The spiritual inheritor to Everway, Mystic Empyrean is, at
its core, a shared world-building game. The characters are Eidolons, "ones
who wear their souls as a skin". Together, they discover, or perhaps
re-discover, a world that has been shattered by catastrophe.
Empyrean is available as a hardcover book for $59.99, PDF
for $14.99, or an enhanced iPad app for $19.99. The iPad app contains the
contents of the main book, along with an integrated Balance tool and searchable
index. However, a comparison between the PDF and the iPad app revealed that the
app was missing quite a few key explanations that are present in the PDF, so I
cannot recommend it at this time. You will also need a Balance deck of some
kind, more on that to come.
What's this all about?
Chapter 1 gives an overview of the world of Empyrean
and its inhabitants in the broadest strokes possible. The Grand Cornerstone,
the pivot point on which the entire world rests, has been shattered by a sudden
surge of "anti-creation" force called Aether. The various splinters
left behind each contain a portion of creation, either a new land, concept, or
paradigm. The result is a fragmented world; small pockets of creation awaiting
The player characters, called Eidolons, are forces of Anima,
the essence of creation. The choices that they make and the way they act define
them, in both their appearance and their abilities. What this means is that the
way you play your character, they gain not only new cool powers, but it also
changes their very appearance.
This chapter contains a few more general flavors of the
major players in Empyrean, including the various factions that Eidolons belong
to and the Great Spirits of Anima. There was just enough material here to give
me an idea of what to expect, and I wanted to learn more. While it wasn’t
immediately obvious what Eidolons do all day just from reading this chapter,
there’s enough overview to give a general flavor of the game.
So, how do you play?
Chapter 2 describes the basics of how worldbuilding
works, as well as the basics of Empyrean's unique resolution system, called the
Balance. There are seven elements in the world: Fire, Light, Air, Electricity,
Stone, Water, and Darkness. Any action that you would take is linked to these
elements. To see if you succeed, you draw a card from the Balance deck. Simple,
Well, there's more. First of all, the contents of the
Balance deck depend on what realm you're in. If you're in a realm with a lot of
Fire energy, actions linked to Fire are more likely to succeed (aggression,
force, anger, etc.) There are more Fire cards in the deck. There may also be
Pure Anima and Aether cards in the deck, which are automatic success and
failure cards, respectively. Depending on what you draw, you can get different
degrees of success or failure. If you attempt a Fire action, such as swinging a
sword, and pull a Light card, you have an Outside Success, since Light is one
step away from Fire on the elements wheel. This is a "yes, but..."
result. An Electricity card, which is two steps away from Fire on the wheel, is
an Neutral Success, a "no, but..." result. The more points you have
in an element, the more draws you get to make. So there is an element of risk
and decision that makes things much more exciting, especially since an Aether
stops your drawing cold with a Failure. ("No, and...")
Balance decks are for sale from Level 99 Games' web story
for $12, or you can make your own if you have the resources. You'll need a
total of nine different colors or suits, and seven of each color. If you don't
like cards, glass beads or wooden cubes in a bag work fine, or you can just
print your own Balance cards.
The last few pages of this chapter gives advice on how to
make your worldbook, and the game thoughtfully includes template pages for you
to copy. There are also a few words on creating a seed world, a jumping off
point for the first adventure, a welcome addition to a game that is
fundamentally about worldbuilding.
Chapter 3 is the character creation chapter. Once
again, the game emphasizes "you are what you act". They way you play
your character, as judged by your fellow players, changes his own personal
Balance (which affects how many draws you get to make for each element), your
powers, and your appearance. For example, if I play my Eidolon in a way that is
Relentless, I get the trait called "Endless Knives", which is linked
to that type of personality. This gives me another point of Fire, and my skin
takes on a metallic sheen that can produce any type of metal weapons that I
could want. Neat, huh?
The more you play up a personality, the more powerful that
trait becomes. So as the trait gets stronger, I can make more weapons that last
longer in other people's hands. There are eighty-eight total traits defined in
the book, but it's easy to make your own. Living Mystic Empyrean, the website
for the game's community, has plenty of other contributors.
Beyond the usual fluff of background and concept, the only
other thing you need are creeds, the core beliefs that make up the Eidolon's
morality. Fans of Burning Wheel will feel right at home here, as the game
encourages you to challenge your creeds whenever possible. Putting creeds into
play also makes conflicts much more deadly, as violating them can cause an
Eidolon to become fractured, and his traits shaken up suddenly and
Chapter 4 covers the basic exchange of making a scene
as part of the story. The players ask and answer establishing questions in a
round-robin style, until there enough detail for the characters to take action.
