(On second thought: the title should probably read A Lesson for Multi-classed Game Designers/Writers…)

I first encountered Fantasy Imperium, by Mark O’Bannon, when a friend loaned me his copy a few weeks ago and said: tell me what you think.

He is the same friend who let me borrow Hunter: The Reckoning.

The review is the truncated version of my thoughts. This RPG, touting itself to be “An Interactive Storytelling Game of Historical Fantasy,” triggered a rough draft which exceeded 1500 words.

Reviewers have already given the thumbs down for Fantasy Imperium at EN World, RPG.net,  therpgsite, and YouTube. The game is fantasy heartbreaker which claims to be a storytelling game but then features overly complicated rules, especially for combat, with very little on storytelling itself.

There’s a Fantasy Imperium Storyteller’s Guide out there. Maybe you’ll discover more about storytelling in that. I don’t know. I’ve only found a list of its table of contents.

I’ve seen this kind of complexity before in games like Rolemaster, Chivalry and Sorcery, and Fantasy WargamingSuch complexity tries to simulate a certain amount of realism not found in the games like Dungeons & Dragons. 

With RPGs like this, you get lots of tables and charts to represent the verisimilitude of all the weapons and armor which may have existed in the European Medieval Period. The Magick system does likewise, with each spell based on some kind of old pagan ritual, medieval Christian theology of miracles, or black magic.

Fantasy Imperium does something similar. I’d describe it best as a watered down version Chivalry and Sorcery crossed with Fantasy Wargaming.

What makes Fantasy Imperium standout, however, the emphasis on storytelling rather than the realism found in the other games. It’s if The Burning Wheel presented just the rules for task resolution, but with nothing about character backgrounds and motivations, which is what happens here.

Fantasy Imperium cites Story, by Robert McKee in the Bibliography.

Story is about screenwriting.

And its the first book listed under Storytelling. Other works cited include: The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler; Plot, by Ansell Dibell, and Characters & Viewpoint, by Orson Scott Card.

The rest of the bibliography lists books on Mythology, Weapons and Armor, Atlases, and a shameful section on Islam. First book: Islam and Terrorism, by Mark Gabriel. With this alone the book shouldn’t have been published.

Mark O’Bannon published Fantasy Imperium back in 2006 under Shadowstar games. He’s still around, having published a novel or two, and is involved in the ComicCon circuit. On his website, betterstorytelling.net (videos coming soon), he proclaims to have read over 200 books about writing, written 2-3 million words (just for fun). He’s met Ray Bradbury. (I’m also a game designer).

I hope he’s doing well, and this article isn’t really about bashing something he wrote 11 years ago. We all come from somewhere. And he’s written and published more books than I have.

My question: if he wanted to write fiction and tell stories, then why publish a heartbreaker RPG?

The research he did for Fantasy Imperium could have been used to write historical fiction.

Why devote time to creating an RPG when clearly he wanted to write a story? Or several stories?

Maybe I should ask him. 

At this point, I can only speculate based on my own experiences as multi-classed writer/tabletop gamer/historian.

Like I did, maybe he wanted to do it all, somehow mesh all of his interests into one big ball of greatness.

Yet in my experience: it doesn’t work.

It’s a sobering truth which Fantasy Imperium nailed home for me, all those other heartbreakers out there which emphasize story.

What you attain in width you give up in-depth: just like in regular multi-classing in any edition of D&D.

If you really want to be fiction writer, put the rulebook down and go do that.

Don’t try to do it all and become a one-man publishing company for RPGs and fiction.

Don’t confuse preparing, running, or playing an RPG as writing practice.

More on this tomorrow.