Quick Look: Tanares RPG – 5e
Designer: (credits in image below)
Artists: (credits in image below)
Meet Tanares, a high-fantasy campaign setting for the world’s greatest roleplaying game. In Tanares, whenever war was waged, the bloodshed summoned a powerful, frenzied Dragon that buried the civilizations involved, resetting History and forever changing the landscape. This dystopian world is kept together and on a short leash by an Empire that forbids large armed gatherings. Under this decree, and without many powerful adventurers out there, your Team may become one of the most powerful units in the world, and effect real change to all aspects of the scenario.
When Dragori Games emerged into the board game scene a few years ago with their Kickstarter for Arena : The Contest, it was rather startling with the amount of success they immediately achieved for a relatively young company. Having garnished more than $730,000 in its first run, Arena : the Contest (AtC) was an immediate financial success.
It was a resounding victory for them, and something I was extremely proud to be a part of.
And if I had to give just one compliment to Dragori games, it would be that they perhaps made the best game that I own.
I suppose I must now also add the caveat that having owned Arena : The Contest for a couple years now , I have still never actually played it…
I supposed I could take the Path of Righteousness, and, as an adult, lay the blame for not playing Arena : the Contest squarely on my own shoulders.
But I choose the Path of Juvenile, and instead elect to deflect blame back to Dragori Games for my never having played my copy of AtC that is half sitting on my shelf, while the other half remains half-painted in my display cabinet.
After all, it was THEIR FAULT for creating a world that was so elaborately designed and so obviously molded after classic Dungeons and Dragons in combat—the influence was undeniable.
You might ask how I know they created such an immersive world (having not played the game yet) and to that I would proudly answer whilst holding my World of Arena : The Contest hard bound book that came with my Kickstarter pledge. This tome contained over 200 pages of story that pertained to the game’s characters, as well as the central plot that centers around the Malrokian Curse (more on this later).
At its heart, AtC is a skirmish game, but it also had a campaign where you could take on small dungeons loaded up with the usual skeletons, golems, orcs, and dragons. But the entire system of combat was DnD at heart, and part of the reason I originally sprang for the first KS.
Actually, I take that back. The main reason I bought into Arena : The Contest was the trove of gorgeous and lush minis that it came with, and at a price that was perfectly sound and reasonable. If the game that came with the minis was actually good, that was only a secondary icing on the cake for me, as my main intention was to simply buy the game for its minis for my DnD sessions.
Nevertheless, the combat and gameplay looked enough like DnD to me that I still wanted to play it as soon as it arrived. And I would have too…
If it wasn’t for those pesky folks at Dragori Games.
For as soon as they wrapped up fulfillment for Arena : The Contest, they launched a new Kickstarter for Tanares Adventures, set in the same world as AtC, using the same combat system, but a much more compelling story line contained in another massive book that branched out, gave gamers choices, puzzles and more, and all without a DM…
And they were offering Beholder minis! Dragon Queen minis! Liches! Mounts! Beastmasters! Mindflayers and Ogres and Giants! (Oh, my!)
Seriously Dragori! You can’t just dangle a carrot like that in front of me as soon as the first game hits my doorstep.
Because inevitably, I will want to consume the entire Arena / Tanares experience in one massive sitting, much akin to binge watching all seasons of my favorite shows all at once rather then watch them week by week, one episode at a time.
I want it all, and I want it now, was (and still is) my very thought before starting the base game of AtC.
However, all is not lost for me within the worlds created by Dragori Games. While I am still waiting on the Tanares Adventures expansion, there is something new from them that I officially can comment on.
They are now in the process of launching a new Kickstarter campaign for DND 5E that is set in the same world as AtC and Tanares adventures! And it will even have a solo mode add-on so the story can experienced with one or more players using an automated deck!
Now 5E is something I am very experienced and fluent in (see my previous reviews). And the kind-yet-brutally-teasing folks at Dragori Games were wonderfully able to send me a preview copy of their 5E book to preview and try out. In fact, believe it or not, they have made this preview copy available to EVERYONE to see just how good it is, if so desired! (See link)
Now being an owner of Arena the Contest, its respective lore book, and having backed Tanares : Adventures, I am very familiar with the central storyline that is set within this game world. Even without having played the original game yet, I have read all of its corresponding materials multiple times and can safely say that the 5E Tanares books tie into the world very well—too well, in fact and perhaps (more on this later).
The original board games and Tanares 5E revolve heavily on the history of the Malrokian Curse, a cataclysm that is believed to have begun eons ago, but has unconfirmed theories as to its origins and whether or not it is still extant or not. But belief in its existence has defined the very fabric of modern day society, and it is into this belief system that your characters are thrown into.
The basic synopsis of the belief system is that once, long ago, a series of great wars among the races of Tanares aroused the anger of the sleeping Dragon Gods, causing them to leave waste to all of civilization and leave behind a curse as they returned to their slumber.
In the aftermath of the bloody conflict, it was noted that virtually every large scale conflict thence after would lead to great maladies that would reduce the structure of the world to the brink of destruction yet again , whether through plagues, droughts, or other inexplicable tragedies.
Virtually every time a large conflict has broken out in recorded history, disaster soon followed. The most recent of such calamities ensued in the aftermath of a war approximately 100 years ago. As a battle between two armies escalated, something emerged from nowhere to wipe out almost the entirety of all factions involved and change the face of the land.
The sole survivor was to become the The Faceless Emperor, who in the aftermath of the bloodshed, emerged to claim leadership over and unify the lands to avoid further destruction. This enigmatic figure still lives and rules to this day, imposing his new rule of law to ensure the safety of future of Tanares.
What is felt to be most certain at this point in time is that large degrees of bloodshed will always invoke the Malrokian Curse upon the land. Therefore, the Emperor has imposed a decree that all conflicts in the land must be settled in his famed Arena, in “Teams” that consist of a small number of warriors representing each conflicting faction. All contentions among nations and houses are decided in such a manner, in a fight to the death between Teams, where the victor gets to settle the dispute in their favor once and for all.
Being that I am relatively experienced being a DM in 5E, I decided it was finally time to take an adventure in the world that Dragori Games has created.
And I will state right-of-the-bat that the Malrokian curse is the perfect blessing for me as a DM. As I had only time for producing a small gathering of real-life persons before the Kickstarter hit the ‘net, there were only a handful of people that I could gather for a quick session. Given the players already had some pre-generated characters lying around, we opted to use those rather than the new options presented in Tanares 5E in the interest of time.
Thankfully, the world of 5E Tanares seems built for small groups more than anything else. Because of the nature of the Malrokian Curse and the adventure, it is supremely easy to justify small combat encounters in this world. That was my first observation. Normally, I wince at having to water down encounters , it really does feel cheesy how I often have to reduce the threats in printed source material for normal DnD campaigns, as it feels weird for there to maybe be only 3 fighters confronting your party when they invade say a castle in an “ordinary” DnD campaign, but this world of Tanares provides the perfect pretense and pretext for why you actually may be able to go about and have a realistic chance of pulling off such a feat—no one wants to confront you and invoke the curse, perhaps…
Curiously enough, the adventure starts out similarly to the original Starter Set for DnD where you are traveling by wagon and are waylaid in a small ambush. You had been en route to compete in an Arena contest with the rest of your Team when the attack had taken place. You eventually find yourselves arriving at your destination, where you will be required to choose the patron to sponsor you for your next fight, and travel via the Penumbral Plane—a twisted dark shadow dimension that facilitates fast travel—but soon find yourself implicated in a major crime, that may have been somehow connected to the initial ambush you had defended yourself against. The story quickly escalates from there, introducing you to a friendly face or two from the main player characters of Arena : The Contest, who may offer to help you as your quest begins to launch you into a mystery beyond your immediate comprehension.
I am not going to delve into the story too much, as I would not want to ruin anything , but I will note that this “preview” adventure is available in full form via this link for those who are interested in seeing how this narrative begins.
As a DM (and not a player who lacks foresight of events to come) I was initially upset at some content that seemed to be spoilers for Arena the Contest and more importantly, Tanares Adventures.
I did reach out to Alexandre Aboud at Dragori Games, and he was able to quell some of my initial frustrations in pointing out that Tanares Adventures had MANY endings, and this particular beginning to Tanares 5E represented just one of many possible outcomes of the “previous” game. Consequently, it seems that Tanares 5E has many ways with which it commence ; certain characters may have perished in Tanares Adventures, and then again, they may not have, depending on the choices you made. Moreover, those decisions you made in the previous game may also have lead to consequences on the land itself, meaning certain cities may have survived certain cataclysms or not—it all depends on what decisions you made, or the discretion of the DM if no one in the party played Arena or Tanares Adventures.
Being that this is a preview, we only got to experience a small snippet of the story, which by all evidence seems like it is going to consist of over 300 pages of material by my guess. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t get a sneak peak at some of the other things Tanares 5E has in store for us.
Now our players didn’t have a chance to start any of the new character classes or species (races) due to the short notice, but we did get a chance to browse them thoroughly, and we do have some impressions.
So far, Tanares 5E offers three new classes (the Dragon Blade , Lost Magic Researcher and the Madwalker) as well as one new race/species, the Taii ‘ Maku.
The Dragon Blade has spent their life training to hunt down and destroy dragons. Little evidence exists to support the existence of such beasts, however, as paradoxical as this sounds, as almost no one has ever seen a dragon and lived to tell the tale. It is rumored in the annals of history that dragons were (perhaps) seen as the incarnate instruments of destruction as the gods unleashed their fury whenever the Malrokian Curse has been invoked.
But this is just legend.
Still, there are those who treat the existence of dragons and their role in destruction as “fact” and consequently devote their lives to hunting down these mythical beasts and possibly slay them while they are in their slumber. It is through such devout training that they have learned to manifest powers and traits that seem to derive from the very beasts they seek to slay…
The Lost Magic Researcher is an arcane caster who functions by learning to enhance their spells naturally and efficiently, similar to how meta Magic feats work in spell casting.
Madwalkers are those who have been corrupted by the influence of the Penumbral Plane, an alternate dimension that allows for quick travel between various regions of Tanares. Traveling the paths of the Penumbral plane is fraught with danger, with horrific and phantasmal beasts that would instantly devour the unwary traveler in an instant if unprepared. Travelers who have frequented the paths of the Penumbral Plane too much can eventually become Madwalkers, taking on the powerful forms and abilities of the beasts within at the eventual cost of their sanity!
All of these new classes ooze with theme and character. However, I will say that our initial inkling was that these classes seem to be meant for experienced 5E players more than newcomers, as these new archetypes seem loaded with new abilities and features that may seem a bit overwhelming for the new players, requiring noticeably more upkeep and record keeping to use properly.
For example, the Dragon Blade must be vigilant in watching what types of powers they use sequentially.
There is a long list of powers that a Dragon Blade may have available to them, each of which correlates to a part of a dragon : Claws, Scales, and Wings, each with an associated icon for quick reference. While these powers are substantial enough on their own, if you manage to use three different types of powers in a row without breaking the pattern , you will produce a more dramatic effect depending on what type of power you finish on! For example use of Claw-Claw -Scale abilities would produce no effect, but if you employ Wings-Scales-Claw you would end the sequence with a super finishing move with possible additional secondary effects!
Likewise, the Madwalker has many special powers that they may utilize, but invoking these also adds to their Insanity points, which must be consistently tallied—if these points ever cross your maximum sanity capacity, you will transform into one of a number of beasts, each with their own statistics that will need to be drawn up in an instant to replace your normal stats!
This did seem like a lot to micromanage. But then we noticed the cards…
At the end of the book we found a number of cards that could be used to better manage all the information you need to keep track of for these new classes. While exclusively print-and-play for now , I have no idea if Dragori will print these out in high quality for players or not, but if so, that would be quite a treat!
With regard to the new “species” that Tanares 5E has to offer, let me first of all pat Dragori on the back for managing to distinguish between what a “race” is and what a “species” is. It may seem like a small deal, but what this means is that we will thankfully not have to worry about player character Pixies that have the strength of 19 Hill Giants precisely because they are Pixies—not Hill Giants.
So all half orcs may rejoice.
The new Taii’ Maku are a new and highly intelligent (though perhaps naive) species that is centered around obtaining internal balance. Most interestingly , they may find themselves obtaining bonuses to attributes and skills depending on how “balanced” their numbers are, particularly if there is not too much of a disparity between their highest and lowest attribute scores! Very cool!
