I believe that the ruleset of Imperium Chronicles shows promise, but the setting, while workable, is sub-par compared to the standard Traveller setting, the main competitor and inspiration of this RPG. I admit, the comparison is unfair – Traveller has been under constant development for decades now, with multiple rulesets to suit your taste – but it’s exactly the comparison most interested buyers will make.
The setting is a transplant of the late medieval/absolute monarchical Europe of the 1400s - 1700s to space. Fair enough. However, the claim that the Imperium = humanity is risible. There is no way that the Indians, Chinese, Arabs, or Africans are going to live in a single human empire without reshaping it their way. As there is no evidence of their political philosophies or cultures in the Imperium as described, they are either simply absent or make up a tiny and/or unimportant minority of the human population (cough).
Even Second Edition D&D got past such provincialism, back in the 1990s!
I have no particular gripe regarding Medieval Europe in Space! as a RPG setting, but I do dislike treating 9/10ths of humanity as nonexistent. To make the Imperium Chronicles setting more plausible, I suggest that the history be slightly rewritten, with the Imperial stars initially settled by politically romantic humans of European extraction who wished to recreate a medieval era without a medieval church. Perhaps they were fleeing a politically correct regime, or squeezed out by a Chinese or Indian hegemony. At least some nod to reality would be appreciated.
For the science fiction fan, I should note that this version of Medieval Europe in Space! has no Universal Church: the presuppositions of the secular materialism undergird both the universe and the world of the mind. This Imperium has made many scientific discoveries - mainly to improve it's ability in war against her peer competitor, the Magna Supremacy. Despite it's Medieval European trappings, it's far closer to a secularistic, static version of Rome, Greece or Babylon than it is to Christendom.
So why the medieval pose? Most likely, due to the influence of classical D&D on the author. The 'class war' framework is also woven into the basic assumptions of the universe, and is easier illustrated in a feudal setting than elsewhere.
The author's phobia on religion - a venerable tradition in the sci-fi field - may originate in the fear of giving offense, or in a personal distaste for the concept. In any case, it lends an air of unreality to the universe – especially when describing the Underclass. I quote: “Disenfranchised, any of the poor have turned to organizations on the fringes of society for both money and self-worth. These include criminal syndicates and the pirate clans, as well as radical environmental groups."
The omission of religious & revolutionary ideological groups is so obvious as to be hilarious. Of course, we all know why: serious, widespread religious & ideological differences will blow up an Imperium grounded only on tradition and guns. That’s why real Empires are all grounded in a particular religion (or its imitation, political ideology.) Naturally, no Empire has ever been truly universal, ruling all humanity, as large groups people differ strongly on the One True Faith/Ideology, and are quite willing to express their differences with lethal force if pressed hard enough.
Once upon a time, sci-fi was about a realistic attempt to See the Future. Now, with The Future looking dark for the West (but great for China, India, and even Africa) it's about the bizarre attempt to recreate a comforting, blinkered version of the Past.
In contrast to the unreal political situation, the assorted player races is reasonably satisfactory, if cliché. The cat race, the elves, the reptile men, the orcs – we’ve seen them all before. Filing the serial numbers off isn’t fooling anyone, but people do like familiarity, and besides a certain boredom with the paper-thin characterizations I don’t have much against them either. I do prefer the Traveller races though - they're not that much more creative (wolf-men, cat-men, crab-men, centaurs on a vegan crusade, invisible flying monkeys, swarthy mysterious wizards (err, psions), corporate drones, and space nazis) but they do have the benefit of a long, carefully though-out history and decades of characterization & lore.
OK, enough with the background of the Imperium Chronicle universe. Anyone with some knowledge of history – or even a consistent interest in modern politics and culture – can write up their own setting to taste. (Or just port the Traveller setting whole-hog.) I will now focus on the major contribution you bring to the table, your ruleset. Is it better than your main competition, the various Traveller rules (Classic, GURPS, Mongoose?)
Well, there are real advantages to the Imperium Chronicles ruleset. First, it obvious that most of these rules are inspired by D&D 3.5 mechanics, which is a good thing as it lowers the learning curve for most pen and paper gamers. Skills are OK, but the time penalties are too rigid, and need to be scrapped, or at least modified to fit the circumstance. The sample role modifiers for a given action is appreciated. Treating psionics as magic is an incorrect use of the sci-fi concept, but quite helpful in-play to most RPG players. The expected weapon, vehicle, and toolkit tables are present, and the cybernetic implants and combat drugs are nice to see, adding to the rather thin sci-fi feel of the same.
(When I say ‘thin sci-fi feel’, I mean that there is little science or sensawonder in the Imperium Chronicles setting, but lots of military support and a good (if incomplete) feudal/class-warfare social framework.)
The combat section and animal section hews close to the D20 standard, and is useful and reasonably realistic – which is all I ask of RPG combat. ‘Reputation’ is acceptable as a soft-skill mechanic.
A nice, fat section of easily-built robots is nice to see – and is something notably lacking in many Traveller incarnations. (I blame the unworkable mechanics of the Classic Trav robot book [published 1986] myself.)
Starships are much more easy to build than in most Traveller rulesets, but as a consequence lack distinctiveness. It’s a trade-off that some guys will like, and others won’t, depending on their gear-head quotient. The lack of tech levels is reasonable - today, Africans peasants get the prices for their produce via cell phones, just like trader in New York do. The determining factor is money, not technology. Still, it mildly disappoints my gear-head instincts. 'What if I want to make a Saturn V rocket?'
System generation is close to the Traveller standard, with, again, the interesting exception of tech levels. There is a map of the heartland and capital world of the Imperium Chronicles as the default setting – an interesting contrast to the usual Traveller preference of working in the fringes of Imperial rule. The introductory map of the monastery is classic D&D: providing the setting and NPCs before some adventure nuggets is a workable idea, but the section isn’t organized clearly.
Empires are based on maps, more than anything else. And this Imperium has been backed into a corner by the Magna Supremacy. Relatively few systems have changed hands, out-and-out war is rare, and the Imperium is capable of self-defense - but, besides exploring & settling isolated star clusters, there is no way for the Imperium to outflank the Magna Supremacy. Thus, there is little space exploration in this setting, but lots of potential for war. So this Imperium faces one enemy on a long front, and the void: compare this to Traveller's Third Imperium, which is surrounded by two large, organized enemies on her borders, three large, organized neutral states, one long and deep zone of chaos, and a hostile neutral which is too far away to give a proper beatdown.
There are clusters of Imperial and Magna client states, which provide variety; note that the two groups of clients are quite distant from each other.
An oddity: Provincial (NOT Subsector ) listings stress the star type, rather than the population. Frankly, traders, military men and adventurers are much more interested in population and wealth than in star types. (A consequence of removing the technology levels is that there is no way to know how wealthy a world is.)