By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico 18 April 2018
This post has been a long time coming. I’ve heard of Fragged Empire some time ago, and while it pinged my radar, I never had the opportunity to really follow up on it due to difficulties in finding a copy and, of course, just the time to read it.
Thankfully, an opportunity came late 2017 during the third Fragged Empire Kickstarter, in which we were introduced to three new settings using the mechanics from the hit game Fragged Empire (you can find the Quickstart rules here and more about the game here), which allowed me the opportunity to get one of these three settings as well as the core rulebook PDFs in one easy to handle price.
Armed with the Fragged Aeternum book and a copy of Fragged Empire, I got to cracking on reading it to give you all the review. While it took much longer than expected, here it is, in all its glory!
Fragged Aeternum is an RPG utilizing the mechanics of Fragged Empire, with a few twists to match the setting, of course. While Empire is a romp through a sci-fi universe filled with multiple alien species and tech galore, Aeternum has a more Victorian-Gothic feel that we see in the hit game Bloodborne, in which your hero is an avatar of sorts, known as one of the Tethered, that is out to defeat monsters and make this Victorian-esque and isolated city a better place.
Aeternum, the name for both the world and the endless city, is filled with humans living in fear. Every time a human dies, their spirit appears and will either ascend or descend. Most descend.
Making matters worse, the city is plagued by various human horrors, as well as Fiends (from below), while bystanders feel imprisoned by Celestials (beings from above).
This leaves you with the Tethered, a group of people that chose humanity instead of whatever awaits them after death, and are the immortal protectors against the things of the night. While they can be harmed and “killed”, they always come back, often ready to go out and continue where they left off.
==What You Get==
The book weighs in at 163 pages of text, with about half of it covering the setting (with fiction tossed in), nearly a third for GM-related materials (including setting tips, NPCs, and more), and the rest of the book covering the rules changes between Aeternum and Empire.
The book gives you all of the rules, powers, and setting information to make the stories of human-based immortals in this gothic megalopolis as they fight horrors both human and supernatural.
==How It Works==
As previously mentioned, Fragged Aeternum uses the mechanics introduced in Fragged Empire. It’s a pretty straightforward game, thankfully, as it uses just 3d6 for the dice pool with some simple mods.
In short, any time you need to complete a task, you make a roll of 3d6. You add your skill rating (or -2 if you are unskilled), add or subtract 2 for descriptions (a reward for good narration), and any other modifiers (assistance and the like). From there, you just compare your roll to your difficulty (usually an 8), and determine success.
On top of comparing your roll, you track any die that comes up as a Six (6), as this gives a Strong Hit, which can add additional effects, such as a Critical Hit in combat, or gaining additional perks in non-combat scenes.
Of course, it’s not just that simple.
Like some of the more narrative games, the Fragged series allows you to specify what skill you are using and how you are using it. For example, if you need to get into a gentleman’s club, you could say you simply use the Wealth skill to bribe the bouncer to let you in, or you use Culture to know the societal norms of the bouncer’s homeworld and how you can use that to convince them to let you through.
The core game also uses various resources to allow players to do additional things, such as Fate Point (usually re-rolls), Spare Time (to acquire objects or set things up), and Resources (allocated, not spent, for equipment). Each of these shift based on spending, allocation, and levelling up.
Fragged Aeternum changes up a few things. In fact, each of these new books has a section dedicated to the new rules (or the rules not used!) in these versions of the game. In the case of Fragged Aeternum, you are playing immortals that return to life after being killed, so the rules showcase that by changing the flavor of things (Nature vs Race, removal of Fate, new uses for Spare Time, etc), and simplifies a few things, such as getting rid of Trade Goods (a form of currency) and ships from Fragged Empire, while also removing elements like Rate of Fire and ammunition tracking.
Outside of the cosmetics and a few tweaks for the setting, the game does work mechanically like Fragged Empire, and the few points worth touching base on are better suited for elsewhere in this review.
In all honesty, I grabbed Fragged Aeternum for the setting more than anything. I’m a sucker for psuedo-Victorian sci-fantasy settings, so the idea of this megacity that sprawls seemingly endlessly while having a number of magical-based problems was highly appealing. There’s just something about it that jumped out, probably because settings like this aren’t as prevalent as “typical” fantasy settings or pirate themes (the two other books from this Kickstarter).
The setting itself is also rather fleshed out, which is pleasant to see considering how short the overall work is. We have everything we need to really get a feel for the setting, from an overview of the city to hints of inner workings of the various organizations behind the scenes to a handful of religions and their practices. Again, for being a short work, there’s some meat to the setting that makes it worthwhile to read.
With regards to the setting, I find it interesting how we have a built-in “you cannot die” mechanic, and the clear fact that death is not the end. In this game, when you “die”, you get a second chance to cause problems for the enemies, as you gain control over a psuedo-corporeal spirit that is, in some ways, more powerful than your physical form. This is only temporary, but thanks to the blessing granted to all player characters, you can be brought back before the duration is up.
Even if you can’t be brought back in time, anyone who is defeated will reappear and awaken at the nearest Great Lantern…the following sundown. While this means that characters can only die in very specific circumstances, there are still repercussions for death, and I absolutely adore that they are story-driven.
From a mechanical perspective, I’ve enjoyed some of the changes made. For example, in Fragged Empire, if you rolled a 6, you were able to cause a “Strong Hit” with specific effects, including “Critical Boost” (deal additional Attribute damage). In Aeternum, the Critical Boost effect is removed and allows for players to bank “Momentum,” a resource that is spent to activate special abilities in combat.
To make this even more interesting, the changes in Fragged Aeternum promote this new mechanic, as combat is all about timing and syncing attacks instead of simply dishing out a constant stream of damage. In fact, some of the more damaging elements of Fragged Empire (like increased Rate of Fire) are removed, making combat much more intense, even though you are an immortal!
Many of the other changes, while subtle, also help drive the setting home. Complications/Conditions feel grittier (and are worthwhile to pursue), a number of Optional Rules (like losing a limb), Corruption and Madness (RP perks, some bonuses, some penalties), Stances (things you “acquire” via free time but give you extra types of actions), and the re-acquisition of lost items all add to both the setting and the game instead of just being bolted on.
This honestly was a big letdown for me, so I’ll start with it: I was not really that impressed with the aesthetics of the book.
Settings like this can be done in a gorgeously detailed fashion, or could even be done in somewhat abstract ways, but Fragged Aeternum felt like it was trying to do both. Some of the artwork, like the cover, is highly detailed, but then the characters within felt blocky, and I mean that literally; it seriously looks blocky, as though they were built from fragments of the city. This may be a design choice, but I felt it took something away from the book.
I’m also not a big fan of the font used in the text. It’s not as bad as the color scheme we saw in Star Trek Adventures, but there’s just something with the font face that really messed with me every time I tried to read it.
To make matters worse, something about the writing style also felt off. Sentences were clunky and typos would make me re-read a sentence just to see what the error was or to determine the actual meaning. There were some points that even the fiction felt like an old D&D module, and it really pulled me out of the story being told. In fact, some lines reminded me directly of the old Dead Alewives skits, and I was hearing some of the text narrated by the Alewives as I read.
These slowed down the review process, as well as made things a bit harder for me to really like the game. Granted, not everyone that reads this has a background in editing or has read as many games/modules as I have, but it’s a thing that’ll stand out if you know what to look for.
While I enjoy a number of the new mechanics, not all of them float well. The “Suspense Rolls”, for example, are not well written and, as they are written, don’t really offer much. This is a roll that shows how much you notice and how it impacts you, but you won’t know if it’s a good thing to pass or to fail as each has their own consequences. I’ve never been a fan of an “always lose” roll and felt that dice should only be rolled when there’s something of interest, so this whole mechanic smacks of wasted potential.
At the end of the day, I’d have to leave Fragged Aeternum with 3 buns.
With the setting being well worth the time (and taking up half the book), it is hard to rate the book lower than a middling three buns. While it may not be entirely original, it is still a setting that doesn’t get utilized all that often, and it’s got enough to be useful for someone who wants a tabletop RPG that looks and feels like Bloodborne.
Sadly, the fiction falls flat and the art often leaves much to be desired, which when combined with the use of the mechanics of Fragged Empire (which feels rather bloated), drastically reduce the score of this game.
If you are a fan of gritty games involving powerful, but overworked and outnumbered, heroes trying to make an endless city a better place for humanity, then you will absolutely love playing Fragged Aeternum. If you dislike mechanics with some bloat or hate the premise as described, you’ll want to give this a hard pass and pick up something else to play.
Fragged Empire and Fragged Aeternum can be acquired as PDFs via DriveThruRPG. Fragged Aeternum is available for $18, while Fragged Empire will run $18.36 as of this writing (with the physical book costing $90 Australian from the website).