, but it works best in this book.
Rules of Play, the next chapter, introduces the basic die mechanic (2d10 added together, plus or minus modifiers, versus a target number) along with combat. Combat involves declaring actions up front (they can be changed later, but you forfeit one action), and you can generally attack, defend and move in one round. The basic rules are quite simple, and seem like they’d be intuitive during play. The rest of the chapter goes into combat options, special cases and modifiers, as well as healing.
This is followed by The Campaign, a chapter devoted to running Epic. From a GMing standpoint, this chapter is excellent. There may not be too many surprises for a veteran GM, but it lays some excellent groundwork. From how to plot out a basic adventure (and campaign) to fleshing out NPCs, this chapter covers a lot of ground succinctly and well.
It also directs GMs to the various planners, act-by-act adventure logs, NPC rosters and other helpful forms that are included in the book’s appendix. This is a step above and beyond the GMing support that most RPGs provide in their core books. Coupled with the accompanying forms, this chapter would even be useful as a standalone text on GMing — it’s that good.
The Rules Manual winds up with a chapter on treasure and special gear, and then, oddly, finishes with a chapter on mass combat. There’s nothing wrong with this chapter, but there’s also nothing else in the core books that points to Epic characters being involved in large-scale conflicts by default.
(If you’re interested in reading about Epic‘s system in more depth, check out RPG Blog’s playetest review. Zachary’s review focuses a lot more on the various aspects of the system than this one.)
The back of the book says that you won’t find stock critters and fantasy standards within, and that rings true: This book is full of odd, unusual and non-standard creatures. Unfortunately, it’s not full of art. In a book with well over 200 monsters, only 22 of them are illustrated. Worse yet, the artwork is almost uniformly terrible — I would rather have had no art than most of the art that’s in the Bestiary.
This is a big downside for me, because as a GM I like to see what my creatures look like. And in a pinch, I like to be able to cover the stats and show my players what they look like, too. This is doubly true when they’re not common foes like orcs and goblins — you can say “orc” and most players will know what they look like. Say “bapa coo,” though, and they have nothing to go on.
There are also a lot of silly and pointlessly bizarre monsters, which goes against the tone set by the Rules Manual (as well as the Atlas and Book of the Arcane, actually). I have trouble reconciling the detailed and flavorful character creation options with monsters like the belching amoeba (exactly what you’d expect), the aforementioned bapa coo (a luminous gas cloud that drains magic) and the cephalobe, a brain-shaped snail.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some cool monsters in the Bestiary. There are, like the whyrmun, tentacle-headed subterranean beings that can spit molten hunks of stone, or the carreau demon, which looks like a man’s body with giant spider legs growing out of its belly. But the bad ones far outnumber the good ones.
Coupled with the fact that there’s not all that much information on each creature (most pages have two or three monsters on them), these downsides really sink the Bestiary for me. It’s all but useless, and I would be disappointed if I’d spent money on it.
Book of the Arcane
Epic has a neat magic system. Spells (called “variants”) cost quintessence points to cast, which is a simple, flexible approach. And they scale, so the better you roll when casting some spells, the better they turn out. The introduction uses invisibility as an example: At each difficulty threshold, your invisibility applies to one more target — so you might need to pick and choose who will still be able to see you.
There’s one red flag in the introduction, though: Scarcity and greater roleplaying restrictions, not mechanics, are used to balance out the potency of arcane powers. GMs are encouraged to make magic-wielding characters uncommon, have them stand out like sore thumbs whenever they use magic and “treat arcane users differently, binding them with greater responsibility to guild and craft.”
In my experience, restrictions like that are troublesome. They often don’t work at all — remember the kits from AD&D 2nd Edition, which used non-mechanical elements to paper over horrible balance problems? They can also mean more work for the GM, as it can be hard to decide exactly how to implement them, or how to incorporate spellcasters into the campaign.
As this isn’t a playtest review, I don’t know whether or not Epic suffers from any of these problems — maybe spellcasters are balanced just fine. But it looks like an area of concern, at least based on the book’s introduction.
There are six arcane disciplines in Epic, ranging from metaphysics to philtrology (the study of potions). As with the creatures in the Bestiary, they’re not fantasy standbys — but unlike Epic‘s monsters, they’re distinctive while remaining useful and engaging, and they add flavor to the game.
Apart from the introduction and the short sections describing each of the disciplines, the rest of Book of the Arcane is wall-to-wall spells. Lots of spells. I didn’t count them, but at 6-10 per page, there are in the neighborhood of 800-1,000 spells in this book.
