Wednesday, 29 June 2022

I Played King of Dragon Pass

(in response to the comments in this post) and I was not that good at it, and then did ok. But then got bored. But I learned a lot and now have much more sympathy with iron age clan leaders than I did before. Honestly you people are impossible.

Piss off your Weaponthanes and they start doing interviews on Fox News about the lack of national defence


There is no save game and no multiple simultaneous paths, whatever game you are in you are IN and there is no going back from any choice or looking to another causality stream to see what you could have done - unless you want to quit and tank every decision made up until this point.

There are indeterminate responses to God quests based presumably on lots of stuff happening behind the scenes like the religion of the quester but it looks also like the religious nature of the tribe and what temples etc, also whether you have been raiding or whatever.

The interrelationship between invisible numbers, limited knowledge and the will of the gods is the most interesting element.

I never got to ride Dinosaurs & feel personally betrayed by this


There are two kinds of raids;

cattle raids - which require stealth and basically theft, and Raid raids which can vary hugely from armed demonstrations to theft with force to, in theory - genocide and repossession of land.

Intra-culture raiding is considered normative and in fact a complete lack of raiding at any time is considered a bit weird will lose you respect and the happiness of your warrior class.

A primal human problem; you need warriors to defend the farmers or other warriors will come and take stuff, and you need farmers to feed the warriors. But the two are in endless conflict, pissed off with each other at least half of the time and annoyed about the others privileges - or lack of their own.

(And holy fuck are farmers conservative. They do NOT like outsiders and are very happy to be dicks based on ancient cultural stuff despite the fact that its you the leader who has to deal with the problems that result.

Cattle are the 'points' of the game so everyone always wants more cows.

The best way to get cows is cattle raid or full raid, (plus you need to raid and to be seen raiding to be a 'proper' clan both within and without). No raids and your weaponthanes get upset, no raids and others start to think you are a pussy and your diplomacy weakens.

However, you are surrounded by neighbours. These are also the easiest and lowest risk people to raid. BUT - if you can make allies of them then they are also your best partners, can protect you from other raiders with warnings, set up short trade networks and can ultimately help form your tribe which is the route to 'winning' the game. 

As always and forever it seems in all human cultures outright setting out to be purely and entirely peaceful just fucks you over while going full-military fucks you in a different way.

You can go the full-military war clan route (haven't tried it myself), and basically be Sparta with wars and super-slavery but the more you raid the more potential allies you lose. So I would imagine that if you are going to rule others through military force you better be very VERY strong all of the time.

Enemies - feuds, are a big long-term drain on your resources and constant threat, however, they can also be useful as with a feud, you at least know who you are raiding next time. So the next time your warrior class wants a fight you can just say oh yeah we can go raid the blue ox clan like last time and from the point of view of internal clan politics it doesn't really matter if you win or lose, so long as you don't lose too badly. If you win the Thanes are happy and if you lose it was their own fault for raiding and there are presumably less of them to support.

There are also random events which crop up which can sometimes result in 
weird or supernatural problems which need to be sent "elsewhere". So in those cases you can say "ok send the spirits to the blue ox clan".

Ultimately, if you want peace, stability and continuity you actually need enemies, or at least one enemy, roughly your strength, hopefully a bit weaker but still a threat, a medium distance away so it’s you are not a continuous threat to each other but can still reach each other. The most stable, and ultimately peaceful option is to just have a continuous low-intensity conflict with the same tiny group, without anything really changing.


The game pretty decent iron age simulator where you can choose whether or not to keep slaves and can possibly even build a slave empire and can engage in human sacrifice, and even mass human sacrifice, as well as raiding and plundering other clans, but still has the normative fantasy standard of combat skills and political power being evenly distributed between men and women, which, if it comes to political power is not impossible as small societies can have huge cultural diversity and lots of variety in iron age cultures, but pretty sure the Indo-European groups were v patriarchal.

Not complaining, it’s just an interesting look at our particular cultural moment where yes you can build a slavery simulator but it has to have a gender balance.


Truly the human mind is extremely based because a portrait, some auto generated text speech and a bunch of semi-random numbers do indeed become 'people', especially for my clan leaders, the first of the council and usually the first face you click on to get advice on stuff.

My first leader was kind of a hyper competent technocrat, a female worshipper of Issiaries, the talking god and the clan itself were quite non-normative, and worshipped Almal the sun god. We didn't even have a temple to Orlanth, the main god of our culture group. I really liked her because she always gave clear and detailed advice, consistently crushed trading and diplomatic issues, and our clan got really good at trading so in many ways the best person for the job.

But the clan, or perhaps the game, or the structures of culture the game was simulating, didn't like her, and while most of her explicit missions worked out and she was good at most individual things, the clan itself laboured; short on resources and cows, low status and ultimately disbanded.

For my second try I went with a very normative Orlanthi clan who made all the normal choices and the leader was a very normal male Orlanth worshipper with ok stats and was frankly something of a midwit mediocrity giving banal or empty advice regardless of circumstance.

