TheRPGSite Review

Our first in-depth industry review by Zachary Houghton. We couldn’t be more excited. Here are some of the things he had to say:

Holy hell, what a game.

…As for Epic’s Game Manual (which is what this edition is proclaimed to be on the cover) is 303 pages long (not including reference sheets, logs, and character sheets in the back, of which there is a goodly amount), with a color exterior (the original near-watercolor style illustration from the original Rules Manual) and a black-and-white interior. Physically, this is a good-looking book for a black-and-white product, and Dark Matter did take the opportunity to ensure the layout for this product was clean and pleasing overall. I would have liked to see a few more illustrations (more on that later), but overall, the text and organization are very good.

…Epic does not use character classes, such as “Fighter” or “Rogue”. Instead, players choose (or are chosen by) a Guild. Guilds aren’t simply Ye Olde Merchant’s Guild or Thieves’ Guild, but instead organizations often with regional, religious, and/or natural affiliations. I consider this one of the best parts of the game. For example, a player wanting to run a fighter might turn towards the Archers of the Scarlet Mark (mercs), the Constables of Brightwall (lawdogs), or the Cavaliers of the White Lance (courtly warriors). Rogue/thief types might pick the Blades of Ehr or the Counsel Macabre. There are organizations for just about any “class” concept: some loose, some strict, some broadly defined, others narrowly so. Each guild had its own history and circumstances that make it stand out in broad relief against the others. The guilds and occupations are extremely well done, full of life, and brimming with conflict potential. There are nearly 50 Guilds in all, and they are probably my favorite feature of the entire RPG.

…One of the best features of the character creation/occupation section of Epic is the presence of checklists. During every step, there’s a checklist on the page, making sure you’re on track and giving a little more background a precisely why you’re doing what you’re doing. A nice idea, even if character creation is straightforward and isn’t exactly advanced calculus. Not needed for cagey old vets, I suppose, but nice to have if you’re a less experienced gamer. If you really want to create your own professions and disregard the default setting entirely, there’s a good article on Epic’s website for doing just that.

…Now, each Skill has what’s known as Specialties. These are exactly what they say they are, specialties in a skill cluster. So, for example, if I have a Skill Level of 4 in the Military Arts and a Specialty of +1 in Command, when using my Command skill I would add in a bonus of 4 plus 1 to my skill roll. Say I hadn’t purchased that +1 in Command? That’s okay, I still have a 4 from the aforementioned Military Arts Skill it belongs to, which means I can add that 4 to any specialty from that skill subset, be it Command, Tactics, etc. It’s a little like Rolemaster FRP’s skill system, only without all the math. It’s a nice way of diversifying skills between characters.

…With nearly 50 Guilds and Professions in Epic so far, and each of those having one Mastery and one Grandmastery apiece, it’s really a very diverse and fun system. Remember, though, they will cost you, so no character will be unbalanced by having Masteries in every important specialty. Which is good, I think, since most people who become among the best at something don’t often repeat that extreme success in too many other fields.

…It’s actually one of the more efficient and clean ways I’ve seen of keeping track of degrading ability and health through injury. The boxes are right there on the character sheet, though you may want to put a piece of scotch tape over them if you plan on keeping the same character sheet for a while.

…Overall, the rules portion stays very reader-friendly, provides lots of examples and guidance where needed, and presents itself with a refreshing clarity.

…On to the Book of the Arcane, which is a place where Epic really and sincerely shines:

Magic is again by Guild choice, although it’s possible for one to gain some arcane knowledge in their earlier apprenticeship and then totally abandon it for another path. The arcane mechanics in this game are fairly simple. As stated earlier, magic is learned in the form of Skills/Specialties. When one wishes to cast a spell, they basically make a skill check. A power point-type system to indicate magical drain is present in the form of Quintessence Points (QP), which are basically how high your skill is in whatever dominion of magic you’re using.

…Also included are rules for creating new variants, always nice to see. Epic’s magic system might be simple in game mechanic terms, but there are enough variants here to keep magic fiends happy for a good long while.

…This default setting was very enjoyable; human-centric, detailed enough to be interesting without being so heavy-handed that it drowns out free gaming. I will freely admit I have taken several of the aspects of the realm of Rullaea and have added it some of my homebrew worlds as well. Kingdoms, religion, political structure, magic in society, and other aspects are covered nicely. I would recommend that the full Atlas of Elsin is an enjoyable read on its own.

…Ultimately, with so many RPG games and systems out there, you have to ask yourself, “What does this system or game do better or different than the perennial front-runners?” In this case, Epic can boast a killer, unique magic system, an enjoyable, well-considered default setting, and rules that allow for a wide degree of customization while retaining a sense of familiarity and a low learning curve.

With their Game Manual, Dark Matter Studios has made a good RPG more accessible, and I think that can only mean good things for for those wanting to check out a smart, well-built fantasy RPG that brings an awful lot to the table. This game plays like it has undergone severe playtesting, with each section considered, evaluated, and re-considered. It’s a real pleasure to see such a well-crafted game get a new edition that is richly deserved. And while there are some missteps along the way (see, I hadn’t forgot the Bestiary), Epic remains one of my favorite fantasy RPGs of the past few years, and one I hope others take the time to discover in the form of this new volume. In my mind, it’s one of the best “traditional” style RPGs of this past year–mechanically solid, while still possessing enough innovation to make it well worth your while to check out.