Disclaimer: This document was graciously given to me for the purposes of review by Tim Brown. All opinions within the review are my own.
Today’s review is of the Dragon Kings’ World Book. For those of you who don’t know what it is, Tim Brown, of Dark Sun fame, kickstartered and will soon release the spiritual successor to Dark Sun. He was kind enough to send me a review copy of the book. So here is a sneak peak at the world of Khitus, a land bereft of ancient protectors and in need of new heroes.
This will be a thousand foot review, mainly because the book is 100% fluff. The mechanical crunch will be supplied by pdfs that release after the book. While I only received an advance copy of the manuscript, I got a remarkably clean and clear presentation of the world of Khitus. As you may realize from this blog, I read a lot of gaming books, and I cannot emphasis enough that Tim Brown does a remarkable job of walking the line of detail versus clarity. He presents an amazing amount of depth to his new world without bogging the reader down in dense text filled with too much prose. Dragon Kings is a fun, fast read.
Chapter 1 – One World Among Many
Within the introduction chapter of Dragon Kings, we are introduced to Khitus. The world is currently a dying desert balanced on a knife’s edge. The actions of a few could pull it back from the brink of destruction or damn it to death. Formerly, Khitus was a lush world, rich in natural resources. Home to inhuman and distant gods, the human cultures of Khitus spread out to claim their homelands. The Dragon Kings rose from powerful magi that came into their power during that barbarian age. These Dragon Kings were benevolent mentors and guided the human nations that arose on Khitus. They reigned for a thousand years, keeping the peace and shaping the world more than any other force in Khitus’ history before explicably disappearing.
Their withdrawal signaled the decline of Khitus. The weather and climate changed, and the nations fell into war. Resources became rare and water scarcer still. Civilization collapsed in on itself, huddling in the corpses of once-great cities and around wells that can barely support the population’s needs. Strange visitors to the world hasten the stripping of Khitus’ natural wealth.
It is truly a world in need of heroes.
Chapter 2 – Struggle of Khitus
The war for Khitus is personified by the factions that struggle to control the world and its people. Tim breaks these factions up among their agendas: those of coin, faith, magic, and mind. The factions’ interests range from the material, like those in the Water Guild, to the esoteric, who seek to bring the ancient gods back to the world. We also are introduced to the terrifying Boneshards, assassins who train themselves to block the pain of hiding their weapons beneath skin and bone. There are other alien, emergent powers: the insectoid Krikis, who feel very-Choja-esque (from Feist’s novels set on Midkemia and Kelewan), the lizardmen Oritahl, and the white eyed Yenfansa (devil’s children). The chapter finishes off with hints of other threats, which gives GMs great starting points for campaign ideas and could be fleshed out in future books.
Chapter 3 – Races & Realms
This chapter goes into more detail on the subjects touched on in the previous chapters. Each of the cultures of man are given enough space and detail to build completely different pictures for each of them. This allows players to make characters of diverse cultures in a humanocentric setting. The alien Krikis, Oritahl, Penmai (tree folk), and twin cultures for the Pachyaur (elephantine centaurs) are also explored in this chapter.
We are given a brief history of each culture, along with its titles, physiology and psychology, customs, rumors, and secrets. As the world book possesses no mechanics, I can only assume that each of these will be playable races, but even without the stats, each race and culture is rich with aspects for use at the table.
Chapter 4 – The Cities
Khitus is not what it once was; that is clear within reading the first few pages of the book. In this chapter, we are given glimpses of what it was before and what it may yet be. But this view is tempered by the horrific view of what it currently is. The twenty settlements are outlined in this chapter. Each is given no more than a couple of paragraphs to give the reader a bird’s eye view of the city, its special features, and important personas. Again, this chapter is full of tight writing that left me amazed at the amount of information conveyed. These areas are brief in their description but full of great story hooks.
Chapter 5 – Traversing the Wastelands
Having established the peoples and places of Khitus, we are now presented with perhaps the most dangerous foe of them all: the world itself. The various dangers of the desert world, from blowing sand dunes to the newly exposed sea floors, are explored in this chapter. Khitus is home to many threats and dangers. Dust wells, sandstorms, dehydration, mirages, and fire rains are just a few of the dangers that keep the majority of the world huddled around their wells in dried-out cities. Those that head out to travel the land do so most often in caravans. Insight is given into how and why these caravans operate and why they are necessary for Khitus’ survival. This chapter wraps up with some unique sites of interest that reside among the wastelands.
