The Dragon Prince: Tales of Xadia Roleplaying Game

The Dragon Prince: Tales of Xadia Roleplaying Game

Various charcters from the Dragon Prince series facing toward the viewer. Claudia is in the back, radiating Dark Magic with blackened eyes. In a half circle around her in front are Soren, Rayla, Zym, Callum, Ezran, and Bait

Way back in the mists of time, in October of 2020, I took a look at Cortex Prime, a rulebook that distilled the essence of every Cortex and Cortex Plus game, broke them into core components, and made a toolbox from which you could build your own custom game. I think Cortex Prime is one of the most flexible “generic systems” around, and there hasn’t been an RPG toolbox like it since Fate.

While the rulebook is extremely clear in illustrating all its options, as well as giving examples of what building blocks to use to recreate previous Cortex and Cortex Plus games, even going so far as to include three games as examples, there is a lot going on in that book. I’ve been waiting for a stand-alone example to showcase how all of those elements can come together, which was realized in the Tales of Xadia RPG.

Disclaimer

I did not receive a review copy for this product. I was a Kickstarter backer of the Cortex Prime rulebook, and I pre-ordered this as soon as it was available. I have not had the opportunity to play Tales of Xadia, but I have extensively run and played other Cortex Plus games, most notably Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. I did create multiple sample characters and ran them through a few resolution dice rolls.

The Dragon Prince: Tales of Xadia Roleplaying Game

WRITING: Cam Banks & Dan Telfer

RULES DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT: Cam Banks

ADDITIONAL WRITING & DESIGN (FANDOM): Adam Bradford & Mellie Doucette

ADDITIONAL WRITING (WONDERSTORM): Asha Bynum, Joe Corcoran, Eugene Ramos, Michal Schick, Paige VanTassell

EDITING: Sally Christensen & Amanda Valentine

GRAPHIC DESIGN & LAYOUT: Ti Collier

ART RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Seraphine Lam

COVER ILLUSTRATION: Dorothy Yang

INTERIOR ILLUSTRATION: Amagoia Agirre, Francesca Baerald, Shaun Ellis, Rita Fei, Jessica Fong, Bruno Freitas, Hanna Hofer, Noé Leyva, Chelsea Li, Alexandra Neonakis, One Pixel Brush, Mya Roy-Royer, Caleb Thomas, Dorothy Yang

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Michael Chiang

Callum, Ezran, Bait, and Rayla, eating jelly tarts. Callum write in a book, while Ezran is throwing game dice in the air. The Magic Words

 For this review, I had access to the physical book, the online version of the rules, and the PDF. The PDF, which was my primary source for reference, is 312 pages. This includes endpapers at the front and back depicting the entire continent, a title page, a credits page, a foreword, a two-page table of contents, three pages of interior art credits, an 11-page index, a page of references to Dragon Prince characters, locations, and dragons, six pages showing a blank character journal and how to fill it out, a two-page player reference sheet, a two-page narrator reference sheet, as well as an ad for upcoming Tales of Xadia material and Cortex Prime.

If you’re worried about having six pages to illustrate how to fill out the character journal, the thing to keep in mind is that Tales of Xadia is very similar to the Cortex Prime book, in that it will have illustrations and examples for every step of every process that it is demonstrating.

The book has some artwork from the television series, but it also has lots and lots of new artwork. In most cases, this is illustrating the pre-generated characters included in various situations, but it also includes scenes of characters from the series. It also introduces some illustrations of creatures that haven’t yet appeared. There are full, half, and quarter-page color illustrations throughout, as well as large pieces, to introduce individual sections of the book.

The physical version of the book has a matte finish, as well as a metallic “gold” foil accent on the cover and the back of the book. The interior pages have a glossy finish.

While I primarily read through the PDF and took notes from that version of the rules, when going back to reference different sections, I used the web version extensively. For the character creation process, having different game rules like SFX hyperlinked was extremely useful.

Since I’m going to primarily focus on the contents of the rulebook, and not the digital tools, before I completely left the topic, I did want to address the current state of the toolset. You can create two characters and track their advancement, stress, etc. on the website. This number increases to six if you own the digital version of the core rulebook. This allows you to assemble and roll your dice pools online, and you can share your character sheet via a link. As of the time of this writing, the guided version of character creation is not available but is going to be implemented. That means that while you can create a character, you must refer to the core rules to keep track of what dice steps get bumped, what SFX to add to your sheet, and how many adjustments you can make to the character.

