Hello everyone, and welcome to my next Let’s Read! This product is a 3rd party campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, but unlike my other reviews this one’s different. Namely, it isn’t for sale on any storefronts. Technically it’s a KickStarter product, but it’s been more or less confined to vaporware status and the creator has not meaningfully communicated with backers in quite some time. The book in question is more or less complete PDFwise, but the only things missing are physical copies and a long-promised Pathfinder 1e conversion. As to why I’m reviewing this, one part of me wishes to show the world what could have been, or will be if good fortune permits. The other part of me, while cynically realistic, still has some care about this setting when so many other backers already wrote it off, and figured to share my thoughts with an audience untainted by crowdfunding woes.
Old vs New: Legacy of Mana technically has 4 versions of the 5e product. The first two were very rough drafts, while the third was intended to be ‘complete.’ The final version was meant to add more content, and while it has 32 pages over its predecessor quite a bit of material was excised. And I’m not talking minor changes either, but important details such as the languages of the world, various subclasses, the names of the twin moons orbiting the world, and other such important things ended up removed. Erring on the side of comprehensiveness, this Let’s Lead will mark what has been changed where relevant.
Chapter 1: About Imaria & Chapter 2: the World of Imaria
The best way to sum up Legacy of Mana would be as a friend of mine put it when I described it to them: “Star Wars, but medieval fantasy.” Having nothing more than a coincidental naming structure with the Seiken Densetsu Mana series, Legacy of Mana is a world where magic is a natural energy source known as mana that flows throughout the planet in ley lines. Humanity became a dominant race due to the Blooded, an aristocracy of magic-enriched dynasties who used their connection to the land as evidence of their right to rule and became the de facto lords in pretty much every human settlement. The tyrannical Illtherian Empire rose to become the dominant power by exploiting anti-magic sentiment, utilizing an order of Knights bearing swords wrought of a metal capable of destroying mana itself. In an interesting change of things the setting takes place after the defeat of the Emperor, and the Empire while surviving is starting to crumble. The focus of the setting is on what occurs in the chaotic aftermath and the gradual return of magic to the world, for good or ill. Or at least, that’s the intent.
The first chapter is incredibly brief, going over what makes the setting distinct from other cliche fantasy worlds out there. Make no mistake, it is very heavily “D&D high fantasy,” but the author’s putting things front and center rather than being found later on.
Beyond this general overview, there are some other things to highlight: there are no gods in the classic D&D standard, for all forms of magic come from mana, and the closest equivalents we have to religion are those who view mana as a fate-like cosmic phenomena and worship it, and people who worship dragons. Clerics and paladins channel mana based on their faith and emotional state, while druidic magic comes from ambient mana altering their natural biology. The book would later contradict itself by having warlocks as a class making pacts with eldritch entities, although there’s a new ‘patron’ where warlocks become something akin to arcane white blood cells for the planet. Airships and floating continents are also in vogue, although said method of conveyance is restricted to the mysterious skybound kingdoms.
Old vs New: The 2 chapters used to be one larger, more comprehensive chapter. The older version of the book went into more detail on how mana is created and flows through the world. It radiates from the twin moons Palonia and Promia down to the planet. Mana in its flowing state are referred to as ley lines, gathering underground in thick clusters known as mana-wells. The wells shoot excess mana through subterranean tunnels up into the surface, suffusing the planet with magic.
*which go unnamed in the current version.
The world of Imaria is divided into six Ages. In the shadowy annals of Pre-History there were long-lost kingdoms of elves, dwarves, orcs, and Neranians (a new race in the book) who battled with each other in seemingly endless struggles. The beginnings of recorded history start with the Age of Baronia, with the discovery of humans. It turned out that humans had something going for them besides short lifespans and high fertility rates: they produced innately-magical members among their race who would later become known as the Blooded, and united all of the other races into peace...by making orcs a common enemy. This is viewed as a golden time by many, although some historians assert that this was an act of opportunistic genocide.
The Blooded became the dominant power in worldly politics; historians discovered that they originated from the surface of the twin moons and came down to Imaria via unknown means. Naturally they used their status and magical nature as a divine right of kings minus the divine part, creating a magical aristocracy. The world would become more interesting in the Age of Lunalia, where winged elves astride airships came down from floating continents and used their aerial gifts to establish a world-spanning trade empire. Things became more peaceful, and while the Lunalians exalted the value of open borders and free trade they immediately cut off all contact with the groundbound realms when the Blooded demanded that they be given airships of their own as part of the deal. So much for the invisible hand of the free market, eh?
