In 1982 Chaosium published the innovative species-specific “splatbook” Trollpak. This boxed set detailed the culture, religion, history, and society of the Uz—called trolls by humans—thereby fleshing this species out as a player option, rather than a statblock. It seems rather fitting that a nice, round forty years later indie publisher Legion Games began to release their homage: Duckpac.
Duckpac is being released as a series of short PDFs on the Jonstown Compendium. Each release echoes one volume of the original Trollpak boxed set: Lore, Adventurers, and then playable Adventures. This review focuses on the first two volumes, which have been collected in a single Print On Demand hardcover. Legion Games has also produced a solo adventure, titled Redfeather Dreaming. Their adventures for Duckpac are forthcoming.
This book provides a detailed description of the Durulz Tribe of Sartar, better known as the ducks. They are small anthropomorphic ducks, similar in shape to cartoon characters like Donald or Daffy Duck. While the ducks are a naturally comic idea, Duckpac has a generally serious presentation of their culture.
The first section of the hardcover explores this culture in detail both extrapolated from prior publications, and independently developed by the authors. I’m not familiar enough with prior perspectives to pick these threads apart, but the overall presentation here seemed to me both thorough and coherent. There was no clear sign to me where old development ended, and new ideas began. Topics covered include duck anatomy, mythology, history, culture, and their relationship with humans, much like the presentation of Trollpak.
Of particular note is the focus on recent Durulz history, due to the “Duck Hunt” ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Lunar Empire—the setting’s conventional baddies. Duckpac takes an unflinching look at these horrors, and describes a traumatized culture. While this topic is gruesome, I felt that the authors handled it well. The Lunar objectives for the Duck Hunt are described, but never justified. The whole section puts the ducks into sharp perspective in the gaming milieu, going beyond “the Durulz are cursed” to “here’s a recent trauma, and how it impacted your adventurer’s experience.”
It really fits quite well into RuneQuest, in my opinion. I’d not want to play adventurers hunting ducks, but the detail with which the Hunt is presented demonstrates that the people of this fictional setting can be unsettlingly human. Quite on tone for a game infamous for a combat system in which you’re likely to lose as many limbs as Monty Python’s Black Knight.
Overall the first half of Duckpac is quite comprehensive in its description of the species. I would have enjoyed further mythological speculation, and exploring the history of the ducks in more depth prior to the Resettlement of Dragon Pass. But, as I often remind myself, 90% of the time wanting more means that a book was just right.
The second half of Duckpac is a full adventurer creation system for creating Durulz adventurers. You’ll need both Duckpac and the RuneQuest core rules. This includes amendments to the original Family History, custom occupations based upon Durulz culture, thoughts on the ducks’ “Cowardly” presentation (and Passion), and additional heirloom items to further customize your character. This system is significantly more satisfying than the minimal nonhuman adventurer creation rules in the Glorantha Bestiary, and certainly a highlight of the book.
When compared to Trollpak, the only element not present is additional cults. Yet I’d not call cults “missing,” because the Durulz worship roughly the same religion as the Sartarites of Chaosium’s default setting and culture. Would I have enjoyed a custom duck-headed variation on Engizi the River God, or Orlanth himself? Yes. Would that have been a good inclusion? Eh, probably not.
Instead of cults, we have two “Voices” articles, “The Redfeather Shaman Speaks” and “What the Safe Leader Told Me.” Seven pages of question-and-answer text describe Durulz perspectives on religion, culture, their neighbors, and ways of living. They’re good additional reading, and the non-player characters’ tone adds pleasant variety to the book’s prose.
Finally, this section is rounded out with a short default setting, Redfeather Safe, from which I presume the forthcoming adventures will be set. A “safe” is a type of Durulz marsh settlement raised on stilts, and requiring river traffic for access. The physical description meshes nicely with a demonstration of the social dynamics presented earlier in the book, and is well diagrammed for the reader to explore.
The book closes with a collection of illustrated pre-generated adventurers, for immediate use by players. These are similar to Vasana & Co. from the RuneQuest core rules. Each two-page spread includes an illustration, adventurer history, their statblock, and relevant equipment.
My only criticism of the content is that it could have used another proofread. The prose is enjoyably readable, but there are occasional grammar or spelling typos throughout. They aren’t egregious; I’d say roughly “indie average” for textual polish. And really, if my only real comment is “this has too many typos,” that means Duckpac is damn well written.
Hey you! Want more crazy RuneQuest duck stuff? You should check out The Quacken, an adventure I published as part of Monster of the Month. It’s chock full of gross anatomy sketches, weird biology, and a monster to make any Rune Lord quiver in their booties!
Duckpac is nicely illustrated with a blend of black & white and color art. It does include images generated by AI, and was released prior to Chaosium’s ban on that resource in the Jonstown Compendium. My hardcover is a “Standard Color” version, but after reading the book I do think I should have shelled out the additional $10 for a “Premium Color” version instead. Some of the art in my copy is a bit dark but, in my experience this is likely a result of the bargain color rather than poor quality.
Overall, Legion Games has done a great job curating and utilizing their artwork in this book. Some of my favorite pieces include a Durulz version of DaVinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” and the incredibly worried, earnest expression on the face of Ankka Littlebill, one of the pre-generated adventurers. There’s also a great depiction of Redfeather Safe at sunset, which helps evoke the settlement’s remote location.
I should also note that I like the cartography throughout quite a bit. There’s a fair bit, and it’s all fairly high quality.
Duckpac attempts to bring ducks to your RuneQuest table as a fully detailed species for players, and it succeeds admirably. The book is enjoyably written, and the material is well presented with evocative art and clean graphic design. In my mind, this is yet another book which is absolutely not “just” a fan publication. Rather, I would call Duckpac another indicator that the Jonstown Compendium is maturing into a full “indie” or “third-party” publishing platform for RuneQuest.
On my “armchair to table” spectrum, I’d place this book pretty much in the middle. It’s not the type of book I see being held open and referenced for a full game session, but Duckpac is absolutely intended to create more ways to play on the table. And it succeeds! I think playing a duck (or gamemastering for a duck adventurer) with this book’s support sounds like a lot of fun. My own experience of the book was an armchair one, though, and I think it holds up on that end too. I enjoyed reading through this quite a bit, and I do think it’s worth picking up on those merits.
Duckpac is indisputably a master class on ducks in RuneQuest. Is it a “must have” for every single RuneQuest fan? Mm, hard to say. If you have even a tangential interest in new species as player options, you should pick it up. It does everything it says on the tin.
Until next time, then.
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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Duckpac”
div>“Could have used another proofread”? Oof th
My favorite of the Duckpac series has to be Book 3. I’m a big fan of soloquests.
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