Book Geography

The book is laid out in the following sections:

  • Welcome to Xadia
  • Welcome to Cortex
  • Gazetteer of Xadia
  • Player’s Guide
  • Mage’s Guide
  • Narrator’s Guide
  • The Tale of the Corrupted Core
  • Appendix

Three moonshadow elves and a sunfire elf stand around a staff producing flames. Three of the four elves appear to be chanting in unison.The Setting

Welcome to Xadia and the Gazetteer of Xadia both deal with summarizing the setting. Having watched the series, some episodes multiple times, I think I can safely say that the setting material in the book does a great job of explaining the factions, history, and major events well enough that you won’t need to have watched the entire series to understand the setting. In fact, when it comes to items like the differences between the various human nations, I understand the setting better after reading this book than from just watching the series.

I think this setting material is more approachable because it doesn’t attempt to do a deep dive into specifics. For example, the “timeline” presented in the Gazetteer isn’t a list of dates and events that happened, but a series of headers explaining some of the major events that have shaped the continent.

The three major species guiding the events of the setting are the dragons, elves, and humans. Elves have a natural affinity for the primal sources of magic, while dragons embody those primal sources. Humans don’t have a natural connection to any of the primal sources and spend a lot of history having a much harder time just getting by.

Humans developed Dark Magic, which essentially drains the life force of living creatures with a natural affinity for one of the primal sources, to power their own magic. The Dragons and Elves confronted humans and demanded they stop using Dark Magic, insert lots of conflict, and the humans were exiled to the far side of the continent.

More recent conflicts saw humans invade the lands of the elves and dragons and kill the dragon king. After retaliatory assassinations, the rise of a Dark Mage trying to consolidate the human kingdoms for war with the elves and dragons, and the aftermath of this struggle, the world is currently in a place it hasn’t been for quite a while, where humans and elves are much more likely to encounter one another and learn from the perspectives of the other society.

In addition to the information on history and factions, there is a section on Xadian creatures, listing at least one creature from A to Z. Many of these creatures make their first appearance in this book, and there are some real charmers. In addition to the various creatures and the Primal source to which they may be linked, there is a ton of information on different dragon types, beyond the dragons we get to see in the series.

The Rules

Cortex games are based on creating die pools, picking dice to be added together to create a target number, and picking a die to be your effect die. For example, you would add together two dice to see if you succeeded, but the size of your effect die is what determines how successful you were at the task. Rolling a 2 on a d12 doesn’t matter when you are using the d12 as an effect die, because the size of the die is the important aspect.

Specifically for Tales of Xadia, characters have the following sections from which to draw a die to create their die pool:

  • Attributes
    • Agility
    • Awareness
    • Influence
    • Intellect
    • Spirit
    • Strength
  • Values
    • Devotion
    • Glory
    • Justice
    • Liberty
    • Mastery
    • Truth
  • Distinctions
    • Kindred
    • Vocation
    • Quirk
  • Specialties
  • Assets

In other words, when you know the action you are about to take, you would include a die that makes the most sense from your attributes, you would include a die from the value that is most likely driving that action, a die from the distinction that is most likely to effect the action, and any specialties or assets that would apply.

To resolve single actions, the difficulty is set by rolling two dice of varying sizes. This ranges from very easy (2d4) to very hard (2d12). Challenges, which are extended tasks that will take multiple characters multiple actions to resolve, are rated on two axes. Difficulty is rated as above, but the challenge also has a length. A short challenge adds one die, while a long challenge adds three dice. Instead of just checking to see if you are successful, you measure your effect die versus the die in the challenge pool. If it is smaller than any of the dice, you step one of the dice in the pool down by one. If it is the same size or larger, you remove one of the dice. Once all the dice are removed from the pool, the task is accomplished. Once all the PCs have taken an action, the Challenge pool can take its own action, which may include rebuilding it’s dice pool or inflicting stress on the PCs.

It is also possible to directly strive against a single opponent. This is a Contest, with each character creating their own die pool, and using the effect die to assign stress. One important aspect of a Contest is that a character can concede, giving the other character what they want, and gain a plot point for that concession (as well as some control over exactly how the character gets what they want).

