Gemini Capsule Review by Conan McKegg on 22/11/01
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
If Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe wrote a fantasy RPG - this would be it.
Author: Johan Sj÷berg, Stefan Ljungqvist
Company/Publisher: Cell Games
Page count: 236
Year published: 1998
SKU: #CE 1-1000
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Conan McKegg on 22/11/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Horror Gothic
Although Gemini is classed as a Dark Fantasy roleplaying game - It would be more accurate to class it as Gothic Medieval. Packaged in a beautifully presented hardcover, Gemini had me hooked before I had even opened it to the first page.
The Sun has been veiled and the Dark Martyr released. An ancient darkness emerges from beyond the Iron Gate, waking the slumbering demons that feed on human faltering, egotism and cruelty.
Pious priests and valiant Knights Templar behold in terror as the Darkness infiltrates the Church's inner circles, seducing the sacrosanct. The powerful sovereigns of mankind stand divided, foolish enough to decline the peace offered to them by their archenemy the Church, refusing to unite with them in the struggle against the growing Darkness.
It is challenging to try and explain the setting within such a short review as this due to the sheer depth of it. The history alone takes 8 pages of the book in small type and being only an overview of the full setting.
Firstly, the world of Gemini is more historical medieval as opposed to the fluffy (in comparison) fantasy realms of D&D. This is the world as we knew it during the Dark-Middle Ages. There is a strong emphasis on the Church - who worship a Christianesque deity known as the One. (Although it should be noted that the One also is sometimes hinted as being more like Jesus than God.) The Seven Marquis are like warrior-popes who guide the faithful. Unfortunately after many years of conflict, most of the Provinces have since turned their backs on the church and are single handedly fighting the growing forces of The Darkness.
See, in the beginning there was the Darkness - apparently a nasty thing that was without God. Oddly enough, the Age of Darkness was simply a time of nomads and hunter gatherers. Eventually though Humanity, being the selfish arrogant bastards they are, start fighting and create these sovereign nations that bicker and fight. (surprise, surprise) Until the coming of the Darkness - a malevolent force of evil from beyond the mountains.
At the darkest point, the One shows up and creates the Marquis who promptly wupp the Darkness' collective butt and sends it back whence it came in good old-fashion biblical style. They then erect a massive Iron Gate that is meant to hold the darkness back for the rest of eternity...so naturally some bright spark tries to open it and see what's on the other side. This is promptly stopped, and the curious soul is cast into the darkness before he can destroy the world.
Only that another guy, an elf this time, comes back and opens the gate again - plunging the world into darkness.
In her remote realm beyond the mountains, the elfen Queen mourns her treacherous vassal Malachdrim's fall to the tempting darkness. The Dwarfen people stand divided after an inane treason. They are weakened, but not wasted.
However Gemini is not your standard fantasy - sure there are elves and dwarves but these are more like the Norse mythology rather than the D&D variety.
Elves are wise, intelligent and all men. The Ruler of the Elves is the only female in the race and seems to be like a Queen Bee - she has four consorts who father the entire race with her. This is a great idea, but not fully explored in the initial book - a shame really. Oh yeah, and they totally kick the human's asses during two wars. These guys are not tree-huggers, they are more alien and viscious when angered.
Dwarves are basically like insane, inbred hillbillies with a BIG axe to grind. They have lost their ancestry and are scattered across the world in small communities striving to regain what they have lost. A strange corruption causes some of them to be born as near insane mutants. A nice touch.
There is no unity, but that of the growing Darkness. But there is hope...A pair of twins, marked by an ancient prophecy, journey through the war-torn land guided by a guardian in an attempt to seal the Iron Gate.
And thus the Saga begins. Now to turn to the actual game itself. Gemini uses a d20-based system very similar to Kult - a game that it is often compared to - where the player simply needs to roll under a certain target number with a d20. Of course there are a variety of modifiers to represent varying difficulty, but all in all the system is fairly basic. That is until you get to combat...
The combat system has different rules for different circumstances. The melee/close combat rules are almost a case of paper-rock-scissors where combatants choose a strategy and then compare the two. Comapring the two strategies then decides the initiative for that round. However, the ranged combat rules forgo this little innovation, yet without clearly explaining why. To be honest, I felt that combat was a little unfinished - as were a majority of the actual systems.
If there is one beef I have with Gemini it is the writing - it is often obtuse and confusing, with there being more than the acceptable number of grammatical errors. I suspect that the translation has been done by someone to whom english is a second language as a lot of the errors tend to be ones of misunderstanding.
Magic in Gemini is very flexible - following the Ars Magica/Mage trend of making magic consist of building blocks rather than spell lists, the system is beautiful in its simplicity while still giving magic users a great deal of scope. Of course the problem is that magic is also the domain of the Darkness, which means that it has the risk of turning you into a demon.
The balance between the One and the Darkness is interesting. On initial examination there appears to be a clear Good and Evil line visible - yet once the material is read fully it becomes clear that there is more going on than meets the eye. While the Darkness is undeniably evil - the intentions of the One are sometimes put to question, a nice touch. Truly faithful characters can eventually gain relics - holy weapons and items that have a nature just like living things do. This dictates how pure they are and what power they can have over the Darkness.
The layout of the book is nice, although it can be intimidating - there are very few pictures in the book except for a few colour panels and small sketches in the top corners of the page. Every available space is used for filling out the world. At the top of nearly every page is a small paragraph or two of info about the setting - which slowly introduces the reader to the various factions and concepts of the game from the get go. This proves to be a boon once you get to the complex history near the middle of the book, as by then you have already become familiar with a great many of the factions and places that are mentioned.
Barring some flaws in translation, a rather odd system that feels unfinished and some cases where the writers overlooked little details while describing factions (Especially the provinces and the Elves) this is a great game. It takes sometime to read, but this is due to the enormous amount of information that it contains. It does sometimes feel that the writers were so focused on the setting that the rules were almost an afterthought - but there are some great innovations to the usual flow of play that make up for this. On occasion.