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Friday 3 January 2020

Friday Fantasy: The Song of the Sun Queens

Arc Dream Publishing is best known as the publisher of the Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game, the roleplaying game of conspiratorial and Lovecraftian investigative horror, but in 2019, branched out into publishing for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition with its ‘Swords & Sorceries’ adventure line and two releases for its ‘Broken Empire’ setting. The first of these was The Sea Demon’s Gold, an adventure offering more dangers than rewards, and doing so in a weird, dank, and squelchy environment, with a strong undercurrent of the Lovecraftian. Where The Sea Demon’s Gold roughly threw the adventurers ashore and into a clammy dungeon, the second scenario takes the adventurers out onto sun bleached savannah in search of a great treasure.

The Song of the Sun Queens is an adventure designed to be played by five characters of Second and Third Level and takes place out on the vast plains of the Sunlands. In the Broken Empire—the setting for Arc Dream Publishing’s campaign world—this lies far to the south of the remnants of the Zyirran Empire, a fallen Byzantium-like empire, placed of course, in the Swords & Sorcery genre. There is no background given on the Broken Empire in The Song of the Sun Queens, but it does include details of the Sunlands kingdom, its weather and its gods. The Sunlands themselves are similar to parts of Africa, so the scenario is relatively easy to adapt to other settings, to other roleplaying games like Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, and even to other genres, for example, it could be run using Raiders of the Lost Artifacts: Original Edition Rules for Fantastic Archaeological Adventures, Leagues of Adventure: A Rip-Roaring Setting of Exploration and Derring Do in the Late Victorian Age!, or Pulp Cthulhu: Two-fisted Action and Adventure Against the Mythos . Essentially, The Song of the Sun Queens is a fantasy scenario with pulp undertones and so perfectly in keeping with its ‘Swords & Sorceries’ genre.

As the scenario opens, the adventurers have travelled south to the colourful royal fortress of Juafalme, where they hope to learn more about the location of an ancient, cursed ruin known as Juakufa where a great treasure is said to rest. Here in Ndame, the Land of the Sun, the Sunlanders of the local kingdom welcome the adventurers as honoured guests and invite them to join an ostrich hunt and a celebration afterwards. The former drops the adventurers into the action more or less straight away, the latter an opportunity for roleplaying and the chance to learn more about their proposed destination. (It should be noted that there is a scene of an adult nature here, but it is well handled and could easily be dropped if a group would be uncomfortable with it.) Armed with what they have learned and equipped with a guide, the adventurers then set out south and into the Bleak Lands.

There really is only the one route south, which means that the trip is linear in nature. That said, The Song of the Sun Queens is quite short and the encounters the adventurers have along the way, as well as the villages they visit, could all be moved around if they decide to deviate from the route that the guide is leading them along. As they journey south, they will be harassed by giant hyenas and hyena giants—which even the author notes is confusing—and their Gnoll allies, as well encountering other horrors and finding respite at various villages. Ultimately, they come to Juakufa, otherwise known as the ‘Cackling Fortress’, a dusty, rubble-strewn ruin littered with some nicely detailed treasures, but haunted by a pair of quite tough monsters in a pleasingly creepy climax.

The Song of the Sun Queens is decently presented, cleanly laid out, and well written, and includes advice on making it tougher or easier depending on the strength of the party. The maps are excellent as are the illustrations, both being fully painted. Certainly the illustrations can all be shown to the players as they progress through the scenario.

The Song of the Sun Queens is a relatively short scenario, offering two to three sessions of play. Consequently, it is straightforward in its plotting, but the Dungeon Master could easily expand the scenario, perhaps by playing up the rivalry between the twin monarchs in Ndame, the Land of the Sun, and have that dog the adventurers all the way to scenario’s denouement. Even without this expansion, The Song of the Sun Queens presents a good mix of roleplaying and action, offering a strong combination of pulpy horror and fantasy in a setting that nicely draws upon on cultures other than Western fantasy. 

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