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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Dragonbane

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The classic roleplaying game Dragonbane, also known as Drakar och Demoner (Dragons & Demons), is to Sweden what Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is to the UK and USA.  It has been over forty years since Dragonbane was first released, but it has now been reimagined with a new edition.

Although Dragonbane relies upon classic high-fantasy tropes in a stereotypical medieval-fantasy setting, it has been sufficiently invested with neat twists to make it fresh and interesting.  There are the usual fantasy races of elves and dwarves, but there are also wolfkin (humanoid wolves) and mallards (humanoid ducks). Each race possesses a unique characteristic, such as halflings being hard to catch.  This mechanic adds a different facet to the each of races, without influencing the choice of character classes, which some character background mechanics – such as racial bonuses – can inadvertently cause.

Dragonbane utilises a simple D20-based system, with any skill/combat test requiring players to roll under a target number on a twenty-sided dice (D20).  The system incorporates critical successes (called ‘dragons’ on a 1) and failures (‘demons’ on a 20), as well as the mechanics for benefits and boons, which is similar to the mechanics for advantages and disadvantages in D&D.

Rather than relying on automatic successes for spells, magic is refreshingly skill-based.  Just as a fighter needs to successfully hit with their weapon skill, so does a spell caster need to successfully cast their spells.  Making the magic skill-based balances the game out wonderfully and introduces a different perspective to character creation within the game.

One thing that soon becomes apparent in Dragonbane is that this is a wonderfully stripped-down rulebook, clocking in at just over 100-pages.  When compared to some epic 250-page tomes (Vaesen for example), Dragonbane feels distinctly lightweight.

The rulebook’s comparatively small size makes Dragonbane less time-consuming and overwhelming to read and easier to for players to become familiar with the streamlined rules system.  However, there is a feeling that the game is not as well-rounded or as deep as it could be.

The list of magic spells is also comparatively limited, with them being broken down into only three different magic schools (animism/elementalism/mentalism), as well as a few generic spells for all schools of magic.  However, this could be easily fixed with a sourcebook expanding the magic rules, as the core mechanics work very well.  In the interim, any sufficiently experienced games master should be able to create their own spells and magic schools.

There is a limited amount of information regarding Dragonbane’s setting of Misty Vale within the core rulebook.  This can be liberating, as game masters are not beholden to running games that fit within the established background lore.  However, those that rely on setting information for developing ideas for running games may be disappointed.

Dragonbane concludes with a GM section that describes the basic structure of a Dragonbane adventure and how a series of adventures form a campaign.  An accompanying 120-page adventure book includes over a dozen scenarios, which form the Secret of the Dragon Emperor campaign when played consecutively.  Each adventure is increasingly complex and includes everything a GM will need to run the scenario.

The box set includes a series of glorious maps for each of the adventures, as well as a huge full-colour map of the Misty Vale setting of Dragonbane.  These add some much-needed texture to the limited background information and serves to orientate the players regarding where their characters are within the world.

There is also the Alone in Deepfall Breach booklet, which offers alternative rules for playing Dragonbane as a solo-experience, using the hex-based maps and monster charts.  Whilst solo gaming remains popular, as proven by Fighting Fantasy still going strong, Dragonbane as a solo-experience seems incongruous.

Although the refreshingly compact size of Dragonbane makes it an ideal roleplaying game for newer players, the lack of depth or complexity might not hold the interest of more experienced players. That said, Dragonbane would be an ideal choice for anyone wanting to run a short campaign or looking for a fantasy roleplaying game that is a little bit different.

Peter Ray Allison
Peter Ray Allisonhttp://www.peterallison.net
Science Fiction: the final frontier. These are the articles of the freelance journalist Peter Ray Allison. His continuing mission: to explore strange new realms of fiction, to seek out new genres and new visions of the future, to boldly geek where no one has geeked before.

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Whilst Dragonbane may lack the depth of other games, it is perfect for anyone looking for a fantasy roleplaying game that is a little bit different or wanting to run a short campaign.Dragonbane