The player who initially set the scene becomes the GM for the scene, and the
other players attempt to resolve the scene, whether it is a conflict, puzzle,
or social situation. The success or failure of the character's actions depends
on draws from the Balance, and play continues until the GM decides that the
scene is sufficiently resolved. The GM also gets to take an action on his turn,
which is called Escalation. There really aren't many rules here, such as how
many successes or failures it takes to "win" or "lose".
People looking for stringently-defined rules here will be disappointed.
Eidolons can also spend some of the points from their own
Balance to give themselves automatic success. This takes away that point from
the character temporarily, and adds it to the Balance. It tips the scales, if
you would, and gives the players some ability to mess with a realm's balance
for a while.
Chapter 5 deals with cornerstones, and the realms
they contain within them. This chapter deals mainly with the art of building
new realms to explore. There are a plethora of lists of various terrain types,
technologies, cultures, natural wonders, and other details to make things
easier than just coming up with stuff off of the top of your heads. The book
also gives you advice on how to populate your new realm with encounters,
something that will definitely come in handy. Finally a total of 21 points are
spent on the seven main elements to make the realm's Balance. A pacifistic
realm may have very little Fire, but a militaristic one may have a lot. Extra
Pure Anima or Aether cards can be added in to make things more interesting.
Cornerstones can hold other things besides realms. The
players can also find Paradigms, which add new mechanics that affect the way
Eidolons interact with the world. These new mechanics may include switching to
a dice-based resolution, shifting around an Eidolon's personal Balance, or
adding new technologies to all realms. The players can also discover Conceits,
pieces of Old Empyrean that have been lost since the shattering. These are
special advantages to make them stronger, such as adding a Pure Anima card to
their Balances, or gaining the ability to alter the terrain. I found these to
be a nice touch, nothing so powerful as to be unbalancing if not checked. It
gives the players more power to change the game up to better suit their
evolving needs, especially once their world grow beyond the first couple of
How to Craft your game:
Would you believe we're not even halfway through the book
yet? While we've established the ground rules for the game, the next fifteen
pages discuss the intricacies of storytelling in Empyrean, and how to build a
good foundation. The outlines of starting scenarios for the game, as well as
tips to guide character development and encounter construction to make a better
long-term plot. There are also other ways to run the game, such as setting the
action before the destruction of the Grand Cornerstone, or making Eidolons
summonable by certain people in the real world, if you'd rather dispense with
the setting as presented in the book.
The book also includes a sample realm in great detail.
Nitar, a steampunk city inhabited by several Eidolons and Eidolon-related
factions, gives lots of opportunity for interaction in an Eidolon-based
society. The mines below the city and the ruins Nitar is built upon give room
for exploration and conflict. Included are several tables full of dungeon
encounters for exploring the mines, steam vaults, and ruins below. It's a
well-detailed example that shows you what is possible, though hopefully most
realms don't need twenty-five pages worth of detail.
This is not to say that the realms you make need to be so
top-heavy. When making a new realm, it's better to start with just a basic
outline, and allow it to grow organically as you explore, adding things as you
A long section on persona traits and their associated
abilities comes next, followed by lists of magical items, blank planning sheets
to copy, encounter generation tables, and materials created by Empyrean's
While a rotating GM-ship and an emphasis on collaboration
and worldbuilding may not be everyone's cup of tea, Empyrean does a good job of
giving you the tools you'll need to make your own realms as well as adventures
to have in them. It presents something cool without excessively reinventing the
wheel. The artwork was pleasing and the layout was readable. The main rules
themselves don't take too long to comprehend, but since everyone will be
wearing the GM hat at some point, as deeper understanding is advisable, which
may make for a steeper learning curve. The innovative Balance mechanic was the
best style selling point for me, but it may take a bit of experimentation to
get used to both the mechanic and the style of play. 4 out of 5 for style.
Mystic Empyrean may help you scratch your itch for a
multiverse exploration game in the style of Everway or Kingdom Hearts, or it
may be what a Nobilis or crunch-weary Exalted player is looking for. Either
way, the book does a good job of helping you on your way to discover new worlds
and adventures. There's a surprising amount of content for a game based on
creating your own world. Those who need that extra help will find it useful,
and those who don't can easily disregard it. 5 out of 5 for substance.