Dark Aeons: The Atlantean Chronicles (or Dark Aeons or DA for now) it the flagship launch for indie company Stardust Publications. Before I move on I want to mention, for the sake of bias, I was given a comp copy by a freelancer who worked on the book. Again, for fairness sake, this won’t affect my review as I have no other connection with the company nor with any of its staff.
The Physical Thing. Dark Aeons is a black and white book with color covers that weighs in at a hefty 446 pages. For the price of only $29.99 I feel that to be a very fair price. The cover shows (what I first thought to be) a scene from sunken Atlantis. The interior art wildly varies from Stunningly Good to Embarrassingly bad. The majority of the art appears to be done with manipulations of photos of actual people, and some of them look good. These are the good pieces of art. The illustration (or photo manipulation or whatever) on page 238 is incredible. Some of the art (not a lot, but some) appears to have been done in MSpaint, or a similar program. It’s a little jarring to come across some of this art.
The Setting. People have been arguing for many many years about the importance of either having or not having an established world to play in. Some games benefit from a strong setting, some suffer for it, and some get bogged down with the settings so much there isn’t a lot of leeway for gamers to move without disrupting the cannon world. Dark Aeons is definitely within the first category.
The setting is definitely unique. The game is an Urban Fantasy game that revolves around the machinations of the secret Atlantean Empire, hidden from the normal world as they strive to keep their floundering influences afloat when surround by enemies on all sides.
As the story goes, thousands of years ago Atlantis was the proud pinnacle of ancient world. The Atlanteans, were advanced in science, art, magic, warfare, whatever. But things didn’t work out as well as they would hope, and of course, everything was fine, until Atlantis made like the Titanic and sunk beneath the waves. Now unlike many other portrayals of the Sunken empire, most notably in comics like Aquaman and Namor: The Sub-Mariner, the Atlanteans didn’t adapt to their new setting and grow gills, they said ‘fuck this’ and moved to dryer land. Becoming refugees they found themselves ostracized by the ancient races of man, and went into hiding.
Here they worked behind the scenes becoming the hidden masters of the world. So in modern nights, the Atlanteans, feeling their power slipping, are doing whatever it takes to keep their race from dying out. They run a gamut of politics and intrigue, striving to protect their…dare I say, Masquerade? This game feels a lot like Vampire: The Masquerade. And that’s not a bad thing. I don’t mean it’s a game about Gonzo superheroes brooding on rooftops, but rather the game can be, let me repeat that, can be very politics based. With different Atlantean House feuding to gain control of power you may find yourselves flashing back to the 90s. Did I mention Cthulhu is there somewhere? Really.
If that weren’t enough (and the setting section is big, I’ve barely scratched the surface) H.P. Lovecraft’s gaggle of Old Ones and Horrors are running around as well. Well, not running around actually, more of doing what they always seem to do. Snooze and plan the destruction of the world.
The Old Ones have been a part of table top gaming since nearly the beginning. One thing about Dark Aeons, though, that I really dug is unlike other games, where Cthulhu and his bunch seem shoe-horned in, they feel like an actual part of the system. DA’s take on Dagon, especially is a great blending of the two with a bit of history of Dagon and his relationship to the Atlantean Empire.
So aside from an ancient race of superhumans and Lovecraft’s beastly terror, is there anything else going on? Plenty, actually. DA gives us not one, not two, not even three, but four different types of Vampires, each with it’s unique origin and powers. This leads me to.
The Game Proper.
DA is based around a point buy system. Each player has so many points to purchase his character. Nothing we really haven’t seen before. One really cool thing is, unlike, say, Shadowrun (which I’m not comparing DA to, only a small part of character creation) is that you can take multiple templates (I.e. races) to work with. It does seem a little twinky but can make for some interesting characters.
One thing I didn’t like was the Psychic template that lists off all the Psychic’s possible powers, right in the middle of the character creation section. It felt out of place and jarring.
The system itself is dice-less and resolves around playing cards. I’m a big fan of diceless systems. I feel the concept that every game needs to use dice is severely limiting the scope of which we can game. Each player should have their own deck. When a check is needed a player will draw a card and add its number to his ranks in whatever skill he’s using. Face cards work as wild cards and have disastrous effects.
One thing about this system (and here comes another Masquerade comparison) is that the game is built to go, if preferred, form Tabletop to LARP with no setup whatsoever. The system is designed for both. I don’t LARP, personally, and I fear LARPing with a good part of my rational mind, but I think for people into it (You know who you are) this would be a really handy thing to have. You’d only need your one character sheet (created, by the way, by the famous Mr. Gone.) LARPing the game, would be, like VtM, very politics heavy.
The Magic system is very very cool with, and I’m going to simplifies this, karma points depending on the spell. Depending on what you do with a spell, the effect always comes back to you later. Use a lot of malicious magic and don’t except everything to be all ponies and sunshine for you down the road.
Final thoughts. One thing the game could have benefited from was a good editor. It has just slightly more than the usual numbers of error that might have been caught. But, for its size, the extra little problems might balance out.
Now, this next part is just my opinion. I’m not saying the publisher had this in mind when it was created (over, according to the forward, nine years!), but this game would work great for a Dresden Files game. And I don’t mean as a generic Urban Fantasy game. If you wanted a game set in the Dresdenverse (is that we call it?) this game would suffice and probably exceed at that.
There’s a lot of fun stuff in this book. My favorite bit was the Amish Deep Ones. That bit cracked me up. The writing can very in tone and style, but the setting pieces, and the Director’s guide in the back is well done.
For Style I’m giving it a 3 () Scarabs. The game is definitely worth the price. But the bizarre art choices and slightly more than usual number of typos offset this.
For Substance I’m giving it a low 4 () Scarabs. Great content, great workmanship. And an immersive setting I didn’t get bored reading.