Sunday, June 19, 2022

(Dragonstar) Smuggler's Run

I wonder if maybe Dragonstar was meant to last forever. Because going through the supplements in order, there's a certain swiss-cheese quality to the line. Each book will introduce new rules and new lore and you can see parts of the setting, but there are all these gaps. And as new books come out, they don't really fill those gaps, they just add more. There's nothing comprehensive about it. The Starfarer's Handbook and Guide to the Galaxy kind of work together, in the sense that TSH gives you a broad overview, and GttG talks about specific places and events, but then the next book comes along and introduces new places which have never been mentioned before and will never be seen again, and the next book does the same, and so on. Until we get to this book that gives us new prestige classes and their associated organizations, and they're just coming completely out of nowhere.

Okay, so there's this Imperial Courier's League and their deal is that they were once a prestigious part of the Empire's communication infrastructure, delivering packages for the Emperor, but then Mezzenbone took the throne and gutted the organization and now it still formally exists on paper, but its dwindling resources are being squandered by its corrupt leadership who scam some money on the side by using it as a cover for smuggling operation.

And that's cool, but why are we just hearing about it now? Because the book is Smuggler's Run? I mean, I guess, except that they're the only smuggling organization we hear about. Just like the Gevise Family is the only merchant house we hear about. We know there are others, because the description of the House Trader prestige class says as much, but Gevise is the only one who gets a specific name. Ever. 

I can't help but think about supplements for other games. I just got done reading Earthdawn and almost every book in the series was about something I already had reason to be interested in. The core book mentions Parlainth and then the Parlainth Boxed Set describes the location in detail. Even the ones about an abstract subject, like magic or wilderness survival, will give a broad overview of their subject. The Adept's Journey: Mystic Paths introduced an entirely new game mechanic, and though most of the organizations were new to 4th edition, the fact that there were a bunch of them and each got a dozen or so pages of context went a long way towards making them seem like an organic part of the world.

(Also, the Messengers would be seen again, in the Iopos book. I hadn't realized that I read them out of order, and didn't understand the significance of the reference until I looked back in retrospect).

I think a big part of Smuggler's Run's problem is that it's just a thin little pamphlet. It only has 64 pages, and those are divided into 5 chapters, so after you factor in the new cargo rules, new feats and spells, and new rules for skill use (we get a chart with penalties for making a Spot check through a video camera!), there really isn't room for much detail on a potential antagonist.

That's why I wonder if Dragonstar might have worked if it were evergreen, with a hundred supplements, because then new merchant houses or infamous pirates or defunct imperial organizations could have been introduced piecemeal, as needed. A traditionalist might prefer a more rigorous adherence to subject matter - like maybe a dedicated Merchant House book or something - but we'd have gotten a full setting eventually.

One thing I will say for this approach, though, is that it does make the supplements completely modular. You don't need anything besides the two cores to make sense of Smuggler's Run . . . but also, none of the supplements released so far would be of any help.

I guess this book is okay. It has a couple of iffy moments ("The machine of war consumes a lot of fuel, and someone has to be hired to deliver it" - okay, book from shortly after 9/11), but it's really just a broad cross-section of stuff that's useful in running a particular type of campaign. Maybe too broad, because very little of it is given the wordcount it deserves, but nonetheless useful. I like that there's a class of cargo ship that was designed by copying a mysterious derelict space hulk made by an unknown species. That the example star system has a corrupt noble who's trying to keep the Dragon Empire secret from his people until he can broker a deal with the dragons to put him in charge of his whole world. That one of the robots is just a safe with legs that runs away when people try to break into it (and it's a real shame that Dragonstar robots don't have sentience, because I want to explore that guy's whole life - it and the Contract Drone, who can only communicate by printing legal documents).

However, for all the individual good stuff, the book as a whole left me wanting more . . . and not in a good way.

Ukss Contribution: The book is littered with these "help wanted" ads that are mini pitches for full adventures. That's a fun format that I think a lot of books could use to their advantage.

The ad I liked the most was looking for a qualified ship to deliver a "funerary vessel" with the caveat "Deceased spirit is linked to vessel, please do not lose. Will not pay for vessel without attached spirit."

I love that adventure pitch. Hiring a courier to ship a ghost. Really good integration of magic and technology. Dragonstar living up to its full potential. I'll try to do something similar in Ukss.

No comments:

Post a Comment