Skyraiders of Abarax, the latest project from Dragonlance author Tracy Hickman, launched its Kickstarter on October 26th and is already doing about as well as one would expect from a Dungeons & Dragons 5E-compatible setting swimming in capital-F fantasy aesthetic. One of the more intriguing features of the project is the addition of a digital app that powers what the tabletop RPG calls its Living Tome System.
When Hickman and wife, Laura, announced Skyraiders in early September, the Living Tome system was touted simply as a way for players to digitally engage with the books and enrich their adventures - vague and promising in the way promotional teases often are. The launch of the crowdfunding campaign fills in some of those critical details, uplifting the little concept into one of the campaign’s possible standout features.
The Living Tome System will exist as a separate app for mobile devices and pads that interacts with both the Skyraider’s Handbook and Skymaster’s Almanac - think player’s guide and GM guide, respectively - to enhance play at the table. Images and certain codes in the book can be scanned by the app to bring up more information on the subject, allowing the book to pack in more worldbuilding and lore without flooding page counts. It also mentions scanning dice mats, perhaps to calculate rolls at a glance.
The trailer shows a phone scanning Abarax’s world map and displaying dynamic weather and other effects alongside changes to the environment. The city of Stormhold blazed with an encompassing fire, the unmistakable figure of a dragon looming overhead. This could signify changes wrought by the party’s actions or hints and larger events shaping the world that the party might respond to. Apparently, quests will appear on the app that aspiring adventurers can undertake during their journeys.
Groups can expect to have the Living Tome System affect more granular bits of roleplay, as well. In an example on the campaign’s pge, a GM reads a descriptive section of a dungeon while a secret house in an orange text box talks about a wraith attempting to possess one of the players. The GM can choose a player from a list to be the new home for the vengeful spirit, which generates another orange secret box on their corresponding device with details on their new, sinister plans.
There’s also mention of cooperative minigames for picking locks and flying the airships that dominate the setting’s skies, which might not land as well for players. The other examples listed above all modulate and - subjectively - enhance the experience at the table. Making certain roleplay bits explicit through hard-coded minigames isn’t exactly why folks sit down at the table. The campaign doesn’t say how many of these features can be turned off or otherwise avoided.
App-assisted games have become more common in recent years, and it’s likely the trend will continue attempting to find more avenues to bring your phone out during a roleplay session. The concepts are intriguing, and I’m not too cynical to imagine scenarios where the app conveys hidden information better than a scrap of paper or allows me as a player to track events without flipping through pages of scribbled notes.
That said, requiring an online connection to connect all of the party’s devices means trucking in all the pitfalls and closed doors that reliable and cheap internet service entails. The campaign explicitly says “the app is an important enhancement” and “not all content can be experienced without the app”. How Skyraiders chooses to implement the Living Tome System - and how stable it is at launch - might make or break this setting.
Skyraiders of Abarax’s Kickstarter campaign will runs through November 16th and offers both a digital and physical version of its two core books. Dicebreaker has reached out for more information about the app, along with its use and limitations.