Swords and sorcery meets technology in in a Victorian world in the new Labyrinth Lord variant Engines & Empires. It’s over 200 pages of D&D goodness in a free PDF — or you can buy a printed copy from Lulu for the very reasonable price of $9.99 plus shipping. This review is of the free PDF download so I can’t comment in the print quality.
The blurb on Lulu describes Engines & Empires as “…a campaign setting designed for use with the LABYRINTH LORD fantasy RPG. Sitting at the crossroads of heroic high fantasy and Victorian gaslight romance, E&E pits magic and science against an ancient darkness intent on once again enveloping the world of Gaia… along with all the Free Folk that now dwell thereupon.” This does not do the game justice.
Engines & Empires is much more than a campaign setting, it is a complete set of variant rules for Labyrinth Lord (a retro-clone of B/X D&D) which expand the game system with new classes, new ways of looking at magic, Victorian era technology, and more. Over 160 pages of new rules — all open content — before reaching the setting, the world of Gaia which has an additional 70 pages of content. It’s very well thought out and simply but professionally presented.
Character Classes include Boxer, Expert, Halfling, Faun, Fighter, Dwarf, Centaur, Sylph, Mage, Fay, Scholar, Elf, Merrow, Tech, and Gnome. All classes have 36 levels (like B/X D&D’s successor, BECMI D&D). The classes look to be well thought out. Expert and Tech are the most unusual.
“Experts are human characters who turn normal, ‘civilian’ professions into unique adventuring skill-sets.” This can be anything from a burglar to a noble to a master of some craft or obscure lore. Naturally, this requires a bit of discussion between GM and the player of an Expert character, but it looks like it should work well.
The Tech “is a living symbol of the modern era. By combining the two complementary arts of science and engineering, techs can build a machine or brew a chemical for any occasion.” As a Tech advances in level he learns new technological principles that he can use to create tech items. I’ve seen a number of attempts to a “Techno” character class to D&D (starting with the first Arduin Grimoire back in the 1970s). In my opinion, none have really worked well. To be honest, most have not worked at all. The E&E Tech class looks like it should at least work okay and prehaps every well — although I’d have to see a few played by an inventive player to be sure. There are three fields of technology: biology, chemistry, and physics. Each field has 12 degrees. These degrees which have to be earned in order within a field, but the player can choose to specialize or generalize.
Characters can also learn skills. There are 12 skills and they are handled in a old-school manner by rolling 1d6 and trying to roll under your skill rank. Like BECMI, the game is divided into stages which include ruling dominions and going on epic adventures at higher levels.
The last part of the book deals with the world of Gaia. I can’t do justice to it here. However, I can say that reading about the world gives me all sorts of idea for adventures and makes me want to run the game — which is exactly what a good campaign setting should do.
If you have any interest in “Old School” D&D variants or just like the idea of mixing swords, sorcery, and technology in a Victorian setting, you need to download a copy of the Engines & Empires Campaign Compendium from Relative Entropy Games’ page on Lulu. The download is free and well worth a look.