The Year Zero Engine (YZE), the award-winning system behind Free League Publishing’s ALIEN RPG, Tales from the Loop, Coriolis, Forbidden Lands, and more, speaks to me as a creator and fan. I backed the Forbidden Lands RPG Kickstarter to get their Open Gaming License (OGL), and I wasn’t the only one. Enter Michael Prescott, the creator behind Trilemma Adventures, and his latest Kickstarter, Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory, creating a bestiary using the Year Zero Engine OGL to give more monsters for your fantasy YZE RPGs.
EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thank you for making time to talk with me. Can you tell me about your Kickstarter, Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory?
MICHAEL PRESCOTT (MICHAEL): Sure! It’s a bestiary of creatures for fantasy RPGs based on the Year Zero Engine, with stats for 117 of the creatures from the Trilemma Adventures series. The stats by lead designer Craig Atkins, along with help from Doug Ruff, Reilly Heijkoop-Logan, and Simon Bokvist.
Last year I published the Trilemma Adventures Compendium Vol I, which just won gold and silver ENnies for best cartography and best adventure. The adventure sites are system neutral, which makes them easier to run in really lightweight systems, but we’ve been busy publishing bestiaries to adapt them to other games that are a little crunchier.
We’ve covered 5e, B/X, and Dungeon World, and Servants of Memory is the Year Zero Engine edition.
You can of course use Servants of Memory to play the Trilemma Adventure sites, but it’s a handy book on its own to add variety to the creatures you throw at your players.
We smashed through all of our stretch goals in short order, so the book will also have encounter tables for a whole variety of terrain types, new spells for Dradkin chimeromancers to use, and stats for some of the cooler magic items mentioned in the compendium.
EGG: What system is this for?
MICHAEL: It’s for fantasy RPGs based on the Year Zero Engine. As you may know, the terms of the OGL prohibit us being more specific!
EGG: Will this act as a bestiary for Forbidden Lands specifically, or any Year Zero Engine powered RPG?
MICHAEL: It definitely works best with YZE fantasy RPGs: not all Year Zero Engine games have quite the same rules. Some of the games are quite close, mechanically, while others are a little further away. In fact, the Twilight: 2000 game apparently gets rid of dice pools entirely in favor of paired polyhedrals.
A big feature of the book, however, is the random table of creature special attacks for combat. Craig has done up more than half of the creatures with a table like this, which adds variety to how monsters act in combat regardless of the system.
EGG: You’ve been successful with Trilemma Adventures projects for 5e, B/X, and system neutral offerings, why jump to a new-to-Trilemma system?
MICHAEL: The roots of the project lie with Craig Atkins, actually. He’s been a big fan of YZE games for years now, having done many monster conversions already. Daniel Tobin got him started converting the Trilemma bestiary creatures over, as fan project. Daniel had to bow out before things really got started, but Craig picked up the banner and ran with it, and brought on the other contributors. By the time he reached out to me, they had done a ton of work already.
EGG: How did this project come about? What made you decide to create this bestiary?
MICHAEL: The decision to publish as a proper book had a few factors. When Craig contacted me, I was just wrapping up the B/X and Dungeon World versions of the bestiaries, so all the pieces were already laid out on the workbench already, so to speak.
The decision to launch it on Kickstarter actually came a bit later, as we were approaching the first draft being complete. Running a Kickstarter is a pile of work, but it also has a big effect on sales, something I could see by contrasting the sales of my Kickstarted compendium and the three straight-to-DriveThruRPG bestiaries that followed it. It was something of an experiment to understand the impact of a measured Kickstarter that didn’t run me into the ground!
But really, while there is some great content for the Year Zero Engine, there isn’t yet a solid fantasy bestiary, so this seemed like a no-brainer project to bring to the game.
EGG: On the Kickstarter page, you have a good group of creators. Most of the bios point out that they play Year Zero Engine RPGs. When putting together the team for this, was being a YZE fan a prerequisite?
