Tabletop roleplaying is a creative and social hobby. Just like for board games or card games players meet up for an evening or afternoon of having fun together. Unlike board games or card games, roleplaying games are not about winning and not competitive but about collaboratively telling a story and experiencing adventures instead. A bit like actors in a movie, each player takes on a role to play - of a character of their own design. Unlike actors in a movie, there is no script to follow, and players' characters are free to make choices and decisions that contribute to the plot and influence the direction the adventure takes.
If you have played other roleplaying games before, you will find that in general AENA works in familiar ways, even if several mechanical details may be unique. What does stand out though, is the way the game conductor is handled. We don't use the title "master", as we think of game conductors as a supportive role, meant to help the players shape the story to their wish. Story-telling is not entirely free-form though. Any situtation during an adventure has a range of possible outcomes and consequences and while the players decide how it should play out - the game conductor has to find the outcomes and consequences that best match the players' intentions.
Adventures are structured in the form of a pyramid. At the very top sits the grand finale, which concludes the adventure and therefore comes last. The players' characters start at the very bottom of the pyramid with the first situations, which are plenty and easy. The situations on each level of the pyramid can generally be encountered and resolved in any order - but once the players progress the plot to the next level of the pyramid, there is no going back to a lower level. All the still unencountered situations of the previous level will default to a predefined outcome. All outcomes can influence later situations in various ways, with consequences of players' actions or inaction cascading all the way up to the grand finale.From a mechanical perspective, AENA is a class-less and level-less system. The rules feature a point-buy system, where you spend XP directly to purchase skill ranks, and your character role is defined by your skill and equipment choices. Build your own class by mixing and matching as you see fit. With a broad diversity of skills to choose from, character builds can cover all sorts of play styles and specialisations. See the character sheet for more information.
It is a dark and grim time. In a distant past, the Empire prospered and spread throughout all the known universe - colonizing uninhabited worlds and conquering the inhabited ones with their undefeatable armada. An interconnected web of wormholes allowed for travel through many galaxies and possibly even dimensions, and widespread trade brought an abundance of wealth and goods to the core worlds where the ruling noble houses lived in utter decadence.
But then, about a thousand years ago, some forgotten accident caused a permanent, violent anti-matter storm inside the void that connects the wormholes. With intergalactic navigation suddenly impossible and all communications lost, the universe descended into a dark age. Overpopulation and lack of resources brought the core worlds to the brink of collapse and in utter desperation people flocked to a new, quickly rising religion that promised food and salvation to the pius and obedient. The increasingly powerful Church built hundreds of huge colony ships, filled with millions of people frozen in cryostasis and sent them out to distant worlds, hoping to bypass the wormhole system. None of the ships were ever heard of again.
When suddenly and unexpectedly a mangled space ship exited the wormhole despite the raging storm, being steered by heavily genetically and cybernetically modified humans nonetheless, the Church demanded those infidels be executed immediately as their mere existence was sacrilegous. But the lure of renewed trade was too strong - and the holy emperor struck a deal: the Empire would build the ships to brave the storm, and the arrivals would provide navigators able to find their way through the void. In order to get the sanctus of the politically highly influential Church and the other noble houses, the emperor had to make certain concessions which resulted in the Church becoming mandatory state religion and all other religions becoming illegal by the threat of death.
The resurgence of intergalactic trade proved to be slower than expected, as the amount of routes known to the Navigators was severely limited, and discovery of new routes was uncommon. Nevertheless the core worlds rejoiced as goods and resources started flowing again. Soon a new danger became apparent though: The people manning the trade ships and crossing the stormy void, increasingly started showing irreversible signs of a new and violent mental condition. Extended exposure to the storm made people go completely mad. As the Church declared the storm to be literal hell, and advised all believers to avoid wormhole travel entirely - the Empire started to man the trade ships with convicts, political dissenters and everyone else they desired to get rid of. With wormhole travel of all military ships reduced to a bare minimum, some of the rediscovered and heavily exploited colonies saw their chance to revolt.
Meanwhile, a small, remote mining colony receives a large shipment of unlabeled, imperial cryopods. New colonists and miners to replace those lost to mysterious disappearances which have become alarmingly frequent. Entire outposts have disappeared without any trace. The pods appear to be hundreds of years old, and many of the people frozen in them can no longer be brought back to life. Inside a warehouse full of such pods, one of them fizzes and creaks as it slides open. And out of it stumble... you.