Review: Epyllion – A Dragon Epic
Have you ever wanted to be the dragon of Dungeons & Dragons? Well wait no longer because I have just the game for you, though its dragons will not look like those greedy red fools from D&D. Today I am reviewing Magpie Games’ Epyllion where you get to be a young dragon trying to make your way in a world of dragons and maybe even going out on some adventures while your scales are still fresh. This game, written by Marissa Kelly, is Powered by the Apocalypse and as such I need to direct you to a few places. I have already reviewed three PbtA games, so much of what you need to know about the system has been covered before. You can find that in the reviews for Monster of the Week, Masks, and Cartel. Today I will try to focus on the world of Epyllion and the rules that help make it special.
An Epic Setting
There is so much to love about Epyllion, but let’s start with the obvious: dragons. This is a game where you can finally BE dragons. I’m sure there have been other games that have done it, or someone who has tried to adapt one to be able to, but Epyllion is designed around being a dragon utilizing the fantastic Apocalypse Engine. In it you play a young dragon, fresh and curious to the world of Dragonia. Here’s the thing though, the world is ruled over by dragon civilization. There are different houses which you may belong to and your look does not rely on some color coordination of the gods. You simply are just another unique dragon of thousands and thousands. Nevertheless, there is darkness festering within Dragonia and an evil which threatens to return. That is where you come in! You get to play a party of dragons following the rumors of evil and trying to root out and destroy it, taking risks that other dragons wouldn’t dare! Did I mention you get to be a dragon. How epic is that!?
It’s For Everyone
One of the awesome things about Epyllion is not just that you get to be dragons, but the way that Kelly wrote the world. It is one made for everyone. From the fact that PbtA games are user friendly to the idea that it was designed for anyone 8 years or older to the fact that there are gender neutral, dragon specific pronouns. This game is, quite literally, made for everyone. It employs the ideas of things like the X-card to stop action or topics you are uncomfortable with and tries to empower listening and cooperative play. I love this game for that. Dragons are often the big scary monsters that we must fight for treasure or to save a town. At best they are lofty, curious creatures that think they are better than us and don’t really help out. But the entire premise of this game that dragons are better than that, that they banded together one and all to fight off the evil Darkness which corrupts the heart of dragons. The game is wonderful for taking these creatures and using them to encourage the opposite of the lone, selfish, vain red dragons we all love to fight in D&D.
Like all Powered by the Apocalypse games, this one has its own set of playbooks or character types from which to choose from and build your team. In this case they represent different kinds of dragons. There are the Academic, the Crafter, the Daredevil, the Nature Adept, the Seer, and the Warrior. These playbooks are defined by a number of things, all of which allow you to customize your dragon further. Each dragon has the following three stats: charm, courage, and cunning. These are defined by your playbook, but you are also allowed to increase one of them as well. Additionally you choose a virtue to live by from two choices and a house you are beholden to, also from two choices. These choices help define your dragon within the context of the world while still making you unique.
Beyond that there is, of course, moves which you gain over time based on the playbook. What features in the playbooks are the special abilities though. An example is the academic’s Field of Expertise. Not only are you well versed in a particular topic, but you have with you a tome which can help you discover information and learn. As you advance you collect more tomes from other dragons to make such research easier. Then there are the roleplay aspects of the playbooks, which I always find amazing in these games. In Epyllion you were in the same clutch as the other players and must decide on some things that those players did for you and your clutch in the past. This allows for the exchange of friendship gems at the outset of the game, something I’ll talk more about shortly. Finally, there is also a section that describes how different dragons react to being consumed by their shadowself. For example the nature adept finds that dragon culture is worth forgetting, that the wild is better, and must be convinced by the clutch that there is worth in dragon culture before coming back to normal.
There are a few unique mechanics to Epyllion as far as PbtA games go. Let’s start with the Friendship Gems. These gems are part of how Epyllion encourages not just roleplaying but the community, come-together attitude of Dragonia. These represent your bond with your clutchmates (party). Each player should have stones of a color that hopefully represents their character. These are handed out to other players when their dragon acts upon the virtue that you hold dear, rewarding them for bolstering your beliefs. The more gems you collect from the others the better because their are two ways of using them. The first is a direct add on certain rolls which allows you to keep the gems. The more you have the better those results will be. The second causes you to return gems, but that is how to encourage continued effort. Those rolls are going to be important and you will need the gems to spend so you need to keep acting with each other and for each other. You need to keep earning and rewarding gems and then using them to save each other from Darkness.
PbtA games, so far as I have seen, often have certain mechanics that cause you to falter. For Masks this ended up harming your abilities temporarily, but in Epyllion it has everything to do with emotion. The Shadowtrack is marked whenever you perform a move that requires it or something happens to make the GM ask you to mark it. What happens depends on how you want to play it out but it might be anger, fear, doubt, or shame. These have no mechanical affect, instead asking you to act out what your dragon might be feeling. If these things are not resolved and all four are marked off you lose to your shadowself and must be brought back by your friends. This mechanic is great because it is at the heart of the game and the Dragonia story. Solving problems and playing the game requires risk and not all events are as positive and ideal as even the dragons wish for. Without real “mechanics” this Shadowtrack allows the game to be dynamic and provides many roleplaying opportunities.
Now we come to moon and shadow magic. These are two moves that allow you to do almost anything that you need to do. Moon magic requires friendship gems to be returned, but each one returned is +1 to your roll allowing you to pull of some crazy stuff! The alternative requires no gems, but is dangerous. Did I say that the Shadowtrack wasn’t a mechanic? I lied. Sort of. Because it isn’t, it is more of a resource (which I GUESS is a mechanic but anyways). You see one way in which it becomes marked is via shadow magic. Marking the track gives you bonuses to the roll, meaning you have a greater chance to get the job done. You could lose yourself to shadow though, so take care. Some situations might call for desperate use of shadow magic, but at what cost? That is for you to explore.
I love the style of this soft cover book. As always Magpie Games does a wonderful job of presentation and clarity. The cover is simple and lovely and the interior art is awesome. There are tons of examples of ALL kinds of dragons of all ages. It is all in black and white, but looks incredible nonetheless. I have to say that this book has a pretty good table of contents for being one page. The index, however, leaves a little something to be desired. It’s not that its terrible, but often I would go to reference something and it lists pages where the topic is just mentioned. It would benefit to at least bold the pages where that topic is detailed and explained. I don’t want to go too on and on about things but there is one major issue I have with Epyllion, and it has nothing to do with the game or the author. Magpie Games. Hi, if you are reading this please fix it! Where Masks playbooks and move sheets can be readily downloaded in great easy to use PDF format on your site, this game cannot. Not that I can find anyways. I love the designs of everything in the book, but like all PbtA I expect to be able to find table-useful playbook sheets. A Google search revealed two things. First, that there are old (2014) versions on your site that only can be obtained via Google. These included the Heart stat which is not part of the game anymore. Secondly, an image search revealed a Kickstarter post which shows a LOVELY two page playbook with everything you might need. But it is a preview image and only for one playbook. Please do all your draconic fans a favor and get that up on the site!!
All in all, I love Epyllion. It does some amazing things and is an incredible work. If you want to be a dragon or like anything else I mentioned about this game, please go buy it. it is definitely worth adding to the PbtA collection. Oh and tell Magpie Games to get their playbook sheets up too!