One of my recent purchases was Early Dark by Anthropos Games, a game with its own mechanics set and a really interesting setting. The feeling of the game is Dark Ages in a world somewhat similar to ours, but with magic and very different geography. It’s easy to see where you might fit into this world but the setting is rich enough to spark the imagination.
The mechanics are somewhat similar to the One-Roll Engine in that you’re rolling pools of dice and then matching them together, but only in a general way. You roll d10s and match them into Limits which are determined by your skills (the better you are at something, the higher your Limit). Every set of dice you can group together without going over your Limit gives you a Tack; your first Tack determines how well you do something and subsequent Tacks are used as currency for special effects.
This adds a lot to the systems for combat and magic but it’s all part of the tapestry that players see: the interesting setting of Early Dark. There are five different cultures (all human) existing in a dark age after the fall of a mighty empire (the Edradan Empire), and each of them is designed as a mixture of two real-world cultures.
The Vayok are the northern raiders and embody aspects of Viking and Inuit cultures. The Edish are inspired by Native American peoples and it was they who inundated and took over the Edradan Empire, making them analogous to the Goths at the end of Rome. The Anu are the strange, exotic peoples, living in the west and combining Chinese, Incan, and Aztec aspects. The Neferatha are eastern mystics with an expanding kingdom, a mixture of Vedic and Egyptian cultures. Lastly, the Alagoths are an interesting mix of Persians and Celts with nomadic herdsmen, mystical druids, eunuchs, scimitars, and viziers.
It’s an interesting mix, and the character creation method is narrative and fun which is another plus. Today, I’m going to wade into the game and make my first character (actually my first character for this blog!) to see how it all works. Onward!
Step One: Roll Scenario
The first part of making a character in Early Dark is finding out how they got to be involved in the story. Groups can roll one Scenario for the whole party but it’s just me here so I don’t have to worry about meshing multiple backgrounds. I imagine that some GMs (or “Scribes” in the nomenclature of this game) might want a little control over this as random rolls might put the party on the far side of the world from the main plot they have in mind. Again, just being me I’m happy to leave everything to chance.
So, first I roll my Region and get Upper Edrada, the Plains of the Edish Hunters (those people who toppled Rome… I mean Edrada, and then moved in to take over). Specifically, my Scenario is going to involve the Local Culture of the City-States. This suits me since the story of how the Edish nomads are adjusting to city life is a neat one.
Rolling one more time I get my specific Scenario: Rangers from the plains take up residence in an old temple in a deserted sector of the city. A new religion starts to form. Sounds like trouble! I’m not going to dwell too much on this but assume that my character is not one of the Edish rangers, but rather an outsider watching this unfold.
Step Two: Milieu
I’m going to pick a male character and decide that he’s Vayok (the Norse/Inuit culture) come down from the tundra to trade with the Edish. He’s 25, young but with more than a few fights under his belt, and he’s a bit lost in Edrada at the moment since his uncle who was leading the trading mission died of a strange illness and now my character needs to figure out what to do next.
Alignments in Early Dark are different than other games and more like Renown in World of Darkness or Icons in 13th Age. These and my skills are decided by the Milieu I pick: basically the subculture that I’m a part of. Based on my reason for being in Edrada, I’m picking an Urban Vayok, someone who spends most of their life in the three major cities of the north (the Three Homes), rather than the more remote clan settlements.
This gives me a host of Arts and Alignments. I get 5 Relate, 1 Thrive (for being male), 4 Cunning (for being an adult), 2 Guile (for being a Khazil instead of a naturalized foreigner), 1 Membership to my Family Clan, and 1 Profession. Checking out the Vayok clans I’m deciding that this guy is from the Glokur Clan, the clan of family ties, which adds some pain to his isolation in Edrada.
Things are going to be smoother with a name, so I’m going with Qannik from a list of Inuit names.
Step Three: Aptitudes & Traits
I get 12 points to assign to Aptitudes, I can’t go over 5 in anything, and Aptitudes that I got from my Milieu can’t be changed. Obviously, 5 Fight or I can’t call myself a pseudo-Viking. I’ll also go for 3 Labor since Qannik did all the lifting for dead Uncle What’s-His-Name. My last four points are going to be spent on 2 Touch, the confusingly-named perception Aptitude, and 2 Move.
Traits are decided by Aptitudes so I just need to calculate those. Tacks per Turn are 4, Damage per Die is 2, Upkeep Discount is -1, Investment Renown Limit is 3, Initiative Bonus is +1, Guard is 15+3d10 (for starting heroes), Ground is 7, and Rolls per Round are 3.
Step Four: Dice & Arts
Alright, now we’re into the things that let the character do cool things. Firstly, I need to purchase Domains, the various aspects of the world that Qannik interacts with. The Mundane Domain is everyday life, the Loom Domain is the spiritual aspects of the world, and the Arcane Domain is the truly strange and otherworldly. I see Qannik as being a pretty spiritual guy so I’m going with 7 Mundane, 5 Arcane, and 7 Loom.
Next, I need to pick out Arts, the special talents Qannik has like feats in D&D. I get four raw arts and I’m going with all Mundane since Qannik is no sorcerer. He has high rankings in Fight, Relate, and Cunning, so I’m looking for Arts that combine those Aptitudes (since the Aptitude decides the Limit and a high Limit means more Tacks to spend on cool stuff). Cunning and Fight are part of Armoring so I’ll take that (I guess we found his family’s craft), but the two Arts involving Relate (Speechcraft and Mounted Fighting) don’t seem to fit a simple boy from the tundra used to snow and ships.
Hacking Blade involves Labor and Fight (both high) so count me in for that, and Animal Kinship is Touch plus Relate. I can see Qannik as a strong fighter but also a conscientious son who works in the forge, takes care of the animals, etc. Since I want him to be somewhat comfortable on boats I’ll go with Piloting which uses Move and Labor. Neither of those is too high but I think I might get lucky once in a while, especially since I’ll get lots of dice to roll with my Mundane Domain.
Next, I’m supposed to put some thought into how Qannik fights unarmed… I’m thinking he goes in for bear hugs and tries to subdue his opponent. If no blades are drawn then it’s a simple fight between folk so why try to hurt them? I mark down 4 Wounds and I’m set!
Step Five: First Epithet
Now it’s time to see what people see in Qannik. Turning to the Heraldry chapter, I get 50 Renown to spend on this Epithet. I think I’m calling it Breaklimb for an incident when he was younger involving a broken arm during a bar fight (one of the reasons for his approach to unarmed combat).
This First Epithet gives Qannik an Augment of +1 on Fight (10 Renown), increase Hacking Blade from Raw to Low (20 Renown), and do the same for Armoring (20 Renown).
Step Six: Equipment
Equipment in Early Dark is of the “catch-as-catch-can” variety. I’m going to assume that Qannik has a battleaxe (heavy weapon to go with Hacking Blade) and a shield of Load 2 (so it adds 2 to Guard, at the cost of more encumbrance). Qannik is an axe-swinging, muscle-bound pseudo-Viking; best not to overthink things.