One interesting danger is the Iron Virus. It is spread through contact with an infected piece of metal and consumes iron and steel. Even fighting against someone wielding contaminated weapons can cause it to spread, and it is a major contributor to the rapine destruction of Khitus’ natural resources. It is so pervasive that settlements will test for it before admitting travelers. There is an alloy, Ganshyer, which resists it, but that required metal exists only in the Krikus’ landsDue to its scarcity, most of the world slowly slides back into the Bronze Age.
Chapter 6 – Traces of the Daragkarik
The Dragon Kings (the Draragkarik) are no more. Where they went and why is a mystery worthy of an entire campaign. But their impact was too great on the world of Khitus to be completely erased. This chapter shares tales of the Dragon Kings and others like them to provide an insight into the mythical beings. One thing is clear, the Dragon Kings were not a uniform group, even though they were united in the goal of shepherding Khitus. Given that one of the factions in chapter 2, the Trakeen, seek to worship the Dragon Kings and spread the word of their eventual return, this chapter gives players and GMs the information they need to portray the Daragkarik legacy.
Chapter 7 – Bestiary
The bestiary chapter is short but gives a great view of some unique fauna native to Khitus. Close to thirty Khitian beasts are given write-ups, and again, without mechanics, the author is forced to give us a narrative view of the creatures. A variety of creatures fill this chapter, from the daragkons, who inspired the naming of the Dragon Kings, to the Water Runners, who are a desert traveler’s saving grace if they can be caught. We even see a very Dune-ish Stone Worm, for what desert world would be complete without giant worms roaming the desert?
Chapter 8 – Sorcery’s Mind
Here we find the magic chapter. However, it’s a look at the way magic works and not a magic system. This chapter makes me want to run this game more than any of the previous ones. You see, magic on Khitus is sentient, and it hates being disturbed. It lashes out at any who disturb its peaceful existence when they call upon its power. But it doesn’t just seek to scar or scare the offending mage, it seeks to punish them in a way that they will never attempt to use their knowledge again. Bodies are warped and minds are twisted. But not always those of the mage. Children are struck, mentors laid low, and lovers slain. Magic seeks to make even the memory of its use an anathema to those who use it.
The two traditions of mages who exist still on Khitus deal with this in different ways. One tradition seeks to isolate themselves to prevent the wrath from falling on any but them. The other have been taught to use slaves as targets for the magic’s vengeance. Either way, the peoples of Khitus look upon magic users with distrust and fear.
Priestly magic is fickle on Khitus as the gods are not fully invested upon the world. Priestly magic can fluctuate wildly in power from spell to spell. It all depends on the god’s attention at the moment. A priest can end up with underpowered or enhanced versions of his invocations. Wrapping up this chapter is harmonious magic, which deals with the power of song and group to enhance the magic of the world. I am really looking forward to seeing how all these systems play out mechanically when the rules of Dragon Kings are released.
Chapter 9 – Gods & Demigods
As the title suggests, this chapter tells of the various gods that are being revived on Khitus. They are almost all uniformly animalistic in form and outlook. These are the deities of a more primitive time, worshiped when the races of Khitus were scrambling for purchase on their world. And they are poised to do the same thing again.
Also presented here is the Prophet. He is a humble man who seeks to deliver a message of peace and unlocks the powers of the mind within those he meets. While completely different from the animalistic deities, it is very evocative of other deserts and their holy men, both in fiction and from history.
Chapter 10 – Khitus in Flux
This is the GM advice chapter. It discusses the themes and adventure hooks of Khitus. However, it does so by raising questions brought on the text, and by giving possible grand-scale solutions instead of giving the readers easy answers. When I got done reading this chapter, I felt that these issues are so vast and affect the world so broadly, that there are no simple secrets or answers to them. We are presented with a world desperate for heroes and a time where the call to action could not be greater. How the game will play out from there is up to you. But you are given the tools (themes) to aid you in telling the tales of Khitus’ new heroes.
Appendix – Powers of the Mind
Much like Dark Sun, psionics play a big role. This last section is a brief description of the Mind Benders and the powers they can manifest.
The tone of book is very close to its spiritual progenitor, Dark Sun: a desert world fallen to ruin, powerful creatures seeking to exploit its remaining resources, dark and terrible magics that few understand. But the theme is different. Dark Sun always felt to me like a world too far gone. Khitus takes the best of Dark Sun but threads it with hope. Also, the fact that it is system agnostic is a major boon. I was talking with one of my players, who GMs Savage Worlds, that with rule sets coming out for Savage, 13th Age, and Pathfinder, we could all run continuing games in this world with the GM’s favorite ruleset. Definitely a major plus to Dragon Kings, as well as insightful for any kickstarters that may come after Dragon Kings.
It will release to backers soon, then be available for purchase after that. I highly recommend you check this book out. It is a great read, and when combined with the Dragon Kings rock album, makes for a fantastic, enjoyable experience.