Monday, November 23, 2009

Gaming Library: DragonQuest

I no longer remember when I first heard of DragonQuest. Did I even then balk at the ugle practice of capitalizing that Q in the middle of the name? I don't remember. I do remember the cover illustration, though. It's one of those that linger, like the one from the AD&D DMG with those big doors being opened (yes, the orange spine printing. I never much cared for the earlier printings). It somehow spells adventure to me.

The first thing you notice when you open up the DQ rulebook is how it's written. Anyone who have ever read a wargame from SPI or Avalon Hill know how it looks. First there are definitions of terms, then there are definitions of procedures. The latter are numbered, and there are more often than not sub cases to the general rule.

In DQ a rule is numbered, and then in bold is stated the main issue, which is then expanded upon in more text not in bold. After that there's usually another sub case, like 3.4 Using Skills or something like that. This makes for very precise, but slow reading. Everything counts and is accounted for. Oddly enough the have managed to make this kind of confusing, since already in character generation you have references to rules in the other end of the book. Sure, they are all numbered nicely, but it makes for slow reading. Add to that the level of detail and it becomes very slow indeed. Written in a more conversational tone, the rules could probably be much shorter. It kind of feels like AD&D. Presentation and organization of rpg rules have become much better the last 20 years.

I have already touched upon the quaint mix of classes and skills. There are more odd things, like the fact that your character have an aspect, which is an astrological influence upon the life of the character. When you get +20% to all rolls at, say, spring equinox it kind of matters! I guess you figured out from that statement that it's percentile based system. Roll d100 and compare to your stat, multiplied with a difficulty number, is the general way to resolve things. Unless you have a skill.

This leads us to the next thing that I get as a general impression from this game. There are quite a few calculations done. There are even a equation reference on the GM screen! Most of it is done before play, but that all and every procedure involve a stat or two, multiplied by different values every time feels a bit jumbled. It makes sense in the end, but sometimes e.g. I wish a rank would give a consistent bonus every time invoked.

Ranks are important. They are basically the level at which you have bought skills, abilities and weapon training. Almost everything you do gets a bonus depending on how many ranks you have. You can even raise your stats that way, even though it's expensive.

Combat is something I've heard was complex, but apart from the initiative rules (does this sound familiar?) which demand that you know which characters are standing in adjacent hexes, it's not that fiddly as long as every value is pre calculated. It's even probably usable without minis if you drop the weird initiative rules. Roll attack (with modifiers) subtract defence (with modifiers) and if you hit you roll damage, and subtract how much armor absorbs. Yes, armor absorbs hits, that's how it work.

Magic is also fairly straight forward. You spend fatigue points and roll dice to activate, just like skills and stat rolls. Interestingly enough, you can buy ranks in spells and rituals as like any other field of knowledge. The list of rituals are well known, especially the summoners which can browse a long list of diabolic entities they might want to summon. Very 1980-ies. Like I discovered, and posted about, there are no lists of magic items in this game. I applaud that, and the fact that the aspect system could be used to creatively add adventures, and journeys to magically charges places, to better enchant your items.

All in all I think the game looks quirky but strangely inviting. If I had a bunch of somewhat more curious gamers around than I presently have, I'd love to take this baby out for a spin. It says something that I had the hex paper out and started to sketch out some wilderness as I was reading the rules. Something about this game demands it to be played.

7 comments:

  1. If I lived in Sweden, I'd totally give it a try.

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  2. I loved Dragonquest, still do; I'd start up a new game in a heartbeat if I could A: find my old copy of the rules; B: shell out the bucks for one on ebay, and C: convince my gaming group it was worthy (I've got 2 grognards on my side, at least!)

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  3. I just picked up a copy of the TSR version off of eBay... man it is a hard read, but your post inspires me to try and finish it.

    Cheers!

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  4. I'm wondering why moved here, no DragonQuest players anywhere? :)

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  5. Hope you finally get your reward, AslanC!

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  6. Funny little story:

    In 1992 I spent two weeks in Lake Geneva. I was just named Germany's Regional Director of the RPGA Network and was invited to visit TSR.

    One day they gave me the big tour of the whole building - the archive where I saw boxes neatly labeled, "The Strategic Review", "Dragon #1-x", German copies of D&D boxes; the graphics department where (I believe it was) Jeff Fields was working on a picture that I later never saw on any cover; and the mail order department. There say said, "go ahead, pick a few books you like". Being a collector (and working in a game store) I already had everything I really wanted so I chose a few items that were either brand new (and not available in Germany) or the odd module that never was a priority - among them the TSR edition of DragonQuest.

    The clerk who wrote down what I took said, rather astonished, "wow, that's the first copy of the game that leaves this room for what, a whole year?"

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  7. Fun little story indeed, Dirk!

    I haven't seem much love for the TSR produced 3rd ed of the game, but I guess much of the feelings are probably coloured mostly by the way TSR handled the take over of SPI.

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