I miss playing Savage Worlds, and plan on returning to it one of these days. When I do, I sincerely hope it is to play Totems of the Dead. I am a Latin American scholar, and spend an inordinate amount of time studying the pre-Columbian peoples of North and Central America. As a result of this fascination, a pre-Columbian fantasy game like Totems of the Dead is definitely one of my favorite games. (We did an episode in season one where it was featured as a favorite game.)
The Yaurcoan Empire sourcebook is a fantastic resource for Totems of the Dead, especially if you want an Incan themed game. If I can put my historian hat on a for a moment, The Yaurcoan Empire won’t get you through a class on the Inca, as the Empire presented in the book is a mash up of the Incan Empire around the time of its “discovery” by Pizarro. I like to think of the Yaurcoan Empire as a bit of alternate history with the assumption that the Spanish never showed up…and it has Pterosaur riding warriors and Pleistocene animals wandering around (like Terror Birds). This, to me, makes it incredibly awesome!
The book itself is short but sweet, covering all sorts of material without bogging the reader down in minutiae. There is at least one adventure seed per page, and I’m not exaggerating about that. There is a part that covers the history, religion, and culture of the Yaurcoan Empire and its subject people. Like the Incas, the Yaurcoa dominate a bunch of local tribes, some of whom resent the dominance and others who are busily assimilating, as well as many shades of gray in between the extremes. The religion section is interesting and really illustrates this cosmopolitan atmosphere.
The Gazetteer section is also incredibly informative and useful for a GM who is going to run a game set in the cities of the Empire. Each city comes complete with a sentence or two of history, some cultural differences highlighted, and a little news (adventure seed!). The places are wonderfully thought out, and yet tease you with a lack of detail begging to be filled in! The entire book is written with an eye for tantalizing your imagination with ways to bridge gaps between short bursts of inspirational prose. There are neat details like a mention that there are hidden valleys in the mountains containing monsters, treasure, secret estates, and ancient ruins. They even mention a couple of peoples from the distant past (one a race of giants that still inhabit some of the valleys) to help you flavor your own ruins.
There is only a page of new crunch in here, which definitively shows that it’s more of a GM’s book than one for players. The new edges and equipment is still pretty cool, though. In the GM’s section of the book there are stats and backgrounds for a few major characters mentioned in the current events of the Empire, which does a really good job of showing you how to build a character from a similar background. Each description has a few good story hooks in it, too. There are two pages of “secrets,” which are really just adventure seeds, and they add a lot of ideas!
The bestiary section is really cool, too, which is really a feature of this line (the GM’s Guide has a massive bestiary). It has the stats you would need to run the adventure at the end of the book. The adventure is only a page, and would require a little bit of exposition on the GM’s part. It does a solid job of giving someone a good kick start to the two-fisted nature of the game.
Overall, if you like Totems of the Dead, pick up The Yaurcoan Empire. It’d be six dollars well spent, as at the very least it will keep you inspired to do something. The best praise I can heap on The Yaurcoan Empire is that it screams to be played. The entire time you read it as a GM your head will spin with ideas to run a game set in the Empire itself.