Age of Legends is a sourcebook for the 6d6 RPG system. In this setting you play heroes of classical Greece. Reading through, my mind kept leaping back to the old stop motion films of Ray Harryhausen that I grew up with. If that was the authors' goal, then they totally succeeded.
The heroic ages of Perseus and even Odysseus are past, and it is time for new heroes, new champions of the gods. Why are the gods meddling in human affairs again? The titans are back and both sides are effectively waging a proxy war similar to the USA and USSR.
The book is divided into four sections: Mortals (34 pages about life in Classical Greece), Immortals (52 pages regarding the Greek gods and titans), Protagonists (48 pages covering how to create characters specifically for the setting), and Antagonists (40 pages of bad things).
For those that don't know 6d6 RPG, your character has advantages, which can represent anything from status effects to career choices to abilities to equipment. Each of these has a die and a modifier attached to it to say how potent it is. When you perform an action, you try to combine your advantages in a logical way. Essentially, if you can give a sentence or paragraph naming your advantages and describing how you perform the action, and it makes sense, then your advantages apply. This roots any mechanics of your actions in the narrative.
Speaking to 6d6 generally, one of the most interesting aspects of it has nothing to do with the in game mechanics. It is the notion of the Living Document. Members that have registered for that access have the ability to edit and update the books. This changes the game from a top down deliverable to a community project, something that, overtime, will become a labor of love, not just for the original creators, but all of the 6d6 community. This extends to purchased products too. Want the latest edition of a book you already bought? You can download that. Yes, this extends to Age of Legends too.
Age of Legend is written by James Foster and Mark Foster. The original 6d6 RPG creator, Chris Tregenza, clearly had an impact through art, layout, and editing. Additional artwork is provided by Jack Door.
The art for Age of Legends is perfect in its selection. It doesn't depict super heroic characters slinging spells or standing against demons and looking good doing it. No, instead it draws from the actual artwork of the era. It’s relatively simple, and the images are the sort of thing that you would expect to see on pottery or in the frescos of an ancient temple. Not only is this style internally consistent throughout the book, but it is also consistent with the source material and the setting. That makes a big impact. I wasn't a huge fan of the art for 6d6 Core as it was sometimes photographs of real people and sometimes draw art. That lack of consistency became a disjointed distraction. Conversely, the artwork in Age of Legends just draws you in and gets you in the perfect mindset. That said, there are a few places where the art is behind the text, but it isn't faded enough. So the text becomes hard to read. However, my copy wasn't the final copy, and that sort of thing is easily fixed.
Chapter 1 - Mortals
The first chapter, Mortals, lets us know what the game is about and then gives us a quick, but solid, overview of Classical Greece. Where most gamers can likely name a couple of Grecian cities and individuals, their knowledge is just as likely to be extremely finite. Age of Legends helps fill the gaps. It simply lays out the facts, telling us, for instance, who Lysander is and why he's important and what a symposia is, without being overly academic. There's arguably information you don't need, like what the role of a skirmisher is or what the Isles of the Blessed are, but, as a source book, its job is to give you all of this information and let you choose what you need. By the end of the chapter, it has given you a solid snap shot of Grecian life. The section on education is a must read for anyone making a character, and sections on social strata and religions are similarly important for understanding the world you are about to play in. Besides, even if you might not personally care about the Grecian diet or the Olympic Games, their inclusion offers a resource for players and Game Leaders alike that want to enrich their game.
The gazetteer for this chapter does a great job visually. The principle map is done in the style of an ancient Grecian map. Where it is clearly imprecise compared to a modern map, it does exactly what it needs to do by showing where everything is in relation to everything else. As with other gaming books, highlights from the map are used to show where city states on the page are located. This makes the section very easy to use. Though I do take exception that Colchis and Aia are not included, but that is a personal bias that stems from living here in Georgia.
Where the gazetteer section provides excellent visual cues, a reading of the sections might throw you off because there isn't a strictly followed format. For instance, Athens has an overview with a subsection for Politics and Diplomacy and another for Culture, whereas Thebes has one for Politics and Military and one for Culture and then Thessaly has no subsections. I appreciate some variation as it highlights the differences, but I found it disruptive when one city state had subsections and then another did not.
