Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: DragonQuest 1st Edition

DragonQuest, 1st Edition
I am actually quite thankful for this challenge right now.  I feel my creative batteries are in need of a recharge and this has been a help.  

The Game: Dragonquest

Everyone has that "one game" the game they admire from afar, want to learn it or more about it, and maybe, just maybe get to play it one day.  For the early 1980s that game for me was DragonQuest.  I can recall looking over the 2nd Edition book sitting prominently out front of Belobrajdic's Bookstore in my hometown.  I'd flip through it and marvel how "Not D&D" it was.  I always wanted to buy it but since my gaming budget was limited to what I could make on my paper route it was a fascinating game that no one I knew played OR the next AD&D hardcover.  Not a question of who was going to win really. 

Thankfully I am at a point in my life now where my RPG budget is several orders of magnitude greater and even expensive aftermarket books are within my grasp.  So I was quite pleased to have picked up DragonQuest 1st Edition boxed set a while back.  It confirmed everything I had thought at the time.
The game is wonderful in it's "Not D&D"-ness, it is wonderful to read and a joyful look back into the past of our hobby.  And I also know that no one I gamed with at the time would have played beyond one session.  Ah well.  I have today.

I do recall reading more about DragonQuest in the page of Dragon Magazine and I remember when TSR bought SPI (DragonQuest's publisher) that a new 3rd Edition was going to come out. I even held out hopes that the dual systemed D&D/DragonQuest adventures would lead to more crossovers.  But sadly that never occurred.   

At some point, I will need to do a deep dive into this game. But for now, let's make a character.

The Character: Phygor

In my games Phygor was one of the greatest wizards to have ever lived.  He was a well to do student in Glantri's Magic School. He was smart, well-liked, and had a very rich family. He was sitting in the courtyard of the school one day when just decided that he could not learn anything else here. So he got up left his books, belonging, and half-eaten lunch and he walked.  He kept walking until he had gone all over the world learning esoteric magics from hundreds of different spell casters.  He was something of a magic "Batman" in my games, only with no tragic backstory.  When he returned to Glantri he was able to quickly and decisively put down a rebellion of other wizards; having no defense against his new and strange magics.  While he was in the D&D sense a Lawful Good Wizard, he has the respect of almost all the magic-users, wizards, witches, and warlocks of my world. Even the evil ones since Phygor believed in the crazy notion that magic should be for all so he made all of his discoveries public.   

He was never really a character.  Just a name and a myth. I would then claim that my wizard character Phygora was named for him and of course he would also go on to learn a lot of strange magics.  Sort of like how Harry Houdini named himself after his idol Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. 

So let's go back in time. To a point before Phygor at age 25 got up and left his life to learn different magics.  This is 18-year-old Phygor just getting started at his school. Not discontent, but bright-eyed and eager to learn.

Human Male, 18 years

Primary Characteristics
Physical Strength 12
Agility 10
Magical Aptitude 21
Manual Dexterity 16
Endurance 16
Willpower 18
Appearance 13

Secondary Characteristics
Fatigue 20
Perception 5
Action Points 9

Starting XP 140

Adept, College of Ensorcerlments and Enchantments
Talents: Witchsight
Spells: Spell of Telekinesis
Rituals: Ritual of Enchantment

None yet

He looks like a likable chap. He would have to be, he is going to travel the world and seek out all the masters of esoteric and occult knowledge.  

There is an absolute ton to like about this game.  Frankly, I'd love to get some more XP and see what skills I could start with this guy.  Maybe even advance him far enough to even start his big world-spanning journey.

I could even see a future feature here where I try to stat him up in other FRPGs but each time have him a little more advanced.  Maybe even ending with his BECMI stats at 36th level.


What are your memories of DragonQuest?  I'd love to hear them.


Unknown said...

Ah, DragonQuest. It was pretty impressive at first glance, and I had some fun with the character system. There were some nicely evocative elements like the chance of your character having various aspects such as "born under the winter stars" or whatever.

I agree characters get too little skill points to start with, limiting your ability to create an interesting character. Having to raise each weapon skill individually with very narrow skills (so if you may be great with a longsword but useless with a broadsword or whatever) was a problem. On the other hand, the non-weapon skills were nicely defined, few enough in number to not overwhelm the player, but each serving as a sort of mini-character class.

The "everything on d100/d10" element was an interesting choice that I rather liked.

I was impressed by the monsters, which while not original were a very comprehensive list that seemed better described and individualized than D&D's list of the time. (However,
they were flawed in giving a range of stat values rather than ready to use values.)

Best part of the system was the magic system. Interesting that there was really no barrier on choosing to be an adept - just allocate your points that way.

The magic system with its multiple colleges/schools of magic, fatigue-based casting and evocative spell lists seems to have been a distinct inspiration for the later GURPS magic system. I stole several spells from DragonQuest for other games. I especially liked the name Web of Starlight. The main problem was that advancement was very slow and casting chances too low to be much fun.

The Key of Solomon inspired list of demons were cute, but poorly integrated into the background. It was never made clear what, if any, motivation they had - were they evil? Power hungry? Did anyone worship them? Or how they integrated with a cosmology (if such existed) in the setting, especially given the lack of a default Christian background.

The AP-based combat was too awkward, and combat was too slow thanks to armor stopping too many damage. The very bloody critical hits were very much in the Arduin Grimoire/Arms Law (later Rolemaster) zeitgeist of that period. The 2nd SPI edition (released as the hardback) kept most of the first edition but replaced it with a much more fluid and playable action system that might possibly have been an early influence on GURPS and later 3rd edition-SRD systems.

Aside from the over-complicated AP-based combat, the lack of setting material, or even much in the way of an implied setting like D&D's "dungeon and town, and there are alignment and gods" was perhaps the most serious weakness. On the other hand, DRAGONQUEST overall makes a very interesting "bridge game" - it builds on elements of D&D, Melee/Wizard and RuneQuest, while laying some foundations for GURPS and perhaps 3e on the other.

If it's creation/experience system had made characters a bit more fun, and it had been saddled with the poor 1st edition system, and if SPI had supported it more quickly with more material it could have been a contender. As it is, there's plenty of interesting things in the game to be inspired by.

Unknown said...

We played this for a few years, we broke it up because the group moved out, not because we had issues with it. I agree with the poster above that the magic system was awesome, it’s its breakout of talent, spell, and ritual magic. Spells are ranked separately; they don’t work automatically.

Skills were also fun; you had to decide to rank weapons, skills, or spells etc. It is technically a classless system although if you want to use magic you needed a high magic aptitude.

We didn’t have problems with combat but we didn’t have ingrown like adventures with combat all the time.

The biggest weakness is combat. You can only use daggers and a few other weapons in close combat; it was too hard to stop a guy with a dagger from killing a guy with a sword going into close combat.

In first edition they had a school of greater summoning, which was kind of cool but really hard to use. I recommend later versions if you can get them which include shaping magic (magical weapons and items) and some other modifications.

The game definitely can use some updating along with a solution to close combat. We didn’t think balance was great. Nonetheless there was great gaming for our group.