MICHAEL: That’s an effect of how the team was found, by putting out the word in YZE online spaces... but yes, familiarity with YZE and how it flows in play is really crucial in adapting creatures to it.
EGG: As far as I know, this is the first major use of the Year Zero Engine OGL. Did you talk with Free League before creating this, or did you take the approach any company would with any other OGL and make great products on your own?
MICHAEL: Craig is a regular in the Year Zero community, and he put us in touch with Free League quite early on. We let them know we wanted to make a fantasy bestiary, and they were quite supportive. Using the OGL was a decision we made well into the project. There are a lot of details to work out in any situation where you’re working with someone else’s brand, and using the OGL has the advantage that the expectations are all laid out in black and white. It’s a solid core and we’re really happy with the results.
EGG: Are you thinking of creating more YZE content after this?
MICHAEL: Craig is unstoppable, I gather he’s already assembled a team to produce stats for a book of rarities and magic!
EGG: Beyond this project, what else are you working on?
MICHAEL: I have a number of smaller games brewing. In particular, I’m dying for a chance to do some revising of Too Good to be True, a quick-play [Powered by the Apocalypse] game about mecha mercenaries. But of course I have more fantasy adventure sites coming up. The next one will be a take on the classic troll bridge, featuring the “marooned soldier” style ogre from the bestiary. That’s part of the long, uphill climb towards compendium volume 2!
EGG: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Where can fans follow your work at?
MICHAEL: Any time! If you want to follow Craig and all his YZE shenanigans, head over to his blog. For me, the best place is my site and blog on Twitter as @fuseboy - but of course, please make your first stop the Kickstarter for Servants of Memory!
Trilemma Adventures: The Servants of Memory from Trilemma Adventures
End Date: Tue, September 1 2020 3:00 PM EDT.
“A bestiary of fantasy monsters for the Year Zero Engine.”
Egg Embry is a freelance tabletop roleplaying game journalist writing for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table, RPG News, d20 Radio, the Tessera Guild, the Open Gaming Network, the AetherCon Convention Magazine, GAMA’s Around the Table, and more. His areas of focus are RPG crowdfunding projects and RPG reviews as well as interviews with a range of gaming professionals from freelancers to CEOs. Beyond journalism, he dabbles in freelance writing and producing gaming zines for the roleplaying zine-aissance, including POWERED by the DREAMR, a Powered by the Apocalypse RPG zine about living out your dreams within other’s dreams.
“The Titanodon are coming, prepare defensive posture”
Elisa clutched the handle of her rifle and felt the gentle content hum of her Media armor. This was her first sortie as a Probatus of the glorious Guardia Adamantis, Holy Rome herself, and she swore to herself that she wouldn’t be found wanting. Silently assessing the situation, the Praetorian prepared herself for the obvious next command.
She raised her weapon and steadied it on top of the shield raised by her fellow Praetorian, a hulking brute in Heavy armor named Matteo. The small group of Soldiers huddled together in their makeshift turtle posture and waited for their commander to give them the next orders.
Matteo’s armour was a shining bronze cut with red filigree signifying his rank as a Triarius. Attempting to steady her gun, Elisa fount the giant metal shield of Matteo was shaking.
“Matteo.” the Probatus asked her defender. “are you trembling? You will throw off my shot with your fear.”
“Not fear.” the giant answered, his vocal augmenter growled. “It’s anticipation.”
Their commander unsheathed her pistol and sword and shouted to her Praetorians.
Elisa centered her sights on a large reptilian brute running towards her position. Its body was a rush of red and grey scales and the only thing in focus was its oversized maw full of sharp teeth, red with fresh blood from kill. Red from the blood of one of Rome’s citizens. She pulled the butt of the weapon to her shoulder and gritted her teeth.
“Do me a favor cadet.” Matteo grumbled.
