King of Dragon Pass is a great alternative for when you can’t get together with a group and crawl through a dungeon, build civilizations, lay some railroad track, stop epidemics, whatever it may be.
King of Dragon Pass brings to the table something of the interactivity inherent in a more tabletop, pen and paper medium. The game acts as both setting and GM of sorts, placing you in charge of your own feudal era clan.
It offers a mix of equal parts strategy game, resource management game and role-playing game. All of which are very well tied together by the interactive storytelling component.
The realm of interactive storytelling hasn’t been one of the most popular genres in terms of video games. Historically speaking this has been a medium catering to more active and direct types of interaction between players and game worlds, but there are some exceptions out there. Little known outliers that offer something rather different and interesting to those of us with the patience and penchant for such endeavors.
King of Dragon Pass is one such interactive storytelling outlier.
Fans of tabletop games – and I am one – will always tout the advantages of playing with actual humans, especially when it comes to role-playing games. The simple fact that humans can, and will improvise a previously unintended solution to a given set of circumstances, makes any and all computer offerings seem limited in scope and scripted. Even if they are not scripted or only partially so.
That being said, King of Dragon Pass is a great alternative for when you can’t get together with a group and crawl through a dungeon, build civilizations, lay some railroad track, stop epidemics, whatever it may be.
The game starts with a quick crash course of sorts into the world’s pantheon of gods as well as the history of your freshly created clan. The decisions that you make during this first stage of the game will influence the starting setup of your clan. You can always reorganize the clan during playtime and after a few games you’ll know exactly how you want to start a fresh clan.
You have a circle of advisors which will offer you suggestions as to what to do and why, when faced with the myriad of choices that the game cycles you through. But you have to always keep in mind that those advising you are still individuals, with their own affinities, opinions and reputation as well as experience within the many areas of the game world.
Ultimately, the player is the one who takes the decision, since we’re not talking about an anarcho-syndicalist commune and then obviously has to contend with the consequences. Sometimes the consequences are immediate, sometimes they might take a few seasons, maybe a year to come to pass, but they will come.
As the leader of your clan you’ll be in charge of managing everything from the types and amount of crops your people plant, to diplomatic, or not so diplomatic, relations with surrounding clans. You’ll also be in charge of trading, exploring the surroundings and communing with your gods, spirits of your ancestors and other magical and mystical things and creatures which abound.
This last part, the magic and mystical part, is extremely important in King of Dragon Pass since we’re in a world where the influence of the gods is very palpable. Sacrificing to gods for particular benefits and blessings is always suggested whilst maintaining shrines to said gods is an even better idea. Shrines offer you year-round blessings but their maintenance costs are so high that you might never get to maintain more than two or three shrines. As such, this means that you have to make some tough choices relating to which blessings you’ll want for your people.
Will you want to have good harvests or healthy children? Lots of livestock or success in battle? Mind you, all of these things and many more will play a role during your tenure as clan leader.
The influence of the gods gets even more relevant when undertaking a heroquest. The heroquest is a magical re-enactment of one of the myths that surround your pantheon of gods. The success of such an endeavor will depend on your detailed knowledge of the story – which you can find out from other clans, usually by trading things or favors for – the person chosen to take part in it, as well as the magic support that the person receives. Even if all those things are in optimal order, there is always a chance of failure since the gods can sometimes be rather fickle.
I haven’t touched upon creating and maintaining diplomatic relations with surrounding clans, making sure there is enough food to eat for the year and making sure that your lands are properly patrolled by your professional warriors, the weaponthanes.
The time of year in which you find yourself usually dictates what you should or should not be doing with your people. An obvious hint is to never go raiding or exploring during the equivalent of spring and autumn, since that’s when the crops are planted and harvested. Being undermanned during either of the seasons will mean that you will have less food in your stores for the coming year. You can always slaughter some livestock for some extra food if the need is great and in even more extreme cases you can always trade for food or exchange an owed favor with a different clan.
A word of warning though, in regards to your play-styles. The game is unforgiving and will penalize you if you don’t get into the role of a feudal clan ruler. What I mean by this is that modern-day ethics and morality have no value in King of Dragon Pass.
Playing as either a pacifist or a warmonger will bring quick returns in the forms of many raids from surrounding clans who see your clan as weak or on the other side, most likely famine and a general loss of skilled warriors if all you do is raiding. There is only so much that can be done with either diplomacy or war. In order to become the King of Dragon Pass you’ll have to strike a balance between the two.
These aren’t democracies we’re dealing with, nor are they all human to be honest. Life, survival and prosperity in King of Dragon Pass is considerably harder than it was in our actual history since gods, spirits, Chaos monsters, dragons and duck people exist. All of these extraordinary factors are real and will oftentimes play a direct role in events affecting your clan.
Art style and music
One of the great things about King of Dragon Pass is how it chooses to illustrate characters and events in the world. It makes use of wonderfully hand-drawn artwork. A comic book-like style approach is nothing new nowadays, but back in 1999, it was quite the departure from anything else that was on the market. The art direction was obviously very carefully crafted to best represent the in-game world while at the same time not being overly detailed so it doesn’t detract from the text you have to read and the decision you have to make.
Besides the great artwork the game also features a pretty solid soundtrack, making use of a bunch of air instruments which we tend to associate to a certain degree with medieval times. The music is usually subdued and doesn’t distract from the proceedings. It usually enhances them, changing from image to image in order to better reflect the action or activity described
I’ve been talking for quite a bit and I’ve only scratched the surface of what it is that makes King of Dragon Pass a great and unique game. I can talk about many games being great but only rarely do I get to say any of them are unique.