Game: Prophecies of the Dragon
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Series: Wheel of Time: d20
Review Dated: 5th, May 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Money. You can tell a lot of money has gone into the production of this book – be it the Wheel of Time license, the artists, the glossy full colour pages or even the maps that decorate the book. Despite this you may very well blink when you see the price. I know I did.
This book is a long awaited good idea. The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game could be a fantastic license for the d20 system but many people are finding it very hard writing campaigns and scenarios for it. The problem is simple; the Wheel of Time fantasy series isn’t finished yet. If running your game as events intertwined with the plot in the books was not hard enough, imagine trying to do so if you don’t know who might actually be a villain or where the invading Seanchan might attack next. Sure, you could try and run your game long before the Dragon in Artur Hawkwing’s time, after the Dragon or even in a Mirror World but as Prophecies of the Dragon admits it’s much more tempting to try and share the timeline.
Prophecies is set between books 2 and 6 of the Wheel of Time, between The Great Hunt and Lord of Chaos. In Prophecies they try and play down on how much you need to know about the WoT world in order to successfully run the campaign. I think you’d have to be a brave and experienced GM to try and run the six scenarios in Prophecies if you hadn’t read at least the WoT books (2 to 6) that overlap with them. If you don’t know how an Aes Sedai might act in any given situation early on in the campaign then you run the risk their actions and reactions seem less likely later on in the campaign. If you don’t know what drives a lowly White Cloak solider then it might be too tempting to present them as a black and white villain.
It’s a big book for a pre-written adventure. Nearly 200 very pretty pages. The reason for this is that Prophecies of the Dragon is actually six linked scenarios and plenty of mini side-adventures that the characters may or may not get involved with. The first adventure is designed to pick up from “What Follows in Shadow”, the adventure from the back of the Wheel of Time RPG but not in such away that you have to take your players through it first just that it fits nicely on at the end of that warm up. The assumption is that the characters will be at level one at the start but manage to reach the lofty heights of level seven by the end of all six chapters.
The mini-adventures are a nice touch; they’re there to pepper an otherwise linear progression through the six adventures with engaging asides. I think they they’ll also test the d20’s “self-correcting” experience point system too. If the characters busy themselves with each and every mini-adventure then they’ll increase in levels quickly at first but then even off as each different encounter becomes worth less xp.
I’m not a fan of linear adventures, especially not as a pre-written offering. I’m inclined to see a compromise for Prophecies though. Prophecies is written so that the heroes’ progress meshes with the main events in the books. The characters in the game will find themselves in Toman Head, Saldaea and Emond’s Field even as some of the characters in the books are there. For that to work there must be a linear progression through the adventures, there can only be so much room for flexibility. Its clear enough that the authors were all to aware of this and provide plenty of sidebars of text that provide suggestions as what to do if the characters decide to do something slightly different.
The sidebars of designer advice really help to make the book. The Wheel of Time is prone to large skirmishes and even larger battles. Whereas Prophecies doesn’t actually provide a mass battle system the sidebars do provide helpful tips for the GM trying to run a large fight. An example is an early encounter with the White Cloaks where the text suggests the leader of that White Cloak patrol is out to test himself against powerful opponents and is therefore likely to pick on the players. If the players take the White Cloak down easily then the GM can assume the rest of the battle has been a similar success or if the players struggle against the White Cloak then the battle’s been a tough struggle too.
The plot that Prophecies wends is rather brave. The heroes, the characters in your game will find themselves engaged on the sort of adventure where the Dragon himself would be interested in its success or failure. The characters aren’t left to play safely on the fringes of the important events in the book but are, instead, weaved straight through the middle. This, of course, means that it would be suspiciously unlikely if they never encountered any of the characters from the books. It’s entirely up to the GM, of course, but if the plot is taken straight from Prophecies of the Dragon without modification then it is likely the players will meet the like of Verin, Alanna and even Loial or Gaul. As a reader of the series we don’t yet really know what Verin’s playing at, we can’t yet be entirely sure of her means and motives and this might be tricky if your determined to stay as true as possible to the book and yet roleplay Verin as an NPC convincingly. On the other hand, encounters with these key characters from the Wheel of Time series is presented in a safely capsulated way; there’s always a pressing need, danger or threat around that’ll focus the NPCs attentions and that of the player characters to a common ground and this helps the GM keep any discussions under control. In addition it is rare to meet a character from the books more than once.
Encounters are nicely presented in the book. Most of the information is there at your fingertips when you’re likely to need it. The statistics for key NPCs are saved for the end of the chapter they appear in, statistics for generic things such as the very many Trollocs are expressed simply as a hit point tally and you’re left to check with the core Wheel of Time RPG for the details but given the page tally and the price of the book this is probably worthwhile.
Right at the back of the book there are four pages of extra rules. There’s information on casting Weaves, such sensible comments to note that Wilders who multi-class to Initiates don’t automatically loose their block as well as new Weaves, Wards, backgrounds (Seanchan) and feats.
It’s a pretty book. It’s one that you can flick through and soak up. Pictures are common and carefully interspersed among the text; actually some of the best Wheel of Time art that I’ve seen in a while. It’s also rather nice to see artist’s renditions of the Seanchan scouts, Domini women and Myrddraal. The colour of the page decoration changes slightly for each chapter and this really does give a bright feel to the book.
If you have the Wheel of Time RPG and you’re planning to use it then Prophecies of the Dragon is a strong temptation, despite the price. If you’re a Wheel of Time fanatic, and there are many out there, then I suspect you’ll be buying the Prophecies of the Dragon anyway. I don’t think anyone who buys the book, for any reason, is likely to be very disappointed in it. Sure enough, Prophecies could have been so much better but the sheer scope and scale of it combined with the user-friendly look and feel guarantees something for everybody.