The game company River Horse has published The Dark Crystal Adventure Game, a Tabletop Role Playing Game set on the World of Thra, the setting of the 1982 Fantasy film and 2019 Netflix series Age of Resistance.
It just so happens that I've been working on a Dark Crystal RPG of my own for, oh I don't know, OVER 35 YEARS! Sorry, whew, deep breaths. In addition, I was almost part of the team that worked on a Dark Crystal RPG to be put out by Archaia Entertainment before that project fell through.
With a great many unrealized ideas for campaigns and adventures among the Gelflings, Podlings, urRu, and Skeksis, I was extremely excited for River Horse's game. Now that I have it...I have thoughts.
Dust Jacket Front Cover
First and foremost, this book is very pretty. Aside from the beautiful art by such well-known and Dark Crystal-affiliated artists as Brian Froud and Iris Compiet, it is full of wonderful spot illustrations, maps (Holy Aughra! The maps! More about that below), and just a general design sensibility that is absolutely amazing. Well put together, well presented (for the most part), and definitely in the vein of The Dark Crystal's aesthetic (again, for the most part).
The adventures are especially well crafted and that is coming from someone who generally dislikes pre-made adventures. I typically find the adventures made for most RPGs to be bland and impersonal, rarely all that engaging and never quite fitting the game I am running. I end up having to modify them so heavily the end result is less me using the supplied scenario as the supplied scenario adding some ideas to an original adventure of my own design. Here, the ideas and subject matter of the story plots are so good, I can see myself running them with only a few tweaks. Maybe a dozen or less. Hey, I still gotta be me.
There is some material from the comics added in as well as new material that, well, I mostly really like. Some of the comic material doesn't feel quite right to me but a lot of the new species, creatures, and other bits feel perfectly at home on the world of Thra.
OK, there is some elements of the game I found rather disappointing. Mainly, the rules; the system provided is fine, rules-lite, and definitely workable. It is also rather uninspired, uses all the types of dice that exist because they exist, and doesn't feel especially Dark Crystal-esque. There are not stats but there are Skills, which are basically like Stats, except they're not. They represent categories of ability, each coming with three Specializations. You choose two Skills that you have and one Specialization from each Skill. If you have the appropriate Skill for what you want to do you add +1 to your die roll to hit a target number. If you also have the right Specialization you get an additional +1 for a total of +2. That's it.
Meanwhile, the official Character Sheet in the corebook doesn't list the Skills at all. It has little symbols representing them next to black boxes listing the Specializations. I get the idea they were going for since symbols and sigils are big in The Dark Crystal but these aren't established emblems from the lore and aren't pointed out ahead of time so it just looks like the Skills are missing. Again, their not but it doesn't make for an immediate user-friendly experience.
Also, as mentioned above, the game uses all the dice from D4 to D12 (I believe it leaves out the D20 but I forget) even though most everything you do requires a D6 roll. So, why not make it all D6? Given Thra's relationship to the number three (Three Suns, Three Moons, the Third Eye of Aughra), I would've thought increments of 3 and therefore a 6-Sided Die would have been more thematic, not to mention simpler.
Aside from the peculiar Skill/Attribute depiction, odd character sheet, and the rather lackluster rules over all, the game is missing something I am not sure I can put my finger on. It is missing a 'Dark Crystal-ness'.
At the same time, the Adventures help offset this a lot. These scenarios are very good and definitely have the right feel. The game as a whole...I am not sure. It feels like not enough was done to make this a complete RPG, though it is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why I have this impression.
In the End, the Beginning
As I've said, I've been working on a homebrew Dark Crystal RPG for many years now. I will very likely continue my work on that game and if I do get to run a campaign on the World of Thra that's the system I would use. I will definitely pour through this book for inspiration and adventure ideas.
As for actually using The Dark Crystal Adventure Game as it is, I can't see myself doing that. There just isn't enough here in terms of setting specific mechanics to run a Dark Crystal TRPG campaign in my personal opinion.
That is all for now. See you next Conjunction.