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I'm not going to assume that you're familiar with the first three editions, so why don't I summarize what makes Empress a little different from a D&D retroclone?
- There are four abilities instead of six; they are Strength, Agility, Mind and Spirit. Strength encompasses physical toughness and Agility includes physical stamina (i.e. athleticism). Spirit marries charisma with spiritual fortitude. Mind folds perception into intelligence.
- Each PC has a Luck Die. You can roll this to boost your own rolls, but that causes it to temporarily drop to a lower die face.
- Strength affects AC instead of HP, and Agility modifies HP instead of AC!
- Rolling high above AC let's an attacker apply combat feats, and they don't sacrifice the damage from the attack...sort of like Special Effects in Mythras.
Race and Class
- The only PC "race" is human, and there are only three classes: Warrior, Magician and Specialist.
- Instead of skills, characters choose specializations. These are broad areas of expertise, and provide a big one-time bonus to all activities that are governed.
- Example specializations: Animal Handling, Stealth, Bushcraft, Athletics, Tinkering, Languages, Lore, Contacts. Note that even the last three are not differentiated by sub-skills - they are all-encompassing.
- Most characters only have one or two specializations, but Specialists get a lot more. Plus, they choose one specialization to keep improving as they gain levels.
- Warriors gets lots of HP as usual, but also, they are the only class to get better at hitting things as they level up.
- Any character can learn magic, but Magicians are much better at it.
- There are three types of spells: Mystical, Sorcery and Alchemy.
- Any spell may be of any type; the type determines the cost of magic.
- Mystical spells can be cast very quickly with concentration, but they are very fatiguing.
- Sorcery spells take a very long time to cast. A small number of castings may be stored in foci, like wands or amulets, for instant release.
- Alchemical spells take a long time and a lot of resources to cast. What they produce are agents - potions, powders and other gizmos - that can be used to produce a magical effect at a later time.
Exhaustive, or exhausting? You be the judge! Feel free to make comments or ask questions here.