Each spell has a straightforward or evocative name (straightforward: Optic Enhancement, evocative: The Thief Befriended), a short list of properties and a brief summary of its effects. They’re very easy to understand, and even when the description doesn’t go into much detail, the hard numbers (target area, duration, etc.) leave very little room for ambiguity.
This combination of simplicity, lack of ambiguity and tons of spells is exactly what I look for in a magic supplement. It’s a straightforward approach that can nonetheless be tough to pull off, and Epic really nails it. Along with the Rules Manual, this is the best of the four books.
Atlas of Eslin, Volume 1
Like the Bestiary, the Atlas of Eslin suffers because of its lack of artwork — in this case, maps. Not counting the incomplete color map on the cover, there are four maps in this book. And because they’re done in grey on a grey parchment background, they’re dark, bland and — in the case of the denser maps — difficult to read.
I would have preferred more smaller maps, done on pages with no background (so they’d be readable), or one really good color map. The Atlas‘s subpar maps aren’t a dealbreaker, but they’re also not a very good introduction to Epic‘s world of Eslin. Flipping through this book in the store, I would be underwhelmed by the maps.
Setting the maps aside, this book is divided into four sections: an introduction, which offers and overview of the world, a lengthy section on each of the three main realms, Rullaea, Rimenor and Ursyos-Elkinon, and an appendix of historical data. The bulk of the material is in the middle sections, which describe each realm in fairly general terms.
I actually wouldn’t describe the Atlas of Eslin as an atlas at all. Because it focuses mainly on culture, history and society, and less on geography and location information, it’s really more of a guidebook. This is a mixed blessing from a GMing standpoint.
On the one hand, there’s a ton of information on the different cultures of Eslin, including the real heart of the book — the various guilds — but very little on cool places for the characters to go, and no adventure hooks or campaign seeds.
Given my druthers, I’ll take that info over descriptions of marriage practices and culinary traditions any day, because it’s more directly and immediately useful for my game. I like extra detail, but it should be cut in favor of game-oriented details.
What the Atlas does describe, however, it describes well. Each section opens with a summary page that hits the high notes of that particular realm (a great in-play reference), and goes on to provide a wealth of cultural information. There’s enough about geography and important places to get you started, and the most important regions and kingdoms are presented in more detail.
The meat of the Atlas, however, is the guilds, socieities, groups and organizations that really make Epic pop. These are described realm by realm, and can be found most quickly via the index (unless you already know the realm, of course). Having covered these in the first part of this review, I won’t say anything more about them here, save that they’re one of my favorite things about the game as a whole. There are plenty of them, and if anything I wish there were more.
On the whole, the Atlas of Eslin is pretty good. With more maps and geographical details, and fewer bits of cultural esoterica, it could be better, but the guilds and some of the cultural info save the day.
From a GM’s Perspective
As a GM, there are four things that I really like about Epic. The first is the guild system, which anchors PCs to the setting right off the bat, and does so in a satisfying way. When I read the guild descriptions, they make me want to play the game — which suggests that my players might have the same experience. That kind of initial buy-in goes a long way to making for a fun game.
The second thing I like are the clever mechanics, particularly the skill and magic systems. I don’t like the mix of vague and specific in the individual skill descriptions, but the system of specialties and masteries offers plenty of options to the players.
Third is the game’s organization, which slips occasionally (mainly in the Rules Manual) but is generally excellent. Epic‘s use of sidebars, text boxes and appendices, plus the inclusion of a glossary and an index in every book, should make it quite easy to reference during prep or play. This is something many RPGs overlook to their detriment, and Epic has it in spades.
Fourth and last is the GMing chapter in the Rules Manual, which covers a lot of ground in relatively few pages and provides all sorts of advice.
Unfortunately, the two books that are intended primarily for the GM — the Atlas and the Bestiary — are the worst out of the four core books. With the notable exception of the underwhelming maps, the Atlas isn’t bad — but it could be better.
The Bestiary, however, is unremittingly terrible, which means if I were to run Epic, I would need to put in some serious time converting more setting-appropriate monsters. That’s pretty much inexcusable in any RPG, never mind a brand new one like Epic.
Should I Buy It?
If you’re looking for a fantasy RPG that mixes skill-driven characters with an engaging magic system, and grounds those characters firmly in the setting, Epic is worth picking up. In all of these areas, Epic mixes familiar elements with new ideas and takes them in interesting directions. It may not make a great first impression, but there’s some very good stuff under Epic‘s hood. Just skip the Bestiary.
