‘Sleeping Gods’ is another high-quality instalment to the newly reprinted ‘Dragon Warriors’ RPG, and once again the folk at Serpent King Games need to be commended (if only for bringing one of my favourite RPGs back in print). The title consists of seven interlocking adventures, but there is a true flexibility to the modules. A GM could run any of them as stand-alone quests (by simply rubbing off the serial numbers and inserting their own NPCs and locations), as a larger campaign, or as part of an epic campaign mixed with other modules. This scalability is the first aspect that really appealed to me.
The modules are designed primarily to introduce the world and the social and political structures and expectations which are part of the fabric of the world. It illustrates these through the actions taken by the PCs and also in the types of encounters each module offers. Anyone wanting a fine example of ‘show, don’t tell’ should look no further. New players will not feel overwhelmed, but (and I’ll cover this in more detail later) neither should a new GM.
The first module; ‘The King under the forest’ is a dungeon crawl, and an excellent ‘first quest’. The character of Odo (introduced quite early) is one that has stayed with me since my first reading of this module in the 80’s and crops up from time to time. He is an example of a simple concept that can be re-used in any campaign to add some roleplaying opportunities for the characters. This simplicity of design is a recurring element throughout this product, and even if you don’t play ‘Dragon Warriors’, you should buy any of their modules if you enjoy fantasy role-playing.
There is a wry humour to some of the writing, which makes the text quite enjoyable and lends a sense of levity to some of the scenes (which is counterbalanced against the darkness and horror in some of the later modules). The humour also acts as a good icebreaker in some cases to encourage players to feel less inhibited about interacting with a scene. It was just more evidence that Dave Morris either had a lot of experience in dealing with new players, or simply has an excellent mind for designing for this group.
Each module in this series turns the spotlight onto the skills of a particular class, but not at the expense of anyone else. In doing so, it gives a well-rounded party equal opportunity to shine, and achieve goals that are directly tied to their own character. However, the absence of one of these classes in the party won’t overly detract from the play experience – it might just mean that some challenges are harder than others. On that note, the challenges faced by the party as they progress through each module vary greatly in difficulty. One skill all players will need to learn is how to approach problems intelligently, as some have quite lethal consequences.
Additionally, the watchword of the title seems to be ‘simplicity’. ‘Hunter’s Moon’ and ‘Sins of the Fathers’ are prime examples, where the premise is incredibly simple and straightforward – but the actual adventure has quite a bit of depth, and offers some unexpected twists.
The structure of the campaign is actually quite clever. Whilst the players are building their familiarity with the world, the NPCs and also creating relationships through roleplaying (something well-supported by the plot and tone of the adventures), the modules also scaffold the GMs abilities. Each module introduces something new, or a new rule to learn that would allow a novice GM to start building their skills. Additionally, the modules progress from a linear-style plot to increasing complexity of choices. The last module is a very loose series of events that a GM could use to tell their own story. With the preceding six stories under their belt, a green GM shouldn’t find this daunting.
This is definitely a product that is much more than the sum of its parts. I’d run any of these modules separately, but it is the consistency, attention to character (and uniquely enough, the GMs) development and authentic feel to the world that transforms these modules from ‘stand-alone’ to stand-out’.
I’m moving on to ‘Prince of Darkness’ with high hopes now…