One Night in Altais: Age of Ruin – A Review

All was quiet around the campfire.

Mace was wandering back from his search for any useful herbs or plants. Even before he came into sight of the campsite he could hear the sounds of Dax and Kringle passing their drink back and forth, each of them trying to out-do each other in their drunken boasts. Even louder than their drunken chatter was the heavy snoring coming from Boromir’s bedroll.

“I’ve found a few useful things,” Mace announced to the group. “Any sign of the monster we’re after?”

Dax and Kringle looked up from their drinking, laughed, and turned back to the fire. Boromir continued to snore. MurMach stepped out from his watchpost behind a nearby tree. He squinted, staring into the woods.

“I think we are completely alone. In fact, I think there’s nothing nearby for ages.”

With a bubbling roar, the Emekhu attacked.

This is an Emekhu. We like to refer to it as a ‘Very Bad Kitty’

Hello ladies and gentlemen, Harrison here with something a little different from my usual Magic: The Gathering content for you. Over PAX 2017, myself and Toby sat down with the creators of Altais: Age of Ruin, Parhelia Games. You can find Toby’s review from that session here, but the short version is that we were very excited to get our hands on the game. More than anything else, Altais: Age of Ruin excels in the lore and background that is has created. Since then, ATGN has been sent a PDF copy of the core rulebook for the game. I took it along to my regular gaming group, and ran a one-off session of Altais: Age of Ruin.

The Rules

Altais: Age of Ruin uses a D10 system for its gameplay rolls. On the one hand, this means that you always know exactly what dice you need for your next roll. However – and I haven’t actually crunched the numbers here, so this is only an impression – it does seem like it is a less precise compared to the ‘standard’ D20 system.

The core gameplay mechanics are instantly familiar to anyone experienced with roleplaying games. Roll to hit/roll to wound are present, as well as skills, attributes and feats – with some differences in names. From the point of view of a Game Master, this is perfectly fine. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the framework on which your game is hanging, as long as there is a pay-off for picking up the game, which Altais: Age of Ruin certainly delivers.

Feats – or as they’re referred to in Altais: Age of Ruin, Talents – are handled somewhat differently, as well. Rather than having an exhaustive library of 200 or more similar Feats to choose from, you instead have about 40 Talent trees to select, including the five forms of magic present in Altais. Each Talent has five ranks, each of which provide a cumulative benefit, with the final rank of Talents being frankly ridiculous (summoning a spirit bow to fire a Celestial Bolt, anyone? How about a LandSat-like view of the entire continent) but they would take dozens of hours of playtime to get to fairly. This does make selecting your Talents a little simpler than in other systems, while still providing the same level of customisation and power.

When you upset the guy making your burrito and you get the Extra Spicy Special.

Finally, turn actions in combat are relatively simple to pick up. Each player has Initiative, as well as one Quick and one Complex action per player turn. Some high-level combat Talents allow additional actions, or Complex actions to be taken as Quick actions. While it did take a bit of explaining, once we ran through a few combat encounters everything progressed fairly smoothly.

The Lore

Nothing I have described is particularly unique in the landscape of role-playing games. The systems that are used in Altais: Age of Ruin – Attributes, Skills, Feats/Talents, etc – are all quite similar to those used in almost every other role-playing game. However, the strength of Altais as a system is not in the mechanics, but instead in the lore and world-building that has gone into the system.

Adventures in the world of Altais: Age of Ruin take place tens of thousands of years in our future. Altais is a Earth-like world, 97.4 light years away from our own planet. In the shadowy past, refugees from Earth fled the planet and settled Altais. For thousands of years, the planet was a utopia of hope and peace.

And then the Fall happened.

A cataclysmic event destroyed the fabric of the continent. Kingdoms were torn apart. Wars raged across the countryside. The Rephaim – wraith-like enemies of Humanity – returned to plague mankind. A thousand years after the Fall, civilisation has managed to put the pieces back together, but the cracks are still there. The main underlying theme of Altais: Age of Ruin is that no matter how dark the night is, there will always be those trying to bring about the dawn. And to quote the games introduction:

“Behind this backdrop there are other themes at
work: Altais is set in our future, where humanity has
fled Earth, hunted across the stars to an alien world
full of new dangers and discoveries. It’s about technology
mistaken for magic, exploring other dimensions,
and the damage that misunderstandings — political,
cultural, and magical — can cause to the world.”

As a huge fan of anything that can be described as post-apocalyptic or dystopian, I love the world-building that has gone into Altais. Without giving too much away, there is a massive depth of detail and thought that has gone into the system and that – more than anything else – is what makes it stand out from the herd.

Oh, yup. I can see the problem. It’s that big old crater there.

The Verdict

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I have had a ton of fun with Altais: Age of Ruin. While the framework of the rules system is polished and well-thought out, it is nothing particularly unusual. However, the amount of effort and very talented writing that has gone in to the world-building and background is something very special. While I wouldn’t suggest Altais: Age of Ruin as your jumping off point into the world of roleplaying, if you and your group have some experience under your collective belts and are looking for a new system with a really great background behind it, I thoroughly recommend taking a look at Altais: Age of Ruin.

Altais: Age of Ruin is available now from DriveThruRPG.

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