All this and more is offered in this little “snippet” of the overall 3-book series that Dragori games is creating for Tanares 5E.
Now for my thoughts.
Firstly, let me state that there are some things I am “disappointed” with Dragori Games for (and I know they have already set forth an explanation of their own justifying their foray into 5E ) but let me say that while I appreciate the quality of what I have seen thus far of Tanares 5E (it is exceptionally well-organized and developed), I cannot for the life of me understand why it is that they made the decision to adapt their world into 5E when they have masterfully created their own world and rules so well.
While admittedly not having played the original Arena and Tanares Adventures yet, I have painstakingly scrutinized the rules for those games time and time again over the past few years as I trudge through the Herculean task of painting all of the wonderful miniatures that accompanied their first game, and by my pre-analysis the rule sets, characters and systems that are in place seem familiar to anyone who has played DnD 4E, but also nevertheless very distinct and able to stand on their own.
In brief, their first products seem “masterfully” done—why would they ever want to change what seems to be working for many, many people?
The answer, most succinctly, is that they do it because they can.
It is no big secret that the staff at Dragori Games are big fans of DnD, and all the evidence I have seen thus far points to this—even within their own Intellectual Property, the influence is clear.
It is because of this love of the series that they have made this new entry into the field, and the amorous affinity they show towards the DnD brand could perhaps only be shown by creating their own content using the new 5E system.
Other thoughts :
Being pretty familiar with the Player Characters of the original Arena : The Contest and their abilities, it is admittedly a bit awkward seeing these icons with fully fleshed-out 5E spells and abilities when they have none of these in the board game. It was a bit of a mental leap for me to wrap my mind around, after having looked at Dragori’s original material for a few years now.
For those of you who have read my previous reviews of DnD material, you will know that I greatly appreciate the framework that 5E offers from a rules standpoint. It is unrivaled simplicity when compared to the likes of say, 3E and 3.5E. However, this is often where my affection for “official” WoTC materials ends.
For one thing familiarity has become enemy of the common people—WoTC has over relied on old source materials , and spends too much time in Forgotten Realms for my liking, and overall, I find that source books after the initial Player’s Handbooks have been both poorly organized and in general overtly lackluster as a result of being mostly rehashed content of previous works (Ravenloft, Tomb of Horrors, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, etc…).
In a nutshell, “official” content really hasn’t been offering anything “new” for players to experience, and moreover has fallen victim to having “too many hands in the pot” from such a large corporate entity, meaning some really bad editing and revising has taken place throughout the years.
Which is ironic, because I would expect more “help” available to yield the better products out there, but this has sadly not been been my experience ; quite the opposite actually, I have found that 3rd party publishers are pushing out DM content that is more original, fun and better organized than anything WoTC has put out in recent years (See my original review for the Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition
Another benefit I see to buying the new 5E Tanares campaign is that they will be creating a method so that the game will not require an active DM, but allow all players to navigate their world using an automated combat and encounter deck—so there is hope for me to personally experience this story without spoiling it first by perusing the books as a DM normally does first! The sad, twisted fate of most DM’s is to never be able to partake in adventures, and thanks to Dragori Games, I at least have some hope!
And perhaps the most compelling reason for me to want to continue my journey into Tanares 5E is the story itself. More appropriately, it is the mature theme of the game that reflects modern (COVID) times that seems especially pertinent in this day and age.
Although they first drafted the idea of the Malrokian Curse years ago, the central theme of the game revolves around concepts that should give us all things to ponder and discuss—The Faceless Emperor’s seizure of power across the land seems to have been done “for the good of the land”, but the narrative brings into focus the questions of modern-day moral dilemmas that require us to ask is there such a thing as Freedom? Are there circumstances where the ends justifies the means? I will not elaborate my own opinions on this realm of thought, but I find it fascinating that the game seems to be pointing towards the creation of thoughts and discussions for serious, real-life issues just as much as it does for those within the world of Tanares.
Ultimately, when all is said in done, the preview material I was shown of Tanares 5E has further bolstered my belief that the future of 5E rests in the hands of third party publishers who care about making a quality Dungeons and Dragons product—Dragori Games has positioned itself to be a top developer for exciting new DnD material. Stay tuned, and be sure to check out their Kickstarter, which launches soon!
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer