Author Archive

A Solstice Gift: Dragon Warriors FAQ

It’s been a long time coming — 25 years or so — but Dragon Warriors finally has an FAQ, answering all those niggling questions and philosophical paradoxes, like “What happens when one character tries to use Intangibility to walk through another character’s impregnable Bastion?”

Download the FAQ document here: Dragon Warriors FAQ

Huge thanks to Kieran Turley and Shaun Hateley, who between them did the vast majority of work on the FAQ, and to the Dragon Warriors yahoogroup, who asked most of the questions.

We’re still working hard on the Players Book. We’re about to start the final playtesting of the new rules, and in the meantime, Jon Hodgson is finishing off the art, so we hope for a release quite early in the New Year.

A lot of people have asked about printed copies of the books, and we are keen to get everything available again soon, probably as Print-On-Demand copies via DriveThru. There are a couple of final hurdles to jump through there, but it is being worked on.

Happy Solstice, folks!

Players Book Preview: The Hunter

We’re (still) all hard at work at SKG Towers. The Players Book is largely finished, at least in terms of writing, but we are still finishing off some playtesting before finalising the text. The art and layout process will, inevitably, take longer still, probably pushing us back to a 2012 release.

We have a couple of adventures currently being worked on too, so do look out for at least three releases from us next year.

In the meantime, as a sneak preview of the Players Book, here’s the current, near-final version of the Hunter Profession. Feel free to use it in your campaigns right now, and email us your thoughts: info@serpentking.com

The Hunter Profession

Windhammer Prize winner

Hearty congratulations from all the team at Serpent King Games to Andrew Wright, one of our regular Dragon Warriors writing team (he contributed to the Friends or Foes anthology for Magnum Opus Press, as well as the upcoming Players Book) who just won the Windhammer Prize for short gamebook fiction. He’s blogged about it here.

In other news, that Players Book is very, very nearly through the editing and rewriting stage. That doesn’t mean we’re quite ready to sell it yet; there is still a lot of art and layout to do before that point. We’re working on it, though, and are still determined that it will be a print release as well as PDF.

RPGNow Sale

It’s the Christmas in July summer sale at RPGNow, and our two Dragon Warriors books are both available at 25% off for another few days:

Dragon Warriors on sale

The clock ticks…

It’s a little before midnight, here at Serpent King Games HQ. Not that there is a Serpent King Games HQ; it’s the 21st century, and we’re distributed, not like groceries, like algorithms running in parallel on several computers. So, at Gar’s home in Ireland, and Jon’s in Scotland, and mine in Wales, the three of us have glasses raised, ready to toast ourselves at midnight. For once this isn’t some kind of witches’ sabbat (though there *are* three of us — hmm); no, we officially take over the Dragon Warriors licence at midnight! Today, whisky, tomorrow, the world! Or the Lands of Legend, at least.

Afterlives

We remain almost hilariously overworked, and are still hoping to get back to regular blogging once the current Lonely Mountains and Relative Dimensions and Fimbulvetrs of work that we have to do for non-SKG projects this month are complete.

In the meantime, the ever-inspirational James Wallis has somehow found time to release a new edition of his Afterlives roleplaying game. The old edition came out almost a decade ago and can only be found in a long out-of-print back issue of Dork Tower, so a new edition was certainly due.

Afterlives is a meta-RPG, strictly speaking, fitting in to the fantasy tabletop RPG of your choice (assuming your taste is such that the fantasy tabletop RPG of your choice doesn’t include Resurrection spells, which Wallis quite rightly asserts are essentially rather naff; my perspective on this issue is that one of my favourite things about RPGs is that you only risk character death rather than actual death when you do heroic things, and if you take away the risk of character death too you might as well just be reading a book… probably a feelgood supernatural teen romance in which good triumphs over evil and the vampire always gets the girl) at just the point where most conventional RPGs end: when your character has just died.

(As an aside, live roleplaying games are far less likely to gloss over this moment than tabletop ones, partly perhaps because the dead character is usually still being physically represented by the lying-down, fake-blood-laden player; most LARPs have funerals, at least for significant characters, and several of the more progressive ones, such as those run by Profound Decisions, give at least some thought to what happens to one’s character after death. I’m not trying to hint that one genre is superior to the other, naturally, just remarking on the inevitable differences caused by the different forms.)

So. Afterlife. You sneak a Special Guest Star gamer in to your next gaming sesh to play God (literally, the dead character’s god), and play your Afterlife metagame out as a supernatural court scene. Court scenes in games can be really dull, unless they are deliberately constrained in time, and have a judge with powers so extreme, so arbitrary, as to be able to silence boring or off-topic speeches on a whim. Fortunately, Afterlife provides both these things. The game is quite tightly timed, and intended to last for one session only. The judge is a divine agent, perhaps even the character’s god, or the god of the dead in the character’s pantheon. Due process is likely to be whatever the judge feels like, which means that so long as the judge has a good sense of drama and narrative, this game should flow very nicely.

