Review: Conan - The Road of Kings
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Type of Product: Setting resource book
Conan The Road of Kings is a world supplement that details the lands, nations, and notable characters of the Hyborian Age of Robert E. Howard's Conan universe and is for use with Mongoose's Conan RPG. The book is hardcover with 192 colour, glossy pages. It has a solid binding that lets you lay the book flat on the game table. The physical quality of the book is excellent and should endure well under regular use.
The book is divided into chapters for each nation, plus an NPC chapter and a GM advice chapter. From a GM point of view, I'd slot the book's information into three categories: nations, crunchy bits, and GM advice.
Most of the nation chapters follow a standard template: introduction and general overview; a geo-political map; major geographical features; important cities, provinces, and settlements; religion; history; related quotes from Conan fiction; and adventure and campaign hooks. Some nations also provide descriptions and statistics for new animals and monsters local to that area. Chapters average about 7 pages per nation.
The introduction for each nation contains a variety of great information, such as economy, culture, politics, and current state of affairs. I would have preferred a more structured approach, with subheadings and such organizing the information in this section for fast reference, but the information is quite useful and I enjoyed reading it.
The other sections vary in length for each nation, fulfill their purpose, and often included additional, useful tid bits that added to the nation profile as a whole. Conan story references are provided to further assist GMs with grist for preparation and storytelling.
There is a map of the world of Hyboria on the inside front and back covers, plus a third identical map in the center. With the focus of this product being a detailed gazetteer of the land, the inclusion of a map was a good move. Each nation is provided its own mini-map, and having a world map helps a GM put the smaller maps in context. Kudos also for making the map colour with political borders, terrain, and a scale. I have used this book and map to help prepare my own Conan game.
I found the interior art mediocre, though some pieces were excellent. Art serves a utilitarian purpose for me: it should either make a good player handout or it should help me plan better by inspiring me, providing new details, or illustrating and clarifying points made in the text. The art does an ok job of this, as much of it lacks details or fails to inspire, but there are nuggets I can pull out of most. The character portraits I can use for NPCs, and I can mine depicted scenes for encounter ideas.
The layout has its high and low points. Pages are marked with nice, big numbers in the lower corners for easy scanning. Chapters are labeled along the outside edges in easy-to-read text as another search device. There is a table of contents, but it's all caps (or all small caps) and therefore harder to scan quickly. Nations are included alphabetically anyway, so I didn't use the table of contents after the first read through. There's no index, which is a big thumbs down. The margins are illustrated, colour, and attractive, but in the lower corners it pushes the text around and cramps the text a bit overall. The header hierarchy is clear, giving me good context of where I was within each section.
A main worry I had was the nation info would duplicate that found in the gazetteer portion of the main Conan rulebook. However, author Vincent Darlage has done a great job in providing new information. I recommend using both books actually, as the info found in each complement each other nicely with little overlap (though the nation maps are identical between both books).
The GM chapter was a pleasant surprise. It's 12 pages long. The first nine provide great advice about planning and designing adventures in the Conan world. It tackles the tough task of helping GMs run Conanesque stories and I found the info quite useful. The last three pages provide new feats. Though I generally dislike the heaping spoonfuls of derivative crunchy bits that afflict some d20 products these days, PCs and NPCs in the low-magic world of Hyboria can use all the options they can get, and the extra feats are welcome, especially as they reflect the feel of Conan. Stack the Games Mastering Conan chapter with the adventure hooks section provided for each nation, Road of Kings is more than a just a gazetteer and useful in more than one way.
Road of Kings is a must-have supplement for GMs of the Hyborian world. It is a gazetteer full of GMing information and ideas, and with the addition of the GM advice chapter, it becomes a practical planning and design tool. Production values are high and quality of material good.