I love it when a plan comes together. When I first saw Timothy Loya’s Kickstarter project for The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen, I knew it was a fantastic idea. And when we exchanged e-mails about the project and I was able to ask some questions, that opinion only became stronger. So now that I have a copy of the first journal (The Pantheon and Worship of the Alendaii) in my hands (that will be available soon on DriveThruRPG), I can say it even exceeded my already inflated expectations.
So what’s TEJOAA all about? Imagine if you were a brave explorer in the 1600s or 1700s landing on the shore of a “New World” and recording your observations and thoughts for posterity. The Gutenberg Project has several such journals available for reading and the individuals (Captain Cook, Peter Warburton, and so on) offer glimpses not only into what it might feel like to enter unexplored places and see things no outsider had seen before, but into the mindset of an educated, worldly person of the time of the exploration. It’s on these two levels that I think TEJOAA works – not only embracing the spirit of exploration but providing a new way to explore fantasy lands in a RPG campaign.
TEJOAA does all of this in a rules-neutral way. Though it’s meant for a fantasy campaign, you can use any rules system and simply adapt the ideas in these journals how you’d like. I think you could even do a historically-based campaign set in the real world if you wanted or a pulp campaign. There may be some flora or fauna documented in future journals, but it remains to be seen how Loya will be offering details for them. The first journal merely sets the stage and acts as a bit of an introduction to the New World.
Who is Amestus Armen? That’s a bit of a mystery. Based on the introduction to The Pantheon and Worship of the Alendaii, he is a learned man somehow associated with a college under the patronage of “Her Imperial Majesty” who lives in the Alabaster Palace. Armen wrote a paper the Queen (or Empress?) disagreed with and apparently exiled him for, and that is what kick-started his explorations of the New Lands. I’m sure we’ll learn more about Amestus in future journals and it’s quite interesting inferring details about the writer as his adventures progress.
As you read Amestus’ journal, you are introduced to various members of the expedition like Scribe Choraben and Centurion Agraven Coldhearth indirectly through quotes and Amestus’ descriptions. These quotes work extremely well to offer a glimpse into their various mindsets of the journey. Coldhearth seems quite against the expedition and dead set on reporting back to his Queen with the truth vs. whatever Amestus and Damiel Gabrien (the explorer who discovered the New Lands in the first place) choose to report if they ever make it back. Other characters, such as Scribe Choraben, seem to support the cause but have their own opinions… I wish we knew more about these clever characters (and others who are mentioned but without quotes). Perhaps we will hear more from them in separate journals that offer a different tale in the telling.
The majority of the journal is dedicated to describing twelve of the Alendaii of the Urvalis tribe. Each is presented with details of what they represent to the tribe and a bit of their history and myth. Each seems to have its own domain. Yur is the Alendaii of Bravery and Impulse. Sen is the Alendaii of Pleasure and Pain… Each has positive and negative aspects, much like the mortals who revere them.
Where things get interesting is with the gray box near the beginning of the journal. In this box, Loya describes three different approaches GMs might take in introducing the Alendaii into an existing campaign. Depending on how deep you want to get into theology and cosmology, these choices can have a profound impact upon characters exploring Urvalis territory. Where exactly does the “territory” of one pantheon end and another begin? I won’t spoil the options he lays out, but will say it really made me sit up and take notice of a completely different way to view divine magic in a campaign.
So as you might imagine, I think the content of the first “Journal of Amestus Armen” is terrific and offers some great food for thought. That doesn’t mean this product isn’t without a few flaws – all minor. The writing is terrific, with just a handful of typos scattered through the book’s 14 pages (12 pages of content) that I’m sure will be corrected.
The first nit to pick is with the cover. It’s way too dark, though I like the water-damaged, leather-bound look. Even in a PDF reader, it’s dark. And when you print it on a B&W printer you can’t read anything at all. I’m not sure how to do “water-damaged” and “leather-bound” in a lighter color, but it needs a bit of adjustment.
The other nit is with the layout. Though I’ve done my share of page layout using Microsoft Word or any number of word processors, a two-column, full-justify approach leaves a bit to be desired. With a bit more spit and polish, these pages could continue the theme of the waterlogged journal from the cover, set the quotes and GM “gray box” apart a bit further, and made better use of white space.
But even with those nits, I’m still extremely impressed by the content. And without great content, layout is immaterial.
If you’re looking for something unique for your campaign, perhaps an expedition into a foreign land will present some interesting opportunities for your table. The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen: The Pantheon and Worship of the Alendaii from Tim Loya Games offers a different approach to RPG supplements that I hope to see more of!
For more about The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen:
- … check out the Kickstarter that started it all.
- … read the interview I had with Tim back in July 2012.
- … and
keep an eye out at DriveThruRPG for the product to be available for salenow it’s available at DriveThruRPG!
(By the way, I listened to the soundtrack to the movie 1492 (directed by Ridley Scott back in 1992) while writing this review and think it offers some amazing music for an expedition at the gaming table!)