" 'm sure some monkeys will be bitter about having to pay for two books where they feel one should suffice (though Wizards did do the same thing with D&D, except they made it three books…). "
Title: Engel Core Rulebook by Feder & Schwert/Sword & Sorcery Studios (White Wolf)
Format: D20 Setting Core Rulebook
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: Feder und Schwert has been translating White Wolf's World of Darkness material into German for years, making their products available to a non-English-speaking audience. Now, with the D20 Open Gaming License and the popular Sword & Sorcery imprint for that system, White Wolf has imported a title from Feder und Schwert and translated it into English. Engel, the popular German title, pits the warriors of God against the evil machinations of the Lord of the Flies- formatted in the popular D20 rules set. Are these flying monkeys the harbinger of some wicked witch out for revenge because you parked your house on her evil sister, or are they the halo-toting godsend they seem to be? Either way, looks like this monkey's going to Heaven.
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: The year is 2654 AD, and the great Vitusdance plague has struck no less than three times, killing off all those who have reached adulthood but leaving children untouched. Civilization has receded into a neo-feudalistic state, and great moving pillars of flame called Infernos have melted the polar caps and wreaked havoc on the environment, causing near-endless rain and flooding and burning a relentless path across the face of the Earth. Civilizations have fallen, technology has been lost, and from the Brandlands which mark the wastes of the Infernos' path have sprung the creatures of the Dreamseed - great mutant insects of devastating power who are said to serve the vile Lord of the Flies himself. In this world shines the light of the Angelitic Church, the world's greatest civilized body and government, and their servants, God's own Holy Engel - the winged, marked harbingers of good who fight the Dreamseed and defend the common man from evil. This is the theme for Engel; a post-apocalyptic feudalist future within which players take on the role of Engel and do battle against the Dreamseed and aid the Angelitic Church in defending the world. A lot of depth and detail has been given to the setting, with long passages on daily life from food sources, clothing, politics, currency, and every other facet of living. The European setting has been detailed to great degree on the particulars of human life (though specific places and people are in rather short supply), as well as the basic workings of the Angelitic Church and its servants. Unfortunately, the book is surprisingly thin on information about the Engel themselves, which is a shame because it is assumed almost to the point of demanded that you play them and not human characters. While early chapters will go on in detailed but dense (and sometimes boring) jags about what people wear and how educated the masses are, the chapter on the Engel themselves is shockingly brief and lacking in detail. More than that, however, the section on the creatures of the Dreamseed is all of two pages long, giving examples of only two Dreamseed creatures. While the book informs readers that a "Creatures of the Dreamseed" supplement will be released, these are the major antagonists of the setting, and so the game is made very difficult to play without that book in print. Even when it is released, I'm sure some monkeys will be bitter about having to pay for two books where they feel one should suffice (though Wizards did do the same thing with D&D, except they made it three books…). The setting is fleshed out greatly, but the Engel, the Dreamseed, and the Angelitic Church seriously needed more space in the book and more detail about their lives and habits, as it is made apparent early on that players will need to know how to play Engel, not humans. The revelations in the text on the true nature of the Engel are telegraphed so early on that I called it in the first chapter (though I won't ruin it for you monkeys here - you'll just have to read it yourselves, or bribe me or something), pantomimed and foreshadowed in the text in an almost "the butler did it" fashion. The story is decent, the setting is strong, but the drive to play and the secrets within fall a little flat. 3.5 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: Engel has a very modern appearance as a book, with a metallic gold cover with large, sharp black-and-white lettering and a yin-yang icon depicting a sword-wielding Gabrielite Engel squaring off against a Dreamseed insect. The pages within have a similarly Spartan, edgy look to them (as one would expect from a game of Prussian descent), and while they are mostly clean-looking and smart, there is a ton of wasted white space on every page that could have been filled with clever artwork or iconography. The subject headlines are a bit off-putting as well, as the letters i, l, and k are printed upside-down. It's mostly the l which twists the eye and makes reading awkward, but nonetheless, it was worth noting. There is likewise a preponderance of game terms bandied about, which makes for difficult reading at times when one is trying to keep the different terms straight in their head - if you can't recall right away what a Himmel, Monach, Diadoche, or Sarielite is, you'll get lost very easily, and the Glossary of Terms is very long and tough to memorize. The book is laid out in two parts, so that in the Story section a historical account of the world is presented first, then setting, the Angelitic Church, information on the Engel, NPCs, and then the (very brief) section on the Dreamseed. It then moves on to Rules and Systems, with a quick explanation of what an RPG is (fairly standard for all RPGs these days, though most experienced monkeys skip this over without looking back), Storytelling advice and game methods, character generation, rules, and equipment last. It isn't a terrible way to organize a book, but with so many similar-looking pages and some rather sparse artwork, navigating by memory can get confusing. The artwork is apparently all by the same man, Dieter Jüdt, an extremely talented individual. While the book is hardly overflowing with art, there is a significant amount within, and it is fantastic. In all, the book is pleasant to look at, but some of it makes for difficult reading, and the sections are somewhat imbalanced. 3 out of 5.
