Supplement Review: The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen: Cultural Division in a Caste-Based Society by Tim Loya from Tim Loya Games

Timothe Loya’s obviously got some grand plans for The Expedition Journals of Amestus Armen (TEJOAA for short). It’s far from your average RPG supplement and takes a completely different approach to describing a setting than I’ve seen in 30 years of gaming. As you read each journal, you are transported to another place, another time, where you are either a member of the expedition or someone back home in the Empire ruled by Her Imperial Majesty. Though it’s mostly written from the perspective of Amestus Armen, the
leader of the expedition in the New World, you also catch glimpses of opinions from other members of the expedition. Some of them support Amestus and others… don’t.

The first journal – The Pantheon and Worship of the Alendaii – focused on the gods or revered ancestors of the Urvalis, the local tribe the expedition meets upon coming ashore. There are twelve of these Alendaii forming a pantheon of sorts and the people have a loose relationship with each. But Loya also includes plenty of intriguing ideas for how to integrate them into a fantasy campaign. It’s that combination of fluff and crunch that makes this series quite unique.

Now, in the second journal – Cultural Division in a Caste-Based Society – we learn a bit more about the Urvalis and their society. Caste distinctions are rarely explored in such depth in gaming materials, so it was quite interesting to dive into such a topic. The unwillingness of some on each side of the cultural divide is seen in our own world, so it’s fun to see the parallels from multiple points of view of the various expedition members.

Beyond the cultural investigation however, there are practical aspects of the expedition which we start to see as well. The Legionnaires who accompanied the expedition as a military force needed something to do, so Amestus gave them things to do – rationing supplies, building a fort, and protecting their mission from outside incursions. Of course, in a scientific expedition you wouldn’t expect the scholars to stay in the fort, would you? No… Amestus and his team spent plenty of time talking to the tribe to get a feel for the similarities and differences between their two people.

As someone interested in anthropology, I have to admit that the description of the various castes in the tribe and their responsibilities to the community was very interesting. But even so, this journal gets a bit thick on the science and a bit light where it might be applied to a game. It reads as though it could be a treatise in sociology or anthropology. The details really do help build a complex scaffolding upon which you could hang some interesting plots and adventure ideas, but I was hoping for more suggestions on how to do that as we saw in the first journal.

I would even like to see if the influence of the mission from the Empire affects the natives in any noticeable way – even subtle shifts away from the “group mind” could be disastrous for the whole. And on the other hand, would this unwanted incursion of new ideas affect the Imperials as well? Will some members of the expedition “Go Native”? And how will the stout Imperialists deal with that shift? So content-wise I was left wanting a bit more.

Layout-wise I think the books are coming along nicely with a few new tweaks. Each page is still two-columns, but the notes and commentary from the other members of the expedition are worked in more as primitive sticky notes, integrating them a bit better in the flow of the book. I did notice a few spelling errors scattered throughout, but nothing major.

However… One of the things that blew my mind was the complete lack of any sort of introduction or overview to ease new readers or previous readers back into this world. I started reading on page 3 and was wondering where I was for a minute. The “Introduction” in this case was more from Amestus’ point of view introducing the topic of this journal to a scholarly reader and less about easily finding the common thread to the previous material. I would strongly encourage the addition of some sort of pretext to help readers get back into the swing of things. At least a “cast of characters” to set the tone perhaps? Or a summary of “the journey so far”?

I’m still very excited to see where this series of journals leads us. But I think there are a few improvements that could be made along the way to keep the gamers in tune with the journey.

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