Friday, September 4, 2015

Retro Review & Commentary - Ancient Kingdoms - Mesopotamia D20 From Frog God Games For Your Old School Campaigns

A city of unspeakable antiquity, buried for centuries beneath the desert sands, has been rediscovered deep in the accursed desert known as the Red Waste. Dare you enter The City That Worshipped a Thousand Gods, seeking the treasures and relics of its Hierophants? Beware the lurking terrors of a bygone age!

 This is a retro review and commentary on a D20 product so if that's not up your alley then please stop reading now. Still with me then good because one of the best kept backroom secrets of middle 2000's was Frog God Games which was back when I got it a White Wolf's  Sword and Sorcery title. Don't ask there's way too much history and water under the bride. But sufficient to say that its owned by Frog God Games today and available as a pdf. Ancient Kingdoms - Mesopotamia From Frog God Games is a damn good D20 title. There I said it and here's my personal experiences with the book. Way back when Conan D20 was a licensed tittle White Wolf games was producing a weird mix of books for the D20 lines. The Sword and Sorcery division came out with lots & lots of D20 titles. Ancient Kingdoms was one of their best in my humble opinion and it came out right around the same time as the D20 Conan book wayback in 2003. So what's this got to do with Mesopotamia? Well, actually everything because this book was created to mate up unofficially with Conan and his D20 ilk. You see woven into the backdrop of this D20 book are bits and pieces of large scale destruction and post Disaster or Flood. I've also been noticing that much of the Conan D20 material has been rising in price on Amazon (you can never trust prices on their website for gaming material anyway)& yeah, yeah it was a mixed bag system from Mongoose anyways blah, blah. But that being said its also flown off of the shelves of Noble Knight as well. But why would anyone care about the D20 Conan game and shouldn't price go down? No not at all. There are two reasons for this most would think that collectors would be holding onto their copies and they are. But the second reason is Pathfinder. D20 is alive and well thanks to the continuing play of that game. This is all based on my opinion and subject to the rpg audience and  market's hub bub. This is my personal opinion and it could be gasp, wrong.
 Now the book goes into a whole bunch of both historical, pseudo historical, and sword and sorcery mummery about the cradle of civilization during the time of the mythological past of your campaigns. Hell its even got a side bar with a riddle of steel title in it. The author Morten Braten knows his stuff and there are ton of sword and sorcery goodness tie ins throughout the book. From desert survival to classes based around the setting material with some weird bits thrown in for good measure. This book is three things at once you get a PC setting and background book in the first half, a cosmology book in the second, then straight into a bunch of adventures set into the regions described in the book in the middle bit, lastly you dive into a straight up sword and sorcery monster book in the latter half of the book for using the SRD D20 monsters in the setting as appropriate to the book. Is it good? Yes I think it is.
 The gods chapter alone takes the Mesopotamia deities and divinities making them accessible to the dungeon master instead of merely watching another PBS documentary on the region in which they tell you how advanced the region was you get a whirl wind tour into the mind and take of the region.
 You basically get a cultural jam on the material that presents it as one part comic book Conan and two thirds Mesopotamia seen through a pulp magazine lens with lots of historical pseudo setting material. Make no mistake this book is presented as a living campaign that you can adapt as you see fit with factions, divisions, and adventure locations ready to go.
 I've seen review after review of this book that says that the maps alone are worth the price of admission. Yes the artwork and material set the tone but there's something missing in Ancient Kingdoms - Mesopotamia D20, that is your background for your campaigns. See that's the thing with this book, much of the pulp lens and adventure setting is really up to the DM. Not unlike a book such as Carcosa or the Greyhawk box set. Your given just enough to whet the appetite and go forth to use the book as you would. This is something that is rather unique about the book. That not unlike other books its campaign world over PC classes here. Yes I think that this was done on purpose and this is one of the old school connections.
 The book isn't really about  Mesopotamia at all, this is a desert wasteland that can be dropped right into the background of an ongoing campaign and bring the focus onto a sword and sorcery theme. And this is where the tie in is for Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. 
Simply have a sand storm or other dimensional event and drop your PC's right into the middle of the setting source material. There are more then enough SRD monsters and horrors that AS&SH has under the hood already to allow a crafty DM to adapt on the fly as needed. 
 Much of the material here has another other worldly or dreamlike quality to the adventures and setting with a bit of writing and DMing slight of hand a dungeon master could back track the material into HP Lovecraft's Dreamlands or other appropriate material. I've seen some criticisms where there have been over sixteen references to the Tome of Horrors also by Frog God Games but many of these monsters are now available through the system reference document as well.
 With an even clever bit of slight of hand work on the DM's part if they happen to own the Swords and Wizardry version of the Tome of Horrors book, the Swords & Wizardry - Monstrosities you convert everything into a retroclone sword and sorcery extravaganza as you see fit. There's even a S&W free version with old school style analogies but the conversion work is going to be a bit more work on the dungeon master's part. 
 The dungeons are weird, solid, challenging, nonlinear and strange getting into a way of adding in the elements of strangeness as the DM needs. But there's more that can be done with this book, with near clone games such as Dungeon Crawl Classics the last section allows a dungeon master to convert regular SDR monsters into solidly Lovcraftian style horrors. And since I've heard that 3.0 and D20 monsters are a snap to convert then its a no brainer to grab this book even for reference.
 This book brings both loosely based Mesopotamian monsters to the fore and adding a twist with some of your traditional D&D style looseness to the game setting. Given the fact that these are some nasty pieces of work, I would go with the Lamentations of the Flame Princess and DCC advice and make each of these horrors one offs or as post Flood survivors.
 And now let me mention Fantastic Heroes and Witchery because this book is a great resource for that rosetta stone of a system. This is such a great book to use as a plug and play conversion resource its not even funny. Let me count the ways right off of the top of my head. 
  • The PC classes are easily converted to the game,stripping down some of the system crap that's not necessary. 
  • There's the weirdness factor of the nonlinear adventures making this a great setting book to drop your adventurers into. Because of the pulp nature of the book the weird science classes can be used to deal with the Mesopotamian themes as extra dimensional threats on a one on one basis. 
  • Because the hardiness of Fantastic Heroes and Witchery PC's Ancient Kingdoms makes a great tie back to other weird themed games such as Dark Albion Rose War;  where your adventurers from Dark Albion are dropped into the thick of some of the pulp elements of Ancient Kingdoms.
 This is not to say that Ancient Kingdoms - Mesopotamia D20  isn't without faults and there are a few of them. A lack of an index, the over use of white space, the confusing nature of exactly what Ancient Kingdoms of Mesopotamia is trying to be and there are a few more. No matter I'm very lucky to have this book in my collection. If you come across this book in your travels then by all means do yourselves a favor and pick it up.

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