Impressions of the Auran Empire
"Forward, as occasion offers. Never look round to see whether any shall note it... Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle."
- Marcus Aurelius
I've been going through some of my newer stuff for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) over the past week or two. Of late I've been thinking of fantasy RPGs, especially with a focus on the ability for characters to be movers and shakers of the world. (I've also been reading the new Laundry novel by Charles Stross and checking out some of the newer DCC stuff - the fun of being scatter-brained... Though in Icons our heroes have met their first aliens. More on that in a few days I think...)
One of the things I liked about ACKS was its implied setting, one that has begun getting more fleshed out with the ACKS Player's Companion, The Sinister Stone of Sakkara, and the quarterly Axioms digital magazine.
The ten thousand foot view is it is a setting based not in the traditional medieval paradigm, nor in the swords and sorcery genre, but rather inspired by the time period known as late antiquity, around 250 - 750 AD. . This is the time period that saw the Roman Empire split in two, with the western half eventually dying while the eastern half of the empire continuing until 1453. Unlike our world, the Auran Empire has not split in the same way the Roman Empire did - in a brief email exchange in which I asked ACKS author Alexander Macris about this he explained to me how he visualized the capital of the Auran Empire corresponding to Constantinople geopolitically and that while the Empire never lost its original capital as a result, it has suffered massive reduction in territory. Unlike the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Auran Empire doesn't just have to deal with barbarian invasions, political unrest, and plague, it also has to deal with beastmen and ancient forbidden magics.
One doesn't need to make use of this precise setting to take advantage of it - indeed there is no setting sourcebook as yet, though The Sinister Stone of Sakkara does give a great feel for the setting, much as The Village of Hommlet served as a great introduction to the World of Greyhawk.
What I really like about it is the opportunities it provides for players and GMs. Though the empire is still in existence there is a feeling that civilization is collapsing. Quoting The Sinister Stone of Sakkara:
The default setting of ACKS, the Auran Empire, was also designed to support the player characters’ advancement from adventurer to king. The Auran Empire setting was inspired by the collapsing empires of earth’s Late Antiquity (250 – 750 AD), a turbulent era in which ancient glories were drowned in a torrent of violence. However, in the Auran Empire setting, the horror of civilization’s imminent collapse is worsened by the existence of nightmarish evils lurking in the world’s dark places, threatening to strike mankind at its weakest moment.
The established leadership is too preoccupied by the empire’s political and military downfall to take these shadowy threats seriously, leaving them to be handled by adventurers, fortune-hunters, and wouldbe heroes. The adventurers’ success in dealing with such threats is, however, what garners them the fame, wealth, and strength they need to take power and restore order. Of course, the adventurers are not certain to win; indeed, the odds are stacked against them.
This is a setting screaming for adventurers. There's a reason for them to be going through dungeons and ancient tombs. Think of adapting the classic adventure The Keep on the Borderlands to such a setting. On the far reaches of the Empire, the Caves of Chaos are infested by beastmen and ancient evils. The castellan in charge of the Keep begs the Empire to send aid in wiping out the evil that has set up shop nearby. Only to receive no reply. Or a reply along the lines of "see to your own defenses". If there's a band of adventurers willing to conduct guerrilla raids on the Caves of Chaos, perfect. If they die he's lost no resources. If they succeed, he's addressed a threat. Of course as the Empire further withdraws the inhabitants of the borderlands, should the adventurers continue to adventure in one area, will come to recognize who their true protectors are. Our heroes might not have to carve out their own domain, they may find citizens clamoring for their leadership. Forget the oaths to an Emperor who has done nothing for them - rather let us follow those who have kept us safe. The King in the North!