Alright, so it’s 1985 and Dungeons & Dragons is the word in fantasy roleplaying. Basic D&D has just launched its second edition (Mentzer’s BECMI line), and AD&D is about to drop a second edition of its own. Riding the coattails of the D&D craze are the Fighting Fantasy line of “game books,” choose-your-own adventure style stories offering a “single player” RPG experience. UK publisher Corgi books decided to cash in on both the popularity of "regular" roleplaying games and single-player game books, releasing Dragon Warriors, a complete fantasy RPG system and campaign setting spread across a series of six mass market paperbacks
The books are illustrated throughout in pen-and-ink drawings, and contain some of the most delightfully old school Fantasy RPG art I have ever seen.
Dragon Warriors uses a set of five stats to define player-characters: Strength, Reflexes, Intelligence, Psychic Talent, and Looks. The first three are fairly self explanatory, and map onto the D&D characteristics of Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. Psychic Talent is a stat used entirely for magic - martial characters rely on their Psychic Talent to resist spells, casting classes rely on it to use spells. Looks has no mechanical use at all, and is simply a guideline for how NPCs will react to the character at first sight.
Because character generation is little more than a few quick 3d6 rolls for stats, class selection, and a handful of very small charts, let’s get to it!
Based on the penalty/bonus charts the game uses, this character has dead average Strength and Psychic Talent, subpar Reflexes and Intelligence, and is one kinda meatfaced looking goon. With stats generated, it’s time to choose a Profession for this guy; the magic using classes are out of the question (both spellcasters require a minimum of 9 in both Intelligence and Psychic Talent), so that will leave me with Knight or Barbarian. Given that the Reflexes penalty will make light and unarmored combat a bit more harrowing here, I’ll opt for a Knight, with a tin can to keep him sealed for freshness.
Attack and Defense scores are also governed entirely by Profession (unless you roll above a 12 or below a 10 on Strength and Reflexes), so our Knight will get the standard Attack rating of 13, and a penalized Defense rating of 6. Characters also have separate Magical Attack and Magical Defense scores; since Meatface is a Knight, he has no ability to attack with magic, and his below average Intelligence roll is not bad enough to penalize him in this case, so he gets the standard Magical Defense score of 3.
There are, of course, situations that can’t be defended against by a strong mind or martial skills, like Indiana Jones boulders and dragon's breath. For those dangers, we’ll need to determine an Evasion score; given Sir Meatface’s inherent clumsiness, he takes a penalized Evasion of 3 based on the chart in Book One. The last score to generate here will be an Armour Factor, but for that, we’ll have to get his starting equipment out of the way. The standard Knight kit includes a suit of plate armour, a sword, shield, dagger, lantern, a backpack, and 25 silver pieces. Plate gives an Armour Factor of 5, which we’ll need when working out the somewhat esoteric combat system.
If the brave and noble Knight somehow manages to land a hit, he must then roll 1d8 (the armor penetration die for a sword), and attempt to score higher than the Armour rating of the Orc’s ringmail (AF 3). In this example, though Sir Meatface’s odds of striking the enemy are poor, the odds of hurting the enemy on a successful blow are pretty good. Damage is not randomly rolled - all weapons have a set, static damage rating, so Meatface would deal a flat 4 damage to the Orc if he succeeded both combat rolls. At low levels, the combat system slightly favors the players over the monsters - both sides are fairly hard to hit, but monsters tend to have lower Attack scores than player characters. Level progression brings up pretty rapid improvements, with both Attack and Defense increasing by +1 for martial classes (much slower for caster classes).
Overall, the system seems shockingly playable, especially as a first effort for author Dave Morris, who would go on to pen the excellent Knightmare gamebook series. If not for the unstoppable juggernaut that is D&D, Dragon Warriors could have easily been my go-to Fantasy RPG.