This is a “psychedelic sword & sandal setting sourcebook”, by Sam Renaud, currently on Kickstarter.Disclaimer: the authors of the game were soliciting reviews on the OSR Discord server, we got in touch, and they sent me the early PDFs of the books. I was aware of it beforehand, mostly due to the great samples of b&w art that were posted in a classic fantasy RPG illustration group on Facebook. I would have checked out this game anyway, because it’s very much up my alley…
Let me reproduce here the blurb:
“The Golden Age of Khares is a psychedelic sword & sandal setting sourcebook designed for the Tabletop RPG system Low Fantasy Gaming. In it, the Kharesian Empire is described, a fictional bronze age society made up of a collection of city states with a shared culture. The world of Khares is one of sword & sandal high adventure that takes inspiration from old Biblical Epics and Italian Peplum films.”
So, yeah, it’s Bronze Age, it’s peplum, it has weird psychedelic overtones.
I don’t have the capacity to do a full review, so I’m just gonna write up my impressions as I flip through the game test (I’m perusing a PDF with the full text, some art, but no layout yet).
- Low Fantasy Gaming. I played in two one-shot sessions of this system, because one of my mates is a huge fan of it. It was pretty good, easy to grasp if you know any other D&D-ish thing, etc. The system is not reproduced wholesale in Khares, but there are handy summaries and some additional rules to represent the setting’s unique features.
- New classes: Boxer (boxing is the main sport/entertainment in the setting), with various martial arts feats; Drone (monster hunter special forces); Magus (sorcerer/witch types); Maqlu (exorcists), Mabed (sorcery-using priests); Nomad (ranger, survivalist); Penthu (healer).
- The setting gazetteer is about 50 pages long. It’s a solid pulpy not-Mesopotamia with other ancient and medieval West Asian and African stuff thrown into the mix. It’s colorful and diverse, not just Orientalistic cliches, so I’m into it at first glance.
- I think a summary would be good for these regions, like a table that just lists each region, terrain type, main geographic features, main settlements, trade goods. There are such summaries in the law & order section.
- Speaking of law & order: I found it somewhat weird, that, while the Kharesian society is progressive in some matters, like LGBTQ rights + there is no slavery, there is still eye-for-an-eye punishment, flogging, branding, death penalty.
- No world map in these preview materials yet?
- I love the Kharesian Courirer Parrots. Overall, the section on culture & customs is pretty good, lots of stuff to use here. “There’s a festival today in the city, they eat this and that, and then they gather to watch a boxing match between the champions of two families…”
- The District descriptions are good. Unlike most of the gazetteer, which is mostly text/narrative, these sections have the gameable bits upfront. Factions, major NPCs, rumors & hooks.
Monsters & Magic
- I didn’t have time to go through this properly, but at first glance there are Jinn from the Astral Realm, rabisu (sorcery-created monsters), all kinds of spells and magic items, some are reskinned D&D staples, some are unique to the setting, so a good mix.
- There are monster summaries in the appendix.
- Guides for travels, sandbox play, handing out rewards and experience.
- Yes, there are random generators!
- Plenty of random tables, wandering monster charts and so in the appendices!!!
- Random dungeons, called Complexes.
- There is a tracking sheet for dungeon crawl procedures.
- This is useful: a mini-setting with a starting village and a couple of dungeons. I like the “Tomb of the Vizier”.
- Very good art! The Kickstarter will add more.
- The Kickstarter says that editing and proofreading are done, but if the preview document is anything to judge by, then another pass is definitely in order! For example, the sample dungeon talks about a “bismarched Vizier”, the map is labelled with Roman numbers, while the key sometimes refers to Arabic numerals.
Overall, this is a nice book. Maybe too long for my use as-is (I tend to go for a different style of presentation, like big but brief hexcrawls, etc.), but lots of good ideas, imagery, useful tables.
Definitely delivers on the peplum part! As for the psychedelic aspect: there are the astral dungeons and the Jinn, the various types of sorcery, but I’d have to dig into it more to really get the vibe.
Good luck with the Kickstarter!