I had the pleasure of speaking to Timothy Brown, who created Dark Sun and 2300 AD about his new project, Dragon Kings, which will begin crowdfunding this month.
Melody: You have mentioned how important music is to your project, and in some ways how it’s acted as inspiration, but could you elaborate? What kinds of music do you like best, or is it more that different types help inspire different themes with you?
Tim: My desire to blend music into the creation of a fictional universe stems from my earliest days as a reader, gamer, and music fan. I feel fortunate that I came of age in the 70s, during a convergence of key entertainment influences that would guide much of my life. Dungeons & Dragons emerged on the gaming scene and really captured my imagination. The bands Pink Floyd, Rush, Jethro Tull, Yes, and others were making arguably their best albums.The local book store introduced me to Tolkien, Asimov, Howard, Niven, Herbert, Burroughs … I immersed myself in all of this.
What stuck with me through my game design career was how music has sometimes conveyed as vivid a picture of imaginary places to me as any prose or art. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a song worth? Music reaches me on its own unique level. It’s powerful, emotional. The right music generates what I call that ‘turn it up’ moment that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. That’s what I want to incorporate into the presentation of Dragon Kings, that visceral, gut-level connection that music can deliver.
In this case, I feel like there’s a kinship between the classic progressive rock and metal albums and the presentation of a fantasy universe. Is that a personal bias on my part? Perhaps. I know that it affords me the opportunity to introduce different moods through instrumentation and variant time signatures, as well as an expectation of somewhat elevated lyrical content. With Dragon Kings, I’ve got some stories to tell, and progressive rock gives me a comfortable platform from which to tell them.
Melody: I have been discovering a bit of a talent for the visual arts, so I understand exactly what you mean. Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull are both regulars when I need to work on writing or visual art.
What sort of themes and stories are you hoping to encourage with Dragon Kings? Do you see it as a story of heroes versus a hostile world that is offended at their existence, or against other sentient inhabitants, or both? Is it a world where nations really matter? Or is it more of a tribal feel you have, with smaller groups who may be somewhat aligned but preserve more of their independance?
Tim: Khitus is a world in steep decline. At the outset, characters struggle against the perpetrators of that decline, the marauders, slavers, and their mysterious overseers. It is a time where new heroes must emerge to keep their civilizations from collapse, to be buried and forgotten in dust. That lays the basis of Dragon Kings’ pulp fantasy flavor, high adventure pitted against powerful enemies with clear objectives: gathering strength, thwarting evildoers, and simple survival.
Nations and nationalism are key themes, though. Every character has a relationship with a nation, people, or race that suggests certain behaviors and loyalties (spelled out clearly so players can incorporate them into their role-playing). Pride runs deep. Blood ties trump other considerations. Traditions are fiercely embraced and cherished. On Khitus, there is no internationalism in the strict sense of the word. Alliances between nations for the common good are unheard-of. Historically, such measures have never been necessary under the benevolent guidance of the powerful Dragon Kings. Their centuries of care left the nations and peoples of Khitus somewhat immature, politically lacking, inexperienced in areas of diplomacy and organization that they desperately need now. Who will take up the mantle of cooperation, of setting aside ancient rivalries and blood feuds? Men hide behind the stockades around both their cities and their hearts. A Dragon Kings hero might just as easily wield a philosophy as a sword.
Melody: Can you tell me a bit about Khitus physically? What sort or world are we looking at here? I mean we know it will be a challenging one to survive in, but there are so many environments that fit that bill. In what ways will the world threaten and force people to strive to barely make it, much less thrive?
Tim: Khitus is an Earth-like world with a wide variety of biomes and terrains. To make it more adventurous, its features are more exaggerated: the jungles are darker, the mountains higher and more jagged, the valleys deeper and wider; the animals are more vicious, more poisonous, more savage. It’s always been a largely untamed world with vast wild lands between pockets of civilization. All things being equal, Khitus was already a harsh, dangerous place, but decades of wanton plunder have taken a grim toll.
The region of the Old Countries, already an arid land to begin with, has taken the brunt of the marauders’ wrath. Its city states are all but ruined, its peoples scattered. It is the first region so bereft of water that life itself has become untenable, but the creeping fingers of ruin are reaching further and further with every passing season. Every Khitan race, people, and nation feels the pinch. The desperate flee. The wise prepare. The greedy participate willingly in the world’s decline, satisfied with silver doled out by the Pale, the twisted agents of mysterious Dragon Kings turned wicked.
So, the struggle against Khitus is three-fold: against the harsh environment, against the plundering marauders, and ultimately against those left alive competing for ever dwindling necessities.
Melody: As a bit of an odd question that just occurred to me, but I’d support just for the “extra”, but… are you planning on later building adventure modules, and if so will there be “soundtracks” (probably mp3 format) that come with each? I mean, heck, I’d love just to buy good background music for running adventures, but having music crafted for a certain type of adventure?
Tim: Yes, we want to make adventures for the Dragon Kings universe, especially those that help guide the characters deeper into its lore and mysteries. We’ve considered creating additional music for each subsequent release, and that would include the same music ‘sans lyrics’ to be played as theme or background music during play. Ideally, we’ll write songs that express moods appropriate to each adventure, which I think will be a particularly interesting challenge.
Melody: I want to thank you for your time. You’ve been really great, and I’m anxiously waiting to see your crowdfunding effort!
Tim: Thanks, I’ve really enjoyed it. Every interview makes me think things though a bit more, and I appreciate it.