Archive for the ‘Dragon Warriors’ Category

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!

Arting by blog post

Here at the SKG blog we shouldn’t bore you by only trying to sell you our gamebooks, marvellous as they are. We can bore you by talking waffle too.

So I just starting the very first 3 pieces of work for the forthcoming players book for Dragon Warriors, which is auspicious.  I don’t really know why it’s auspicious, but it feels that way: Just run with me here a while ok?

And whilst painting I usually spend a great deal of time surfing the net.  The way I work is quite intense – 3 minutes of laying down tone and form very quickly, then a minute or two of being distracted by the web, which sits just behind my work on the computer, and then back to the fast painting.  Now this might sound like slacking, or a lack of concentration, and I would utterly forgive you for that judgement. But it’s how I’ve worked the last ten years or so and so far it seems to be going fairly well.   As a youth using traditional media I used to sit with my acrylics and a hair dryer for those paints renowned for their fast drying times didn’t dry fast enough for me.  That’s the general background of how quickly I like to paint.  Anyway whilst on one of those brief surfing breaks I stumbled across a blog post by our wonderful benefactor and DW creator Dave Morris, which linked to something I wrote a few months back about my early experiences with Dragon Warriors.  It seemed Dave approved, which is always nice to hear.
Rereading my earlier posting struck a chord for me.  Something very important about working on something you love is that you are still in awe of it, almost frightened of it.  That’s part of what makes the love significant.  So I’m painting some of the new professions we will see in the players book, along with some of the new life path type template thingamajigs which will be in there.  These are of course optional bolt ons to the core rules, but they are additions and changes to something we love.  We don’t do this stuff lightly.  And that’s good.

A lot of thought, frequently in the form of worry goes into depicting these characters.  It is very rare for me to restart commercial pieces of artwork. Time and tide is always against the freelance artist, and every moment spent wondering, pausing, thinking or worse doubting comes directly from your pay cheque.  So frequently its a case of doing the best you can within tight constraints.  And hey I could write another lengthy ramble on how that can actually get the best out of you, but I’ll bore you all with that another time.

When you own (part of) the company you don’t have those worries to the same degree.  Of course there are time constraints, but they are different to those imposed by a lot of freelance work.  I can stop and redo these if I want or need to.  So I spend a lot of time thinking about whether these fellows are “Legend” enough.  Are these generic fantasy fellers, or are they specifically Legend people?  What do Legend people look like?  And there’s the rub – I get, in part, to make that up.  And along with the rub comes that very healthy fear and respect for the subject matter.

There’s probably a point in there about love and affection that one could ferret out if one was so inclined.  There’s fear in there somewhere, and that not all fear is negative.  And we often fear things we love and love things we fear.  But hey, this is a post about making goblin drawins for a role playing game, not a self help book.
So anyway, buy our books, and if you have a few spare moments, what do people look like in your Legend?  You can interpret that as broadly as you like.  Perhaps I’ll steal your ideas.

Dragon Warriors back on sale!

The pdf of the core rulebook is now available from DriveThruRPG! This is a revised version of the Magnum Opus Press edition, incorporating all the errata.

Next, we’ll be rereleasing the other Magnum Opus books. Part of the delay with the core rulebook was getting all the graphics, fonts and other design elements in one place, and now that we have all those assets, the process of updating the other books should go much faster. At the same time, work on the player’s guide is continuing.

Almost there…

Just a quick one to keep everyone informed.  Progress is progressing, and it shouldn’t be long now before those DW books are back on sale.  We have a working pdf version, we’re just giving it another run through for errata and tightening up here and there to make sure it’s all appropriate for SKG release.

There have been some truly boring delays to do with business banking, which is fantastical in the scope of it’s tiresomeness.  I guess we all do need to be certain we’re selling roleplaying games rather than plotting the downfall of Western Civilisation.  And that apparently takes an incredibly long time.

Art direction has begun on much anticipated “The Player’s Book”, and other stuff to do with design, editing, writing and so on that your humble author for today’s post doesn’t understand is also now happening in earnest.

Our new partners over in France L’elf Vert have announced preorders of the French edition of Dragon Warriors. Check out their Facebook Page here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=126484327374186

Stay tuned!

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.

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.

Confessions of a Third Man

I never played Dragon Warriors as a kid.

I missed the whole phenomenon. My gaming history starts with a game of Middle Earth Role Playing in 1989, and zigzags through D&D and Call of Cthulhu from then on. I never even heard of Dragon Warriors until James Wallis brought it back through Magnum Opus.

I’m not quite sure how I managed to miss it. I was their target audience, pretty much – I played gamebooks, avidly watched Knightmare(1), I was a fan of dark fantasy(2) – but it never crossed my path. The new edition made me feel like an intruder from a parallel reality, especially as half my gamer friends were old-school DW fans. I had the same conversation over and over:

Me: Hey, ever hear of this Dragon Warriors rpg?