Playability: The Engel core rulebook is packed full of information on the everyday lives of the world's citizens, explaining how areas are governed, how the populace subsists, and even what kinds of plants grow where. It explains the organization of the Angelitic Church, the power structure of the Diadoches (land owners independent of the Church, also known as "Junklords"), and the philosophies of the common man. What it does not explain in great detail is the inner workings of the society of the Engel, nor does it clearly explain what it is the Engel do from day to day, or just how it is they serve the people (with the exception of killing the Dreamseed, whose stats are not provided). It does, at least, tell you the truth about the Engel, but it does so in such a way that players are warned not to read on or they'll ruin the secret printed two lines down, which is very hard to avoid looking at if you're already reading the page, and which is a conclusion only idiots so primitive they still possess tails have yet to come to after reading the text. While the setting is interesting and rich in detail, you just don't get enough info on the Engel themselves, and these are the protagonists and the characters you will play. There is barely any information at all on the Dreamseed, the game's major antagonists. There are only five types of Engel (and thus, only five Classes) presented in the book, with a sixth type, the Sarielites, left out (this group differs from standard Engel in many ways, the two most important of which are that they do not have wings and that they are non-combatants), and two other types, the Raguelites and the Sarielites, having recently been wiped out. While each Order of Engel is different and intriguing, with vastly different Potestates (powers), the game limits the total number of playable classes to five, and dictates that there be one of each Order in a Fellowship. Essentially, this says that every gaming group can have five and only five members playing at a time, and no fewer than five, with each one playing a different Order. While this seems ideal for the game's theme, it makes for difficult application in groups which do not fit this standard, or groups wherein two people want to play Engel of the same order and no one wants to fill in the missing role. The game doesn't give you a whole lot of push for your characters to do anything in particular, either - other than killing Dreamseed, the Engel aren't given any tangible goals, and thus there is a lot of potential for campaigns to either go hack n' slash or fall flat as the Storyteller runs short on ideas. 2.5 out of 5.
Desired Content: If you want world details down to the finest minutiae, this game delivers…unless you were looking for details on the daily lives of Engel or anything to do with the Dreamseed. While the setting information is fantastic and the history is keen, we monkeys were sort of looking for the book entitled "Engel" to provide more information on the Engel themselves. The book provides everything you need to run the game except details on the major protagonists and antagonists, and that, my monkeys, makes for extremely difficult gaming. Hopefully future supplements will rectify this mistake, but at the moment, you just kind of have to make do with what little you have and hope future supplements do not contradict the world you've built. 2 out of 5.
|Engel is a game with the potential to be great, but the core rulebook is missing a lot of very important information which would actually make the game itself playable. As far as D20 settings go, it is most certainly on the high end of the chart; it is interesting, in-depth, unusual, and the heroes are ass-kicking angels wielding flaming swords against giant mutant bugs. When the flaws are worked out and further supplements are delivered into the hands of the waiting public, I'm sure we'll hear a lot more about this game line. In fact, I foresee a rabid, dedicated following in the near future.|
The Good: Great setting, detailed world information, and the Winged Wrath of God as player characters.
The Bad: Not nearly enough information about the Engel, almost no information about the Dreamseed, somewhat confusing layout.
The Overall Ugly: A fantastic game hampered by a lack of printed information.
What it's Worth: Market