Posts Tagged ‘Dragon Warriors’


“Making for Brymstone are you?” the innkeeper asked.

“They’re a sly lot there – have the silver out of your purse and the boots off your feet as soon as look at you. Give themselves airs too – though they’re no better nor I.” He looked anxiously at the already darkening sky.

“Just stay on the road is my advice. On days like this you’re best not to leave it for anything,” he adds.

“If you get there, head for the First and Last – the beds there are nearly as good as ours”.

The lone inn is soon lost in a fold of the wild, rolling heathlands. The ill-made road rises over the high and windswept moor before descending into a country of neat farmsteads and rich meadows. Yet soon there are signs of the town. Tumbledown shacks huddle round smithies, loom houses, and dyers’ vats. Grimy children and scrawny chickens run in the road.

Brymstone is smelt before it is seen. A curious taint of smoke, rotting fish and seaweed, stale urine, tar and the unmistakeable whiff of greed. There it is, at last, a sprawl of a place, like a sleeping dragon. Strong walls are its flanks, tight-packed rooftops its scales, and the haze of wood smoke its breath.

Many others are on the road now. Red-cheeked country folk herding geese to market. Grizzled trappers with their pack ponies and overladen carts, swaying down the ruts. At the city gate, two guards eye you warily. One is tall and surly looking, the other stout and balding. Each wears a leather cuirass and holds a staff surmounted by a coat of arms. Short, single-edged swords hang at their belts.

“Have you lawful business in Brymstone?” the surly guard demands, while his mate scuttles away to the gatehouse. An officer appears dressed in a fine coat of mail. “I am Gothwin, captain of the gate. All law-abiding strangers are welcome in Brymstone.”

“But the law of this place demands that no man shall go armed through the streets, save for his dagger. Further, no man may openly practise magics or illusions, save in his own home. I order you then, in the name of the Guild Council, surrender your weapons and talismans into my charge, or else turnabout and return whence you came.”

Serpent King Games is very pleased to announce that we will be publishing Robert Dale’s legendary Brymstone campaign. Dragon Warriors fans have whispered of Brymstone for many years. Brymstone is renowned as one of Dragon Warriors creator Dave Morris’s own favourite campaigns to play in, but information about it is elusive. Dave has posted a few excerpts and memories on his blog. Hardier seekers of fortune may have tracked down ancient, yellowing copies of Red Giant magazine, an eldritch tome written in the last millennium, which published the start of what was to be a complete campaign setting. Unless you were lucky enough to be part of Robert’s own gaming group, that was all you could get your hands on.

Robert is typing up his notes as we speak, and we hope to get Brymstone released towards the end of 2021, as a PDF and print book from DriveThruRPG. It seems that next year is Thuland-themed!

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.

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