I have mixed opinions on the last section of this chapter. It introduces the societies of "Intelligent People & Monsters", thus giving you the quick and dirty of Amazons, Centaurs, Nymphs, and the like. Part of me thinks it would have been better included in the Antagonists chapter, but I can understand its inclusion here. My main issues is that after giving us so much historically factual information, we suddenly have a separate section on myths within the setting. In fairness, Crete hinted at horrors from the ruins of Knossos, but, for the most part, the places and society were treated as real world places. This "sudden" inclusion of mythical creature creates a jarring juxtaposition. It could have helped to give each gazetteer entry an Age of Legends paragraph that hinted at how myths are influencing things, like what was done with Crete and the djinn in Arabia. If nothing else, it would create hooks for the imagination.
Chapter 2 - Immortals
The largest chapter, Immortals, discusses the gods, the titans, and even their less frequently worshiped counterparts. We also get a look at what the champions of each of the immortals is like. This really helps fill in the character archetypes as these are the roles the characters are supposed to fill.
At first blush it may seem disconcerting that so much attention is given to beings of worship. After all, how often do they really come up in games? If you find that so much space is devoted to the gods, then you may not have read the Iliad or other stories from Greek mythos. The gods are intimately tied to everything we do, and Age of Legends tries to bring this to life.
Playing a champion of an immortal starts by having some natural trait associated with your immortal. Are you wise like Athena or rash like Ares? That gets your patron's attention, then you have to work to keep it by continuing to earn his or her favor. Meanwhile you need to keep other immortals happy so they don't clip you in the ankle. Of course, appeasing one can easily upset another. It’s a juggling act, and it’s very cool to see it take the stage. Though the details of this (mostly in the Protagonists chapter) could use a bit of tweaking.
This approach works well for two reasons. First, it’s straight out of the source material. Go read any Greek myth about a hero, and you’ll see this in action. Second, most western readers have at least a passing familiarity with Greek mythology. So we can extrapolate what we need to do or what will happen without necessarily having to reference a guide to made up deities. This sort of celestial political intervention system would easily fail in a setting that used a plethora of author created deities because we don’t have the familiarity needed to make it work.
That said, this chapter would benefit from some more explicit statements of what the immortals like and don't like. For guidance on how to earn their favor and displeasure there are summaries of and twists on famous myths, a subsection on goals and champions, and a subsection on worship. These last two give the most information, but the former leaves a lot of room for interpretation and the latter limits you to temples and festivities. Together they give you ideas of how to be a good minion/champion, but not much in the way of how to upset them. This information is on a chart in the Protagonists section, and where that is useful and well placed, the information is minimal, and profile of each god is a perfect place to have a more full description. After all, accidentally upsetting one god while trying to earn the favor of another is an incredibly ripe source of drama.
I was a bid annoyed at how lock step the gods were with respect to their champions. This is mainly because most of these viewed a framed with reference to the views of the titans, and most of the gods are gearing up to stop them. So where this is understandable, it can give a [false] sense of everyone being on the same team. There are a couple of exceptions. Ares and Poseidon make things much more interesting, and it would be neat to see a bit more of their selfishness in the others. Also, where in lock step with the other gods with respect to the titans (for obvious reasons), I rather liked the take on Hades, much better than the Disney version or DC version. On the other hand, the titans paint a greatly diverse tapestry. Some are organized against the Olympians and many are just doing their own thing. Ostensibly this was done so you could have a party of champions of different gods fighting against the fractured titans, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity.
Finally, this chapter has my favorite line in the whole book when discussing its fiction, "The greatest change came when Zeus ruled that Aphrodite should no longer cause or permit love to flourish between mortal and god. He feared the growing power of the demigods but was tiring of the conflict with his wife Hera over his many affairs and sought to end them without taking personal responsibility." Emphasis added.
