This review rounds out the three main books available for the Fragged Empire game at the moment. There are two modules as well that I do not intend to review as I do not plan to use them. Protagonist Archive is very new, having been released in hard cover form within the past month. It offers up a major expansion to the game for the players and GM alike by adding four new playable races, surrounding factions to those races and a bunch of locations, including the Legion home system of Cerberus.
The New Races
I was interested in seeing how these races fared alongside the now familiar Legion, Corp, Kaltoran and Nephilim. The original four races filled out a nice neat spectrum for playable races I wondered how new races would fit into the broader scope of the game. There are the ever hungry Zhou, the religious warrior cat race known as the Remnant, the robotic race of ex-humans called the Palantor and finally the star-faring Twi-Far race blending two forms to make up one.
The Zhou are a race that began life as a biological weapon engineered by the Archon. They were created so that they may destroy the Nephilim on the world by essentially eating anything organic (including the Nephilim). This caused a major problem for the planet and other races as they would all be devoured by the Zhou and the Zhou would eventually become inert once there was nothing to eat. On one of the deployments of this weapon it became self aware. It had destroyed the Nephilim and realized that should it eat everything that it would be destroyed itself. From this point the Zhou began to fight the “hunger” so that they too may live.
From this planet the Twi-Far found them after the great war and in studying them realized the danger and the beauty of the race. They sought to take the enlightened from the planet so that they could grow as a species but also sought to keep those that struggled against the Hunger trapped on their own world.
The Zhou are a truly unique and interesting addition to the Fragged Empire universe. Should I ever become a player of this game I would like to do it as a Zhou. Their internal battle against the “hunger” and their unusual physiology (they are a mass of cells that replicate shifting form and function) including their eerie masks make them very interesting.
Besides being a nice touch to the original book I found the Remnant redundant! They are a warrior like cat person race that were once known as the Ursine. The Ursine were the race that the Archon tasked with guarding the Corp and they were made extinct by the Nephilim and their own use of a doomsday weapon. However, after the great war a being (the All-Being) revived a number of them, akin to resurrection. They are strong warriors that have a connection to psionics and religion.
In game terms this race is just too similar to the Legion for me. Two great warrior races, one battling their past and one battling their future. I also find cat-people races somewhat distasteful. Even the Kaltoran and Corp feel more alien to me. I am not a big fan of anthropomorphic races. Make them alien, not two legged cats.
The robotic race of ex-humans. This is a very interesting twist on the game, because understanding the Palantor means you understand the Mechonids. The Mechonids were meant to be a big mystery in the Core book but the very presence of the Palantor explains it outright. Much of Humanity, when it stagnated, uploaded themselves to a digital reality that allowed them to evolve beyond the physical. The Archon did not understand this and so they took this code and inserted it into robots designed to network and destroy. What they were actually putting in the robots were fractured beings that twisted them into insane killing machines.
The Palantor are robots that have been created to find and restore the beings in the Mechonids to the network or destroy them forever. This is a bit of a conundrum in relation to the game. The original book makes out that the Mechonids were this massive mystery, but this book suggests the Palantor have been at work for a long time in the Haven system and that the information about the Mechonid threat is well known.
Despite how you deal with that inconsistency, the Palantor are a very promising race. I really like their addition and the whole mythos around them – finally the Humans are back in the mix – well, sort of.
This race is a melding of two other races. The Archon created Twilinger and the Faren, an alien made of pure energy. The Twilinger were used and abused by Archon in the great war due to their ability to interface electronically with star-ships. In rebellion the race fled into the black and sought Human relics while the Archon faced extinction at the hands of Xion and the Nephilim.
Somewhere during their travels a starving Twilinger was merged with a Faren (accidentally) and a race was born. The Faren lives inside the Twilinger and communicates emphatically with them. They are travelers of the stars and beings capable of manipulating energy of their Faren as an energy weapon. They are being pursued by a strain of Nephilim known as the Oni and have arrived in the Haven system with the Oni hot in pursuit.
Of the four races presented I really felt that this race was the most underdeveloped. I still feel like I really do not know them, nor the threat that they have brought with them. There are a bunch of traits that help with this understanding but if you were to ask me to describe them I would say “space elves”. This is probably unfair, but they do feel under-developed and there is just so little to connect with them. Most of the stuff just bounces off how mysterious the connection is between Twilinger and Faren rather than describing the race as an individualistic thing.
The Factions and Locations
The other material in this book expands the universe as a whole. It does so admirably and brings a lot to the table for the GM to use. Most of this material centers around the new races, naturally, but other material fleshes out things like the Legion’s home system. The book adds a heap of solid, tangible locations (my favorite is “The Oasis”) that will see a lot of use in game.
The Book and Art
The book is high quality again. Much of what I have said about it still holds true. great use of white space, not too much art, graphically pleasing. Unfortunately, in this book there is some truly awful art though. In the two previous books you got little art but what was there was fantastic. In this one there is some fantastic art pictures but some real humdinger misses. The one that I will hold up as an example is the three archetype images of the Remnant race. The quality of this is atrocious and it is not the only race that has that plate of art rendered very poorly.
As a whole, the writing of short stories holds up really well again. The new rules are still written in a very dry fashion but it is functional and works. The cohesion in this book as compared with the other books is good but as pointed out above it does have some jarring inconsistencies at times.
I do like this book for the game. It gives the players and the GM a lot of expanded material to work with. I am not sold that all of that expanded material was really warranted. For me, two of the four new races are just a miss. I like some of their concept but they either feel too derivative OR not refined enough to find a place in such a great setting. The thing that can be done with this though, is ignore what you do not like!
I know that a couple of my players are really keen on this material to be included in game so I intend to do so. How I am going to handle the development of my game in light of the new material is the harder question. I have developed a whole concept around the Mechonid threat (being that it was once all a big mystery) that is now incongruous with the new material presented in this book.
It is a conundrum that I thought would not happen with this particular game, especially as in the main book they mention how they wanted it to be all vague so we could fill in the details. And then they go and fill in a lot of the details. This is my least favorite of the three main books, but it is one that offers a lot also. I like a lot of material in this one but it is also the book that I will not just lay on the table to the players and say they have unrestricted access to all the stuff in it also.