Ashes! Ashes! We All Fall Down!
The Ruined Empire
By Anna Kreider
To quote the bio from Anna Krieder’s Go Make Me a Sandwich:
In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.
Anna Kreider’s 2014’s The Ruined Empire answers a question many game designers must ponder: what does a designer do when due to nobody’s fault the product they worked on is no longer slated for release?
In many cases, the work is work-for-hire, the publisher owns it outright, and the work vanishes, never to be seen again.
In the case of The Ruined Empire…
Let me simply quote the author:
In 2012, Andy Kitkowski hired me to write a 10,000 word setting for Tenra Bansho Zero as a stretch goal for the Kickstarter.
It was originally supposed to be published as a supplement to the English language release (but for various reasons this did not work out) so all he had was the text, which he released to his backers.
I wanted to see it done properly, so I asked Andy’s permission to publish it and he made it Creative Commons, so I could do just that.
Then I wrote a bunch of extra stuff to go with it in the new book.
The resulting work contains two sections. First, there is an extensive section on the nations and cultures of the region in which The Ruined Empire is set. Starting with an overview of Buddhism and Shinto as used in the setting, the work then outlines the main character types and tropes.
This is followed by chapters on each of the five main nations. Two, Azumi and Jahga, are Great Powers and two, Rinden and Horom, may be best described as Azumi and Jahga’s most recent victims. The fifth nation, the wasteland of Nil, shows that as irritating as being occupied may be for Rinden and Horom, things could be much, much worse.
Second, Kreider provides suggestions on how to use the setting in a campaign. Having done so, the author explores ways to adapt the setting to D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard and Clinton R. Nixon’s Solar System/Shadows of Yesterday.
Stuff Only James Cares About
Although there is a paperback version of this, the copy I have happens to be a pdf. I have no idea why pdf is the dominant format for gaming ebooks. I wish it were either mobi or epub. And yes, I could run it through Calibre but for two things: converted pdfs tend to emerge with ugly formatting issues and this particular pdf has some double columns, which Calibre handles … poorly.
Real Issues Wait No Still Stuff Mainly Only James Cares About
There is no index. There is a table of contents but tables of contents are not indexes.
Perhaps not surprising from an author who wears their social activist colours so proudly, the setting rejects the obvious option of having the highly mechanized Azumi Empire as the bad guys and the Jagha Republic of Enlightened Peoples as the good guys (or vice versa). At the same time, this isn’t some Westerosian world where bad wrestles with worse. Neither Empire nor Republic are great neighbours; both present some of their citizens with unrequested challenges. At the same time, both have enough positive aspects that one can imagine patriotism for reasons other than malevolent LOLs.
The lesser nations are much the same. Even Nil can offer people living there something of value, even if meager: it’s a place to which those with no other option can flee. Granted, this is only because someone or someones inadvertently discovered a way to unleash an uncontrolled WMD and there’s currently no central government to bar newcomers.
Having never played Dogs in the Vineyard or Shadows of Yesterday, I cannot speak to the utility of those sections. Otherwise, I found the work straightforward and useful, with enough ancillary material to explicate some aspects of the culture that might otherwise have been unclear. Roleplayers looking for manga/anime-flavoured source material1 should consider this.
The Ruined Empire is available here and as part of this Bundle of Holding.
Please email corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.
1: Yes, of course I worked out how to use this as a world in Traveller. There’s no magic, just good old fashioned science, as represented by psionics and Ancient technology no living being can understand.