This 'universe book' for Amazing Engine opens with the complete core ruleset as described in the Amazing Engine System Guide (so you don't need to buy that) and so can be regarded as a complete game. You do, however, have to create a Player Core if you don't already have one before making your Player Character - the Player Core is a high-level overview of the type of character you prefer to play (the assumption being that you go for the same type all the time and irrespective of setting) which allows you, for example, to transfer experience between your characters in different universes (as defined by the various universe books)... even though you cannot actually transfer an entire character from one universe to another.
Then we get on to the main meat of this book. It concerns King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but not as you imagine them in a romanticised and somewhat innaccurate mediaeval time... this time they are to be found in a high-technology science-fiction setting in a distant future! The solar system has been colonised and now consists of several feudal kingdoms ruled by powerful warriors under a high king of the Holy Terran Empire, one Arthur by name. Like his namesake, he has Knights of the Round Table who roam across the Solar
System, battling evil knights, strange monsters, and ruthless technological wizards, in order to bring peace and safety to all. 'Technologers', who study science and technology at a school called Avalon, wield great power that's nigh indistingishable from magic; and the code by which every good knight lives is derived from Theanthropy, a religious/moral teaching that holds that one should aspire to truth, wisdom, strength, hope, humility, faith, and courage in an attempt to avoid the sins of pride, envy, greed, hatred, egotism, sloth,
We start off in Chapter 1: Character Creation with finding out how to create Player Characters, who can be Knights, Technologers, Acolytes, or Courtiers. All have a part to play, and a well-rounded party won't just consist of Knights. They also can be human beings, enhanced clone humans or androids... or crossbreeds of human and clone. Given the benefits, it is likely that most Player Characters will be crossbreeds. There's plenty of detail about the four professions and how to construct characters suitable to practice them. A neat note that amongst the Technologer careers is that of Sourcerer, which I have not mis-spelled: a Sourcerer is someone so good at computer programming that he can alter the source code of the main computer mainframe! The notes on each profession give a good overview of the way in which society is ordered as well, thus introducing key elements of the setting as you work on your character. This chapter ends with detailed notes on the skills available and what you can do with them.
Next, Chapter 2: Technology provides information on what technology in the 46th century AD is like. Most folk don't understand it at all, regarding it as a black art undersood only by Technologers. It's not magic, but to all intents and purposes to most people it might as well be. A lot runs automatically, with big computers in the basement of your castle keeping an eye on things... and all other computers are controlled by a big one in Avalon. There once was an AI called Merlin which meddled in affairs and saw to the rise of a clone knight called Uther... but that was defeated and wiped from the core by a Sourceress called Nimue, although the code lingers on in a deep vault somewhere, tis said. We also get the low-down on androids and space travel - both in regular or 'direct' space, and in 'sidespace', a parallel dimension to our own. There's also an assortment of gadgets and vehicles including the 'robohorse' - where would a knight be without a faithful steed? There's also a 'hoversteed', a newfangled contraption with no legs, and if you are very traditional and rich you can still obtain real live horses. There are rules for designing and making your own devices, and some sample ones to show you what can be done.
Chapter 3: Combat looks at how fighting works. Of particular interest are the rules for jousting, which works rather differently from standard brawling with melee or projectile weapons. It looks quite complex but is actually quite straightforward and exciting once you get the hang of it. There are two forms, the tilt and the duel. Tilts may be competitive or just for sport - or to resolve a point of honour - but there is no intention to kill anyone, whereas a duel can be to the death if the combatants harbour that much animosity towards one another. The tilt finishes when someone is knocked off his horse, the duel continues on foot. There are plenty of examples to help you understand the mechanics.
Next is Chapter 4: A Brief History of Chivalry. This is composed of four sections. The first begins with the original period that we're all familiar with, and provides a timeline up to the present day (in game terms). From there follow three distinct periods in the life of the King Arthur of this setting to use as a basis for your own game. The first of these covers his birth, beginning when two brothers - Uther and Aurelius - make a power-grab. Aurelius steps aside, leaving Uther to claim the throne as Uther Pendragon, high king of the solar system. He sleeps with Igraine, at that time still married to someone else, and they have a child - Arthur - who has to be hurried away amidst disapproval. Subsequently Uther's kingdom falls apart and... well, you know the story. Once Arthur has claimed and fought for the kingdom, the next section begins with the formation of the Round Table. The final section covers the latter years of Arthur's life and his death. It's up to you which of these three periods attracts you the most.
Chapter 5: Places of Interest provides a gazetteer of the solar system, and is followed by Chapter 6: Important People. Here are details of major players including stat block, role-playing notes and personal histories (which may change depending on which period you choose to play and party actions). Some of Arthur's enemies are here too, but the main focus is on Knights of the Round Table and other members of Arthur's Court - and Arthur himself, of course. For more opposition, consult Chapter 7: Monsters and Other Creatures. These include dragons, but don't hunt them: these ones are wise and compassionate.
Chapter 8: Campaigning in the Universe provides a lot more background and ideas for the GM, beginning with an explanation of feudal society. The reason for having one in this setting is laid out: when the clone warriors were first invented, they were programmed with the attitudes and ideals of mediaeval chivalry as a means to keep them in check... and it took far better than expected. However it misses the core of the feudal system, that obligations exist in both directions. A feudal lord is required to sustain and protect his vassals every bit as much as they are required to serve and support him, a key difference between feudalism and any other non-democratic form of governance. There are details of the campaign setting including the pervasive religion called Theanthropy. This includes beliefs, the calendar, and miracles - and yes, the Holy Grail. There is a remarkably brief outline of heraldry, if you want your knights to have well-designed coats of arms a bit of further research will be necessary. Notes on awarding experience and a goodly selection of adventure ideas round the chapter off. Finally, there's an entire adventure to get you started. Quest for the Golden Tower makes for a good introduction to the setting and even comes with a pre-generated party if you don't want to create your own characters immediately.
The whole thing is a delightful conceit, taking the well-known tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and making of them a science-fantasy that holds together remarkably well.
Return to Once and Future King page.
Reviewed: 8 March 2018