While Carmine is an epic fantasy system and setting at its core, it accentuates two particular aspects of epic fantasy creating something truly unique: black-powder and steam, but powered by alchemy. Carmine is powered by a roll-over d20 system, not THE d20 system, based on a characters attributes, skills, or abilities (for modifiers). Ranks placed within attributes and skills are translated directly into roll-modifiers without the need for charts or additional, obscure modifiers. Target numbers are not known by the player, although there is no sliding-scale as with other systems whereas the character gets better but everything gets more difficult as they grow. Target numbers are more defined and are not based on a character’s level.
This core rulebook is very concise but still leaves room for growth in subsequent supplements in the form of abilities and technology. By incorporating alchemy infused black-powder and steam, the setting can be enhanced with new uses for the technology. Essentially, the setting is not tied down by standard epic fantasy tropes. Carmine is a new, unique experience for fantasy players looking to raise their technology level past simple sword and sorcery.
If you are looking to step out of the traditional epic fantasy world and into something that increases the tech level without going full-blown steampunk or clockwork, Carmine is the perfect in-between setting. There are opportunities for simple human versus human clashes or take the characters into the veil and combat the horrors trying to break through. Opportunities abound, although you may need to sift through the setting material to find which one is right for your gaming group.
Publication Quality: 8 out of 10
Carmine is an excellent, professional publication from an Indy publisher. There are lots of little “gotchas” considering editing and a mismatched setting map. The layout and formatting are very easy to read, although the right-justified headers and periodic example blocks threw me off. This does not detract from the quality, it’s just different. Considering the unique aspects of the setting, it fits well with the difference Carmine conveys compared to traditional epic fantasy. Attention Span Games does a great job of using all the white space although center-justified stat blocks are a bit tricky to read without any solid lines dividing the different blocks such as attributes and skills. Overall the publication quality is quite good.
Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I like the simplicity of Carmine’s d20 system. While it’s not designed to be flexible with other settings in mind, it covers all aspects of the Carmine setting as necessary. The stat on your character sheet is the modifier you use; there’s no need to add half your level, or use a chart to determine the modifier according to the actual attribute number, or even add a bunch of different modifiers. Game-play should be quick and abilities allow you to grow the game with new factions, character types, or whatever in the future. It’s definitely a system that avoids becoming bloated and is easy to learn and understand.
Desire to Play: 8 out of 10
While the setting is unique and the system’s mechanics are well-designed, Carmine feels limited and I struggle to picture full campaigns. Adventures could be easy enough to design, but a full campaign can be a bit more difficult when the island surrounded by the Veil is so small and so few cities established along the borders of where the horrors can be found. However, the sheer uniqueness of the setting is a driving factor to one’s desire to play Carmine. It’s not your average epic fantasy; it’s a blend of epic fantasy, steampunk (although I do not consider Carmine to be steampunk), and black-powder fantasy powered by the all aspects of alchemical technology. Coupled with the horrors being held at bay by the Veil and adventures are easily found.
Overall: 8 out of 10
Carmine is a good, solid game system, especially for the price. The setting is truly unique and the combination of fantasy and alchemical technology is wonderfully developed; especially since the technology is directly tied into the fluff portions of the setting. Much of how the island of Carmine has come to be is explained, but you don’t really know what your game-play is meant to be like. This is good and bad in that it gives Game Masters the flexibility of doing whatever they want with their games but also forces them to do more legwork to create some type of gaming experience (either dictated by the GM or the players).