Rarely has a game been as schizophrenic than ARCHMAGE, a strange licensee RPG that has evolved from the online battle sensation of the same name. It would appear that in light of the new movement toward license-driven RPG intellectual properties, the second-string players are picking up their own, cheaper and less fruitful licenses as well; ARCHMAGE is just such a game.

There's a lot to be said for the source game--the ARCHMAGE online game at http://www.magewar.com/archmage is a real delight to play, and with over 60,000 players offers a great social wargaming activity. This week I found myself drawn to the site again and again, where my poor Archmage Sparrow learned spells, developed armies and tried (in vain) to start kicking ass. If you are familiar with Axis and Allies and RISK you'll find the online Archmage a hoot to learn and definitely addictive, though perhaps not as much as Ultima Online and Everquest.

Of course, I'm not supposed to be reviewing THAT game...I'm supposed to review the tabletop RPG based on the network game.


Well, it's a paperback digest with cheesy layout and font type that looks very laid out in MS Word. This might be excusable, but it costs $20.00. $20.00! They must be betting that online Archmage addicts are desperate to play in real life as well, because there is no setting here.

DPI, who licensed ARCHMAGE to create the game have gotten a bum steer. This is a simple wargame, with armies and crops and math ratios. The material supports nothing like an RPG--I mean, the world is made up of five types of magic which happen to be Red, Green, White, Blue and Black. Oh, I meant Ascendant, Eradication, Nether, Phantasm and Verdancy...you pick which goes where. The first four creatures in the Monsters of Terra section are Lizard Man, Troglodyte, Hell Hound and Red Dragon. No, they aren't surprising.

I won't go into the spell system, or combat--you roll some dice, there are some modifiers--because there is not one thing that could possibly be thought of as new or engaging here. If ARCHMAGE stands for anything, it will be the foolishness of using a license for an intellectual property that has no setting.

For some reason, this thin volume reminded me of Darksword Adventures, a delightful trade paperback game that Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman wrote shortly after the trilogy. Two principle differences stand out:

a)Darksword Adventures had a compelling setting, timeline and mood.
b)Darksword Adventures retailed for $4.95, not $20.00.
c)Take a look at b) again.

The Verdict

Really quite dull. Nothing new, nothing interesting. I am glad I playtested this, so I could check out the infinitely better Archmage online: http://www.magewar.com/archmage. Lack of setting never hurt online country-building games--they do hurt RPGs without