“What's that?” Elisa asked
“Leave a few for me to kill” Matteo readied his spear for the oncoming alien charge.
Augusta Universalis is a game created by Luca De Marini that takes place in an alternate history where the Roman Empire conquered the Earth and its people and where they ushered in a spacefaring culture that spans throughout our solar system and beyond. It’s a strong mix of grim dark science fiction and classical roman aesthetics with modern-day nods and call backs that are both creative and thought provoking. Like many alternative history settings, Augusta Universalis demands players suspend their belief and pick up blaster and sword to protect the Empire, all while wearing power armor.
Roman legionaries in Power Armor fighting Dinosaur Aliens and Nazi’s on Mars, got it? Great, let's move on.
Here are 4 reason why you should play Augusta Universalis.
1) The story
To say that the setting of Augusta Universalis is dense is somewhat of an understatement to be completely clear. This isn't a bad thing depending upon what you want from an RPG setting, I myself adore a setting that is rich and deep with lore and history (just look at my collection of White Wolf games for proof). However, for new narrators and players this can be an hurdle. This game features a lot of unfamiliar terms to most players. If attempting to run this game with new players a strong session 0 where everyone learns about the setting and collectively builds their Praetorians is strongly advised.
The setting features an interstellar Roman Empire that has (mostly) united and absorbed the rest of humanity and is defiantly capable of playing to different genres. The game describes it’s setting as “ Unchronia” or Roman Punk. You can be stationed in Holy Rome herself, protecting the Imperial Senate form threats both political and militaristic, out upon the sands and ring cities of red Mars beating up Nazis, or exploring the boarders of our solar system. The variety the game offers is impressive.
It reads as a love letter to both world history and science fiction and I dig it.
2) The Rules
Augusta Universali’s system is run on the Dark Destiny 2 engine, a quick paced system that involves the player in the narrative right along with the narrator, creating a wonderful layer of multifaceted storytelling which is striking. Players are rewarded for adding to the narrative, so your game feels more like a collective story than a singular narrative driven by one party.
Utilizing basic questions of what, why, and how, this system strips the mechanics down into easy and quick actions letting the story move at a brisk pace. While I am still experimenting with the Dark Destiny 2 system, I am impressed and intrigued with ways to utilize some of its mechanics.
3) NPC’s and Foes
While the story is engaging, I find myself crazily drawn to the Beastarium and the utterly unique foes that your Praetorians are pitted against. Featuring spacecraft and transports, political dissidents and aliens, the Beastarium is chock full of great antagonists despite is small size. From Martian Nazis (yup you can punch a Nazi in this game. It’s fun. I recommend it, 5 stars), interstellar Dinosaur men with laser (speaking my language), rebels, mad max style techno barbarians and alien ooze monsters… there is a lot to enjoy here. Hopefully they keep this growing in future expansions (and give us more reasons to punch Nazis).
4. The Art
This book is stunning. The artwork done by Fabio Porfidia and Gaetano Carlucci ranges from the more classical roman aesthetic to Science Fiction elements and really manages to merge them well. This merging allows readers and players to buy into the setting quickly and sets the stage for storytelling in a way that would have been more daunting without it.
The many different character options are beautifully rendered and explained through the art. Higher than most of the books in my collection, Augusta Univeralis benefits greatly from its artwork and is another fine example of how words and artwork can push a product forward into greatness.
The art is worth the price of admission alone.
All in all, Augusta Univeralis is a unique and clever game and it definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf and countless hours on your table. You can get your copy of Augusta Univeralis here.
Per aspera ad astra, my fellow Praetorians.
Michael Jacobson is a freelance writer and an Active Duty US Sailor. His work has been featured in products like Snowhaven 2nd Ed, Night Horrors: Shunned by the Moon and more coming thru the pipes. When he isn’t running games, running in general and drinking Dr.Pepper he can be found fanboying out about Dinosaurs, Star Wars and turtle of both normal and the Ninja Mutant variety.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games