The following Age of Pareth was when everything began to suck. The current generations of Blooded forgot what their ancestors fought for and started acting like stereotypical feudal lords. The nonhumans, meanwhile, started realizing that the human kingdoms could totally kick their ass with their magic and numbers and started withdrawing and preparing for potential war that soon became a self-fulfilling prophecy. But peace soon came again when the once-meager Lynnvander Blooded house shown the world that #notallnobles are bad and began to lead by example and started smacking down the worst of the warlords. They were successful, ushering in an Age of Lynnvander where peace once returned.
The following Age of Iltheria (called the Age of Loss by the elves due to their genocide) would repeat the cycle of history for the worst. A secret paramilitary order wielding swords made of a strange anti-magic metal struck at key strategic points, causing disunity among the Blooded and even bringing down the elven forest kingdom of Crystalfellen. These Iltherian Knights drew upon social outcasts and those who felt that the Blooded had failed them. The Lunalians saw what was going on and went “nah, let’s stay in the clouds for a while,” although most of the other races began to come together upon realization that this threat wasn’t localized. They failed, and the Iltherians came to power as they jailed and executed most of the Blooded, waged genocide against elves and other magical races, and enslaved countless people. Although surviving post-war nations attempted economic sanctions against them, Iltheria’s geographic position and reliance on slave labor (which the nouveau riche class of mundane landholders loved) meant that they came out ahead of such trade wars.
The Iltherian Empire did not last long. In a mere two decades they’d start to decline; once you drove all the mages into graves or hiding you couldn’t rely on them as a bogeyman as easily, so intellectuals of all stripes were targeted on the off-chance they were “secret wizards.” Slave rebellions, while rare, became the new go-to, but the Empire relied on their scapegoating a bit too universally and as a result faith in the system gradually weakened. This is not counting the degradation of the land in places due wiping out mana, or sudden hardships faced by communities when nobody could accurately predict the weather, cure resilient diseases, or do any of the stuff magic can easily do. Iltheria’s enemies raised a mercenary army in secret, striking at the capital, assassinating the Emperor, and causing a power vacuum to occur as others sought to clamor for the now-empty position. Iltheria still lives, although they lost a lot of power and territory since that fateful day.
The current postwar era is the Age of Arcana. Magic-users are beginning to grow more common as survivors come out of hiding and train new generations bearing supernatural talent. Blooded members in exile attempt to reclaim their noble birthrights to varying degrees of success. Lunalian airships are gradually making contact with the outside world, slavery is banned in most nations, the survivors of genocide and slavery are being given reparations for their suffering, and those former Iltherians who broke away from the system to fight it seek to atone for their misdeeds. In an odd choice of words they call themselves Iltherian Reformists, even though it’s clear that they see no sense in preserving the Empire and even take violent action against them. Shouldn’t they be called Revolutionaries, Redeemers, or even better discard the term Iltherian altogether to show their change of heart? They’re more or less the PC option for players who want cool anti-magic swords and powers but don’t want to be a Lawful Evil dickwad in a spellcaster-free party.
There’s mention of a “new unknown evil” at the edges of the world, which...isn’t described, only that there are lots of scary stories going around.
Old vs New: The Age of Lunalia was originally called the Age of Iouna, which was oddly-named as said continent (spelled elsewhere as Iounia) has little prominence during this era. There’s still references to this Age in the current version, although I believe it’s a mistake the editors failed to catch. The Iltherian Reformists were formerly called the New Order Iltherians.
Magic, Imarian Life, & Dragons
There are technically six types of magic in Imaria, with Arcane and Divine being but two. Magic, no matter what its source, comes from mana. The way in which it is wielded and processed differs, but ultimately stems from the land itself. Alchemical magic doesn’t even require you to be a spellcaster, for it is the natural process of using items and ingredients to trap mana in a certain state, usually for medicinal and poisonous purposes. Anti-Magic isn’t even a type, but is included here for relevance; a metal known as renik has the ability to outright destroy mana from existence, and is typically shaped into swords by Iltherians for offensive properties. “Antimagic” spells such as Counterspell and the like merely staunch the flow of ley lines or slow them to a bare trickle; renik instead evaporates them. Arcane magic is when a person uses their blood to call mana from the environment and reshape it to their whims; sorcerers can do this naturally, while wizards learn to do the same effects via study and practice. Divine magic is the process of shaping mana via the power of belief; as such divine spellcasters don’t need holy symbols to channel their powers, although they can still ‘fall’ if they suffer a crisis of faith. Seers are people who call mana from different places in the timestream, and as such are unaffected by low/no mana zones given that they’re borrowing the mana from a point when it did exist. Seers are named such that their powers give them glimpses into what may be and what has passed. Finally, supernatural magic is when a person’s very biology is reshaped by long-term exposure to mana. It’s an all-encompassing term for those who have natural magical powers due to their race, and also includes druids. As to why sorcerers aren’t lumped in or how this makes it different from arcane magic “casting through the blood…” this isn’t really explained.
