Game: Kings of the Desert
Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Review Dated: 20th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 5/10 [ Perfectly acceptable ]
Total Score: 5
Average Score: 5.00
If you’re worried about spoilers – clear off. Kings of the Desert is an adventure. Actually, let’s use the term dungeon crawl. It’s a three-barrelled dungeon crawl based around a centre of operations and that works better for me than just one really large adventure.
Large. That’s the first thing I noticed when I opened the 56-paged paperback. The text size is large. This gives the book something of a newbie feel to it. The introduction certainly does explain how to use a pre-written adventure. I think Eilfin Publishing did the right thing though. It could well be that Undiscovered, a complete RPG in one big book, is someone’s first and only roleplaying experience and since no one other than Eilfin is likely to publish adventures for it these adventures may well be someone’s first pre-written experience.
The introduction also makes it clear that the adventure is best suited for 4 to 6 beginning characters of levels 1 to 2. This is actually possible in the Undiscovered system levels 2 doesn’t necessary mean any combat or magic experience at all, given the skill heavy system the characters could still all be rookie fighters and mages. There are some simple suggestions for how to modify the adventure to keep it in balance with the character’s abilities. Throughout the book these modifications are remembered and so you’ll see scaled monster encounters. This is a success. The problem with the adventure set up is that it depends very much on the characters being initiates in an Academy set in a desert town and being at a crucial stage of their training. There’s no easy work around for this. Although you can tinker with the adventure to encourage it to suit the characters you can’t really tinker the characters to suit the adventure.
The first of the three adventures begins with a history; “The town you have lived in for the past few years is Vad Khara…” There you have it, the characters really do need to be made with this adventure in mind and yet they need to have a couple of levels from somewhere else before play. This is not ideal but it does mean that Kings of the Desert can set the scene exactly as needed and use that to build up the all-important ambience and flavour. That’s something Undiscovered seems to have going for itself, it really does have no trouble inspiring atmosphere.
Once the adventures get going you’ll find that they’re expertly designed dungeon crawls. Players will find clues as they explore the terrain, will encounter problems if they’ve not packed the right equipment or try sleeping in their armour, it’ll be easier if they work out the correct order to combat the monsters in the tomb and, yes, they’ll inevitably end up exploring tombs and encountering unexpected beasties inside. At least there’s a reason why there are monster filled tombs and caverns so close to civilization, in fact, that’s the whole story line. They’re not supposed to be there. Dungeon crawls are very much better when there’s a plausible reason to be exploring “dungeons” in the first place.
Between each adventure the characters will return to their training Academy where they’ll have the chance to heal, re-equip and even talk to key NPCs. This makes for a very much more gentle ride than one mammoth adventure and once again lends Kings of the Desert to being suitable for newbies. Eilfin use these adventuring pit stops well and although the characters aren’t actively engaged in swinging their swords around the plot doesn’t stop. In fact, the tension builds up and the need to go dungeon crawling again builds up. That’s nicely done.
There are some surprising successes in the adventure book too. It would be easy to assume that a product like this would suffer from poor illustrations or even miss out on them entirely. This is not the case; Kings of the Desert is pleasantly illustrated. There’s no shortage of cartography either. Of particular interest to me was the page on Dusterpeak; a primer for an in character racial language. We’re given access to a few glyphs, their pronunciation and their meaning. This is backed up with extra sets of glyphs for numbers and colours. Reading the Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure rulebook left me with a strong sense of epic fantasy campaigns and having the actual text for campaign languages certainly encourages this. I think it’s also probably fair to include the fact that this is a desert (ish) based adventure as a plus point too; the Desert Dusters are a player character race in Undiscovered and perhaps one that benefits the most from a little official support.
It’s easy to dismiss dungeon crawl based adventures with a below average rating. Kings of the Desert is better than that; not because its an especially good set of dungeon crawls but because it pulls itself up with successes like the dusterspeak primer, the illustrations, the return to the Academy and the effort made in keeping the text newbie friendly.