“Dragon Mech” a rough, but interesting offering
By Michael Erb
Lunar rains cascade down upon the blasted landscape of Highpoint. Lunar demons raze the ruins of once-great civilizations and assault the under-realms harboring the last of dying races. Across the surface of this once-great world, only the giant City Mechs hold sway, lumbering across charred and corrupted lands, seeking truth, beauty and a new beginning.
The world of “DragonMech” by Goodman Games is a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where humans, dwarves, elves and other races have turned to technology to protect them in their final days. The mechs, giant mechanical suits of armor, artificial lifeforms or gigantic mobile cities, are things of iron, steam and sweat and are the ruined kingdom of Highpoint's last hope.
“DragonMech” is a D20 setting, meaning it uses the core rules of the “Dungeons & Dragons”3.0-3.5 game. This also means you need the D&D core rules (Players Handbook, Game Masters Guide and Monster Manual) to play “DragonMech.”
The game’s main focus is on the inclusion of mechs into a fantasy setting. Author Joseph Goodman writes in “DragonMech” that he envisioned not the agile, clean-looking and unstoppable mechs of science fiction and japanimation, but rather bulky, clunky and dirty machines made out of necessity and rough components. Mechs are power with little control and the rules do a good job of representing this in-game.
In “DragonMech,” the Lunar Rains are literally parts of the planet's moon raining down upon the surface of the world. Little can survive the downpour, making the planet’s surface nearly uninhabitable. Likewise fantastic beasts that dwelled on Highpoint’s moon now are free to hunt and ravage throughout the ruins of the fantasy world. Most races have either retreated underground to escape these horrors or now inhabit giant city mechs that walk across the lands, seeking out artifacts and remnants of the world before the rains.
The book presents everything you need to run a campaign in Highpoint: Step-by-step rules for designing and building mechs; character classes for the new world order; Lunar monsters that terrorize the above-realms; new spells, feats and skills for a technology-driven fantasy world; and extensive rules and tips for using steam powers in the “DragonMech” setting.
The character classes are probably the one area where I am the most torn. There are a few interesting classes, but most presented feel like a rehash of existing D&D classes. Many, such as the Gearwright, Steam Mage and Coglayer, those that create, maintain or animate mech and steam-powered creations, are necessary for the setting. But I still would liked to have seen more unique character classes or races that distinguish “DragonMech” from other settings. Character classes like the Steamborg (half-man, half-machine), Mech Jockey (mech pilot) and Mech Devil (elite mech pilot), as well as several others, didn't really do much for me. I am hoping some of the game's numerous supplements and those yet to come will present some more interesting character options, but for now the ones in the main rulebook serve their individual purposes and not much else.
The setting also suffers a bit from the “generic D&D” clone problem. Though “DragonMech” is technically a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, the pre-apocalyptic world of Highpoint does little to distinguish itself.
That said, there are some very interesting ideas within the book that provide some inspiration for running a “DragonMech” game. The author gives a lot of tips and suggestions for running a campaign in Highpoint, including dozens of ways characters can get involved in quests and adventures and what might motivate them. One of my favorite ideas is the search for beauty. In a devastated world like Highpoint, things of natural beauty command kingly sums of money and are highly sought after by the populace. Imagine an adventure or series of adventures where the goal is to find the last flower or a pristine lake shielded from the Lunar Rains. It is a very unique twist on D20's normal tendency to promote quests for power and wealth. In “DragonMech,” the simple and mundane can be sources of inspirations for player and non-player characters like.
Likewise some of the ways the new world order has affected some standard game rules is quite interesting. Take for example the idea of death. The Lunar Rains are part of an otherworldly war between monsters and the world’s gods. This means when a powerful character dies, something that can occur multiple times for the same character in a D&D game, the gods are less likely to “give up” that loyal follower and allow them to return to life. In game terms, the higher your character's level of experience, the less likely they are to be resurrected. Again, it's a nice twist on an old fantasy convention.
Overall I like “DragonMech” and think there is a lot of value in this game. But be forewarned, it likely will take a lot of work and possibly investing in some setting supplements to really get the most out of the setting. Just like the mechs and robots portrayed in the world of Highpoint, “DragonMech” can feel rough and clunky when you first take it for a spin.
For more information on “DragonMech” and other Goodman Games products, visit www.goodmangames.com, and for more reviews visit my blog at http://merb101.livejournal.com.
Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.