Review: Attention Span Game Studios – Carmine

Carmine is a complete epic fantasy role-playing game written by Ron F. Leota and published by Attention Span Game Studios.
By Aaron T. Huss

While Carmine is an epic fantasy system and setting at its core, it accentuates two particular aspects of epic fantasy creating something truly unique: black-powder and steam, but powered by alchemy. Carmine is powered by a roll-over d20 system, not THE d20 system, based on a characters attributes, skills, or abilities (for modifiers). Ranks placed within attributes and skills are translated directly into roll-modifiers without the need for charts or additional, obscure modifiers. Target numbers are not known by the player, although there is no sliding-scale as with other systems whereas the character gets better but everything gets more difficult as they grow. Target numbers are more defined and are not based on a character’s level.

This core rulebook is very concise but still leaves room for growth in subsequent supplements in the form of abilities and technology. By incorporating alchemy infused black-powder and steam, the setting can be enhanced with new uses for the technology. Essentially, the setting is not tied down by standard epic fantasy tropes. Carmine is a new, unique experience for fantasy players looking to raise their technology level past simple sword and sorcery.


Carmine’s setting introduces a complete look at what has come to be, leading to the current state of Carmine and the theories surrounding why the darkness (known as the void) surrounds the island. Much of it is written as if looking at loosely defined historical records that come to create a single storyline, albeit one with some speculation. Think of it as bullet points on a time-line that are being connected through what is know and what is believed to be known. This theory of “no one truly knows why the darkness came” is prevalent throughout the book, giving the setting an aura of mystery. It allows the GM to shape and mold their own back-story to create the type of adventures or campaign they want to run. As the setting time-line moves forward, you learn much about the major events that have occurred since with the spread of society, the division between humanity, the building of settlements, and the basic ebb and flow of tensions between the different cities.

This entire setting section is a very interesting read and does a great job of establishing a base for the system and the design of current affairs. This includes a map of the area and a detailed description of each applicable location with plenty of open space in-between for GMs to customize. The only trick is that the map doesn’t fully match the described details of the world, although the descriptions are very easy to follow. Rounding off these setting details is a bullet-pointed time-line to make the content a little easier to follow.


Character Creation consists of three basic elements: factions, castes, and mechanics. Other than the standard attributes, skills, and abilities, characters choose a faction to join and a caste to follow through their career. Choosing a faction provides specific benefits to the character associated with joining the chosen faction. Choosing a caste provides the archetype that the character will follow throughout its career including the advances that each character receives after reaching a given level.

Attributes are assigned very similar to other point-spending systems where you build your character according to how many points you want to spend on each attribute. The resulting value of each attribute provides specific bonuses to secondary attributes along with determining how high the attached skills can become. The easy part with the system, is that the value of your attributes and skills represent the direct modifier to your d20 roll. If you have an attribute of 6, then you receive a +6 bonus to your d20 roll; no need to reference additional charts.

The character types are directly tied to the fluff of the setting and its intended design. In addition, the use of factions make characters much more 3-dimensional.


Mechanics covers skills, abilities, and combat. As stated before, the system uses a simple roll-over d20 system using your attribute and skill ranks as direct bonuses to your roll. The lists of skills is more than sufficient and divided into standard and weapon types. The weapon skills simply differentiate those used for weapon use versus those used for all other types of action. Abilities are those that further define what your character is capable of doing better than everyone else. The list is a bit small but ample. In addition, these abilities can easily be expanded upon to add new castes and factions for designing unique character types. Combat is very straight-forward and regular role-players will be very familiar with its mechanic as they are all very standard.


What game would be complete without some fun extras? Carmine includes a wide array of equipment, alchemy items, and alchemy-powered airships. As stated before, Carmine includes alchemy-powered, black-powder weapons in addition to a lot of traditional fantasy weapons and armor. The aspects of alchemy are not only tied directly to the weapons and technology but are given some background as to why they exist (especially the airships). Carmine does an excellent job of tying together what is available and why it’s there when it comes to alchemy-powered technology.

Alchemy is an important part of what makes Carmine unique; in fact, it’s probably the biggest thing that makes it unique. Ron Leota, the author, has gone to great lengths to explain the ins and outs of alchemy and all its uses. This is not the traditional alchemy where you mix some components, fill a beaker, and make a grenade; there’s much more to it. Alchemy is described in its different forms and uses and given dimension as to its purpose and how it’s affected the setting’s history. This section is a must-read companion to the opening setting to better understand what makes Carmine so different.


The final game mastering sections contain much of the standard GM material such as tips and tactics, running adventures, NPCs, and a sample adventure outline. While it’s a great amount of information and valuable for every GM (especially the bestiary), it’s very standard and doesn’t require delving into. All I will say is that every GM needs this section and players should stay away to avoid spoiling their games.


If you are looking to step out of the traditional epic fantasy world and into something that increases the tech level without going full-blown steampunk or clockwork, Carmine is the perfect in-between setting. There are opportunities for simple human versus human clashes or take the characters into the veil and combat the horrors trying to break through. Opportunities abound, although you may need to sift through the setting material to find which one is right for your gaming group.


Publication Quality: 8 out of 10
Carmine is an excellent, professional publication from an Indy publisher. There are lots of little “gotchas” considering editing and a mismatched setting map. The layout and formatting are very easy to read, although the right-justified headers and periodic example blocks threw me off. This does not detract from the quality, it’s just different. Considering the unique aspects of the setting, it fits well with the difference Carmine conveys compared to traditional epic fantasy. Attention Span Games does a great job of using all the white space although center-justified stat blocks are a bit tricky to read without any solid lines dividing the different blocks such as attributes and skills. Overall the publication quality is quite good.

Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I like the simplicity of Carmine’s d20 system. While it’s not designed to be flexible with other settings in mind, it covers all aspects of the Carmine setting as necessary. The stat on your character sheet is the modifier you use; there’s no need to add half your level, or use a chart to determine the modifier according to the actual attribute number, or even add a bunch of different modifiers. Game-play should be quick and abilities allow you to grow the game with new factions, character types, or whatever in the future. It’s definitely a system that avoids becoming bloated and is easy to learn and understand.

Desire to Play: 8 out of 10
While the setting is unique and the system’s mechanics are well-designed, Carmine feels limited and I struggle to picture full campaigns. Adventures could be easy enough to design, but a full campaign can be a bit more difficult when the island surrounded by the Veil is so small and so few cities established along the borders of where the horrors can be found. However, the sheer uniqueness of the setting is a driving factor to one’s desire to play Carmine. It’s not your average epic fantasy; it’s a blend of epic fantasy, steampunk (although I do not consider Carmine to be steampunk), and black-powder fantasy powered by the all aspects of alchemical technology. Coupled with the horrors being held at bay by the Veil and adventures are easily found.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Carmine is a good, solid game system, especially for the price. The setting is truly unique and the combination of fantasy and alchemical technology is wonderfully developed; especially since the technology is directly tied into the fluff portions of the setting. Much of how the island of Carmine has come to be is explained, but you don’t really know what your game-play is meant to be like. This is good and bad in that it gives Game Masters the flexibility of doing whatever they want with their games but also forces them to do more legwork to create some type of gaming experience (either dictated by the GM or the players).

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