I was waiting for this book and the 13th Age system for it for a while, even before I interviewed Timothy Brown here, and let me say I’m not disappointed. While this is a huge nod to Dark Sun, it’s also very much its own thing. I feel like it’s a solid new spin on the same sorts of themes that series of books looked at. Let’s break it down.
In Dragon Kings, rather than dealing with a world scarred by the misuse of magic by people who eventually become draconic, instead they were gentle guardians of the well being of the people. I thought they did this as rulers, but in reading it quickly became obvious that their touch was far more gentle than that. The titular Dragon Kings tried their best to avoid directly influencing the people if they could, only stepping in if they felt they had no choice, and in some ways this slowed the decline of the world’s cultures… and in others made it only more bitter as people suddenly realized their guides were gone.
Unlike Dark Sun, the world is being ravaged by unknown forces, seemingly its wealth and bounty being stolen through methods not understood. This is an ongoing process, and likely a reversible one at the time the game presents, which is a huge thing, because this gives players an opportunity for great heroism or villainy as they might choose.
The conflicts of the game are many, not the least being between the four different dominant sapient species of the world. First there are humans, but humans come in a number of tribes, some of which we might not normally recognize as being human, such as a short, arboreal people with fur and tails. Yet they are considered human. There are a hive based insect people and lizardfolk who have both recently been coming into intelligence, along with the growing pains such entails. There are a elephantine centaur-like people who have two tribes with some differences in appearance, but the biggest gulf is in their views on slavery. And honestly, this approach to things as more a matter of tribe than of species is refreshing. It focuses more on their culture than I’m used to in such a book to great benefit. We get a look into different ways of doing things, which is to my mind the heart of role-playing. The elephant people and one human tribe are all matriarchal and that’s something I’m not used to seeing ever come up in games. And they put obvious thought into how those cultures would differ. It’s little things like how marriage might be laid out as only lasting a limited time and then both sides parting for good, yet this not being harmful for children.
I could go on and on about the richness of descriptions both beautiful and horrifying in the book. With 176 pages in the pdf, it’d be difficult to give a full view, but I think there is quite a bit here that is worth looking into. If you appreciate rich and detailed worlds, post-apocalyptic struggle, or the building of civilization, I think this might be the sort of game for you.
On a separate note, there was an album made for this game. Timothy Brown is not just a world builder or game designer, but also a musician. He mentioned how the art of his music influenced the creation of the game, and vice versa. While I was writing this, I listened to the album and it richly transmitted the setting in an audible manner. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite album, but I am enjoying it and the feel it provides.