By Gagmen RPG Podcast B/X, etc Levels 1-3
Sometimes you run across something interesting. Note that I didn’t say “good.”
This 42 page adventure supplement describes a stronger faction play element for adventure B2: Keep on the Borderlands. Concentrating mostly on the factions, their NPC’s, goals and motivations, you really do get a Game of Thrones type of sentiment coming out of it. It’s also pretty one-sided, being mostly NPC’s and goals, and lacks the guidance or DM aides needed to actually use this effectively without a substantial amount of work. It’s not bad. It’s just a first draft quality.
Some podcast I don’t listen to asked some other podcast I don’t listen to how they could make their D&D game more like Game of Thrones.The podcast said they didn’t know, but that the podcast should go off and do it themselves. And, in a surprise move, they did! And they used B2: Keep on the Borderlands, with it’s many factions, as the foundation. I thought this “adventure”, or “supplement” was interesting enough, at least in concept, to cover it even though it’s not a traditional adventure. Which means I’m on dangerous territory. But, being adjacent to adventures, as supplement material, I’m hoping I’ll be ok.
The meat of the product is roughly thirty of its 42 pages describing NPC’s and their goals and motivations. Roughly, each of the Cave lairs gets about three NPC’s, the wilderness sites get an NPC or two each, and the town gets six or so. These NPC descriptions can take up a column to most of a page, each. You get a some little background on the NPC, their goals, and then a “Hamartia”, what their motivational aspect is. Hatred, Love, Pride, etc, and how it relates to them. Which you can pretty much tell from the backstory/recent history anyway. Essentially, as that NPC interacts with the party they will do so with a bend towards their Hamartia. Frank loves Mary, as he interacts with the party there will be some twinge of Frank trying to achieve his goal of loving Mary. It’s generally not that simple, and has a bit more nuance, but doesn’t drone on either. It’s nice. And NPC’s motivations and goals are almost always related to other people, even in other tribes. Thus you get this tangled web of NPC interactions in the Caves and Keep, with each site having at least three NPC’s (with Minotaur, Ogre, and Owlbear exceptions, of course) and those NPC’s all having things things they want to accomplish, and they each having some relationship to someone else either in their tribe or in another faction. It’s a pretty deep amount of faction play.
The Kobold king, on The Briar Throne, leads all the tribes. They are opposed by the lizardmen in the swamps, led secretly by an undead Kobold “god” … daughter of the old king the new king killed. That’s already pretty good. They have traded, in the past, with the Keep, providing Spider Silk Steel, a unique and special steel. But the lizardmen raids have stopped the flow of the spice … err, spider steel. Various humanoids in the caves support the new king, don’t support him, have their own shit going on. And the same for the keep, and the wilderness bandits and lizardmen. Fucking thing is complex as all fuck! And brilliant! Really really nice job on the faction play and the motivations. It’s all extremely interesting, and I’m not being hyperbolic. From the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern gate guards to just about every other NPC, they make sense and, most of all, are PLAY ORIENTED.
There’s some decent advice on techniques on how to get the party to not just go in hacking (like: consider everyone in the caves speaks common) and a short “sample timeline/plot” to give the DM some guidance on how things might go. The party arrives with a writ from THE KING to investigate the lack of spider steel shipments. Gonna pull rank on the keep lord? Got an army to back you up? He does. So maybe you don’t go in all obvious pulling rank … really really nice initial setup, provoking the paranoia of these situations from the very start and supporting it well. Who CAN you trust no to just outright kill you … in the fucking keep?
It’s also got some pretty big gaps. The NPC’s really need more cross-references. Instead of “Ack-Ack” it needs to be “Ack-Ack(o43)” to show he’s an orc and on page 43. Those NPC descriptions also, as great as they are, need to be tightened or formatted quite a bit to make motivations, goals, and backstory information for readily apart from each other to ease the running during play. A nice summary sheet, with the same, and maybe even a mind fucking map would be a good help also. The factions and their relationships are key to being successful with this, and it really needs help in this area. Right now it’s just a text dump and that’s just not manageable. Having said that … a few more NPC’s in the keep would be nice also, or, rather, in the style of this adventure, expanding on the NPC’s already there.
Finally, I think the thing has a flaw. It’ needs a timeline for goals and some way to manage combat effectively. Right now the timeline is not really present, for the caves people, and it’s not clear how to handle combat, when it breaks out, alongside the political side. Single killings, etc, how are they reacted to and handled … WITHOUT LOOSING THE POLITICAL GAME? This is presenting a different sort of a game and it needs more guidance on how to handle the situations that come up in the situations likely to happen in that style … especially when mixed with traditional D&D.
Still, all in all, a great draft of the faction play elements and rich NPC’s pretty tightly focused on actual play. It just needs more to be able to shine through the difficulties of running it. It needs to be more than just the NPC’s and some lite advice.
This is free. I think. The fucking download link is a major pain to find. And the podcast link is currently broken. Joy. Here’s a scribd link or google “game of kobolds”. Scribd can sometimes be a little sketchy. If I find out its infringing I’ll yank the link.