Stress is a measure of how much longer a character can function in a scene, and there are multiple forms of stress. If a character is stressed out beyond a d12, they are out of the scene. The forms of stress used in Tales of Xadia include:

  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Corrupted
  • Exhausted
  • Injured
  • Insecure

Plot points can be used to add additional dice to the two dice you pick to determine your result, to add an additional effect die, or to trigger special effects. Special effects are abilities that can modify dice rolls or allow for specific narrative permission to do things at certain times.

Catalysts are special narrator characters that are tied to the overall plot. They have a die that indicates how influential they are to the story, as well as dice ratings for all their values. Catalysts aren’t always antagonists, sometimes they are important allies. Even a Catalyst that starts out as an antagonist can be swayed towards being an ally. The main point is that they are a narrator character important to the ongoing story. When PCs interact with a Catalyst, they can shift their values up or down based on their interactions. Catalysts can participate in Contests, and if they are directly influencing the events of a Challenge, they can add their die to the Challenge pool.

Catalysts that were an important part of the plot of a session step up their Catalyst die at the end of the session, but Catalysts that don’t appear in a session step down their Catalyst die. A Catalyst with a d12 Catalyst die and a d12 value can choose to give all the players a plot point and resolve a scene in a manner favorable to them. This can be handy if the Catalyst is an ally, and it can make for a great way to drop the PCs into hot water if they are an antagonist.

One of the things I like about the Challenge Pool setup is that it allows for the same mechanical resolution for different outcomes. For example, you may want to frame one challenge pool as the PCs destroying a mechanical beast, but another as driving off a dragon. This reinforces that they may not want to kill a living thing, or that dragons are way harder to kill than they are to annoy. In other words, the Challenge Pool subverts the old “if it has stats, we can kill it” mindset, because when you frame the scene, you can modify the stakes for what makes sense in the story.

Four adventurers relax at a table, one of which pouring tea. Through the doors of the establishment, someone is running in, and one of the adventurers is turned twoards them.Creating a Character

The default method for creating a character is to pick their Kindred, Vocation, and Quirk. Each of these choices bumps up a value and adds a special effect (SFX) to the character. All the SFX added at this point are locked, meaning the character can’t access them. The character gains a certain number of increases to modify their attributes and values, and they write a statement for each of the values, explaining what that value means to the character.

Players then pick specialties and assets. While their vocation die may be a broad ability to do a thing, a specialty is a more direct subskill that the character possesses. While characters can create temporary assets, the assets created in this phase of character creation are permanent assets. From their Kindred, Vocation, and Quirk, a character ends up with five choices for SFX, and they can unlock three of them to start the game.

Whenever a character rolls a 1, that creates a hitch, which the narrator can activate by paying the player a plot point. This can do things like stepping up existing stress on a character. That’s why the Distinctions a character chooses have a special function. Each of them can be used at a d8 when they are useful, or at a d4 (which is more likely to roll a 1), when they are a hindrance. Using a distinction at a d4 grants the player a plot point.

There is a separate section for mage characters. The magic system isn’t overly complex, but it does have a few extra details to emulate the feel of the magic from the series. One of the assets that a mage character takes will be their spells. Not only can they add this die as an asset, but this determines how many spells the character knows.

For example, a character with d6 in spells knows two spells, while one with a d8 knows three. These spells are broad, but they do establish the boundaries of what each primal source can accomplish. For example, Moon magic is good for illusions, while Sun magic can be used for healing. There are example spells listed for each type of magic, which tell you if the spell is used for removing obstacles, recovering stress, causing damage, etc.

Some artifacts can be found that include spells that may not be known to the character, but grant them the ability to access those spells. Like any assets, this artifact will have a die rating as well, but when using spells that the character doesn’t know, they don’t get to use their Mage specialty die, because they haven’t mastered the spell.

The most exacting magic in the game is Dark Magic. Dark Mages have a rating for their spellcasting ability and their spells like other mages, but if they have Corruption stress, they can use this in their die pool. If they fail to accomplish what they attempted with their die pool, their Corruption steps up. A Dark Mage can use a magical being asset to greater effect in their die pool, but it converts to stress after they use it. Finally, a Dark Mage can use minor magical effects if they have any Corruption stress without needing to drain any more living creatures (they have enough juice in the batteries to eke out simple magic).

