Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dragon Warriors: A Game In Six Parts

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
Okay, so, "the ultimate roleplaying game" might be a bit of an ambitious tagline for this thing, but after cracking the hood I've found that it isn't bad at all. The system is very clearly “inspired” by Original and Basic D&D, though considerably simpler: 3d6 character creation remains, but combat is handled by a multi-stage dice rolling process rather than a matrix, character progression is fairly linear, and most "advanced" style rules are modular and totally optional. The game is, as noted above, organized into six volumes: the first contains rules for character creation, game mastering, and two martial fighting classes (Knight and Barbarian), the second contains two magic using classes (Sorcerer and Mystic) and explains the spellcasting system, book three includes an adventure campaign, four includes the Assassin class, rules for lockpicking, stealth, and perception, and five and six contain additional campaign and setting information.

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!

STR: 10

REF: 9

INT: 8

PST: 12

LKS: 7

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.

Hit Point generation is based entirely on class, and in the case of the Knight that’s a 1d6+7, giving me a grand total of...8. This equates to being able to sustain two blows from most weapons. Perhaps Sir Meatface should rethink his chosen career path?

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.

Okay, so, making an attack in Dragon Warrior first involves a roll-under attempt on a d20, with a target of the attacking character’s Attack score, minus the defending character's Defense score, then on a success, roll the attacking weapon’s armor penetration die against the target’s Armour Factor, then subtract the damage rating of the weapon from the target’s HP. So let’s say Sir Meatface wants to stab J. Random Orc in the face: First, we generate the to-hit target number by subtracting the Orc’s Defense of 5 from Meaty’s Attack of 13, giving us an 8 to roll under. On 1d20, that means Sir Meatface will miss more than half the time. 

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.

1 comment:

  1. Your wife seems really charming and delightful