A couple of months back I was given the opportunity to review Green Ronin’s new Modern AGE RPG. The TL;DR was that I really liked the look of the system and was looking forward to a certain campaign setting, namely the World of Lazarus. After a wee bit of a delay in the release schedule I got a copy and am now able to share my thoughts here.
So what is it? Well, for anyone who hasn’t taken the chance to check out Lazarus (for shame!) this is a campaign setting for the aforementioned Modern AGE system. It’s worth making this clear as I’ve known folks new to RPGs who want to dip their toe and pick up a book based on a franchise they like, unaware that they need a core book or whatnot to actually get started.
That aside, the world of Lazarus, for the uninitiated, is a dystopian post-apocalyptic setting. In contrast to the likes of Mad Max, Zombieland or Waterworld, this isn’t a nuclear catastrophe, paranormal plague, or environmental calamity. Instead it’s the world set after an economic crisis which sees the downfall of world governments and organisations leading to a neo-feudal society where territories are ruled by autocratic families.
The name Lazarus comes from the fact that these families employ the use of the Lazari – essentially genetically or mechanically enhanced super soldiers who act as everything from gifted diplomats and spies to truly brutal shock troops (yeah the Zmey is really scary…) Inside this book is essentially all the extra tools you need to bring Rucka and Lark’s detailed world to life.
To make things easier, I’ve taken the liberty of breaking down the chapters:
Chapter 1 – X+65
After a nice foreword from Greg Rucka, the book dives into the background of the setting and provides an overview of the year X+65. For anyone not familiar with Lazarus, this is a pretty efficient breakdown of the story so far and a fairly easy introduction into what is a fairly complex world. For big fans of the comics it isn’t really adding anything spectacularly new, but it’s still a great recap in a handy format.
Chapter 2 – Lift Selection – Character Options
Given the wealth of options in Modern AGE, this might appear a fairly concise section adding new character options for playing in the world of Lazarus. That sounds like a knock but it’s actually reflective of the setting; the world of Lazarus is (somewhat worryingly) not too dissimilar to our own, Lazari excepted. Other than some new specialisations for the setting, we also get minor augmentations – think cyberware improving your mental combat acuity or adding redundancies to cope with physical shock or illness. There’s also, as one might expect, greater clarity on social standing and how to fit your character into the many social layers of the new world.
Overall some nice, simple, flavourful options here and I’m a big fan of the decision not to push one stereotype. Alluding to information later in the book, one can just as easily construct a socialite predator of one of the families as they can a gritty waste survivalist scraping out a day to day existence.
Chapter 3 – Tech Briefing – Equipment and Tech
Monetisation and economics in roleplaying games usually sit somewhere at the extremes of the same spectrum. I’ve played games where you scrap together every copper piece and lift whatever you can carry (sometimes hiring others to do this for you) to fund your adventuring lifestyle as well as games where you have a wealth stat allowing you to hand wave any reasonable purchase or equipment. Modern AGE, and by extension World of Lazarus, sits at the latter end. Despite this, one needs to know what kind of technological marvels one can buy. It’s a mean world out there and you need to be sure that you are packing the right kind of heat, or the right kind of defences right?
Given the nature of the setting, I like the explanations on the economic drivers and how trade and wealth depend on where you sit in the social tree. There’s a fair amount of variation covering arms, armour, vehicles, and medications and drugs but I think a trick was missed in not adding more of the banal i.e. entertainment and leisure, as well as the more day to day. Sure, it’s primarily an adventure driven game and setting, but for the purposes of world building and pulling together a complete sourcebook I think this would have added a real depth over and above.
Chapter 4 – Rule of Law – Gamemaster Option
The meat of the book is found in this section and it’s a real cornucopia of ideas and hooks to get your game off the ground. Even an old grognard like myself with decades of gaming experience still found nuggets of gold in here. Whether you want to run a highfalutin’ politico game of corporate manoeuvres with a cast of supporting family members or a resistance cell of dispossessed rebels, there’s ample pages of suggestions on how one would approach it. My gaming preference is normally for campaign style games where you can push and develop your character over time which is easily achieved here but I also appreciate that you can just as easily run one-offs with serf soldiers. Think Special Forces sent to do specific missions such as corporate espionage (blowing stuff up) or capture/seizing assets. The narrative of the Lazarus storyline is open enough to really let your imagination run and affords you the ability to go nuts. It’s difficult to remain entirely objective as I’m such a big fan of Lazarus; I mentioned earlier how I thought it would make a great setting for an RPG so this book was eagerly anticipated.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the new addition of organisations in play. With the nature of the world and the control of the families, this is an interesting way to approach the effect in game. Essentially one can create a profile, much like a character, that governs the influence and objectives an organisation may have. These organisations, whether it’s a family, shadowy group of spys, or even simply an outlaw gang, may then carry out actions (don’t forget stunts!) to further their goals or hinder the actions of others. It sounds simple but by not getting bogged down in the minutiae, it allows these Machiavellian entities to exist and effect your game in a tangible way without excessive bookkeeping for the gamesmaster.
Oh and if that wasn’t enough, there’s also plenty of stats for adversaries and encounters you can lift straight from the book or use to modify to your own ends.
Chapter 5 – The World Divided – Background and Setting
Expanding on the story to date given in the opening chapter, The World Divided breaks down the current geopolitical situations and greater insight into each of the main families; with the majority content being given over to the family Carlyle; the defacto protagonists of the main Lazarus plot.
This kind of stuff is what is why I pick up roleplaying games and sourcebooks. One of the best things about comics, along with all manner of other media, is the ability to dive headfirst into a living breathing reality that isn’t our own. The art of world building is a great skill and Rucka and Lark do it admirably. I’ve followed Lazarus for a while now and devoured all the main line and spin off issues so if I’m being honest, a lot of this didn’t feel new. I personally felt that there was space here to look into areas that have only been hinted at or alluded to in the story which could have further opened up the World of Lazarus to a new audience of adventurers. In saying that, it’s not a disappointing chapter. As before, it’s all good info on the families and fantastic to have it all in one place.
So how can you have a game set in the World of Lazarus without the Lazari!? Aha, fear not, there is a whole appendix given over to these heroes and villains; all dependent on your point of view I guess. It’s the elephant in the room and I think the way Green Ronin have approached this is spot on. If you want to play a game set in a world with supermen, everyone is gonna want to play a superman… well yes and no. Personally I think you can run Lazarus without a player ever seeing a Lazari. They’re the boogeymen to scare the players and it’s possible, depending on the type of game played, that the characters won’t even know that much about them. That aside, the book gives a whole bunch of new rules to create a Lazari and ideas on how to incorporate them into your game. Sure, one player can just play a Lazari if everyone accepts that they’ll be better at pretty much everything but the suggestion that if included as part of a family game players collectively design and take turns. Each to their own I guess, but it’d be weird if these postmodern marvels weren’t included.
Bottom line, this is a wonderful looking book with more than enough content to get your game up and running. There’s some areas that I would have really appreciated greater fleshing out but that’s a personal opinion that won’t hinder your games any. If you’re a fan of Lazarus and have any interest in roleplaying games then this will be right up your street. On the other hand, if you’ve enjoyed Modern AGE or simply fancy a new setting, you won’t go wrong here (oh and treat yourself to a good read with Lazarus).
You can pre-order World of Lazarus from the Green Ronin Online Store by CLICKING HERE.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster