Amid the flurry of Kickstarter deliveries the past few weeks, Magpie Games’s Chaos Worlds series finally showed up in print.
They’re neat! I’m not super enamored by Dungeon World but when I backed these (a million years ago) I thought it’d be cool to have a ready-made campaign at my fingertips.
Okay so the books are sort of that, yeah, but different. The first one is Last Days of Anglekite and it definitely reads like Brendan Conway is finding his feet/voice. Apparently it was written as a KristaCon backer gift originally; no idea what the backstory is behind turning it into a series of books. Anyway, LDOA is the least ambitious of the three books: it’s a setting (fantasy postapocalypse), some fronts, a lot of critters, some setting-specific compendium classes, magic items, and some really nice art — the Anglekite cover is by far my favorite of the three. You know, it’s basically all the stuff you’d expect if I said “a bunch of premade tools for running a Dungeon World campaign.”
One neat idea I wasn’t expecting: Playsets. They’re basically preconfigured sets of fronts, critters, locations, magic items and compendium classes. Subcampaigns within the campaign meta-setting! Good stuff, very smart use of what they have there.
I confess that when I got LDOA last year (?) I gave it a quick read and then shelved it. It’s not terrible but it didn’t get me pumped.
Cold Ruins of Lastlife is the second book, and it’s much more interesting. Also a fantasy apocalypse! This time it’s about a fantasy world that’s died and left behind undead heroes and ruins.
It’s more of a comprehensive superhack of Dungeon World, in which everyone is playing undead heroes. Character creation has been modified, alignments are replaced by things called Drives for earning XPs, there are setting-specific Bonds you take instead of the default D&D-ish stuff that DW lays out. Bonds are way more story-driven, it feels like. He even adds two additional advancement tracks: radiance (basically fighting against being a downer) and memory (rebuilding what you remember of your living years). Those both provide their own sets of advancements, each ending in “build a new badass location in the ruins and make your mark.” I do love me some novel incentives.
The rest of the book is like Anglekite: compendium classes, fronts, critters, artifacts, and more of those Playsets (so good, really geeking out about them right now).
Anyway, the hack is deep and thorough and I don’t think it’d feel much like OG DW. So, yay, high marks and I’d love to give it a spin. Grimdark!
The third book is Green Law of Varkith, and holy wow this one’s even further afield than Lastlife. It’s a strong cross between Planescape and Bas-Lag: heavily Marxist-colored intersectionalism in a fantasy setting. The core what-do-you-do is completely different than typical Dungeon World exploring: instead, you and your Guild are trying to build yourselves up within the city of Varkith, where it’s literally illegal to go it alone. Suck on that, libertarian ubermench heroes.
The guild rules remind me a tiny bit of the gang rules in Blades in the Dark. The guild has its own stats and you put your efforts toward collaborating to make it great. Your Guild levels up, gains new abilities, and so on. Very cool.
The Guild focus also means you don’t actually need Fronts, and that’s also interesting. The tension and momentum comes from your Guild going to war with other Guilds, building alliances, all that stuff. Great political game! But it seems like you wouldn’t really spend much time killing critters.
Varkith is the weirdest hack but it’s also the most interesting (to me). I’m also understanding now when Mark Diaz Truman patiently explained to me that freestanding PbtA games might have been easier and better than working with/against the constraints of keeping these books recognizably Dungeon World.