Posted on February 24, 2005 by Flames
Created and Written by Chris Loizou
Beautiful artwork adorns the cover of Cursed Empire, a hardcover 476 page book. Turn through the ornate grayscale pages, and immediately you’ll find yourself immersed in “a world torn apart by civil war and desperately in need of heroes.”
At first glance, Cursed Empire is a lot of information. I would even go so far as to say that this book holds more information and mechanics than a lot of the D20 products out there on the market. Steven Preston, a fan who’s played Cursed Empire writes, “The system is much more in depth than your standard d20 types. It is very realistic.” Realism is the core of this game. The mechanics, while not D20, are based on percentages. For someone who plays games that are not mechanics-intensive, Cursed Empire can appear intimidating. The rules system covers everything you can imagine, from the weight of your satchel to the effects of weather (p. 167). However, the percentage mechanics has an appeal to many D20 players. James Holden, another fan who’s played Cursed Empire writes, “As far as the percentile system goes it is superb. We had no probs as d20 gamers getting into this and have picked it up really easily.”
Character creation is a large focus of the core book. The character sheets are quite extensive but, as another game publisher pointed out to me, having a well-structured character sheet doesn’t necessarily mean the game itself will be rules-intensive. The evidence for this argument is the fact that the book is rich with setting material, fiction, and atmospheric art.
The setting itself is what first attracted me to Cursed Empire and its world of Thargos. Its medieval, akin to Europe in the Dark Ages, with warring factions and fantastical races. I enjoyed the twist on half-breed races because they’re not just descriptions of an elf thrown together with a dwarf. Loizou writes about their history, their life expectancy, and their personality traits. So when choosing a character, the background you’re given helps you to establish a well-defined character. What’s nice about these particular character splats is that there is an extensive amount of detail for both race and class that is laid out in a good fashion. As you’re reading the text, you find yourself choosing what you want, not trying to figure out where you are or where this particular item fits within the game. As a result, you have a game led by the Master of Tales that can be as detailed (or as little) as he/she decides. This option makes for good storytelling and for good roleplaying.
“I have just tried the 1st starter scenario with my gaming group and caught them off-guard. Just putting together my own scenario using the material in chapter 9. Players now think twice before drawing weapons due to their 1st experience with the combat system. Just starting to get to grips with the magic system which should be fun…” writes Master of Tales Henri Devallois. Henri makes a good point, that his players will not be so ready to hack and slash when experiencing combat the next time in Cursed Empire. As a result of the way combat is structured in this game, players catch on quick that this is not a “beat up the bad guy” “loot the treasure” kind of game. The theme is much more political in nature, and no bad (good) deed goes unpunished in game.
Magic is a large part of this game, and has its rules complement. However magic does work differently from your average combat round, and Loizou provides suggestions to assist players with its concepts. The game is compatible with its accessories; Figurines and Floor Plans, and a Cursed Empire Rune deck. The deck acts as a physical aid for players to learn Magic. Another Master of Tales, Jimmy Guilford, writes about his experiences with the magic system, “I will have to admit now that the first thing I saw, and fell in love with, when I opened the book was the magic system. The magic using classes create spells by combining certain runes according to the rules of spell grammar. With the 63 runes provided and suggestions for creating your own the number of spells you can create is near-infinite, certainly enough that no player or MT (Master of Tales) will be able to exhaust the ideas. As well as the mages and sorcerers who use the runic system, there are the dual-classes, warrior-priests, Darkuns and druids who use a slightly more traditional method of spell-casting, and while unable to create their own spells (at least with the same ease) they have a much greater combat potential.” So, players who like the use of magic can incorporate that into their character by using the rules provided and still have the potential of creating their own spells.
The remainder of the book is more an expansion of the setting than an explanation of rules. The short fiction lends well to the atmosphere, written by Albion. And the price of this extensive book, with its setting for gods, monsters and player-characters is $50.00. Normally, a book has to fulfill some pretty hefty requirements for me to spend that kind of money on a game, and I’m convinced that Cursed Empire fulfills those requirements. The book is well laid-out, all of the information is useful, I’m not required to buy any additional material (although it is available) and the company’s website www.cursedempire.com is extremely supportive for new players. But the clincher for me was the amazing artwork created by Rob Larson (cover), Rik Martin and Amandine Labarre which brings the game to life.
A game worth picking up and worthy of any collection, Cursed Empire is a fun longer-campaign alternative to play.
Reviewer: Monica Valentinelli
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