Old vs New: Seers were originally called psionics and would also cover potential psionic classes that will be made official...any day now...by Wizards of the Coast. Additionally, some sample “in-character text” for various entries has been replaced with new text or moved around.
There’s no one-size-fits-all description of how people in Imaria live; different places have their own particular needs, cultures, and traditions, although there are some broad universalities. The Iltherian Empire’s anti-intellectualism caused technological as well as magical regression in places, as scholars who once maintained wondrous devices were executed and their works burned. There has been no conclusive evidence of the existence of gods or how the world itself was created, although there are those who worship mana and the land. Indeed there are people who believe that the world itself chooses champions to safeguard its welfare. Dragons are one of the most powerful beings known and are commonly worshiped, although most went into a deep slumber from the lowering mana levels and Iltherian depredations. There’s also a second draconic race known as Wyrms, artificial creations who are skilled shapeshifters possessed of a free spirit. They use Brass Dragon stats, but as little else is said about them I’m unsure what niche they’re supposed to fill in the setting.
Most of Imaria falls in that vague High Medieval/Renaissance level of technological industrialization. Most of society is agricultural, and gunpowder and airships are local specialties. It’s mentioned that Iltheria has “running water, irrigation, sanitation, and lighting” although the vagueness on this makes me ask if the empire’s cities have out and out electrical grids or merely very efficiently-burning fuels for illumination. It kind of goes against their anti-intellectual streak causing technology to be lost, and the book doesn’t describe how they managed to avert this particular problem...or if they’re averting it very well at all.
Old vs New: The prior version of this book went into detail on common currencies by continent. The gold/silver/platinum standard is far from universal: the barter system reigns in Krymaris, which housed the Iltherian Empire, and the wild continent of Tensire. Iounia uses gems and precious metals as currency in addition to coins, while the island nations of Phaelan’s Republic have their own local currencies with favorable exchange rates due to trade agreements. Thalagrant differs wildly between the barter system and coins depending on local circumstances. Furthermore, we had a table of Standard and Exotic Languages, numbering a whopping 32! Merchant Tongue is the “common” language of the setting, and there’s multiple languages based on continents, cultures, subraces, and subcultures; Skull Sign is used by member of the Diamond Skull, Slave-Tongue developed among Iltherian slaves to speak in confidentiality, and Mana-Arcane is the language spoken by spellcasters (mostly seers, wizards, and humans).
Thoughts So Far: I have mixed feelings about the first two chapters. For one, I like how humans have a specific role in the world and distinctive trait via a moon-born magical aristocracy. Making humanity a high magic race, at least among the upper class, is a rather novel spin and also gives an explanation for how they became a dominant power. I also commend the author’s chutzpah in departing from the necessity of gods and pantheons by making religion a literal matter of faith; by making magic a natural resource which some believe can empower agents to protect the land itself, the setting has more of an eco-friendly/green message as opposed to one such as Faerun or Krynn where the gods are the linchpins of reality cohesion.
I have to take points off for inconsistencies and vague descriptions, which I outlined in the above sections. I also find it odd that the Iltherian Empire rose in a time of peace; in terms of real-world history and for narrative purposes it feels as though it would’ve made more sense for them to succeed during the Age of Pareth, where distrust of the Blooded and the infighting among nations would be ripe to exploit. I also do find it stretching belief a bit that the Iltherians were able to single-handedly destroy the elven nation and most of their forest; they were but a military order at this point, and wouldn’t become a proper kingdom until an undetermined amount of time later. Maybe the elves are very small in number or something?
Last but not least, none of the PDFs have proper bookmarks or even an index. As the latest 2 versions range from 156 to 188 pages with 8-9 chapters, this makes navigating the books quite hard. Even more so when you’re a reviewer like me, trying to find out what’s changed or been added/taken away.
Join us next time as we take a tour of the world in Chapter 3, Lands of Imaria!