It's sort of like D&D meets Civilization: Each session advances the timeline of the world hundreds or thousands of years into the future. Red Aegis is an intriguing RPG about dynasties that span centuries and heroic adventures that can carry you from the stone age to the stars. We talked to the creators.
This is not your typical RPG in which your character crawls dungeons and gains experience solely for personal advancement. Instead, you'll take part in an epic story of your character and all that character's descendants. Taking place in a world called Namarune, Red Aegis is a standalone system, although there are plans for supplements that will allow it to "plug in" to other RPGs — Pathfinder is first on the list.
Red Aegis is being produced by brothers Brian and Matt James (credits include work on Dungeons & Dragons for both brothers) and Vorpal Games. The game can be pre-ordered through their already successful Kickstarter.
Brian James told us about Red Aegis and the game's unique approach to epic storytelling.
io9: Can you give me an overview of what Red Aegis is?
Brian James: I liken Red Aegis to an epic fusion between Dungeon & Dragons and Sid Meier’s Civilization. Unlike traditional tabletop roleplaying games, Red Aegis gives players command over an entire dynasty of heroes, not just a single character. Each play session advances the timeline of the world, hundreds or thousands of years into the future. In each subsequent age you play a descendant of your first character, maintaining key traits common to your bloodline, but with the benefit of advances in science and magic that have been discovered over the intervening period. A complete campaign plays out over ten sessions, which will see your civilization advance from Bronze Age swords & sorcery to modern-era espionage, all the way to colonization of remote star systems. In Red Aegis, all of history is your playground.
io9: Where did the idea originally come from?
Brian James: I was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in 1983 with the classic red Dungeon & Dragons Basic Set and have been mesmerized by RPGs ever since. Being a child of the 80s I’m also a longtime video game geek. So when Sid Meier’s Civilization hit the scene in 1991 I knew right then I wanted to fuse to two games together. It wasn’t until late last year, however, that the perfect opportunity presented itself. My brother and I had been talking about starting our own publishing company for several years, but it was the lull between editions of D&D that spurred us to finally take action. Earlier this year, we formed Vorpal Games LLC and set about recruiting top talent from across the industry to join us in our mad scheme. Thankfully, we were not alone in our enthusiasm for the concept, and it now looks as if Red Aegis roleplaying game will soon become a reality.
io9: What does a play session of Red Aegis look like? You're controlling individual characters like in a traditional RPG, but you're also at the helm of an entire society. How do those dynamics fit together?
Brian James: Red Aegis gameplay is structured into two distinct phases: narrative play and scenario play. Narrative play occurs during character creation and at the start of each new session. This is the strategic phase where you advance your tribe’s disciplines (science, arcana, or divinity), rally new followers to your cause, and make pacts with neighboring civilizations. Scenario play is where you command your bloodline’s hero of that age, guiding him or her through a series of story and/or combat challenges so as to garner prestige for your dynasty. Prestige is a currency of sorts that can be spent during the Narrative phase to acquire enhanced bloodline traits, master-level followers & henchmen, or to adorn legendary family heirlooms.
io9: Some aspects of this seem well-suited to player-versus-player competitive gaming. Is PVP a part of Red Aegis?
Brian James: At its core Red Aegis is a cooperative roleplaying experience. Though individual bloodlines have unique aspirations and schemes for acquiring prestige, each is still a member of a common tribe working towards advancing the power of their collective civilization. Fans of PvP will want to keep an eye out for Red Aegis Tactics, a miniatures skirmish game Matt is devising as a Kickstarter stretch goal reward.
io9: TSR's Birthright is a touchstone for games of this type — what other games or systems influence Red Aegis? How does Red Aegis differ from Birthright?
Brian James: The narrative phase in Red Aegis shares many similarities with the winter phase in Pendragon and the domain turn of Birthright. Unlike the year by year transition described in Pendragon, the narrative phase in Red Aegis occurs over hundreds if not thousands of years. On the other hand, Birthright has rules for governing a bloodline’s realm (including holdings, vassals, assets, and so on). Red Aegis has a similar cap system for realm management. The major difference, again, is that bloodlines and realms in Red Aegis evolve over time. Both Pendragon and Birthright are firmly anchored to the conceits and tropes of medieval high fantasy. Characters in Red Aegis, however, may begin the campaign wielding spears and axes only to find themselves a few sessions later mowing down a goblin horde with machine guns and magic-propelled grenades. Another influence on Red Aegis has been the fantastic indie roleplaying game Microscope by Ben Robbins. It’s very innovative and I highly recommend it.
io9: The idea of breaking a campaign into a specific number of predetermined sessions is really interesting - what made you take that direction instead of the more typical open-ended RPG campaign?
Brian James: Frankly, as I’ve gotten older my interest in open-ended, years-spanning campaigns has greatly diminished. In my experience most of these campaigns tend to end abruptly and ingloriously as family commitments and work schedules conspire against getting the same group of friends around the table on a consistent basis. Red Aegis is much like a television mini-series, only crafted by you and your friends. It’s an episodic, ten session saga that spans the vast sweep of history from the ancient past to the far future. But most importantly, it’s a shared experience with a definitive and satisfying conclusion. Having said that, we will offer guidance in the Corebook for groups that prefer to play more than ten sessions or want focus on a subset of eras.
io9: Do you have any examples from playtesting of interesting dynasties or events?
Brian James: The Red Aegis Corebook will include several campaign arcs that players can use as a model for their home campaigns. One of the earliest story arcs we designed had the PCs, during the game’s first age, come across one of the thirteen mysterious world anchors that dot the remote wildlands of the setting. As they approached the ancient stone monolith, the PCs hear what they believe to be the voices of angels speaking to them through the rune-carved obelisk. Upon swearing fealty to the godlike beings, the PCs are bestowed with fantastic powers (effectively imbuing their bloodlines with divine power from that day forward).
The rest of the campaign set the descendants of these heroes on great quests, all in the name of their divine patrons. The ninth session, however, ended with a horrible revelation for the heroes. The angels that had long guided the player’s great dynasties commanded the PCs to crack the ancient world anchor asunder, and thus unleash the wrath of the gods upon the heretic nations of the world.
With access to powerful Star Age technologies, the PCs did as the angels directed. To their astonishment and dismay, the heroes of the Star Age at last understood the horrible truth—the divine voices belonged not to angels; but to mighty demon lords, long ago imprisoned within the world anchors by a lost race of powerful progenitors. During the climatic tenth and final session of the campaign, the heroes of the Star Age regrettably traveled back in time to stop their ancestors in the first age from making first contact with the demons… by any means necessary.