themes in Sand Dogs

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If The King Machine was about oppression, Sand Dogs is maybe about scarcity. The visual cues are things like Jean Giraud’s Airtight garage of Jerry Cornelius and perhaps Mad Max. The technology is loosely in the early 30s, but as with any Soft Horizon game we could easily see much older and much newer instance of vehicles, equipment, industry. But let’s stay in that region at least to claim affinity with (if not membership in) the dieselpunk aesthetic.

The world is a desert. How big it is, what shape are its continents, how does ecology even work: these things are not in the book. If you feel you need to explain them, that’s cool. That’s yours. Here’s what’s mine.

A desert studded with city states that are roughly self-sufficient. They drill for oil nearby, they do their own refining, the eke out what they can from the unforgiving soil. And every city is near at least one Tomb. Because that’s where the wonders are. Even if it’s mostly illegal to go get them.

The tombs are not really tombs. Who knows what they are. But gods sleep inside and the things buried with them are god things. Incomprehensible. Usually useless. Maybe wonderful if used exactly correctly and lethal otherwise. Nothing, certainly, lives too near the tombs. You might be detecting a whiff of Roadside Picnic here. You wouldn’t be wrong.

And who are you? Well we need to find that out, don’t we? A customs agent, perhaps, keeping too much too strange out of town. A tombrunner, looking to break into a new tomb, find something new, make a mint, and retire. Just like the last town. What’s left of it. A soldier, a getaway driver, an airplane mechanic. The mayor brought low by gambling debts and forced to work the refineries. A business magnate touring their holdings.

One thing we know: the tombs will be milestones on your journey and the scarabs will eat your bones. But when, exactly? How much will you get to see first? And just maybe there’s a path to the Soft Horizon itself, a gateway to other worlds. Maybe you’ll drive your half-track into entirely new lands and find new riches and new needs.

Maybe.

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