The judge is also basically impartial, since the Special Guest Star doesn’t know the regular characters of the game at all. I’ve not played Afterlives yet, but I imagine that if done well, it could play out rather like an almost-straight version of Aye, Dark Overlord, one of my favourite storytelling cardgames. The latter would make a pretty good training game for anyone fancying the role of judge in Afterlives.

I’m not going to say who plays the Persecutor, and who the Defence, not because doing so would render your purchase of the book unnecessary (it wouldn’t; there is so much superb advice here on running the Aftermath game that, though as with most great Wallis games the rules could be described in a few sentences, the rules are not why you buy this book), but because that info is something of a mild spoiler, and it is possible that your GM will buy this book even if you don’t.

If you do ever run any fantasy RPGs, this is well worth the $3.95. You may only use it once or twice, but it will provide better closure, more amusement, more game, and more fun than any roleplayed in-character funeral.

Just a quickie, as we’re all ridiculously busy. Not, I have to admit, with Dragon Warriors, for once. We’re doing our best to get the Player’s Book finished, but right now it’s taking a back seat to all three of us finishing up various pieces of freelance work.  My portion of said freelance work should be done in the next day or two, I hope, which frees up the rest of this month to concentrate on the PB. Ideally I want it ready for playtesting in April, which gives us a couple of months to tweak it, organize the art, and get it laid out.

It’s looking great so far, and is largely brought to you by the same lean, mean, keen team of long-time DW fans and freelancers who wrote Magnum Opus’s new DW material, that is, the guys behind Friends and Foes and Fury of the Deep. I hope to get a preview page up next month.

Dragon Warriors and me, Part II: Beyond the 1980s

It’s the early to mid 90s. We’re living in The Future already (how did that happen?); most of the 1970s-era SF paperbacks I grew up reading were set around this point. I’ve left school and been through university.

Most of my university and immediately post-university gaming was Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020; we would run games set around urban Manchester, mostly around the walkways and stairwells and squats of Hulme, regarded as Europe’s worst housing estate, where most of us lived. It didn’t take much imagination to think of that gang-infested ghetto as a… gang-infested ghetto only with smart drugs and cyberware. We played a lot of other games too: Amber Diceless, RuneQuest, Pendragon, and Call of Cthulhu, mostly. Then one of the group mentioned Dragon Warriors.

“I used to love those too! Pity they never brought more adventures out.”

“Yeah, though six books’ worth kept our group in school going for ages.”

“SIX books?!?”

We played Dragon Warriors, again, because I needed to know more about these new books. And I was just as terrified as my players had been nearly a decade earlier, with a new adventure; there we were trapped in some benighted underworld complex with a damn assassin loose among us. I had no clue what his game stats were, but it seemed like he was coming out of the walls, striking us at will, totally evading our attempts to hit him back.

I’m still not quite sure if the GM was fudging things (it would have been his way), or the original Assasin class was way overpowered (that would certainly fit with most people’s experience), or a bit of both (very likely), but the terror of being powerless in the dark stayed with me.

It was immersive enough (GM or game or scenario? bit of all three, again, perhaps?) that the closest parallel experience for me was a live-action roleplaying game a couple of years earlier, run by a company called Spirit of Adventure, in the old engineering works that they’d rented near Manchester. I was playing a sorcerer with no melee combat capabilities at all, cut off from the rest of the party, in a pitch-black room; I’d used up all my spells for the day and there was a monster in there with me. As silently as I could, I felt around and found a half-ledge partway up the wall, and clambered up to it. I heard the thwack of the orc’s mace as it came around the room, probing the walls violently for me. Tension rose. He passed me, striking the wall a little below me, and I could breathe again, and snuck back out to rejoin my comrades.

Alone and unarmed in the dark. With a monster.

In the dark, with only your stalwart comrades and your sword and your bravery to defeat the monster.

Two different situations, but close enough, terrifying enough, atmospheric enough. The latter can degenerate into the former so easily; that’s part of the terror.

Another part is not knowing what the thing can do. Again, there’s a stark contrast with D&D here. Is that just a 10th-level rogue, going up against our 8th-level party, so he’ll be a challenge but, well, there’s only one of him, so we’ll win? Or is it an assassin, a member of a mysterious order with near-supernatural capabilities, found only in a book the GM didn’t let us read…? Most of the scariest things in Dragon Warriors are at least to some extent unknown. You know that the hobgoblin can sour milk and steal barmaids, but you’ve no idea of how many hit points he might have, or what offensive magical powers he might have, or what allies, or what traps around his lair. That, right there, pulls the play in a new direction, away from game and towards… towards story, myth, immersion, and peak experience. That’s what I want.

Is it what people want, nowadays? Maybe not. Shouldn’t we be aiming more at the World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy market (hey, we do sort of have ninjas — will that do)? Maybe.

We’re not going to, though. We’re banking on at least some people still fancying the idea of folklore, and myth; of building a legend around their characters’ exploits, rather than building a flying castle using the mountains of gold they’ve taken from the carefully catalogued critters they’ve slain in their tactical wargame. (Not that there’s anything wrong with tactical wargames; I love tactical wargames, but I want something different when I roleplay.)

My experiences of playing Dragon Warriors in the 21st century suggest that some people might.