Them: Knights! Warlocks! Assassins! Elven Crystals(3)! Look! I have all the original books! Gaze upon the precious!

Me: That’s a ‘yes’, then.

And now, despite being a latecomer to Legend, I’m part of Serpent King Games. I hope to provide an outsider’s perspective on the game, making sure  the game’s accessible to everyone, not just the existing faithful. It also means that I’ll be playing devil’s advocate in system discussions. It’s not the first time I’ve fallen into this role – I developed Traveller for Mongoose Publishing along similar lines. The aim is not to just keep Dragon Warriors in print and rehash the supplements from the 1980s – it’s to move forward with Legend and create new adventures!

1: Buried somewhere in the attic are two of the Dave Morris books based on the series.

2: Buried somewhere in the hard drive is an old attempt to write a D&D setting that looks remarkably like Legend.

3: True story: Friends of mine were playing this campaign, and were surprised when it ended so quickly. They thought it was called the Eleven Crystals.

Who’s laughing now?

Hello one and all. Jon Hodgson here.  I’ll be your art director for this crazy flight to Ellesland.

Funnily enough, my roleplaying games “career” such as it was as a teenager runs the other way to Ian’s, who graduated from D&D to DW.  I went the other way.  My very first proper roleplaying game after Fighting Fantasy books which I adored and positively devoured, was Dragon Warriors.  Like so many I bought the books from the school book club thinking they were Fighting Fantasy style choose your path adventure books. Smart move, Corgi.

I would have been about 12, an age when boys often turn to roleplaying games to escape the fact they are diminutive nerds with no hope of excelling at anything remotely physical in the real world.  Thus it was that my first DW character, Ellidyr the elf knight, sprang to life, name stolen from the pages of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Which was a pretty good place to find a DW character, even if in these modern times actually playing an elf PC is “doin it rong”.

I can clearly recall a feeling that Dragon Warriors was probably a bit too dark for us as kids.  Which of course made it all the more exciting.  The bit of back cover blurb about hobgoblins screaming across desolate moors still gives me a shiver. As does the recollection of getting our miniatures and dice stamped on as we played at lunch break.  I bet those bullies are running multinational conglomerates whilst I sit here blogging from the helm of a small press rpg company. Who’s laughing now, eh?

So anyway, my imaginative wellspring has always been full of things such as Prydain, The Mabinogion, Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, The Illiad, Robin of Sherwood and the like.  A very British (ok, the classics aren’t British and yet in another sense they are) very low key sense of mythic fantasy, which my adult work has never really escaped.   Little wonder then that I had such a marvelous time when things came full circle, as they so often do if the myths are to be believed, and was offered the chance to help with making art for Dragon Warriors under the auspices of the mighty Magnum Opus Press.  The challenge was a weighty one, with a great personal investment in getting it right: For Legend, for the overseeing eyes of Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, for James Wallis and most importantly for the 12 year old Jon having badwrongfun playing that elf knight.

Painting the covers was relatively stress free – the original covers were never quite right for Legend, although clearly they were right for the paperback gaming market of the 80s.  When it came to the internal art I almost passed on the opportunity. Walking in the shadow of greats and personal favourites such as Leo Hartas and Russ Nicholson was not something to be taken lightly, and replacing such well loved art was never going to be an easy task, nor win over everyone.  The presentation, tone and artwork of the original game is tightly bound up in it’s appeal for many of the fans, and indeed to me.  But I decided if I wasn’t going to do it I’d have to spend a lifetime moaning about whoever did.

Getting started was difficult. I wanted to reference the style and feel of the originals, and to carry on something they began. But time and styles have moved on since those heady days.  I’m not a pen and ink artist, and it would be foolish to try and become one overnight.  So I just resolved to make my Dragon Warriors.  You can’t please all the people all the time, and whilst you can’t be completely unmindful of the audience, the bit of the audience that I wanted to please was in me too.  If I liked the feel and tone, then hopefully other DW fans would too.  It’s always a gamble making something anew, and making something genuinely from the heart.

So far no one has thrown a bottle of piss at me in the street, for which I am most relieved.  And on the up side Dave Morris is on record as saying: “Jon Hodgson, for me and Oliver, the DW artist”, which practically caused me to pass out.

And hey, don’t tell anyone ok, but I might have been speaking to some artists which might have been mentioned above, about making a slight return. We shall see if we can make it happen.

So I guess this post is about cycles and circles and how we come back to the start of things. And so I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise to Neal, a member of my original DW group, who’s character was left to die in the pool in the ruined villa in Gallows Wood in 1986 or thereabouts, for the heinous crime of saying “I follow the rest of the party” a bit too much.  Sorry Neal.  12 year olds are horrid.  Dragon Warriors is good though, innit?

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.

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