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Saturday 7 January 2023

Quick-Start Saturday: Dragonbane

Quick-starts are means of trying out a roleplaying game before you buy. Each should provide a Game Master with sufficient background to introduce and explain the setting to her players, the rules to run the scenario included, and a set of ready-to-play, pre-generated characters that the players can pick up and understand almost as soon as they have sat down to play. The scenario itself should provide an introduction to the setting for the players as well as to the type of adventures that their characters will have and just an idea of some of the things their characters will be doing on said adventures. All of which should be packaged up in an easy-to-understand booklet whose contents, with a minimum of preparation upon the part of the Game Master, can be brought to the table and run for her gaming group in a single evening’s session—or perhaps too. And at the end of it, Game Master and players alike should ideally know whether they want to play the game again, perhaps purchasing another adventure or even the full rules for the roleplaying game.

Alternatively, if the Game Master already has the full rules for the roleplaying game for the quick-start is for, then what it provides is a sample scenario that she still run as an introduction or even as part of her campaign for the roleplaying game. The ideal quick-start should entice and intrigue a playing group, but above all effectively introduce and teach the roleplaying game, as well as showcase both rules and setting.


What is it?

The Dragonbane Quickstart is the quick-start for Dragonbane, the reimagining of Sweden’s first fantasy roleplaying game, Drakar och Demoner, originally published in 1982. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign by Free League Publishing in 2022, Dragonbane promises to be a roleplaying game of “mirth and mayhem”.

It includes a basic explanation of the setting, rules for actions and combat, magic, the adventure, ‘Riddermound’, and five ready-to-play, Player Characters.

It is a forty-four-page, full colour, 11.45 MB PDF.

The layout is clean and tidy. The cartography is excellent, but the artwork and illustrations are superb. They are done by Johan Egerkrans, who also illustrated Vaesen and possess a grim, if comic book sensibility.

How long will it take to play?
Dragonbane Quickstart can be played through in a single session.

Who do you play?
The five Player Characters include a Human Wizard (Fire Elementalist), an Elf Hunter, a Mallard Knight (yes, a duck knight!), a Halfling Thief, and Wolfkin Warrior. All five Player Characters are given a two-page spread. One page is devoted to the character sheet whilst the other gives some background to the Player Character, an explanation of his abilities, and an excellent illustration. One issue is with the Human Wizard, whose player will need to refer to the magic section of the rules in the
Dragonbane Quickstart to find out how his spells work. It would have been far more useful for them to be at least listed along with costs for the benefit of the Wizard’s player.

How is a Player Character defined?
A Player Character has a Kin, which can be human, halfling, dwarf, elf, mallard, or wolfkin. He also has six attributes—Strength, Constitution, Agility, Intelligence, Willpower, and Charisma—which range in value between three and eighteen, as well as a Profession. Both Kin and Profession provide an ability which are unavailable to other Kin and Professions. Various factors are derived from the attributes, notably different damage bonuses for Strength-based weapons and Agility-based weapons, plus Willpower Points. Willpower Points are expended to use magic and abilities derived from both Kin and Profession. A Player Character has sixteen skills, ranging in value from one to eighteen.

How do the mechanics work?
To have his player undertake an action, a player rolls a twenty-sided die. The aim is roll equal to or lower than the skill or attribute. A roll of one is called ‘rolling a dragon’ and is treated as a critical effect. A roll of twenty is called ‘rolling a demon’ and indicates a critical failure. Banes and boons are the equivalent of advantage and disadvantage. Opposed rolls are won by the player who rolls the lowest.

If a roll is failed, a player can choose to push the roll and reroll. The result supersedes the original. In pushing a roll, the Player Character acquires a Condition, for example, ‘Dazed’ for Strength or ‘Scared’ for Willpower. The player has to explain how his character acquires the Condition and his character can acquire a total of six—one for each attribute—and the player is expected to roleplay them. Mechanically, a Condition acts as a Bane in play. A Player Character can recover from one or more Conditions by resting.