I honestly really didn't like the guy and in most of his crises found him to be a very basic, even poor, leader but the clan flourished, a normative Orlanthi leading a normative clan with a nice big temple to Orlanth in the middle. Not exceptionally great at any particular thing but doing quite well on everything. Eventually we formed a tribe - but he got cucked out of the tribal leader role and we were stuck waiting for people to die and still couldn't get him in and eventually I got bored.

Third try was basically classic old woman feminist leader in a peaceful tribe dedicated to the mother goddess. Our main objective was to sit there and grow, which indeed we did in our increasingly fortified steading. Never had food problems, still couldn’t get population up much and no one really liked us, but fuck it otherwise things were fine. But it felt like game was becoming static and I am again a bit bored.

The "correct" answer is "suffer the blows" but this might get your Quester killed...


Actually it’s pretty substantially different in a lot of ways, but in terms of dedicating resources to 'researching' things to provide improvements, its somewhat similar.

You can sacrifice to a range of gods to find out more about them, (it's never explicitly clear which sacrifices, or how many or how much will be needed for each god). In my first game I actually sacrificed a human to the cow goddess and she got so fucked off someone in my ruling council left the tribe in disgust, also never sacrifice cows if you don't have to, just sacrifice goods. 

From these sacrifices you can learn 'mysteries' which are either something like blessings or lore you can use to do ritual magic.

With enough knowledge of blessings from a god you can build a shrine which can be expanded to a temple or a big temple. This is basically a resource exchange as for regular resource loss you get an 'always on' blessing which affects your whole clan. Or you can sacrifice for individual blessings
which can cost more but isn't a yearly tax (but also might not work sometimes), and as you get more fragments of myth you can do Heroquests which is form of clan wide magic where you re-enact elements of myth 
to get real magical effects.

If you fuck it up you get a BEATING; big magic loss, loss of reputation and maybe the quester and others physically wounded pluss WILD MAGIC - I fucked up a quest from the talking god and all of the maps for everyone in the area were FUCKED for years and all of my exploreres I sent out died. I dang well broke reality with my bullshit and people never let me hear the end of it.

It’s the lack of knowledge, indeterminacy or results and unseen interrelationship with your clan structure that really makes this interesting in-play.

Each Hero-Quest is a multiple choice adventure and over time, through reading lore or through cheating, you can learn the 'optimal' choices but the choices are not always equally weighted, and do not always respond the same way.

There are a few things you know about. The quester being a worshipper of the right god can help, having one clan council member from different gods each can help.

(That can be a challenge because very normative clans are often not very diverse in their makeup (as pertains to worshippers)

The two 'normative' clans I ran, the Orlanthi and the Mother Goddess clan, had shitloads of the normative gods but if I wanted someone on the council from some less regular god, either I couldn't get them or I had to settle for someone with mediocre stats in order to fill the post - goddman diversity.

Whereas the somewhat odd clan I started with had a bunch of wild and whacky members - so diversity of worship was never a problem - but the clan itself felt less 'cohesive' and the things it was good at never synergised as much across domains (though it was also my first try).)

(also its a nice point that its always good to have one worshipper of the trickster god on your council - in some special events they can generate alternative solutions to problems; tricking a hungry ghost with a trail of food, tricking a dragon out of its gold, being an expendable council member when shit hits the fan, but they never really cause enough trouble *in* the clan for it to feel like an interesting choice having them on the team - its more like marvel Loki than myth Loki)

Beneath all that, does your clan 'feel' right? Are you Orlanthi, with a big Orlath temple, Orlanth-worshipping leader and do you 'act' like normative orlanthi? 

Which numbers, precisely, is the game looking at to make these questions work? you don't know and that lack of knowledge makes things both frustrating and interesting?

This was a really cool choice to make the first time, less so the third time.


in almost every case when creating a true sense of possession, or a feel that you are really making choices as this entity in an imagine world there must be some combination of stable known rules and the unknown - yet an unknown not without reason.

If the game is pure known-rules and you can predict and weight how everything works - then it is merely a game and you end up just shuffling numbers.

If truly chaotic, the negative bad DM stories - where there is no stability or learnable rules - then its just a contest of personalities or wills or nothing at all.

There is some subtle synthesis between known rules, unknown rules and pure chaos (along with everything else) that tilts a system towards feeling 'real' - were you go from 'how do I maximise my sacrifices to Orlanth' to feeling like a clan leader thinking 'o fuck I hope Orlanth is ok with us this year'.

You are doing similar things in both cases but the difference is subtle. You are still making a die roll but it doesn’t feel like you are rolling the dice but like you are facing the gods.


  1. You finally did, huh? I too came late to the party that is King of Dragon Pass, when friends gifted me the game for my birthday a few years ago. It's a brilliant piece of game design and interactive narrative, that one.

  2. Really astute observation about the combination of known, unknown, and chaotic rules making an experience feel more "real." I still haven't played the game, but it is on the ever-expanding list of media I mean to get to at some point!

  3. Love this game! I really like the Heroquests. However the randomness requires taking breaks from it for a while. I never have enough cattle either.