Gamebook store

Friday, 11 August 2017

Another look at Dragon Warriors


I recently cracked open the beautiful hardback edition of Dragon Warriors produced by James Wallis’s Magnum Opus Press. As a matter of fact there are some copies on sale on DriveThruRPG at the moment – not at all cheap compared to the fiver my Tirikelu rules will set you back, but definitely worth it.

In the preface I talked a bit about my and Oliver Johnson’s thinking when designing the game:
“Our aim was to put something dark, spooky and magical back into fantasy role-playing. Loathing the medieval Disneyland of Dungeons & Dragons, with its theme park taverns, comedy dwarves, and cannon-fodder profusion of monsters, we made Legend as vividly dreamlike as the Middle Ages seem in stories, a place dripping with a European folktale sensibility. The flavor of what fantasy ought to be.

“In Legend, faerie creatures are as amoral as cats and as heartless as children. A goblin in the rafters can spoil a whole night’s sleep, while a troll under the bridge ahead is reason to change your travel plans. And these creatures are rare. Walking into a tavern in Legend and finding an elf at the bar would be like strolling into your real-life local and seeing a polar bear.

“In the world of Dragon Warriors, human emotion is just as strong as magic. The scenario ‘A Box of Old Bones’ makes it clear that the miracles associated with holy relics are sufficiently rare and vaguely manifested that a fake relic can go unnoticed for years, getting by on the strength of its placebo effect and the willingness of clergy and believers to collude in seeing evidence where they want to see it. Our rule was never to evoke magic if a non-supernatural plot point would do.”
It’s nice to see old work you did getting some love. Normally when that happens people are heaping praise on the land of Legend. The Dragon Warriors rules themselves get overlooked, even by me. (Especially by me, in fact, since I’m forever kicking myself for not listening to Oliver when he said we should dispense with the polyhedral dice.) But then I came across this in-depth review by Charles Akins in which it’s the DW system as much as the world that grabs him. If I ever get around to finishing Jewelspider for publication it’s going to have a new D6-driven system, but Mr Akins’ comments still give me a warm glow inside. As does this mini-review of the combat mechanics on DarkAgeOf RollPlayGame:


And if you should feel like a return to the lands of Legend, Serpent King Games have made the core Dragon Warriors rulebook available free as a PDF until the end of this month. That's better than a dragon spitting in your eye. (Although I should add that in all my time in Legend, the nearest we've yet got to a dragon is hearing a slithering in a ditch in the forest one time. Gotta love that low fantasy.)

23 comments:

  1. It seems like an awesome setting with slightly clunky rules based on the scenarios you've posted here. I've gotten to the point of wanting my rules to be as light as possible. It's one reason I've come to prefer Savage Worlds.

    Our group briefly experimented with Ulisses Spiel's Dark Eye game. It seemed like a fun, interesting setting, by oh dear God, that rules system. Character generation took hours. Rolling skill checks required three separate attribute checks on D20s. It was going to be a giant pain to play through.

    I've run into a few games like that. Awesome settings with horrible rules. Probably the most memorable game to me is JAGS Wonderland. The tagline for it is "You aren't losing your grip on reality. Reality is losing its grip on you." It's a lovely, spooky, brilliant worldbook featuring Louis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland as a modern absurdist horror setting. And it's powered by a rules system so complex as to drive a tax accountant to madness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dark takes on Alice in Wonderland are kind of a running joke with me. For the last fifteen years I've been ranting every time one comes out as a comic book, videogame, you name it. "What, *another* one..?" But they keep on coming.

      Sorry, that's just a bugbear of mine. I completely agree with your point. While writing up my Tirikelu RPG for The Eye of All-Seeing Wonder -- all 80 pages of it -- I wrote two other systems for the same setting, one 3 pages long and one just 1 page.

      I do understand why people can find some modern systems too abstract. You have to have players who appreciate the reason for paring down the rules, and who are willing to add their own flavorsome interpretation to what's rolled.

      An example: a comment on that DW video mentions that it's nice to separate out the function of a shield. It adds to the "story" created by the combat rolls. A simpler system would subsume the shield into the general armour value, but that simplicity comes at a cost. Each group must find the balance that suits their tastes.

      Delete
    2. Btw: "a rules system so complex as to drive a tax accountant to madness" -- they should pay you to use that quote on the back of the rulebook, John :-)

      Delete
  2. The rules for Deadlands are slightly more complicated than the normal Savage Worlds rules, but that's more a function of establishing the flavor of the game. Whenever you gamble, have a formal gunfight or use a certain kind of magic, there's an extra bit involving poker cards.

    As far as Wonderland goes, I'm kind of a sucker for stories that involve blended realities or the idea of cracks in the walls of the universe. Another thing I liked was the way that the first two-thirds of the book is devoted roleplaying, history and a slightly twisted examination of the American mental health care system. This all occurs before any kind of game rules or statistics are introduced.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You see, I'd like all of that (blended realities? cracks in the walls of the universe? yes please!) if the authors didn't also feel the need to co-opt Lewis Carroll's work. But that's me.