How does combat work?
Initiative is determined randomly by drawing cards numbered between one and ten, with one going first. A Player Character has two actions per round—a move and an actual action such as a melee attack, doing first aid, or casting a spell. Alternatively, a Player Character can undertake a Reaction, which takes place on an opponent’s turn in response to the opponent’s action. Typically, this is a parry or dodge, and means that the Player Character cannot take another action. If a dragon is rolled on the parry, the Player Character gets a free counterattack!

Combat takes into account weapon length, grip, length, and so on. The effects of a dragon roll, or a critical hit, can include damage being doubled and a dragon roll being needed to parry or dodge this attack, making a second attack, or piercing armour. Damage can be slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning, which determines the effectiveness of armour.

Armour has a rating, which reduces damage taken. Helmets increase Armour Rating, but work as a Bane for certain skills. If a Player Character’s Hit Points are reduced to zero, a death roll is required for him to survive, which can be pushed. Three successful rolls and the Player Character survives, whilst three failures indicate he has died. A Player Character on zero Hit Points can be rallied by another to keep fighting. The
Dragonbane Quickstart also includes rules for other forms of damage such as falling and poison, plus darkness and fear. Fear is covered by a Willpower check, and there is a Fear Table for the results.

How does magic work?
A Wizard powers magic through the expenditure of Willpower Points. Typical spells cost two Willpower Points per Power Level of a spell, but just one Willpower Point for lesser spells or magic tricks. Spells are organised into schools and each school has an associated skill, which is rolled against when casting a spell. Willpower Points are lost even if the roll is failed, but rolling a dragon can double the range or damage of the spell, negate the Willpower Point cost, or allow another spell to be cast, but with a Bane. Rolling a demon simply means that the spell fails and cannot be pushed. A spell cannot be cast if the Wizard is in direct contact with either iron or steel.

Three spells and three magical tricks are given in
Dragonbane Quickstart. These are all fire-related, designed for the Wizard Player Character. The magical tricks include Ignite, Heat/Chill, and Puff of Smoke, whilst the full spells are Fireball, Gust of Wind, and Pillar.

What do you play?
The scenario in the
Dragonbane Quickstart is ‘Riddermound’. This describes a burial mound called the Riddermound located in the forests of the Misty Vale and reputed to be haunted by a death knight who was once in the dragon emperor’s service. The Player Characters have come to the region in search of glory and riches, only to discover that someone has got there before them and unsealed the tomb entrance. The dungeon itself is relatively short, just nine locations in total, and being a tomb, fairly linear in nature. The dungeon has a fairly creepy atmosphere and the Game Master is encouraged to play this up in her descriptions of the various rooms. There is opportunity for a little roleplaying, but the scenario is primarily one of exploration and combat. The two major threats in the scenario each have a table of random attacks which the Game Master rolls on each time.

Is there anything missing?
In terms of what you play and how you play it, no. However, the
Dragonbane Quickstart could have done with a little background on the setting with its differing ages of the land being ruled by demons and dragons. It is difficult to get this setting across to the players and perhaps some kind of briefing could have been included. Plus, it does leave players and Game Master alike to wonder about the nature of the Dragonbane world.

Is it easy to prepare?
Dragonbane Quickstart is presented in a straightforward fashion and a Game Master should have no difficulties in readying it for a session. It could be prepared and be ready to run if a gaming group needs a last minute game in a relatively short space of time.

Is it worth it?
Yes. The
Dragonbane Quickstart features clearly explained rules that most roleplayers will understand having seen similar mechanics used elsewhere. It combines this with a solid set of pre-generated Player Characters—everyone is going to want to play the Mallard Knight—and decent, grim, dungeon-bash style adventure. All of which is neatly packaged with some fantastic artwork. Where it fails is in selling the setting, but otherwise it does a very good job of explaining the core rules, and the Dragonbane Quickstart is easy to grasp and easy to play and easy to bring to the table.

Where can you get it?
The Dragonbane Quickstart is available to download here.

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