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Thread: Friends or Foes
Wednesday, 10th February, 2010, 07:53 PM #1
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Friends or Foes
The publication of a new and official Dragon Warriors supplement is not something that happens every day. Indeed the last time it occurred was back in the heady days of the late 1980s, when my haircut was even more unfashionable than it is now, if that is possible.
Hence cracking open the pages of Friends and Foes; an anthology of NPCs from the Lands of Legend, was an event that was bound to elicit nervousness and excitement in equal measure. So it was with slightly sweaty palms that I began to read. Even before digesting the first word, my mind was crowded with unspoken concerns; would the writing live up to the standards of the “Big Six” original books, that seem to cast such a long shadow over everything that now comes after; would the first new and official material in twenty years contradict anything that I myself had crafted in the decades since the publication of the original books; would that almost mystical ‘Legend flavour’ suffuse this latest offering? The last question was the key for me as it is THE essential ingredient to anything labelled “Dragon Warriors” and something that all diehard fans of the game seem to recognise and clamour for, though none of us seem to be able to define it.
It is my intention in this brief personal reaction to Friends and Foes, to answer all these questions and many more. I must put my cards on the table at the outset and state that Friends and Foes is not the sort of supplement that usually ‘pushes my buttons’ and I was more than a little bemused when I discovered that this book was to be the first new Dragon Warriors offering from Magnum Opus. Having said this, I make no claims to be in any way representative of Dragon Warriors fans in general, and therefore YMMV as they say……………
So to go all technical, Friends and Foes is a 64 page anthology of 36 quirky characters, drawn from all levels of society and power from the world of Legend. These NPCs hail from most of the major ‘True Faith’ nations, with a few from further afield. Each character seems to be linked to several of the others by a series of subtle interconnections in their back-stories. Friends and Foes is published by Magnum Opus Press and was written by a coterie of writers, many of whom are die-hard Dragon Warriors fans themselves. Artwork is by the redoubtable Jon Hodgson, who generously furnishes us with the covers of Ordo Draconis, with the help of Scott Neil. The game is available as a PDF from Drivethrurpg with a list price, at the time of writing, of £8.27/$12.95 or as a soft-cover priced at £10.00 from Mongoose.
Now that the technicalities over with, let’s deal with some of the questions I posed above: is the writing any good? Well if you are looking for the purple prose of Dave Morris, you will be sadly disappointed, as the text is uniformly good without ever displaying that spark of genius that so set the original books apart. Oh there is ‘Legend flavour’ in spades though I note that the recipe seems to have changed since I last sampled the dish. Instead the writers have opted for a more modern style that lacks the “GM Scripts” and re-aloud passages that are both beloved and hated by the legions of fans from the days of Yore.
Mechanically, there are some intriguing oddities, with many of the powerful NPCs, e.g. Duke Alonso of Lavasse, that are only 1st Rank. Indeed, 11 out of 36 of the NPCs are 1st Rank, but not all of these are powerless: Ealdun the Dwarf who has the ear of King Hadric himself, is only 1st Rank despite his temporal power. The other NPCs are more or less evenly distributed, with 2-4 characters present at each Rank from 2-12.
One of the problems with this work is the lack of mechanical innovation: most of the NPCs presented seem to follow the rules for creation of PCs, with no thought to make them mechanically interesting and I feel this is a missed opportunity. For some NPCs new abilities were certainly not needed but it would have been nice to have seen a few new skills because a work of this type cries out for some mechanics to differentiate so many characters of 1st Rank when they are all laid out, side by side.
So who are these many characters and why would you and your players want to meet them? Well they are a diverse bunch, from a mystical Silver Stag that haunts the shadowy forests of Albion to a playboy Ferromani noble who is obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes. There is the aforementioned devious and power hungry dwarf hanging off King Hadric’s ear as well as a doomed cleric who has been ensorcelled by unseelie Fay. There are a number of dubious and shady characters, like Marcus Dosteny, a sort of medieval bric-a-brac merchant with the occasional ‘real gem’ to palm off on someone suitably gullible. We also finally get to meet the ox-like Baron Grisalle.
A whole set of the NPCs also seem to be focussed on Algandy, perhaps reflecting the fact that there is an unpublished Algandy sourcebook lurking offstage in Magnum Opus' basement. These Algandy-based NPCs paint a dark picture of that nation, with inquisitions and power hungry nobles at every turn. Father Alessandro is a fanatical witch-finder, whilst Sister Dominique is heretic who preaches that the world was created by the Devil. One noble seeks revenge on King Vergang for the death of his son whilst another penniless Knight seeks to foist his daughters off onto any eligible suitor. I find the Algandian NPCs particularly compelling, perhaps because their various back-stories allow us glimpse a fair bit about this formerly ill-defined country.
The same is true of the other NPCs, as each act a tiny pinhole through which we can peak at a part of the Lands of Legend and this largely explains the appeal of this book for me. Finally, after the major NPCs there is a section on personality traits for your hirelings and a set of surprisingly useful statistics for everything from ditch-diggers to town-guards. This last section is a very welcome addition to the book and something that I can see will get a lot of use in my games (yes, I do still play this thing you know).
So having read through this book I have to say I am surprised by how positive I feel about it. On the one hand, the writing style is not entirely to my taste and lacks the real inspirational flavour of the original books. Despite this, the NPCs are compelling for the most part and allow us to see beyond them to Lands of Legend barely hinted at in the ‘Big-Six’. The last section on hirelings is a real boon even if I feel the book offers little mechanically, but perhaps this is my years as a D&D GM speaking there as ‘old-skool’ fans of Dragon Warriors don’t seem to have the same hunger for new mechanics as me: indeed many seem positively wary of them, with their undeniable potential to clutter up and slow down the elegant and clean systems of the rules as written.
If forced to rate this offering on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a 7. I still feel it is a bit of an odd beast for Magnum Opus to ‘open their account’ with but was pleasantly surprised by some of the execution. I am sure it will become an essential addition to any die-hard fans’ bookshelf but am not sure it is the right kind of supplement to attract new players and GMs to the game. All in all a solid first publication for a situation charged with high expectations and the potential for 'banana-skins', so well done to all involved.
For more about Dragon Warriors orthe Lands of Legend see
Magnum Opus' site Dragon Warriors | Magnum Opus Press
Mongoose's site: Mongoose Publishing : For All Your Gaming Needs ...
The DW Wiki: Dragon Warriors Wiki (Roleplaying) Site Updates - Dragon Warriors Wiki (Roleplaying)
The Dragwars mailing group: dragwars : Messages : 7018-7047 of 7047
The Ordo Draconis Website (DW Fanzine): Ordo Draconis
Last edited by Ydars; Wednesday, 10th February, 2010 at 08:11 PM.
Saturday, 13th February, 2010, 05:48 PM #2
Novice (Lvl 1)
Totally agree that it is an "odd beast" - certainly wouldn't recommend as first (or even second or third) purchase for someone new to DW.
However what it sets out to to, it does pretty well - so if you are a GM needing a hand preparing key NPCs or subplots, then it is worthwhile.
Saturday, 20th February, 2010, 09:53 AM #3
No love for my section.
But glad the rest of the blokes got the thumbs up, theres a lot of good campaign material in there.
Monday, 22nd March, 2010, 12:17 PM #4
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
This beast is in the DTRPG top 100 small press sellers at present.
Well done to all th authors!
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