Suzerain has the sub-title of 'a universe in gaming' and the opening chapter tries to explain the underlying philosophy, a alternate reality in which anything is possible, literally constrained only by your imagination. Somewhere in that universe is the Maelstrom, formed of something called the Pulse of All Things, the underlying power that drives everything and which, in its purer manifestations, gives rise to that which we would call 'magic.' Gods live there too, but as it is outside of time you are as likely to find the deities revered in the past as you are the ones you hear about today or which might come to be worshipped in the future. Based on this premise, you can run whatever sort of game you want in any era, real or fictional... for who's to say that it cannot happen somewhere within this universe?
The next chapter looks at characters, and how to create them. Again the keynote is freedom, freedom to design a character that is whoever you want him to be. Naturally, you'll have an eye to the setting in which you will play him, but the nature of the rules is such that he'll work in a completely different one (even if he does seem a bit out of place to the casual observer!). Mechanically it's a point-build system, but while most role-playing games will tell you that it's important to have an idea of who your character is as a person, here it's essential. He doesn't exist in isolation, either, so it is important to kick your ideas around with the other players and the game master (called a 'Director') to ensure that the group as a whole will work well together and in the setting of the game.
Not all heroes are of equal power. You'll start off with a 'Standard' one (and he'll be a cut above the average man in the street), but as the game progresses he'll grow in capability through the stages of Hero, Demigod and God. You track your advancement by means of Karma, which has many uses... you can purchase extra skills and abilities, or use some up to ensure success in those moments when you really, really don't want to fail.
That explained, the section moves on to look at the core Abilities, the innate characteristics of your character. These cover physical, mental and spiritual (or social) talents; and are purchased from an initial pool of 50 points. With a starting point of zero in each one (the human norm) you can gain extra points by going negative, or spend them to increase your ability above that of the common herd. Interestingly, the capacity to sustain damage is measured in terms of all three ability groups - mental damage might dent your confidence, for example - which is an interesting and holistic approach. And then there's Pulse. Nobody's managed to define just what it is or how it functions, but it seems to be something that characters can draw upon in some way. There is a multitude of ways of accessing it - prayer to a deity, study of musty tomes and scrolls, enacting ritual, even cybernetic implants - but the end results are the same: special (some call them supernatural) powers that the character can use as the raw force of the universe itself flows through them.
Next comes a section on feats. These are skills, the things that your character has learned to do - by training or experiment or practice - as opposed to the abilities that describe his core being. To start with, you purchase feats using points, and then later can use Karma to buy more as you become more powerful and want to be able to do an increasing number of things. As the character gains in power, he gets access to more spectacular feats, and can increase the effect of the ones he already has. The character generation section rounds out with some information on advancement and a discussion on forming a team.
Section 3 looks at the basic rules for playing the game. They come into play when there is a situation that may or may not resolve in the character's favour. Chance is introduced by drawing cards from a deck (you can make do with ordinary playing cards but some gloriously sumptuous ones have been designed specially for this game), and then factoring in the effects of the abilities and feats that you are using and any influence that the situation itself may have. Particular results may give rise to stunning success or abysmal disasterous failure, but most of the time it is a simple you did it (or did not). After enough examples to make you feel secure as to how and when to make a check, the section moves on to look at hurting and healing, weapons and combat and so on.
Section 4 contains Advanced Rules. This explores situational modifiers and more advanced combat options and, to begin with at least, can be left to the Director - although scan through it so you have at least an idea of the potentials.
Finally, Section 5 covers the Feats available to a Standard-level character. There's loads to choose from, whatever you want your character to be able to do - from marksmanship to knowledge, from the ability to leap from the rooftops to being able to find the shadiest folk in town and enlist their aid... you name it, your character can do it if he chooses the right feats. Oh, and you can have 'negative feats' to reflect the things your character is hopeless at (and gain extra points to spend on the things you are to be good at into the bargain).
So, there it is. A flexible and comprehensive concept with sufficient rules to make it work as a game but not so many as to interfere with your role-playing, your joint creation of epic adventures. Naturally, a system this flexible needs some work before you are ready to play - either you need to work out the setting and some starting plots, or you can acquire some of the materials being published in support of this game. Either way, some epic stories await!
[5 of 5 Stars!]