|Art by Michael Creager|
Avalon Hill marketed Dark Emperor as “its game of fantastic warfare.” As described in the previous post, the setting of the game is the world of Loslon. True to the notion of “fantastic warfare,” most of the counters represent military units. Other counters represent individuals called Leaders; they have 'Hero Ratings' that can affect battles. Many Leaders also have a Magic Strength, permitting them to cast spells. On Loslon, magic is derived from Runes and each magic-using leader is associated with one.
There are five pairs of 'opposed' Runes: Death / Life, Terror / Serenity, Earth / Air, Fire / Water, and Metal / Wood. Each Rune permits the casting of one or two spells as well as the ability to counter the spells of its opposite. Any given spell “is either a movement, combat, or diplomacy spell.” Aside from countering Wood spells, a “Metal Rune leader” can cast “Forge Sword.” This creates either a Hero's Sword (which seems to increase a leader's Hero Rating during heroic combat) or a Living Sword (which can permanently destroy greater vampires).
When casting a spell, a player must roll the leader's Magic Strength or less on 1d6. Given that most spell casting leaders have a Magic Strength of 3, such a leader has only a 50% chance of successfully casting his (or her) first spell in a game-turn. “Magical Devices” can increase Magic Strength, as can areas on the board indicated by Rune symbols. (Some leaders start the game with a Magical Device.)
Also on the board are seven pentacle symbols upon which “magic hex units” are randomly placed, face down. Leaders can visit such a hex and reveal the counter. Among the possibilities are three monsters and four Magical Devices. Leaders may attempt to recruit monsters or fight them. Killing a monster means that “the leader's hero rating is permanently increased by ONE.” The Magical Devices include:
Famir – A sword “created to destroy Ssstoth, king of the Sea-monsters.” Ssstoth can appear in the game and the leader with Famir is compelled to fight Ssstoth.
He-Sups-On-Prana – A sword which can drain an enemy's soul “and destroys him.”
The Dawn Lantern – This device reduces “the combat strengths of all vampire units...”
The Silk Negator – “It is a cloth with the ability to negate any magic.”
Also part of the game are mercenaries who can be recruited by either side:
Lord Montoy – Lord Montoy ruled the lands between the cities of Montoy and the Gates. When defeated by Stavror ten years ago, “he retreated to the interior with the survivors and began a guerilla war.” He has become a mercenary with the hope he can earn “enough gold to hire a force to retake his kingdom.”
Saar – Saar is an intelligent Great Eagle from the mountains of Ahautsieron. Unlike most of his race, his primary interest in humans is as food. To his delight, he has discovered that humans will pay him to fight other humans; the result being a battlefield covered with fresh corpses for the delectation of Saar and his followers...
Fernan Conniver – “He was banished from [Kelaron Oiret] when it was discovered that he bribed his way into the Ahaubot,” the governing body of the land. “He has become a mercenary leader of considerable ability since his disgrace” and “is only employed by those who have a desperate need for his services.”
The Hounds – The Hounds are a race of sapient canines who live in the far north. Mor Faloi, a human, was abandoned in their land as a child. They adopted him and raised him to the pack. As a man, Mor has raised a unit of hound fighters and become a mercenary...
Cos dol Cos – Cos dol Cos is a member of the Cult of Unity, a religious cult who believe that magic has brought man nothing but misery. They seek to eliminate magic from Loslon and return to the ancient ways, practiced before the First Age of Magic. Cos dol Cos isn't a true mercenary, he fights when and where he feels the cause is served. His Sons of the Morning are so named because they believe that the elimination of magic will bring a golden dawn to mankind...Cos dol Cos and the Sons of the Morning are immune to all forms of magic.
Silwer Flagriel – Silwer is a cult leader associated with the Fire Rune, but – unlike the other mercenaries – he is not associated with any military units. The Cult of Burning Inspiration believes that evil is rampant and “must be burned out wherever it is found.” He is more likely to side with the Great Necromancer since the kingdoms of Loslon “are a little tired of Silwer's habit of burning cities to the ground to purge the evil within them.”