If you’re not really looking for a new fantasy RPG, but would be intrigued if the right one came along, Epic probably isn’t the right one. The unusable monster book, so-so world book and the game’s layout issues (particularly the page background, which makes the main text very irritating to read) — will likely outweigh the game’s positives for you. (I fall into this category myself.)
I hope this review was useful to you, and as always feedback is very much welcome.
Wow. Nice review. To someone like me who is working on a game system it’s got a lot of good information because it shows the ins and outs of a “new” system.
Personally I’m not sure I’d like this though but I might give it a try. It’s kind of expensive for something untested and the 4 books approach makes me uneasy. I’m not sure I want to drop 52 bucks on four 13 dollar books.
I have great ideas for characters. I love exploring the ideas I’ve got in mind for characters. The character concept that you rolled up is incredibly neat, but it’s also seems like it was made for you by the book. I dislike it when that happens. It often doesn’t fit the concept of what I want to play at the time. Nifty, but not personal or unique to me. I prefer being guided, or given the background to build off of, but not constricted by.
The system seems to leave a lot of the rules adjucation (as far as I can tell from the review) up to the roleplaying of the GM and players.(like the deafness) That is great when it happens, but good players are hard to find who roleplay well. A lot of people will play out those types of aspects in game, some will play out a few aspects of the character they make, a few will just go by the rules. However, ithout a rule to follow through with some players just forget, or the factor loses relevance. Not everyone is a story based player. A system should encourage story playin in MY opinion, but provide rules backup for the people who ultimately don’t go for story as the main course but play by the rules.
Since this is only a review and I haven’t seen the system itself I can’t judge it too harshly. The whole judging a book by it’s cover thing, but it is great to see a review here becuase it sheds some light onto whole other aspects of gaming style. Everyone has a different idea of what gaming should or shouldn’t be. None of them is wrong, they just don’t always mesh with other styles. Variety is good though.
Glad you did the reviw.
Thanks for taking the time do to a review, Martin. Obviously you and I differed on a few key points, but, hey, that’s why we do reviews, right? 😉
Epic is one of my favorite fantasy RPGs of recent memory. For support with the Atlas, Make sure to check out their downloads sections, where I picked up some maps that really helped things out.
BTW, for those of you at work: turn down your speakers before you click on the Epic RPG link! Don’t want to get caught slacking off, after all. 🙂
A couple of minor quibbles about the review and the publisher’s decisions.
Why four books? It really bugs me to have core material like this split into four books. For example, why aren’t the Bestiary and Atlas in the same book? Under what (rare) circumstances would I be using one without the other? Ditto for the Rules and the Magic being split into two books.
Next, the review doesn’t tell me about the physical books themselves. I had to go to the publisher’s website and then to Amazon (FOUR TIMES) to find out that the books are 140, 140, 128, and 124 pages in length and $20 each. That was darn annoying.
Are they hardcover? Color interiors? Color inserts? I’ve no idea. My best guess is that they’re B&W, perfect bound. (The publisher’s website doesn’t tell me either.) If that’s true, $80 for four B&W perfect bound books isn’t that good of a deal.
On the flip side I liked the product website, even though it’s spartan on details to make a purchasing decision.
Comments like these help me learn how to write better reviews — thank you!
John: I’m glad my review was useful to you. 🙂 Epic doesn’t shoehorn you into a random character — the book mentions several times that you can just choose from any of the character creation lists.
I can see that having the potential to create balance problems, but it’s not that restrictive. The charts are there in case you prefer to roll.
Zachary: One of the reasons I didn’t focus on the system was because your review covered it so well. With four books rolled into one review, there was quite a bit that I couldn’t touch on while still keeping it a reasonable length.
And yep, we disagreed in a lot of the particulars — one of my favorite things about having multiple reviews as well. 🙂
Thanks for the speaker comment — I’ll add a warning to the review.
Abulia: Good point. I covered the varying length, but should have covered the other physical elements at least briefly. I’ve added that to my review as well. Thanks!
Beyond disagreeing about quality, there are some glaring differences, suggesting that perhaps different books were read. By example:
Martin: “In a book with well over 200 monsters, only 22 of them are illustrated. Worse yet, the artwork is almost uniformly terrible â€” I would rather have had no art than most of the art thatâ€™s in the Bestiary.”
Zachary: “Most monsters are illustrated, and thereâ€™s a nice descriptive text for each.”
So which is it?
On the matter of physical structure, I greatly prefer books which are split. While the Bestiary probably won’t be referenced seperately, it’s nice not to be flipping back in forth in a single superdense tome. It also makes it easier for a group to be tackling different tracks at once. One player reviews his spells, another checks on customs in the city they’ll visit, and the Guide prepares the next monster encounter.
Martin: saying “One of the reasons I didnâ€™t focus on the system was because your (Zachary’s) review covered it so well.” Doesn’t seem right to me (which isn’t to say I didn’t find your review interesting or informative.) While I respect your decision to keep length down rather than largely repeat what was said elsewhere, the entire POINT of reviews is to provide all the information you need to make a reasonably informed buying decision. If I hadn’t wanted to go read another review I wouldn’t have learned the additional information you ommited (and I didn’t, largely because I’m not in the market for a new system right now).
At absolute minimum, if you’re ommiting information due to length that you feel should be presented but already was elsewhere, you might call it out, perhaps by calling Zach’s review “more thorough”, “more detailed”, “lengthy”, etc… or calling your own “a breif review” etc… Saying that Zach’s review is “thorough and excellent” isn’t really enough, because it doesn’t compare your reviews, letting us know it covers more than yours, it just tells us it’s very good. Since I’m already here reading yours and I assume yours will be “thorough and excellent”, why would I go elsewhere to read essentially the same thing?
P.S. the example of breathless writing you cite â€œThe baku grow very large every ten years under the full moon and divide in two.â€ looks very much like a result of a grammer check from MS Word or a similar program. They sometimes have issues with phrase order, verb tense, and voice in run-on sentences like the one you show and mangle them to fit their prescribed criteria. As someone who is verbose, I run afoul of this incessantly.
I think perhaps Martin & I were given different editions or printings. I didn’t count, but I’m pretty sure well over 22 monsters were illoed in mine. Hmm….I guess that’s something to ask Kent or Chris…
Animated discussion. I did notice some differences in the reveiws.
I would like to see some more of the system and the way it works. My comments can’t have any real validity about the system, since I haven’t actually seen it, but that’s what I could garner from the review.
The choosing insted of rolling would eliminate a lot of my issues with it. I would assume that’s not all of the character creation process is the lists. Probably the bulk of it but not the whole of it. It would have to be more robust than that to work. Do you get to choose or roll one thing off of each list? Or points to buy?
â€œThe baku grow very large every ten years under the full moon and divide in two.â€
I don’t know that I would call that breathless writing, but like rick says “As someone who is verbose, I run afoul of this incessantly.” I’m quite loquacious myself. Sometimes something sounds great in my head, epic and elegant and all encompassing of my thoughts, and then fails to meet expectations on a second read through. I can see where that sentece fits the bill of “probably started out better”. Still I’m going to take time later and browse their site and see if there is something of worth there.
The price point of it is still quite prohibitive. I saw it for 13 used, but if the new price is $20 dollars times 4 that is more than I’d really be willing to pay for the basics of two books (RULES AND MAGIC) (ATLAS AND BESTIARY) by a non established publisher at a fairly low (by genre standards) pagecount at each book.
I’m interested in seeing more. I’m just hard pressed to go ooooh and ahhh just yet.
Since Sarlax and I are in Martin’s gaming group I’m somewhat surprised that we didn’t get hit for an actual play one-shot session.
Martin and I see eye-to-eye on several things, so I’m pretty comfortable taking his review at face value and the tact that Epic wouldn’t be for me. As something of a layout whore, bad presentation is a dealbreaker for me (background/watermarks that make reading difficult especially). 🙂
I haven’t read Zacharyâ€™s review yet (I will in a moment) but aside from the random lifepath rolling in chargen, I’m not seeing much that distinguishes this game from any other heartbreaker fantasy RPG. And even then, detailed lifepaths aren’t anything new. (Burning Wheel, Artesia, et al.)
“As someone who is verbose, I run afoul of this incessantly.”
For some reason this made me giggle with glee! 🙂
I love it when a post I didn’t expect to spark all that much discussion goes ahead and sparks a good discussion anyway. 😉 Lots of great points here, and I’ll try and tackle them all.
Sarlax: Zachary’s guess (that we got different printings) would have been my guess as well, although it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Why would a publisher take out illustrations? They’re expensive, and gamers tend to like them. And if Dark Matter did take out 100+ illos, why did they leave such bad ones in the book?
