19 May 2023

The Lair of the Leopard Empresses is out!

A few months ago, I mentioned the fact that the Monsters! Monsters! engine (which is basically T&T without the name ‘Tunnels & Trolls’) would henceforth be available for third-party publications, and that Sarah Newton’s The Lair of the Leopard Empresses would  be the first fantasy role-playing game that would benefit from this new licensing scheme.

Well, The Lair of the Leopard Empresses (LotLE) is out and available in both print and PDF format on DriveThruRPG. The game is a stand-alone role-playing game (meaning you do not need the M!M! rules to run it), and although it comes with a set of rules that is deeply intertwined with its setting (à la RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha), I believe you can still use these rules as the basis for any swords & sorcery frp game.

The setting, though, is not to be overlooked. Ximuria is an ancient world with crumbling empires, decadent cults, and evil magicians plotting behind the scenes at the courts of inbred rulers — and these are all aspects that we expect from a S&S frp game — but it has its own surprises that go beyond mere pastiches of Robert E Howard’s and Clark Ashton Smith’s œuvres, like:
 ★ Cannibalistic fire elves,
 ★ Guerrilla hobbs fighting against goblin invaders,
 ★ Weird dwarf sub-races (frost dwarves, volcanic dwarves),
and lots of mysterious backstories, like the origins of dragons and giants, whence the Six Elements (Earth, Wood, Air, Water, Fire, and Metal) originate, and what continents lie beyond the oceans.
I also like the heavy ‘beastly’ influences like the Serpent Kings of the past, the Bat Cult of the Nagraefi, or obviously the eponymous Leopard Empresses. More generally, the non-European feel of Ximuria is very welcome and is a refreshing change from the scores of faux European fantasy settings.

The rules are very Old School-ey, with many character classes (called ‘callings’) and races (called ‘kindreds’) available for player characters. You can also use them for NPCs (again, à la RQ) or stick to the standard Monster Ratings as in classic M!M!/T&T.
The main deviation from M!M!/T&T, however, is that spells are grouped into spell lists (à la Spell Law); spell-casters may only access spell lists available to their calling and depending on their culture, which will guarantee that players will be able to customise their spell-casting PCs and that no two wizards will be the same.

LotLE also introduces shamans, without resorting to additional rules but simply by adapting the magic system and by adding some special abilities to this calling.

The game is chock full of sensible advice for starting as well as seasoned GMs, who may both be unfamiliar with the M!M!/T&T rules. There are, in particular, many examples of use for the stunts, which were usually only hinted at in previous M!M!/T&T publications, and which get a full treatment here. There is a whole chapter dedicated to creating and using Cults, Guilds and Brotherhoods (an aspect that was seriously missing from previous M!M!/T&T-based games). Joining a cult/guild/brotherhood gives your player character a lot of nice perks, much like in RuneQuest. These organisations, however, are not only there for power-hungry players: they really add layers of verisimilitude to the world of Ximuria and (again, much like RQ cults) an aim to your PCs other than simply looking for treasure; here are a few examples:

Join the Sisters of Wragna because the dream of the Once and Future Queen must not die. The Good Kindreds of Ximuria were once united in a Golden Age of peace and justice, and can be again!

Join the Wyvern Masters because your people have done so for generations. Or because the Dragonwatch and the defence against the Enemy in the East needs your support. Or because training and riding wyverns is in your blood— it’s so freakin’ cool!

Another chapter is titled ‘Elaborations’ and, er, elaborates upon a lot of the fundamental but oft-overlooked M!M!/T&T rule elements such as Ranged Combat, Saving Rolls, Spite Damage, or Stunts [yes I know I’ve already mentioned Stunts, but the way LotLE uses them is really at the core of how Sarah Newton has improved the M!M!/T&T engine].
This chapter also provides a lot of spot rules, e.g., PCs helping each other, Ganging up, Surprise attacks, Mounted and aerial combat, Cover and concealment...

In the RPG community, Tunnels and Trolls is famous (a) for being the second frp game ever published and (b) for its many solitaire modules. I feel The Lair of the Leopard Empresses at last shows how the M!M!/T&T engine can be satisfactorily used as a fully-fledged GM role-playing game.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a great review (better than mine because from the PoV of someone who is not familiar with T&T/M!M!):