Chapter 3 - Protagonists
The Protagonists chapter is where you learn how to tailor characters for the setting. The main departure from the typical 6d6 RPG rules is the inclusion of a Champion Path and various archetypes and advantages specific to the setting. These make for pages of mechanics, but the layout spaces them well, which makes them easy to read.
Its here we find the outline of what I discuss above: how to gain and lose the favor of immortals and what that means. These generally slot easily into 6d6 RPG's existing rules (e.g. Blessings and Curses are just status effects). Others, like scheming, are more story oriented and allow you to use Greek myths as examples for what might happen. This is reinforced with signs, a sometimes oblique way of communicating to characters that something is afoot.
This section also highlights some weaknesses. For instance, it provides that, "Champions are chosen based on their personal qualities and gods do not appreciate those abilities being wasted." However, in the Immortals chapter, not all god profiles listed personal qualities for the champions (I'm looking at you Hades; what do you want from me?).
Another item is the discussion of Hubris. The text tells us its bad and backs it up with examples from Greek myth, but it then fails to connect it back to disfavor, save by telling us that your afterlife will be bad. Given that the afterlife is something that happens after gameplay ends, it doesn't serve as much of a disincentive to hubristic behavior. Mechanics will incentivize roleplay, and here’s a place where that could easily happen by catching some god's disfavor through hubris. Same for breaking oaths.
An item of concern is magic. I am admittedly biased: I prefer concrete, limited effects, not build your own spell systems. So keep that in mind. There is no fixed spell list for Age of Legends, which means you are only limited by the key words on your advantages, your creativity, and the Game Leader's willingness to let you do something. It strikes me that this could get out of control easily, by which I mean breaking the setting paradigm. Like any such system, mileage will vary from game group to game group.
The main character idea I'm left with at the end of the chapter is that of a party with one champion surrounded by his/her friends. Think of it as Jason and the Argonauts. I find that premise more compelling than everyone playing a champion, and I don't see a reason why you can't adapt your game to that; though, it would be helped by some more friction between the gods.
The secondary character idea I came away with was playing agents of the titans. Their diverse goals and motives just made them that much more interesting. The rules don't support that at this time, but you could probably make Champion/Agent paths for each of the titans and lesser immortals if you wanted.
Chapter 4 - Antagonists
The final chapter is Antagonists. It’s not all a list of enemies. Its where general Game Leadering advice falls. The chapter gives you ideas for adventures, and even mentions stories about divisions between gods, a subject, which you could probably tell, I'd love to see more written about. There is also a solid two page list of plot hooks organized by relevant god that any game designer should take note of as it immediately helps place the plot [hook] within the setting in a way that generic plot hooks don't.
This chapter also has a selection of mythical and normal creatures. I would like to see some more text connecting them to the world. Where do they roam and where might they fit into adventures? Most critters in Greek myths are one offs, but I prefer a bit more ecology around my critters.
The PDF makes use of internal linking to a glossary at the end of the book. I found that this was well used in some cases but not others. For instance, it was great to have quick links to setting specific terms like city names and even deities (pardon me, Hebe, but I forgot who you were), but there were also links for hubris and acropolis, which are pretty generic terms; though, hubris does have a specific gameplay impact that the glossary does not mention. It would also be cool if the glossary then connected back to the sections that most discuss the term (e.g. clicking the word Poseidon sends you to his glossary entry, then clicking that sends you to his two page profile).
Also, index with internal hyperlinks. SWEET!
As sourcebooks go, it’s pretty solid. It’s not just a gazetteer or a list of gods, and it’s certainly not a font of useless setting fiction. Instead it does something rarely seen: it weaves the gods into the gameplay, making them and their wishes a tangible component of the setting. By doing this it brings the work to life. It’s not without its flaws, but the Living Document approach gives it the flexibility to address these at no cost to the buyer.
Divorced from the 6d6 RPG system, Age of Legends can still be a handy source book. The deity profiles are solid, the deeds for favor and disfavor are good, even if I would like to see them expanded, and the plot hooks are great. All of these could be exported to any game system using classical or ancient Greece as a setting.