Friday, April 06, 2007

The Spider's Test

I’ve always enjoyed frontier type stories, settlers in a new land hacking out an existence on their own. One of my favorite books in this vein also happens to be related to gaming.
TSR came out with a Campaign set for the 2nd edition AD&D game called Birthright. Birthright was never a major success but it had high production values and a good amount of support, including several novels. My favorite of the Birthright novels is The Spiders Test by Dixie Lee Mc Keone. The novel deals with young Richard Endier, a landless freeman, and his cousins who gain permission from the local Baron to settle in a wild borderland area near a Goblin infested forest. They are soon joined by others including several warriors looking to settle down, a few farmers, a Druid, and a warrior-priest who serves a martial Deity similar to Helm in the Forgotten Realms campaign. Eventually they go through several trials and tribulations of creating a new settlement- fighting off raids, deciding a chain of command, trying to keep folk from splintering off on their own, religious differences, etc. It’s a fun read that applies frontier style adventure in a AD&D setting. I would actually really enjoy playing in this type of campaign. Past the adventures offered in the novel I could see taking scenarios from various frontier style stories and TV shows like Daniel Boone and The High Chaparral and giving them a fantasy twist. The Spider’s Test offers a different spin to the average D&D campaign, and it would take a different type of group to play it out. Though there is plenty of action, it really isn’t of the Hack n Slash variety. It’s easy to invade a kobold lair, kill all the monsters, take the treasure and move on to the Ogre lair. Compared to trying to keep the peace between two religious groups in your camp that insist on building a chapel in the same spot, or fighting off a combined assault of goblins and river pirates who are threatening to burn your crops and set fire to the fort.
In fact, this may be why Birthright the campaign never really made it begin mainstream gaming. It may not have been hack n slash enough. Maybe it took a certain type of gamer who enjoyed the detail and the richness offered in the play of the campaign, the political intrigue, large scale battles, and international diplomacy.