      Delete
    2. I gotta rewatch Fringe from start to finish. Only this time I'll miss out "Brave New World" (the 2-parter at the end of s4) as it was a filler in case they didn't get picked up for s5. So I don't really think of it as canon.

      Delete
  3. Dragon Warriors was my first introduction to tabletop RPGs (having picked it up from the Library mistaking it for a conventional gamebook), and it's still one of my favourites. I love Legend as a setting, it's true, but I felt like the rules really reflected the same ideas, and I feel like they're very distinctive in that regard.

    I really like the separation between Attack, Defence, Armour and Shields. That no matter how good a fighter you are, if you go up against someone in plate armour while you're carrying a knife, you're only going to hurt them if you get very, very lucky. And the splitting of Defence is a masterstroke - basically, if you wade into the middle of a fight with ten people, you're going to get hammered. Unless you're wearing plate armour and they're carrying daggers, of course... :o)

    I liked the character archetypes too - the distinction between Knight and Barbarian as very different fighting styles; and I've never really seen anything similar to the Mystic in other systems, yet the Profession fits Legend perfectly.

    Mind you, the Blood Sword books did a good job with that too - the Sage and the Trickster felt very apposite to the world of Legend.

    Great stuff!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Raymond. It really means a lot to me to know how many people got their start in roleplaying through DW.

      Delete
  4. I think Dragon Warriors was the first rpg I really understood. Partially thanks to the format as jumping from a solo adventure book to DW was easy, almost a natural step. If I were to play DW again I would use the D6 rules system of Parallel Worlds (a Swedish generic rpg) rather than the original one. Probably I would even use another setting than Legend. What I would keep is the atmosphere and the way faeries and other mythological/supernatural creatures act in DW. The characters wouldn't be allowed to use magic (at least not initially) and there wouldn't be a lot of magical stuff. My vision is a blend of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Medieval Scandinavia and Europe . For me that is the legacy and soul of Dragon Warriors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What you're describing sounds a little like the Jewelspider RPG I keep tinkering with, Joakim. There's a taste of that coming up here in a few months. As for Parallel Worlds -- that's *another* Swedish game I need to get :-) Is there an English edition, or am I going to have to learn Swedish?

      Delete
    2. Nice! Looking forward taking a peek at that! Sadly there is no English translation of PW, but considering how often I mention it on English forums I'll soon have to translate it myself! The game itself is free and available online. But then again, do learn Swedish - it's a nice language! ;)

      Delete
    3. A friend of mine is motor biking across Sweden right now, so I've been thinking it's high time I travelled there. And if so then I should at least learn enough Swedish to be able to order a beer :-)

      Delete
    4. Visit me and I'll teach you! :)

      Delete
    5. I might just take you up on that...

      Delete
  5. Hi Dave, anything else you can tell us about "Jewelspider" at the moment - I'm intrigued ! Also, while I always liked "Dragon Warriors" as a title (certainly as an 11 year old) I agree it is slightly misleading in that the world contained within its pages is absolutely not one which you would expect to have any "Dragon Wars". I suppose Corgi would have vetoed alternative titles more in keeping with the mood such as "Haunted Survivors" ? : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The title was Oliver's idea, John. He said, "It has to have 'dragons' in it," and I agreed, though not without reluctance. I always liked a title my old chum Nick Henfrey (one of our original EPT crowd) came up with: "Dead Men & Heroes". Quite a Leone vibe to that, but too serious for Corgi at the time.

      Delete
    2. I think Morricone could have given you a good score as well (particularly for 'Invaders & Ancients') Que - "The Last Days of Legend", "For A Few Dragons More" et al !

      Delete
    3. Morricone and Rick Wakeman were the soundtrack to my earliest Tekumel games. Later came Clannad's Legend, the more-or-less official Dragon Warriors soundtrack. And "The Greatest Prize" in DW book 4 was partly improvised to Mask (Vangelis) - the scene we later always referred to as the Thing in the Well moment. It was a little more Quatermass and a little less dungeony in the original.

      Delete
    4. "The truth of it all died with them, a dozen centuries ago, but they were probably into Vangelis..." ; )

      Delete
    5. I have Clannad always ready to go on my 'electronic turntable' but will have to look up the Vangelis album !

      Delete
  6. Dragon Warriors was our school's introduction to roleplaying games. There was a book club thing where you got a leaflet with teeny tiny pictures of books and you could order them. You also got a free pen.

    There was a tiny thumbnail of the Dragon Warriors cover and the title. That was all.

    I think ten of the boys in my class bought it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder how many of them are still roleplaying today? Even if they're not, hopefully they still remember their early adventures!

      Delete