Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/12/31/tabletop-review-age-of-lords-campaign-setting-dungeons-dragonspathfinder/
Age of Lords is a campaign setting designed by Blackbyrne Publishing for use with either 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. As 4th Edition is what I am familiar with, those are the books I took a look at, but I would imagine the only real difference between the two versions comes down to mechanics and little else. Being familiar with the core rules of each system (and having access to the core rule books for your respective game) is a must.
Age of Lords focuses on the world of Braugh and it’s main continent, Thallorand. The world of Braugh is one shaped almost exclusively from war; a battle between the God Brothers, Gorrand and Zorm, led to their imprisonment inside the planet by the Goddess of Balance, Threllion. Even imprisonment was not enough to put an end to their battle, and the two Gods exerted their power to bring about life on the planet. Threllion created the human race, while her opposite number, J’choral, the Goddess of Chaos, introduced monsters to the world. As the races of the world expanded across the continent of Thallorand, fiefdoms were established and war among the mortal races raged. It was only when the dark races invaded from across the sea that the continent banded together in The Uprising in order to protect themselves from annihilation. Following that brutal war, the Age of Lords begins proper. The continent has been divided into six kingdoms that survived the war, and while the borders of the kingdoms are respected for the most part, border crossing is only permissible with the express permission of one of the six lords. To gain permission, adventurers must compete in Pit Games, IE gladiatorial combat, and emerge victorious.
The campaign setting, outlined in both the Campaign Setting and Expedition Guide, is one full of conspiracies and peace held in check by only the thinnest margins. You’ll need a group of players interested in more than just the standard dungeon crawl. While there are opportunities for combat aplenty, both in the Pit Games and exploring dungeons once you’ve gained the permission of a lord, the politics of the realm will inevitably require a good deal of wit and subterfuge to fully take advantage of what these books offer.
Working from the 4th D&D rules, Age of Lords utilizes the core races, all the classes from the Player’s Handbook and the majority of the classes from Player’s Handbook 2 (information for Avengers, Invokers, Shamans, and Wardens are not included in the materials, but those classes and a few additional races are available at http://blackbyrnepublishing.com/SampleFlavor.html for those interested). In addition to the basics, two new classes (Ostorians and Half-Dark Elves) and one new class (Blade Conjurer) are added. Ostorians are half-breed human/bears cursed by Druids, primarily suited for primal and martial classes, and seem suited for tanking more than anything else. Half-Dark Elves are the result of unions between Dark Elves and other races, and more often than not are the product of rape and are born into slavery. The chance of a Half-Dark Elf being produced through consensual means is a “rare occurrence,” which, I don’t know, doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that I would ever want to work into one of my adventures, but the option is there if you want to pursue it. The race, should you decide you want to use it, is primarily suited to the Rogue class, with an occasional Sorcerer or Warlock. Neither of the new races seemed particularly interesting to me, but the added class, Blade Conjurer, is another matter.
Blade Conjurers can best be described as a Magic Knight; during The Uprising, wizards used Elvish magic to train soldiers how to imbue their weapons with arcane powers. The class is designed to function first as a Striker and secondly as a Defender. The powers attributed to the class will generally do damage to a target, followed by a secondary effect. These effects either tend grant the player the ability to shift as a result of their attack, slap a status effect on the enemy, or inflict ongoing damage until the enemy can make a saving throw.
The major game play mechanic introduced by the setting is the Pit Games. Pit Games generally pit the players against a single monster or a group of monsters, and not only require that the players survive the encounter, but scores them on actions that occur during the battle. For instance, a criticial hit will add +3 to your score, while using a second wind or reaching 0 hp is a -1. The GM will set the High Score needed to be successful, and you can tailor rewards based on how well your players do in combat.
Blackbyrne Publishing’s motto is “Story over Rules” and the books excel at this. The back story provided is quite interesting, and the creators do a good job to work all of the standard D&D classes and races into their own world without making them seem out of place. The Campaign Setting provides a wealth of information about the entire continent, the kingdoms that existed prior to the Uprising and the ones that still exist post-war, and the details provided for all the various locales is quite extensive and gives you plenty of areas for your players to explore. Each class is given new Paragon Paths exclusive to this setting and there are a handful of monsters created specifically for this setting. Possession of all the core D&D books is required, however, so this isn’t something you could just pick up and play on your own.
The actual presentation does leave a little to be desired. I reviewed the PDF versions of the texts so I couldn’t comment on the quality of the available hardbacks, but the information is nicely laid out and very accessible. Artwork in the books range from above average to merely serviceable. I did catch a few typos and grammatical errors, which certainly caused someone like me to shake my head every time I found one, but there is nothing bad enough to detract from the game itself. In the end, however, Age of Lords puts forth enough interesting ideas and usable content to be worth a read. Even if you’re just looking for some locations, monsters, or a new class to plug into your existing campaigns, Age of Lords is handy reference material.