Silver Gryphon games recently updated their core rulebook of their flagship game Æther. Not only have I had the chance to read it and play it and a few of the supplements that they have in store for us (Zompocylpse and Æthermancy), but I’ve also enjoyed myself enough to write a review for it so that others can do the same. The main book of Æther is a real world roleplaying system that is easy adaptable so it can fit practically any time or genre. What I’m trying to say is that it is a generic setting RPG without the generic-ness of it all. Of course, we’ve all dealt with generic systems and the ability to make your own setting since the dawn of time, so what makes this one different? It’s simple. The details in this book are things that all the other systems don’t have, but need. Let me show you…
The book breaks down into five main categories: Character building, rules and equipment, making your own setting, the default setting of Wellstone city, and a small adventure suitable to get players familiar with the system.
Characters in Æther are quick to make (the book says fifteen minutes or so, and after the first time that proves true), and easy to lose. I’ve seen a regular Joe go down to a zombie-dog even with a decent plan in just a round or two. This system can be vicious, but there are rules in place to soften the blow. Luck provides characters with near-instant successes, re-rolls, or even a way to get out of death completely. It’s optional, and tends to separate heroes from doggy chow. But even if your character suffers a terrible fate and it’s time to make up a new one, it’s easily done as creation is a few rolls and a small amount of math until you’re done. Attributes and skills are bought with points, while certain traits are rolled for (Eidetic memory, ambidextrous, etc). After that, you figure out what is arguably my favourite thing about the system; The BAM factor. BAM stands for Basic Attribute Modifier and what it does is factors in how high your attribute is into how it affects your skills without a lot of complicated math. High academics? Better at chess! Big on toughness? Go out drinking! It’s really easy and it works well. I’ve had inexperienced players wade into the system without supervision and come out on the other side with characters with little to no questions. The only thing that I found lacking was the decision to put back-story entirely in a narrative sense. This makes it so that a player who starts off as a hobo and one who wants to be a prince will start roughly the same without GM intervention. It’s a preference thing where if you like the ability to jump in without a lot of complicated back-story and wading through pages of advantagesdisadvantages, this is the system for you indeed!
The main rule set and combat along with equipment are incredibly detailed without becoming bogged down and difficult to use. There are rules for getting help, rushing yourself, applying other skills to help with a related roll (Adding engineering to an explosives roll to create a bomb, adding sleight of hand to firearms to secretly reload your gun, etc), and anything else that would come up in the real world. The equipment list is full of more things than I could possibly imagine. There are rules for tranquilizer darts, tire irons, pool cues, various firearms (tons!), and loads more. The rules are detailed and useful which is a combination that is a rarity in gaming. Like the rest of the book, there are massive amounts of details that one wouldn’t even think of before reading this book that Kevin Rohan has managed to stuff in here without it becoming cluttered or overburdened.
There are two places in the book that touch on setting, and one of them is how to make it yourself and the other is the well-crafted city of modern day Wellstone city. There are a huge amount of options and time periods that the book makes suggestions on and it lists the main themes and key players of them all as well. It enables keepers to make any game within any time, with any sort of thematic elements (Rock and roll wizards using dark technology? Woo!) And make it kick butt! As a bonus, Wellstone city is the most lovingly crafted city I’ve ever seen in a game. It lists the neighborhoods and who runs them, who to look out for, the current events, and adventure hooks. This is for every nook and cranny of the city I should add. An incredibly detailed city that will never run dry awaits.
The adventure at the end is not much more than an excuse for the players to knock some heads together and figure out the roles of the characters and how combat works, but it fulfills its purpose. It’s more of an intro to the system than the setting of Wellstone.
In conclusion, I love this little book. I cannot fathom opening this book up and not having something instantly spring to mind to do with it. The art is sparse, but really solid and sells the genres well. If you’re looking to run a modern-day gritty-heroes sort of street level game, this system does it well. Other eras and locals work well too, but might require a small amount of thinking on the keeper’s part. While other games have hundreds of supplements to fill the void of what the main book lacked in setting or themes, Æther already has in just the main book already. Sure, there are supplements on route, but needed they are not. Wanted, they are indeed. Keep an eye on this book, it’s one to love.