Mostly I’ve played it with kids. It was the second tabletop RPG my son played, when he was five or so; I’d run DW games for him and my wife when we went on holiday, because the system was simple enough for kids, the books were portable (theme, anyone?), and the game was still amazingly good. We revisited it a few months back (he’s ten, now), with a couple of his friends who are big WoW players and computer gamers in general.

“It’s a good game. But it’s really hard. There’s no walkthroughs.”

No walkthroughs. No challenge ratings or monster levels. Just you, and your sword, and the dark. And the monster.

Dragon Warriors and Me, Part I: 1985

So, what am I doing, getting together with Gar and Jon to set up a new publishing house to publish… Dragon Warriors? Of all things? Shouldn’t I be, you know, writing for WotC by now, or at least printing Pathfinder-compatible homebrew material? Why take on the licence for a game that was out of print for 20-odd years till very recently?

The answer is going to get a bit rambling and self-indulgent, I fear, but I’ll try to keep it entertaining.

Let me take you back to 1985. I was 15 years old, and had been playing D&D for 3 years (I actually started with Gamma World, and still love post-apocalyptic settings with mutants and Ancient Technology and craziness, but that is probably another story). Mostly I played at school, with my schoolmates. Pretty much every breaktime or lunchtime we gathered and carried on the game. Usually we’d just go through whichever TSR module I’d bought from Games of Liverpool (one of the then stalwarts of the British gaming scene as a retailer, importer, distributor, and even occasional publisher, now long forgotten and long-since eclipsed by their former rivals Games Workshop). To begin with, we played the red box Basic D&D, along with Expert D&D, but it soon became apparent that there were a lot more modules available for AD&D, and, well, there was just something of a cachet to being able to say one was an “Advanced” gamer, and having those big hardback books that looked like eldritch tomes rather than kids’ stuff. Still, though, I suspect the main driving force for the switch was the need for more adventure material. Sure, we were only playing for maybe 60-90 minutes a day, but that was five days a week.

The switch didn’t sit that well with us though. Those three thick hardback grimoires did look and feel amazing, but it was no fun carting them all to school every day. Plus, well, they were a mess, frankly. I know that’s a lot of the charm to some old-school fans — the fact that there’s no one overarching rule system to the things — but it was also no fun losing any of our precious minutes while I looked up some obscure rule. It felt, even then, that we had all this… bulk, this weight, this inertia to our games, that wasn’t actually adding a proportionate amount of fun. Then there was the setting. I had the World of Greyhawk, and I suppose we used it, roughly, but D&D was its own genre, and almost its own setting, even then, and despite the more mature look of the hardbacks, it was just as goofy as Basic D&D. I mean — Owlbears? “Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, ROAARRR!” Really? Even the orcs and goblins and hobgoblins and all the rest were a bit same-y; it already had the MMORPG vibe, where it seemed like the critters were mostly there so you could kill them and take their stuff, and the bigger, scarier critters were just that — bigger scarier versions of the littler ones, so when you’d levelled up you could fight them instead of the one-hit-die versions.

Of course, I’m writing this with the benefit of at least a little hindsight. I am not sure we were quite sophisticated enough to realise quite why AD&D was kinda goofy, even though we knew it was, and I am pretty sure we didn’t care that much; goofiness was part of its charm (and still is, I suppose). So was its focus on extrinsic rewards (XP, gold, levels, magic items) rather than intrinsic ones (interactivity, fun, peak experiences, gameplay, agency, the sense of triumph, etc.), but that’s for another PhD dissertation.

What we did know was that when Dragon Warriors came along, it was better: less goofy, more elegant, and (I’m sure this was a factor, too) way more portable. And, more than just “less goofy” — it absolutely dripped with British folklore. It made me think of A Company of Wolves, and old folktales, and King Arthur, and Robin Hood. Here was a game with a strong theme, a world and setting that was not only more familiar to us, more like our own than the hodgepodge of D&D, but also paradoxically more atmospheric, more otherworldly, too, because it was immersive and believable in a way that D&D rarely achieved.

Oh, for sure, it wasn’t perfect. You could play it with just Book 1, but if you wanted to play a magician, you needed Book 2, and though Sorcerers were fun, Mystics were more interesting — and yet Mystics had this annoying random quality, where they just weren’t useful enough once they’d become psychically fatigued… I guess I figured that if I ever got to write my own version, I’d try to fix that, at least.

It wasn’t perfect. But it was a breath of fresh air compared to D&D. I felt much the same way about RuneQuest, too, but most of my school-friends didn’t, so it was Dragon Warriors we stuck with, till we ran out of adventures, around the end of Book 3 (I don’t think I even found out about Books 4-6 till years later, but that’s for Part II).

After that… dammit, could we write anything that good? I didn’t think we could. And we didn’t have time. We had to buy more adventures for AD&D instead. Till we realised we could generate an all-evil party, of Anti-Paladins and Drow, get them all up to Level 26 using the Random Dungeon Table, and treat Deities & Demigods as our adventure for a bit, going through each pantheon and killing gods. Maybe we weren’t *that* much more sophisticated than all the other D&D-playing teenagers after all.

Return top

Latest news

Serpent King Games launches!