Review: Imaginary Empire – EPOCH: Experimental Paradigm of Cinematic Horror

EPOCH: Experimental Paradigm of Cinematic Horror
EPOCH is a modern horror RPG written by Dale Elvy and published by Imaginary Empire.
By Lord Mhor

Learn more about EPOCH here
Purchase EPOCH here
Find other EPOCH products here

EPOCH is epic! This is more than just a role-playing game, in that it is also a new kind of narrative tool with the power to improve your storytelling and role-playing in general. EPOCH is a cooperative game, meaning that the players and Game Master work together to weave a quality horror story. It is a contemporary horror game, but the elements of the game can easily be ported to other genres.

This review was delayed by a considerable margin, much to the chagrin of my Chief Editor, for a very selfish reason. Upon reading the book and assembling the cards, I gathered some players and began to play . . . and play . . . and play.

We played the Tension Phases, in which drama is built up and invoked. We played Challenge Rounds, in which some characters survived and those who ran out of the right sorts of cards perished in a particularly entertaining and horrific manner through total mental collapse, death, or something much worse. We cringed. We laughed. We voted for the most interesting character, who received a card back that had been played and therefore had a better chance of surviving the total game. These games went on. Addicted, we played more. So it went.

You’ll notice that certain keywords in this review are capitalized. These correspond to major categories of cards. This game is played with cards – lots of cards. There are no dice involved. Cards drive the narrative progression. Cards define your Relationships, be they Colleagues, Friends, Family, or Strangers. Cards are used to portray your Traits, Strengths, and Weaknesses – and you get to keep them secret until you use them in the game.

When you run out of certain cards, the opportunity to role-play a quality doom is upon you. Scream. Throw yourself on the floor and have a fit. Cower in a corner, whispering strange nonsense. Die poetically, or badly – it’s your choice. Think of any horror movie you’ve ever seen. EPOCH lets you enter such a story and play it to whatever extreme your creativity permits. As a horror game, it allows three possible Outcomes, using a tool known as the Horror Track: Defeat, Hollow Victory, or Total Victory. The more points the characters score as they work through the story, the better the outcome.


The structure of EPOCH mirrors the narrative structure of quality fiction. If you don’t already understand how a good book or movie is written, you will by the time you’ve finished a few games of EPOCH. This is an element of the game that produces value that can extend through your gaming career, and even enhance your ability to tell good stories of any genre.

The book is divided, quite appropriately, into four sections: Bone, Muscle, Skin, and Scenarios.

Bone covers the overall skeleton of the game, including such things as an overview, character distance, player activation, blocking, and game management. Muscle gets into the meat of the game mechanics with a system overview, card management, and the details of the system. Skin works on the atmosphere and behavioral aspects of telling the story, including sensory evocation, table discipline, learning styes, and scenario design.

The scenarios are complete tales. The main book includes three of these titled “Fever Pitch”, “Sunshine Falls”, and “Price Slash.” These include sets of cards specific to each story line and a full description of how to run each story. Also, “Road Trip”, an all-new scenario for EPOCH has been released. You can get it for free via DriveThruRPG and RPGnow.


I have been enthralled by EPOCH. This is a totally new way to run a role-playing game and is extremely satisfying. EPOCH is also educational, and the mechanics force a cooperative structure and atmosphere that can enhance the play of other role-playing games as well. Get it.


Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
This rating will improve to 10 out of 10 as soon as a professionally-rendered print-on-demand set of playing cards is available. As a PDF product, the graphics, type, and structure are excellent. Full sets of cards are well-rendered and everything you need to play is presented in an excellent fashion. The different types of content are visually separated, and the progression of information is well-formatted. I found that assembling my deck of cards took quite a while. It was well worth the work but, being a lazy sort dedicated to instant gratification, this took some effort. To our great fortune, Imaginary Empire is planning to release a print-on-demand EPOCH card deck in 2013, along with two sci-fi scenarios and an additional volume with optional rules, additional scenarios, and advice on constructing your own storylines.

Until then, here’s a helpful hint: print the PDF cards using “actual size” rather than “fit to printing area”. Use a good thick paper 30 – 50 lb stock. Cut the cards out carefully towards the inside edge of the thick black lines. The fronts and backs can then be slid into clear Ulta Pro 54 mm by 80 mm Board Game Sleeves. These can be found online in packs of 50. Get two packs.

Mechanics: 10 out of 10
The mechanics are laid out systematically and the breakdown has been structured in a way that makes the system easy to grasp. There is a one-page overview sheet that shows the structure of the entire game, complete with page references for immediate review. EPOCH is a different type of game, so there is much to learn, and this has been structured in an excellent fashion.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
The only reason this isn’t a 10 rating is that EPOCH is very different from most games in this genre. There are some players who might rebel against the lack of dice in a purely card-driven system. There is very little room in EPOCH for the admittedly popular adversarial relationship between the Game Master (GM) and the players, so there may be certain players who might not be able to adapt to this extremely different narrative approach.

Overall: 9 out of 10
In conclusion, EPOCH has already improved the quality of my own role-playing and story-telling. I have complete confidence that it can do the same for you. Give it a try.

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