Update: Eoris released at Gen Con 2010! Check out my Eoris Review.
“Visions of Essence” released some new information about their “Eoris” role-playing game in the form of the “Third Contact.”
The “Third Contact” is a free pdf download that contains some basic rules, maps and a short introductory module. Normally I would not review a “preview” release, but there is so much interest in this game that I thought it worthwhile. To organize this review a bit better, I split the review into three parts; rules, setting and production values.
The game uses a d20 dice pool to determine success or failure. The number of d20s you may roll is dependent on the number of points you spent in a given skill or attribute. A “success” is any d20 roll over the target number, which starts at 15. This number fluctuates depending on narrator (DM) or PC modifiers. Every roll of your dice pool includes an extra d20 called the “essence” dice. The essence dice modifies your success or failure. For example, if you roll 5d20 to climb up a wall and and receive no successes then you failed to climb the wall and fall to the ground. You then consult the essence dice and you rolled a “1.” This is referred to as a “tragedy” in the game. So not only do you fall off the wall, you land on your sword and break it or some other setback determined by the narrator. Conversely, you could roll 5 successes and get a “1” on the essence dice. This is an “unfortunate success.” The narrator decides you make it up the wall, but drop your sword to the ground. There are some other uses for the essence dice, but you get the idea.
Combat resolution uses opposed dice pool rolls with the highest number of successes either hitting the target or dodging the attack, depending if you the attacker or defender. A similar system also resolves the social skill rolls. The social interaction system in “Eoris” is complex and requires some explanation. Here is a copy of an “Eoris” character sheet.
The “attributes” wheel is familiar to any RPG player and does not need any explanation. The “psychology” section on the right-hand side is a bit unusual. During social encounters the PCs interact with NPCs using these psychological characteristics. It plays very similar to the combat encounters but with character traits. If you succeed in your “attacks” the NPC’s psychology might weaken or they might take “stress” damage. Excessive stress means the NPC might lose self-control and be unable to resist one of his psychological traits. For example, after a successful psychological assault by a PC, the NPC loses the ability to resist his “greed” psychological trait and will accept a bribe. The same applies to a PC, so these social encounter directly impact the PCs behavior.
In the same vein, in the center of the sheet are the “Appearance Status” and “Emotional Status” grids. As the character moves through the world, forces act upon him that move these traits along the two axis. A fighter may start out “secure” on the “Emotional Status” grid, but a terrible defeat moves him towards “frightened.” Where your PC is on these grids at a given moment may give a situational bonus or a penalty to your dice pool.
Though the module contains only “basic” rules, I did not see anything that really scared me off. I would put the complexity well below the old 3.5 OGL system, but a bit above the new 4E system. The explanations are clear and the provided examples got the job done. While I have a personal bias for “crunchy” game systems, the “Essence System” (this is the official name) is certainly playable and easy to learn.
I am not even going to try on this one. It is like trying to summarize the “Dune” universe in a couple of paragraphs. Any summary I could put together just would not do it justice. My best effort is this: there are milleniums of history, science that looks like magic and an extremely well-developed theology woven into it all. Sorry, best I could do. You are much better off downloading the “Second Contact” from the “Eoris” website and reading the history for yourself.
I do feel qualified to comment on the “feel” of the game. This is a role-playing intensive world. About half of the encounters for the module are non-combat, social encounters. While there is some skull crushing in sections, the world, the history and the system lean towards role-playing over combat. Of course you could make the game a pure combat affair, but that would be a disservice to the deep history and the heavy rules emphasis on role-playing mechanics. My personal feeling is the LARP crowd and the “World of Darkness” players will be especially drawn to this game.
Gods, this thing is pretty!
In my interview with the Eoris developers a few months ago I commented on the high-quality of the art and they continue to impress me. I am literally frothing at the mouth to see what the final book looks like. In more mundane matters, the editing is good and the pdf is nearly typo free. While the writing is clear, I did notice one thing about the writing style; it seemed stilted. It was not bad or grammatically incorrect, just a bit stiff. It felt like the author was writing in a foreign language. Not a major complaint, but noticeable.
The separate map download is also worth a mention. There are two versions, one for standard printers and one for a plotter printer. I printed the standard maps and they were adequate, but the plotter maps are very high resolution. It might be worth a trip to a copy shop for a full-size version. Regardless of the version, the maps are very well done.
I was very impressed with the “Third Contact” module from the Eoris team and am looking forward to the full release. There is no specific release date yet, but they are taking pre-orders on the Eoris website. I will post when I get a firm relase date on “Eoris”
Trask, The Last Tyromancer