DND Review – Hard Times in Dragon City (With Bonus Kickstarter)

Hard Times in Dragon City
Those discerning readers who also listen to the TCN podcast might recall our discussion around crowd sourcing sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and others. These sites always have some new and exciting game, book, or movie to invest in and it’s tough to know what deserves my backing and what I can pass on.

While browsing Kickstarter recently, a project caught my eye that seemed right up my alley: an RPG titled Shotguns & Sorcery which blendstraditional fantasy tropes with the hard boiled noir detective story in the setting of “Dragon City.” I was tempted to back it immediately, as I’m always looking for a new RPG to play with the rest of the TCN crew. However, there’s the question that always keeps me from clicking the “Back this Project” button: Will it be any good?

Fortunately for me, the Kickstarter is being run by Matt Forbeck, who wrote a series of novels and short stories in the same setting. With that in mind, I immediately picked up the first novel in the series, Hard Times in Dragon City, from my preferred online retailer and settled in to see if this was a world I’d like to live in for a couple of hours each week.

The story follows Max Gibson, a retired adventurer who occasionally takes freelance work in Dragon City. He carries a wand in a shoulder holster, which he uses to sling a variety spells as he investigates the bloody deaths of a former adventuring partner’s family. All of the noir tropes are present, with the damsel in distress coming to him on an “unrelated” case, run-ins with corrupt “cops” and being tailed by a hired goon. While the setting tried to make the experience unique, the pacing of the plot follows that of almost every noir story I’ve read. The predictability took away from my enjoyment somewhat, though Max himself was a lot of fun to read.

While the plot was fairly predictable, Dragon City was a fun place to visit. The city is built around the base of a mountain, walled in against the undead hordes outside. Closest to the walls of the Great Circle is Goblintown, home to the goblins and orcs. As one goes further away from the wall and higher up the mountain, the residents and races grow more rich and powerful, with the humans living lower than gnomes, living lower than dwarves, living lower than elves, etc. At the mountains peek is the Dragon Emperor, who protects the city from the zombies outside.

The locations and residents felt organic and realistic, drawing on classic fantasy tropes for each of the different boroughs and their residents. The rules for magic are clearly established, with mages drinking alcohol spiked with dragon essence for a quick recharge to their abilities. Shotguns and pistols are carved with runes to give them special abilities for those without the magical prowess or patience to wield a wand. It was easy to see that Dragon City was a vibrant setting, with Max only being a minor player in the many stories which could be told within the Great Circle.

Despite the inclusion of firearms, Dragon City doesn’t expand beyond a typical high fantasy setting. I was hoping for more technology, at least enough to bring it closer to a semblance of the classic 1940s noir era. To be fair, I’ve only read the first book in the series, so there may be more in later books. Additionally, the setting doesn’t stray from the generic templates for each of the fantasy races, with each behaving exactly as you’ve come to expect from high fantasy.

This works just fine for the story, but makes me hesitant to back the Kickstarter. There isn’t anything I saw in Hard Times in Dragon City that couldn’t be recreated using Pathfinder or almost any other existing RPG. This reduces the allure, as it would be quite easy to do a homebrew version of this game. However, a Pathfinder conversion kit will be included for backers, meaning this book may be worth adding to your gaming library for the setting alone. I should also point out that Matt Forbeck helped to create one of my favorite RPGs, Deadlands, back in the 90’s. If Shotguns & Sorcery is as good as some of his earlier efforts, then you need this game in your collection.

While there was a lot to like about the setting, the characters and plot were clichéd, relying on familiar tropes to move things along. However, the talent behind this game, the versatility of the game, and the flavor of the world mean that I’ll definitely be backing this Kickstarter. I can’t wait to revisit Dragon City.
If you’d like to read the novels, they can be bought on Amazon, Matt Forbeck’s site, or by backing the Kickstarter.

Matt Forbeck’s Site