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Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Treasury Quest

As big as a licence as it is, since it was first published in 2009, Green Ronin Publishing’s A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying has only been intermittently supported. This is not to say that these supplements are poor, the A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter being particularly useful and the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying: Night's Watch being an excellent sourcebook as well as the winner of the 2013 Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Supplement. Now what A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying lacked was a campaign, but as of 2016, that all changed with the publication of Dragon’s Hoard – A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Adventure.

Dragon’s Hoard – A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Adventure is a five-part campaign that delves deep into the secrets and events of the fall of House Targaryen in the wake of Robert’s Rebellion. It presents the player characters’ house with a great quest and the chance to better itself in a great many ways, to express its allegiance to House Baratheon or House Targaryen (or hide it in the case of the latter), and to forge great secrets of its own, if not great alliances in readiness for the tumult that is to come. It built on the fact—as detailed in A Game of Thrones—that by the time Ned Stark is appointed the Hand of the King late in the reign of Robert Baratheon, the treasury of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros is all but empty. The question is, did King Robert squander the wealth of Aerys II Targaryen or did something else happen to the contents of the treasury immediately after the events of the War of the Usurper? In Dragon’s Hoard, it did, and confirming is only part of the campaign.

Dragon’s Hoard requires a little set-up before the campaign can begin play. Primarily this involves weaving some NPCs into the backstory of the player characters’ Home House, one of the feudal lineages of the Seven Kingdoms who owe fealty to one of the great houses and thus to the king. The Home House should consist of a wide range of character types, capable of handling both intrigue and combat, but ideally should include a Maester who can unravel some of the clues that can found during the course of the campaign. The Home House can be one of the players’ devising using the rules given in the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying core book or perhaps one of the six given in A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter. Indeed, the Home House could forge the beginnings of its legend in the events of A Song of Ice and Fire Chronicle Starter and then undertake a greater chronicle in Dragon’s Hoard. Much of this backstory consists of events taking place during the player characters’ childhoods or younger years which are handled in a flashback in the opening pages of the campaign.

The campaign opens with the Home House welcoming guests, a party of recruits for the Night’s Watch headed for the Wall. One of their number, a young bastard by the name of Aeron Waters, is a reluctant recruit and offers his hosts a great boon for aid that the house rendered his father, who it turns out, was the Red Cofferer, treasurer and friend to Aerys II Targaryen. In return for his freedom, he tells of how his father spirited away the bulk of the Mad King’s treasury for a time when the Targaryen lineage could be restored and he gives clues as to how the player characters might be able to track further clues to the hoard’s location. Getting to both is anything but simple. There is of course the matter of freeing Aeron Waters from the Night’s Watch, but beyond that there is the matter of a minor house such as that of the player characters acting in a clandestine fashion, having to travel the length of Westeros and more, visit the lands of other houses, and more, and all that without alerting their liege lord and the king, let alone other houses. Notably though, one other house has learned of the existence of the Dragon’s Hoard and will do anything to get hold of Aeron Waters and his information. This includes attacking the Home House, which sets up the attacking house as the Home House’s new enemy number one. 

Over the course of the quest, the members of the Home House will attend a tourney, consult libraries, travel across the Narrow Sea to Braavos, engage in duels with both the sword and the tongue, treat with a courtesan, deal with pirates, delve into what is about as close as you can get to a dungeon a la Dungeons & Dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, and more. There is even the chance to encounter some of the signature figures from the fiction! By the end of the Dragon’s Hoard the Home House should at least be wealthy, have gained glory and improved its standing, defeated an enemy, possibly gained an ally or two, and declared their allegiance, one way or another to the Targaryens.

Achieving all of this is no mean feat. This is a challenging campaign with a lot of clues to uncover and keep track of—ideally the players should be taking notes as they go. In comparison to the average fantasy campaign, Dragon’s Hoard involves a lot of social interaction and makes extensive use of the roleplaying game’s Intrigue mechanics. What this illustrates is that A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying—just like the source novels—is much more about the social interaction and the intrigue than it is about combat, though that of course, has its place. In fact, the authors in Dragon’s Hoard do make the point that neither the players nor the Home House need to play by any code of conduct. They can be as self-serving as a Lannister or as honourable as a Stark.

The campaign is also challenging for the Game Master to run, again because of the number and complexity of the clues. The design of the campaign helps alleviate this, breaking down each chapter of the campaign into multiple scenes and then guiding the Game Master as to their running order and how that changes depending upon the actions of the players and their Home House. Along the way, the Game Master has a big cast to portray, from the highs of society to the lows.

Physically, Dragon’s Hoard is a sturdy hardback, liberally illustrated with full colour artwork and cartography. The book does need another edit and in places the writing feels rushed. If perhaps there is anything missing it is some handouts for the various clues, many of which are in written form. What it also significantly adds to the A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying canon is the city of Braavos, with enough background material being given that the Game Master could take his A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying game there again.

Dragon’s Hoard – A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Adventure delivers just about everything you would want in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying campaign. It provides the players and their characters with the opportunity to improve the standing of their Home House; with enemies and challenges to overcome or at least counter; and with the chance to meet some of the canonical figures from the fiction, to delve into some of the secrets of Westeros, and to build their own legends. After, Dragon’s Hoard – A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Adventure the players and their characters might be just about ready to step onto a larger stage, but will have to wait until a possible sequel.