Game: Dry Land: Empires of the Dragon Sands
Publisher: Mystic Eye Games
Review Dated: 25th, April 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
“Special Thanks to: My mother and brother, for making fun of my stories early in life and thus instilling a bitter determination to one day see my writing in print just so I could stuff the hardcopy down their throats.”
Dry Land: Empires of the Dragon Sands has plenty of bite in it – and not just in the opening remarks above either. Dry Land supplements the Bluffside Campaign setting, specifically it covers the dragon sands that dominate the southern part of the Great Northern Continent. The Dragori have an embassy in the city of Bluffside.
A great thing about Dry Land is that it doesn’t have to be in the Bluffside setting. You certainly don’t need any Bluffside book. This is because of the desert; it’s a geographical barrier, a natural separator and it could be anywhere in any campaign world. The Dragori Empire is penned in on the southern edge of the continent and so that could be anywhere too – it could be any strange empire on the wrong side of the desert. The book is full of generic desert rules as well, useful appendices which contain the likes of “Hazards of the Dry Land” in the form of bad water, dust, sandstorms, geysers and sinkholes.
Another great thing about Dry Land is that it’s a valuable addition to the Bluffside setting. If you’re playing in the campaign world then there are some really useful bits and pieces; not just the Dragori Empire but also the likes of an important Dwarven creation myth and a two-page glossary of in-game translations.
The 144-paged book ends at page 52; that is to say that after page 52 the appendices (and a usefully long index) rule. There’s a lot crammed into the book, the text density is good, the text size is small and most of the book is in a three-column layout (jumping back to two columns when there’s sit-down-and-read reading to be done). Dry Land manages to do three-columns without running into the unsightly mess that can occur when two columns try and wrap around the same illustration. The illustration quality is generally good but there are one or two pictures with a chunkier feel than suits my tastes.
There are four main sections to the Dragon Sands: No Man’s Land, the Granite Kingdom, the Burning Sands and the Dragori Empire. These four geographical regions are the subjects of the book’s four chapters. The chapters all use a similar format. We get going with a history of the area (dating back to before the last Ice Age in some cases) and then move on to look at the land and the people. I suspect the Places of Interest section in each chapter is the reason why the three-column formatting was picked, here the book tours through places of interest, offering up a quick paragraph of information, a reference key and the names of any notable NPCs. The key ties the place of interest to the NPCs in the first appendix. The appendix in question isn’t ordered by key though and it is much easier to just look for the NPCs by name.
It’s really use to bring “Foul Locales” another Mystic Eye series to mind while reading through the Places of Interest in Dry Land. While the locations suit Bluffside well enough, or rather the Dragon Lands, they’re just as good in almost any other desert. Quite a few of the places of interest have a couple of plot hooks to entertain and inspire GMs.
If I had to pick a black spot in the Dry Land it would be Appendix One. The first appendix is the dumping ground for all the NPC stat blocks. Stat blocks are the sort of thing that I like to see in a dumping ground because it makes them easy to flick past. The appendix is order by (first) name and not location key, although it does mention the location key. NPCs relegated to stat blocks rarely need their stats in the games I play in – but if I were prone to playing with a bunch of rogue characters always on the look out for pockets to pick then perhaps that would be different.
Whereas I don’t think I’ll use Appendix One much I think I’ll use Appendix Two often. Becky Glenn, author, has put together three pages (and this is in the small print, three column, tightly packed text) of desert hazards and they’re the sort of hazards that are good for deserts around the megaverse. Unstable surfaces, sunblinding and dehydration are some non-magical hazards and the likes of native elementals and singing sands are magical ones.
Way back when I was still at school I chopped up a second hand atlas to cut out colour pictures of different types of deserts. I wanted to show my players that there’s much more to a desert than just rolling sand dunes. Arid Regions, the third appendix, stirs those memories. In fact, for all I know, the black and white photographs of different types of desert in this appendix came from a chopped up atlas.
Appendix Four has the book return to roads travelled more often by D&D books – new Classes. The Bisaakir Zaari are characters who serve genies or demons. They’re a fully-fledged 20 level core class. It’s actually a rather good idea for a core class, an arcane version of the cleric. At least, I think they’re arcane, they use the Wizard / Sorcerer table. I’m not so sure as to whether the spirit blessed Shaman cast arcane or divine spells. The Shaman is another 20 level core class. There’s a 5 level Slave NPC class. Prestige classes include the Badlands Bandit, Claws of the Emperor, Digger, Halfling Caravan Runner, Nevae Wanderer, Priest of the Eternal Dragon, Prophet of the Sands, Sand Dancer, Sand Rider, Serpent Wardens, The Wise and Wyrmrider. That’s twelve prestige classes, many of which are fully 10 levels. Dry Land has as many PrCs as some Prestige Class only specialist supplements have.
There are new creatures too; creatures suited to the desert and therefore creatures that are particularly hard to find in almost any other supplement. The Sand Creature template enables GMs to expand their desert suited creature lists as far as they like. The Spirit template is a real asset if you’re using the spirit needy Shaman class. There’s a True Mummy template. Heh. Every culture thinks their mummies are the true mummies.
Equipment and new feats (about 24 of them) each have a chapter to themselves. As do new magic items, races (such as the dragori – which Bluffside players will lap up) and new spells. Tucked in the middle of these last few appendices is a glossary translation of in-game language and I love things like that. GMs should be able to enhance the flavour of their game by dipping into obscure jargon and phrases for exotic NPCs and players should be allowed to build up a folder full of notes, translations and runes.
Dry Land: Empires of the Dragon Sands is just great value for money. At $22.99 for 144 pages it would be doing well but I’d compare the content to a 180-paged or even 200-paged book. Deserts should be truly terrifying places, characters should try and steer clear of deserts out of respect and rightful fear and not because the GM doesn’t have any material (or clue) for the region. Dry Land ensures deserts are the geographical monster that they should be and the book serves as a strong addition to the Bluffside campaign.