Wednesday 31 August 2022

[Kickstarter] ...of Dragons and Demons

The cover has once again Elric
and a dragon on it, but on less
amicable terms.
A while back I had an urge to homebrew a d100 game based on Basic Roleplaying called Hecatomb. - which I eventually abandoned due to work and my offspring eating up my free time. Back then I mentioned that my sweetspot would be something akin to Drakar och Demoner, the legendary swedish rpg, which RiotMinds failed to deliver to their non-viking audience1. Times have changed since then: Free League grasped the rights from RiotMinds, teased us with posts about a new edition for months2, until finally announcing that a new edition of DoD is coming to Kickstarter on the 30th of August. Oh, and it will be available in English under the title Dragonbane.

It seems people got a raging dragonboner for Dragonbane, because the campaign funded in four minutes, and it keeps chewing through stretch goals like there is no tomorrow. It's no wonder though, Free League has a solid reputation, the cool art is already enough to whet one's appetite for the game, and they even included a 44 pages long quickstart so you don't have to buy into the game blindly. That's how you do a fucking Kickstarter.

Based on the quickstart Dragonbane looks like a lightweight and lighthearted mix of old-school BRP mechanics and Free League's signature game design elements. On one hand you have six characteristics and sixteen skills (plus a few more for magic) that you have to roll under with d20 to succeed3, attack rolls versus parry rolls, criticals that can pierce through armour, simple rules for weapon breakage, spells fueled by magic points, and so on. On the other hand you have the utterly simple and brilliant condition system seen in other Free League games, drawing cards for initiative, advantage and disadvantage, pushing failed tests, and monstrous monsters that act like a natural hazard with hit points and a random table for attacks rather than as a creature. And instead of becoming a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas, the whole blend feels smooth and natural, like they always belonged together. And whenever I find something I miss or dislike, my mind immediately goes "oh I can borrow that from RuneQuest/Stormbringer/OpenQuest" or "there is a rule for that from Forbidden Lands I can convert".

My expectations were high, and I was still surprised and amazed. I don't even want to criticize those design decisions I don't fully agree with, because they don't bother me, they aren't bad at all. I only have two issues with the quickstart: some of the weapon qualities from the character sheets are not explained anywhere, and the module is pretty meh and overuses the monster system (though the constantly reviving undead lady and lord are a pretty damn good idea).

Dragonbane is a promising rpg and the only one in the near future I am genuinely excited about4. It has tons of potential, especially if third party support can gain some momentum at release. The d100 game I wanted is here, ironically using a d20 for resolution. Now it's time for Kopperhavets Hjältar to follow suite.

1 We got the overcomplicated mess of Trudvang Chronicles and the half-assed RuinMasters instead.

2 Usually in swedish, so I had to get it translated to learn, that it contained no meaningful information about the game.

3 Originally DoD used d100 roll under for tests like traditional BRP games, but the DoD: Expert expansion for 3rd edition moved on to using a d20 roll under system like Pendragon. It works the same way, it's simply just less granular. Considering how a lot of people have problems with reading d100, that might not be a bad idea at all.

4 Except for HackMaster 5.5, but that has yet to be announced officially, and if it finally reaches the Kickstarter I will be drunk for days and won't shut the fuck about how awesome bears are in the game.