Last week, I mentioned the Atlantis: The Second Age RPG from Khepera Publishing as a great sword & sorcery game that I would love to use for a campaign with my son and his friends once they’ve gotten used to regular gaming with the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Not surprisingly, I’ve had some people ask me questions about the game, and so this week I’m going to talk about both Atlantis and Khepera Publishing.
Atlantis: The Second Age has been around a long time. Originally published by Bard Games as a trilogy—The Arcanum (the rules book), The Bestiary (the monster book), and The Lexicon (the setting book)—it was then updated to a second edition that incorporated the setting book and bestiary into a single volume.
Two other publishers released also editions of Atlantis over the years: Death’s Edge Games (now known as Spartacus Publishing) and the now-defunct Morrigan Press.
But it was Khepera Publishing’s edition of Atlantis: The Second Age that has truly brought this world to life in a game that is dripping with sword & sorcery flavor and includes more adventure ideas than I’ve ever seen in a single setting.
The core rules of Atlantis: The Second Age gives you everything you need to play. It includes all the rules, an overview of the setting, and a short bestiary. But the two other books in the line, Atlantis: Geographica (which delves into the setting in great detail) and Atlantis: Theragraphica (which is an expanded bestiary) are pretty much must-owns for those who are interested in this amazing world—not because you can’t play the game without them, but because they are that good.
Khepera has also published a handful of adventures for the game, but none of these are essential (though they are all good).
Atlantis: The Second Age uses the omega system, a modified version of the Omni system used in the Morrigan Press edition that is a variation of the system in the Talislanta RPG. (I’m simplifying things greatly here, because the various publishers and multiple editions of all these games have created a system that has changed in various ways through the years, but I don’t feel like getting into a long and convoluted history lesson here).
The core of the game is based on a single chart. To succeed at a task, the player takes his/her skill level + attribute, subtracts the difficulty, and adds the remaining number to a d20 roll. This is compared to the chart and gives one of the following results: critical failure, failure, partial success, full success, and critical success.
One of the nice things about this system is that adversaries and monsters can use a streamlined stat block, which reduces the GM’s prep time and allows a more freewheeling game where the players are not constrained by needing to adhere to a line of pre-plotted encounters.
But, while the system is fine and does what it needs to do (provide resolution of tasks and otherwise gets of the way), it is the setting that really brings this game alive. Khepera Publishing created something truly special here.
One of the elements I find really interesting in Atlantis: The Second Age is the choice of races. There are no elves and dwarves here, as this isn’t your typical high-fantasy setting. It’s also not Conan, where everyone is human and the differences are purely cultural. No, the Atlantis setting embraces strange races in a way that works well for the sword and sorcery genre. The choice of races really provides a sense of an antediluvian world, one that is both familiar and alien, and ancient. Each races has a reason for its existence within the setting, and those reasons echo through the ways those races continue to interact with each other.
And then the different cultures across the world work together with the races to make each combination unique. As noted in the book:
“You may notice that there are no racial packages and that is intentional. A Lemurian raised in Ophir will have different belief and social mores than a Lemurian born on the island of Zinn. To reflect this, the cultures are all racially neutral.”
This is great, as culturally homogenous races in RPG settings are ridiculous (looking at you, dwarf miners with scottish accents).
The Atlantis: Geographica book truly is a thing of beauty. It goes into extensive detail about every region in the setting, and adventure ideas drip from every page. Nowhere have I seen the focus on sword & sorcery tossed aside in favour of high fantasy trappings. This is an ancient world, full of powerful creatures, and reading the Geographica made me want to read stories about the kinds of legendary heroes that would live in this world.
And the game is designed for just that—legendary heroes. Newly-created player characters are not like first-level D&D newbies. No, they are already skilled and ready for action and adventure. Characters don’t start off fighting kobolds and goblins and eventually work their way up to fighting giants and dragons. Rather, player characters are motivated to earn Renown and engage in Great Works—individual goals that ultimately lead them to achieving their great destiny and becoming legends rather than falling into ignominy and succumbing to their dark fate.
Examples of Great Works from the game include:
- Rescue the princess Aerope from the depraved merchant Krion.
- Prove that the necromancer Gorka is behind the plague that’s causing sickness in the kingdom.
- Retrieve the Black Cloak of War and bring it before the corrupt priest Menegrus and earn my rightful place as king.
These are not just ideas for single adventures. The players are encouraged to come up with their own Great Works ideas, and the GM weaves them into the campaign, providing a player-directed game that gives them impetus to go out and seek the achievement of their goals.
As I’ve said above, this is a gameable world. Just as an exercise, I selected three pages at random to see how easy it would be to come up with an adventure idea at short notice. Here are three things I found:
Atlantis: Geographica, page 72
“Hine-Nui-Te-Po, the Goddess of Darkness
No one knows the origin of the woman Hine-nui-te-po (HI-ne-NOO-ee-tay-po) or if she is even human, but she roams the seas in a vessel made from the shell of a large turtle and the bones of Leviathans…She is surrounded by ever-shifting shadows and accompanied by the animated corpses of recently dead heroes from nearby islands. The boat carries thousands of corpses stacked head to toe and is propelled by skeletal oarsmen.
She often arrives at an island and goes inland to gather the bodies of the dead and sometimes aids those in need. At other times she has been known to leave pestilence and disease in her wake when she gathers the dead, killing nearby villagers.
Depending on her mood, Hine-nui-te-po may invite a traveler to dine with her or offer a favor. At other times, she will take a liking to a hero and demand that he join her crew and roam the Elysium until the stars die.”
Atlantis: Geographica, page 133
Another lure is the lost city of Melka Kontaurea (MEL-ka kon-TO-ooree-a), an ancient Ophidian ruin said to lie beyond the caves in a hidden valley somewhere in the mountains. It is said to be home to vast treasures and malevolent wraiths, though despite local legends, no one in the realm is actually known to have ever visited the ruined city.”
Atlantis: Geographica, page 185
“Greed Run Wild
One might wonder what happened to make a single swamp such a hotbed of greed. One might start by looking at the strange black substance leaking from the riverbeds that dot the region. This black oily substance is the blood of something timeless that sleeps beneath the Ngani swampland. One long-dead Atlantean scholar postulated that this substance is the blood of Ba’al or Set. This is not the case; the creature that lies beneath Ngani is much older, though it is Ba’al that has twisted the creature’s blood to his own end, using it to inspire greed, murder, and to corrupt humans and Atlanteans both.”
I could turn all three of those into adventures easily. And there are often more than just a single adventure idea on a page.
Khepera Publishing and Jerry D. Grayson
Khepera Publishing produces Atlantis: The Second Age, Hellas, Worlds of Sand and Stone, and Mythic d6. Their products are excellent, with good layout, editing and design. I’ve been happy with every single thing I’ve purchased from them.
But Khepera is really the brainchild of Jerry D. Grayson. I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Jerry over on RPG.Net, and he’s consistently one of the nicest, most professional people in the industry I’ve ever dealt with. Jerry is the kind of person who genuinely wants to make the world a better place, and he puts his actions behind his words.
I was really happy when he was named as one of the creators of the expanded setting for the second edition of 7th Sea, and he’s a designer that helps make this hobby more fun and more inclusive with each new project he takes on.
Needless to say, I’m a big fan of Khepera and of Atlantis: The Second Age. This is a game with a tight focus on a particular style of play, and a setting that provides so much great content and endless adventure opportunities.
If you like sword & sorcery gaming, you owe it to yourself to check it out.