Last Unicorn Games, 1994
What you get/need
Aria: Roleplaying $29.95
Concept - 5
Epic roleplaying is what the authors strive for in Aria. In this game the player does not only create their primary character, but their lands and histories of their lands as well. Politics, social interaction, cultures, races, magic systems, etc. all come into play for the players and GM (or Mythguide as the authors would have it), as Aria would have the player become more than a wandering hero, but their entire civilization as well. An excellent concept, especially for those who study Lord Raglan, Campbell's, or any other studies of mythology.
Character Creation - 4
Character (or Persona) generation is more than simply developing one character. In Aria the player must give a detailed account of his main persona (or hero) as well as an account of the land he/she hails from as well. Fifteen sides of paper are devoted towards this, giving a player one of the most spanning character sheets ever. Creation is allotted through point spending towards a collection of Attributes, Aspects, Personality elements, and Heritage elements. While creation can be a long process, it is far more rewarding and complete than other games with tedious creation processes. A group of Personas are known as an Ensemble.
Playability - 2
A game in Aria is more than sending the hero out to slay dragons - the political, social, and scientific development of cultures comes into play as well. There are four separate types of play in Aria: Mythic Time, Aria Time, Narrative Time, and Action Time. Mythic Time is simply for narrative purposes and accelerates the region's history, as Mythic Time spans from decades to millennia. Aria Time is where the character may spend a portion of time, tracking the evolution of particular regions, environments, or movements, as much of the political/religious/social/etc. growth happens here between one to ten years. Narrative Time is similar to standard roleplaying as the Personas will journey, and interact individually. Narrative Time normally takes hours to months of the Persona's life. Action Time is used when specific amounts of time are called for, generally used for combat or skill tests. Skill tests are performed by the spending of Option Points and contesting them against the difficulty level or opponent. Combat can be performed either in a maneuver versus maneuver or a simple contest of skills. Of the two, I found it simpler to use a contest of skills, otherwise combat could last for quite a while. The authors say little about any roll system, however, attempting to promote more role-play than roll-play. And while I can agree that role play is important, I'd would've liked to had some sort of system to roll against for all the work I did on my character. Perhaps Aria is secretly an attempt at diceless role-playing with only vague references about dice to lead the reader on.
This 308-page tome is a testament to the authors' time and care of Aria, or at least the time and care within background and character creation. The rules system is buried within information and almost completely hidden. There are some quite a few good things about the book. Tables and guides are well-placed and the entire book is well-organized. The index and table of contents are both quite in depth and looking up any information is quite easy. However, although written eloquently, the book is quite a lengthy read, and can deter players from the game.
Highs - Marvelously detailed. Perfect for epic-style character creation.
Lows - Little value outside of epic play. Can be quite a read. Unplayable (almost unfindable) system rules.
Final Call - Suggested more for experienced gamers looking for a campaign that spans eons. Could've been a 5 but outside of character creation and measures of time, there doesn't appear to be much on playing the game.