Advancement

Characters don’t get XP to spend to advance their characters. Instead, they get a Growth Pool. At different times in the character’s adventures, based on what happened, they can add a die to their Growth Pool.

As an example, characters create Goals for their characters and rate the difficulty of those goals. Whenever one of those goals is realized, the die for the difficulty of that goal goes into the Growth Pool. If a character spends a scene recovering stress, and another character helps them do so, they gain a die for their Growth Pool.

Characters can spend a plot point to turn one of these dice into a Relationship Asset that lasts for a scene, emphasizing the connection the character has to another character and how that is helping them.

On the other hand, a player can attempt to roll a number of Growth Pool dice to unlock new SFX, add new SFX, or increase a die rating. In that case, if they successfully roll against the difficulty for adding or advancing that aspect of the character, the dice they rolled are removed from the pool.

The city of Lux Aurea, standing in a tall basin, is surrounded in swirling darkness, as the Sunforge at the top of the central tower begins to break down.The Tale of the Corrupted Core

There is an included adventure that deals with the aftermath of events from Season Three of The Dragon Prince. Specifically, the player characters are going to be recruited to minimize the damage from the decaying Sunforge in the city of Lux Aurea.

I look at adventures in core rulebooks as a statement of intent and a blueprint from the designers. I want to see what the designers assume players will be doing, and what an adventure will look like.

There isn’t much in the way of explaining why all of the PCs will be in the area, which means you need to explain why all of their backgrounds would interact, and how to get them in this vicinity in session zero.

The adventure itself presents two Catalysts, neither of which operates as an antagonist, but as advocates of two separate means of accomplishing a goal. One Catalyst is advocating for doing the “greater good” and saving a resource for use in shutting down the danger of the Sunforge, while the other Catalyst is advocating using that resource to help more people and attempting riskier action to contain the damage from the Sunforge.

I think this presents a very Dragon Prince feeling adventure. Neither Catalyst is wholly wrong, the main threat is the damage that will be caused by an exploding Sunforge, and even the dragon that can stand in their way isn’t really an antagonist, it’s an injured creature with a warped perspective, and the PCs even have the option of trying to heal that dragon.

Different options present themselves in the adventure based on which Catalyst has the highest Catalyst die when the characters reach different parts of the story, giving some meaning to their interaction with both Catalysts, and meaning that it’s not just picking between A or B, but also what the characters have done to convince one Catalyst or another to follow a specific path.

While the climax of the adventure is mitigating the damage from the exploding Sunforge, there are multiple final scenes presented, showing different approaches and degrees of danger. Some leave a much wider, more dramatic scar on the world, while still avoiding the worst-case scenario, while others contain the damage a bit more.

The book also mentions that this adventure leads into the Sunfire Chronicle, a product that will deal with more of the fate of Lux Aurea and the Sunfire Elves.

Jelly Tarts

Not only does this book give you a strong overview of the setting, but it also maintains the tone of The Dragon Prince throughout. You get the equal measure of epic fantasy and lighthearted wonder that permeates the series. The rule implementation does a great job of marrying the dice ratings to narrative aspects relevant to the series. There is an important discussion on session zero and safety tools, as well as some nice accreditation to game designers that contributed to that work. Giving specific art credits is something I really wish more RPGs would do.

Grasshopper Goo
 It is a powerful synthesis of the Cortex Prime rules with the style of action present in the series. 

I think the freeform character creation, where players just get a number of die steps, SFX, assets, and specialties, without the guiding framework, falls into what can be intimidating about Cortex Prime games. It’s not always easy to know where to start or what to pull out of the mix. It will be useful to people with strong mastery of the options and a very strong idea of a character outside the normal archetypes of the show, but it might be a bit much for most people. I love the flavor it creates, but Dark Magic is a wee bit more complicated than the rest of the system, and may throw characters that really want to live their inner Claudia.

Strongly Recommended–This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.

There is a lot to recommend in this book. It is a wonderful framework for implementing Cortex Prime tools for a high fantasy setting. It is an engaging sourcebook for the television series. It is a powerful synthesis of the Cortex Prime rules with the style of action present in the series. There is almost no friction between the rules and the specific setting and types of stories being emulated.

What other licensed games to you feel did a great job of emulating the source material? What parts of the rules married to what aspects of the narrative to make that work? We want to hear from you in the comments below!

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