I agree that this is a question best answered by the publisher, and hopefully someone from DM will stop by to clarify things a bit.
Rick: In a perfect world, you’re absolutely right — I should have covered the system extensively, Zachary’s review notwithstanding. If you were interested in hearing my take on it, I apologize for not offering it up.
As I mentioned in my comment above, Zachary’s coverage was one reason I didn’t hit the system very hard. The others were time, my focus, and what emerged as I addressed each book.
Time – This wasn’t a short review, and my time is limited. Your (in the general sense) time is limited too, and because of the other two reasons, I didn’t see the need to delve deeply into the system.
Focus – My focus is on GMing, so I looked harder at those aspects of the game, and not so hard at others.
What emerged – Once I got rolling, it didn’t seem like covering every aspect of the system would make sense. I was seeing an emerging division, which I highlighted in the conclusion: People who like X should try Epic, people who might be intrigued by a new fantasy RPG but aren’t looking for one shouldn’t.
It made sense at the time, at least. 😉
John: I have no plans to cover the system in more detail, but I’m happy to answer individual questions about it. For the record, I more or less agree with Zachary’s assessment of the bulk of the system.
In terms of character creation, I completely skipped stats — they weren’t important to my focus. Other than stats and some important choices (like guild), there are a lot of lists involved in CC.
(Abulia) Since Sarlax and I are in Martinâ€™s gaming group Iâ€™m somewhat surprised that we didnâ€™t get hit for an actual play one-shot session.
That never even crossed my mind, oddly enough. 😉 I hadn’t thought about it, but thinking about it now I wouldn’t expect our group to be receptive to a playtest session.
Plus, we’d probably have to do a weighted list or something to see if we could agree on it or not. 😛
Hi all –
Kent Davis here. Chris Organ and I are the primary designers.
Thanks for taking an interest, and thanks to Martin for his review. We’re constantly revising and working on improving Epic RPG, and we’ve already stored away some of his ideas for our next edition.
Please scroll to the end of my comment for the shameless plug. 🙂
Thanks, too, to Martin for the four things that he really does like about Epic. Those are some of the basic things we’re shooting for, and I’m glad they came across. 🙂
There’s a lot of great discussion here; I’ll just throw my small pennies into a couple of places.
Illustrations: We indeed didn’t remove a ton of them from the Bestiary before sending them to Martin. 🙂 Indeed, the same volumes were sent to both of you guys. Perhaps Zach simply thought they were sufficient, whereas Martin thought they were not.
In any event, Martin, we hear you about the art. We also think of the Bestiary as the book with the most room to improve, and are endeavoring to do so.
Sarlax: Greater utility is definitely part of why we split the books up. Another thought: we envisioned a gaming group sharing most of the books – we usually run our Epic game (5-7 people) with a couple of Rules Manuals and Atlases and just one of each of the other volumes. I know this is where I’m supposed to pitch that every person on the planet should own all four volumes, but I won’t. We just think that some division offers a bit more flexibility.
Abulia: Martin touched on a couple of things that I think make Epic a great game. I’ll talk about only one (Time marches on;)): welding character generation to cultural context. In Epic you really just can’t roll up a character without knowing the culture they inhabit, which in turn offers built-in conflict, hooks, rivalries, and so on. Character development is according to choice, and most choices are avenues to social and mechanical advantages.
PLUG: By the way, if any of you are interested in seeing more of Epic, Chris and I will be running demos galore at GenCon in our little home away from home, Booth 119. Stop by – there’s free stuff for demo-ers, including two free adventures on lovely .pdf only available for folks at the Con. And handy-dandy Epic beverage wrenches!
I understand your points Martin and they’re good ones. I was listening to NPR this morning and the perfect example of what I meant came up. At the end of the radio article they said “For more information on …. please go to NPR.org.” In fact, they do that after every article. If you knew, for instance, the Zach’s article covered the system in greater detail, a similar one sentence plug would have alerted us “Hey! there’s additional info here!” as opposed to what it looked like “Hey! there’s similar info here.” that’s all I’d push for.
Kent, thanks for answering our question about the illustrations in the Bestiary. I’m still confused, but at least I know you didn’t take out any artwork. 😉
You guys are a class act, and I’m glad some of my points were helpful to you in thinking about the next iteration of Epic. I’ll see you at GenCon! 🙂
Rick: Right on — I’ve added a note to that effect in the rules section of my review. Thank you!