Game: Dark Legacies Campaign Guide
Publisher: Red Spire Press
Series: Dark Legacies: d20
Review Dated: 10th, October 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
One of my favourite d20 settings of late has been Dark Legacies. This ‘dark future’ setting first found its way onto our gaming tables in the form of a player’s guide. It’s a little later on and I’m pleased to have the Dark Legacies Campaign Guide in my collection now.
Dark Legacies is set on a post apocalyptic post apocalyptic Earth. Yes, there are at least two apocalypses in there and as a result the planet really does not resemble our own. We have some fantasy races, a touch of magic and a demon problem but Dark Legacies is quintessentially grim and gritty. The aspect of Dark Legacies which had not sunk in fully from the player’s guide, despite being quite familiar with the game now, was just how advanced the in-game technology could go. Here in the campaign guide we have rules for armoured transports and even armoured battlesuits; steam-powered additions to a deadly world. This isn’t really re-discovered technology, Dark Legacies is so far removed from our Earth that it would be flippant to put any such plot twist in yet. These are re-invented technologies, inventions pushed on by the need for better and more powerful weapons to combat the demons.
I have to say I did wrestle with this for a while. I had to adjust my perceptions of the Dark Legacies campaign setting. My initial reaction was to object to this re-adjustment as my concern was that the increased availability to technology would increase the power of a low powered setting and give the characters more resources when they should be scrabbling for them. As tends to be the case, a well written and atmospheric setting can win me around to the author’s point of view and that’s what happens here. Slowly the steam-technology begins to feel right, Yuval Kordov, Matthew Ruane and Duane Wheatcroft do manage to paint a complex but complete world. I imagine great rusty gates slowly creaking closed in response to a dark horde sighted on the horizon, or huge chains rattling noisily as a draw bridge opens to allow an uncompromising Inquisitor to ride out on a Church-appointed quest and I can picture a veteran mercenary company with armoured wagons and carefully honed siege and anti-monster weapons as they crawl through the wilderness. Kordov deserves particular kudos here, Dark Legacies is an extremely cinematic setting and it’s Kordov who issues art direction as well as game and concept design.
One last point on the steam-technology; it’s carefully paced. It’s The Combat Inventioneer prestige class which introduces the battlesuit. Thankfully it’s not the case that once the character reaches level Y that a battlesuit suddenly becomes available. The construction of the battlesuit is a fundamental part of the prestige class progress and I like the option of tying it in to the character’s attempt to become a Combat Inventioneer in the first place. One caveat here is that it’ll take a good GM to get the balance right and ensure the Combat Inventioneer has enough time for inventions while the group is battling demons, dealing with corrupt clergy or horrors infesting the megacities. At the same time, the GM will have to make sure that survival in the Dark Legacies is not reduced to one woman’s attempt to build a better battlesuit.
Ah yes, prestige classes. This may have the tag “Campaign Guide” but this is the first additional book for a d20 setting and so it’s a d20 supplement. There are a host of prestige classes; the Avatar, Blessed Daughter, Combat Inventioneer, Deadwalker, Energumen, Gatekeeper, Inquisitor, Sanctus, Seafarer, Summoner, Tor Bull, Truth Seeker, Warsmith, Whisperer and the Wretched. The Energumen stands out as one of the especially interesting classes. The foul, red skinned and horned creature on Dark Legacies: Campaign Guide’s front cover is an Energumen and it was human. Their existence is a secret and they’re used to hunt demons. What happened to them in the first place? A would-be Energumen’s trouble begins when she is first possessed by a demon. Another favourite of mine is the Gatekeeper (kindly back to back in the book). Here we find brave dwerofs who stand guard over areas that must never be re-discovered. Both the Energumen and the Gatekeeper will be an absolute horror to GM though, both will require advanced and plot friendly players. Just why is your Gatekeeper out and about and not guarding one of the dwerofs’ dark secrets?
This Dark Legacies guide is not a splat book. There may be prestige classes but each one has a number of flavour rich paragraphs to settle it into the twisted future.
In fact, the Dark Legacies Campaign Guide begins with what I always see as a telltale sign of world building over combat play; with a calendar. Dark Legacies takes the sensible route to calendar design for a game and creates a calendar which is familiar to our own (roughly the same length of day, a division of weeks and months, roughly the same year length) but adds enough exotic twists to make it interesting. The calendar is always an excuse for plot too as it is healthily peppered with holy days and dates of significance.
This Campaign Guide lingers on other world building aspects too. We look at the climate and the warped ecology of this blasted future. The treat of disease certainly is not an element of Dark Legacies I was previously oblivious too and it’s healthy to see a game-friendly detailed look at interesting diseases. Sharing a phrase with a certain other post apocalyptic setting, the landscape of Dark Legacies sports the occasional megacity (and yes, there will be mutants outside). If I had to pick a setting supplement for Dark Legacies then I would be interested in support for running a game in a megacity. The strongholds of humanity seem alien and deadly – deadly because the characters may have to forfeit their weapons, cannot deal with problems by tanking it and may yet have numerous sly and cruel enemies.
This visit to Dark Legacies turns up two main types of cruel enemies. Sure; we look at monsters and demons (and they’re especially deadly and cruel) but we look at them late on in the book as they do not seem so important. Earlier on and seemingly more interesting and vital to the setting are the various Organisations. This is a world where brutal churches both coordinate against the horrors which remain on the planet and yet compete against one another and cast a stern shadow over all humanity. There are secret organisations within these holy bodies. Mutants secretly rendezvous and plot, demon worshipers plan the downfall of entire megacities and then there are curious organisations like the Whispers or the stalwart like the Seaborne.
Toss is magic items and adventure ideas but keep these richly flavoured with Dark Legacies’ ambience and we have a Campaign Guide which is both different and reassuringly familiar. This is a book which will appeal to those of us (people like me) who perked up in interest at Dark Legacies – different d20 is good and much needed these days. This is also a book which will appeal to those gamers with their trust and gaming habits firmly routed in more traditional d20. This campaign guide will make the setting more available to this style of gamer.
There is a lot to be said for other aspects of the book too. It’s a pretty book. The art here is unique and different. Actually, hum, I do get Warhammer 40K vibes from much of it – but it’s still different enough. The print quality is good – no white space overload and no cramped columns.
The summary is easy: it’s good. Dark Legacies remains one of the few recent additions to the vast d20 library which stand out as interesting and with any chance of luring gamers to the d20-side of the industry.