Friday, September 02, 2011

Age of Treason campaign setting for MRQII/Legend

Mongoose recently terminated its license to produce RuneQuest and any related Gloranthan material. However, it is still quite happy with the MRQII rules and intends to continue supporting the game under the new brand Legend. The first product under the new branding (even the core rules aren't released yet) is Age of Treason - The Iron Simulacrum campaign setting. Age of Treason centers around the Taskan Empire, a collection of city-states with a decidedly Roman flavour. Ruled by a God-Emperor, who has been in seclusion for centuries and speaks to his court through a golem-like entity known as the Iron Simulacrum, the Taskan Empire is a potent and enlightened nation at the height of its power. This is in contrast with the frequent fantasy rpg trope of a campaign world living in the shadow of an ancient golden age. The golden age of the Taskan Empire is now. However, as with all great empires, the fall begins long before it becomes apparent to all. Rivals from beyond her borders grow more confident, while would-be rulers from within grow restless and the masses, comfortable in their prosperity, are none the wiser. It is up to the player characters to battle the treasonous forces that seek to undermine the Empire...or perhaps, join them.

Age of Treason introduces a few new rules to distinguish it from the standard MRQII ruleset. Most obviously, Common Magic is no longer available to everyone. This was always controversial anyway, being a feature of the Glorantha campaign setting that elicited strong feelings on both sides. My own feeling is that magic should be rare. When every blacksmith and barmaid knows a few minor spells, it creates a feeling of magic as being mundane and ordinary. So, I'm gladdened by this change. Common Magic doesn't exist as a discrete type of magic in the campaign setting, rather being mixed in with other sources of power and cultural factors. The other major types of magic from MRQII, namely Divine Magic, Spirit Magic and Sorcery are all present, however. Another important change is the addition of a new characteristic, Social Status (SOC), in keeping with a general emphasis on intrigue and social interaction prevalent in the setting.

While it is generally expected that most players will be citizens of the Empire, other races are possible. Interestingly, there are only humans in this world, but some are so different from the mainstream that they might as well be different species'. For example, there is a brutal race of barbarians called the Orcs of Kasperan who practice human sacrifice on a massive scale to appease their vile gods. Although technically human, their physical appearance and brutal behaviour are certainly congruent with D&D-style orcs.

Religion in the setting is complex and integral to every aspect of the campaign. By virtue of being a citizen of the Empire, everyone has a Pact with the Imperial cult. However, there are other gods which characters may also form into Pacts with and, indeed, any character wanting to use Divine Magic will have to do this as the Emperor has not achieved full divinity and cannot grant spells. In keeping with the RuneQuest tradition, there are all manner of mystery cults and funeral clubs to join. All worship is understood to be transactional. A character agrees to worship a particular god, granting power to that divine being, in exchange for some measure of favour in the present and protection in the afterlife.

It's all pretty cool stuff and a bit of a departure from the standard fantasy campaign setting fare. The book itself is 200 pages, hardcover with all black-and-white interior art and fairly striking cover art. It includes a 70 page mini-campaign to get you started and sells for about $40. For fans of MRQII, it's a pretty solid investment.