Crucible of Dragons review for OpenQuest rpg

What this book contains within 144 pages, black and white interior, colour cover.

A sandbox setting for OpenQuest rpg, which is Greek, Hellenistic, largely fantasy classical but also clockwork tech, with a very Harryhausen clockwork owls jazz happening. The palette is deliberately limited to humans, dracorans, beastmen and dragons. This allows for a focused setting with a wide range of potential conflicts and alliances between and within the various groupings, all lightly detailed so as to allow low level gaming that can escalate to high level. PCs could become kings, liberators, oppressors and heroes, or just stay as dirty murder hoboes for hire.

Gaming in Pherae
This chapter gives players an outline of the setting, and character generation rules for characters from the island. If the player characters are from the island the “What the Trader told me” section is what they know about the setting at start of play.

The Land of Pherae
This chapter details the island, giving an overview of its history and inhabitants. A full gazetteer is included. This is simple, the style is very of the RQ/Glorantha tradition where the social setting is key, and yet here the society is quite low level, and at a turning point, like all good rpg settings this is a time and place where great things have happened, but now something different is coming..

What went before is a world ruled by dracorans who enslaved dragons and overthrew the Elder gods (conflict), which was then overturned by humans who dealt with demons and created the hybrid race beastmen (conflict). Humans then lost control of the demons and their spawn and had to fight to suppress the demonic forces (conflict). Society starts to decline, and a dragon seizes control of the main city whilst the dracorans and beastmen rule the island core. Oh, and there are some dwarfs..

The City of the Dragon
The city of Draxa, its inhabitants, a selection of very important people, districts and notable buildings are detailed in this chapter. I found this chapter a little chaotic, jumping from places to people and back again but quite manageable. It's worth pursuing since the interplay of the human bureacracy and competing Ministries, set under the dominion of the ruling dragon (who can also shapeshift to a human like dragon lady) is a potentially key driver of missions and intrigue that the PCs can interact with, at first as pawns but later maybe as 'players'.

Of Gods and Magic
The religions and magic systems used on the island are covered in this chapter, which also includes sixteen new cults and fifteen new magic spells. The gods of this setting may or may not be declining, and the authors are clearly allowing the GM and players to decide that for themselves. If you want a classic d100 cult based game then you have more than enough cults here, and a nice selection of new magic. I liked classic d100 so for me I'd embrace this set wholly, those you want a less 'theistic' game may keep this for NPCs or something to slowly reveal in play, perhaps even by the PCs breathing a new evangelical flame into religion on Pherae.

Heroes and Factions
Ten new organisations, which provide access to magic and skills, are detailed with their history and aims alongside a selection of eleven important heroes and villains who can be encountered as the player characters explore the island.
This is the meat of the matter, along with the city of Draxa in chapter 3, these are the organisations that will hire the PCs, or the PCs will join either at campaign start or in play. Of particular note to me were the “The Guild of Artificers”, the clockwork mechanics, and “The Sodality of Adventurous Antiquarians (aka The Cache Collectors)” who despite their grand name are a right old bunch of tomb looters under Kholincles, their leader. Each organisation has lore, skills, personalities and even magic, so that they can be used as much as cults as the primary social units for play. Note that some of the groups here are interlinked with the Lands of Pherae section.

Men and Monsters
A “stats digest” of the common inhabitants of the island, both monstrous and human. Which the Games Master can create encounters at the drop of a hat during play or use them as the basis to create fuller non-player characters for their own scenarios. Also includes rules for creating unique and individual demons and full encounter tables for the island by region.

Scenarios
This is a sandbox game but it also provides structured adventures. The first is in fact a very loose structure based around tax collection, in other words: an excellent excuse for some sandbox exploration. None of the adventures assume how the PCs will respond to the physical and moral challenges and choices they are presented with, and almost every group of players will leave each adventure with different tales and sagas to tell.

Artwork

I like Simon Bray's artwork, it is a very deliberately primitivist style that I appreciate and enjoy. There are great images of heroes, dwarfs, dragons and beastment through the book and I like the coherent styling. There are some very nice if idiosyncratically legended maps.

Layout

Newt likes a simple layout, with white space and no extra embellishments. It works fine although in Chapter 6 there are some open areas of abandoned space that I think might have been handled better. I found the Draxa Chapter 3 was a little chaotic, jumping from places to people and back again but quite manageable.

Typos.

Very few, which is good news since d101 can be prone to them. One or two mangled sentences, and one contradiction between Chapter 2 and Chapter 7 where the headman of the Town on Yanos isn't and then is Varbos One-Eye”, decide for yourself..

Summary

Crucible is a very well crafted setting book. It reminds one of all the best of Griffin Mountain from Glorantha's RQ past, offering enough of a detailed set of social organisations: cults, the city of Draxa, and the factions to paint a convincing backdrop, but makes none complusory and their relative importance one for the GM and/or players to determine. The history develops all sorts of relationships between a nicely limited set of species and factions, offering a flexible set of conflicts. These can be as nuanced or as black and white as the players/GM wish. There are a lot of good resources for a GM to write top down scenarios, and there is enough of an empty map for the game to be randomly arbitrated in play. There is a good set of stats, spells and 'game' stuff to add a localised sparkle to this OQ setting, or to be stolen for your own. It will therefore be enjoyed by modern gamers (loose flexible mutual game development), top down auteur gamers (there are metaplots here that can be exploited) or that terribly nouveau group, the OSR crowd who want a hex map and a randome encounter table. It's good value, it's illustrated in a nice primitivist style and it's a quick read: it has just enough and not too much.

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