Wednesday, March 22, 2023


One of my most anticipated RPGs of 2023 is the new edition of the Swedish RPG, "Drakar och Demoner" or "Dragons and Demons." This new edition will be available in English for the first time in the game's more than 40 year history. The English language version of the game will be identical to the Swedish version, but its name is being changed to, "Dragonbane."

The original edition of Dragons and Demons published in 1982 was a straight up reprint in Swedish of "Magic World" from Chaosium. In 1982 Chaosium released a boxed set of three games called, "Worlds of Wonder." This boxed set included a 16 page pamphlet called, "Basic Role Playing" or BRP and three world books: Future World, Super World, and Magic World.

Drakar och Demoner reprinted the BRP pamphlet and the Magic World pamphlet (also 16 pages) in a box set with, if I am guessing at the text on the back of the box correctly, an introductory adventure and  some dice. (The Worlds of Wonder boxed set by Chaosium came with a 4, 8 and a 20 numbered 0-9 twice -- 10 siders weren't a thing yet, as well as 3 six-sided dice. I am betting that the 1st Edition of Drakar och Demoner was the same.)

Chaosium has revised and re-released the various "worlds" presented in Worlds of Wonder over the years. The last version of Basic Role Playing that I owned was a hefty yellow hardback printed in 2011. This version is more like GURPS and is all about spending character points. I don't like it. It's too much math. Fortunately, Drakar och Demoner follows its own evolutionary path. My hope is that Dragonbane isn't so mathy.

I am providing this little bit of history as I have been able to gather it in order to write this post. As stated, I did own the 2011 version of Basic Role Playing, but I had never heard of Dragonbane or Dragons and Demons until a few weeks ago. I saw an ad on EN World for late pledges to the Dragonbane Kickstarter. The artwork spoke to me and I clicked on the ad.

I am a comic book guy. I like art. I was originally drawn to comic books because I loved looking at the pretty pictures. Striking art sucks me right in, and the art on Dragonbane by artist Johan Egerkrans is stunning. It's gorgeous. It's the first thing that I noticed, and the reason I downloaded and read the Quickstart rules in the first place. The layout, graphic design and as mentioned, artwork presented in the Dragonbane Quickstart is very nice. So, I read the rules, and here we are.

The Quickstart opens with a bit of flavor text about the "world" of Dragonbane. It's a world where dragons and demons fought over the creation of the world, dragons as a force of order and demons as a force of chaos. I like this. I love the thought of dragons being an almost godlike presence, and them being the "good guys."

The next bit is the usual intro to RPG stuff, players, GM, ability scores. I was a little disappointed to see the six ability scores from 3-18, straight out of D&D, but maybe this kind of familiarity is good. I didn't need to worry anyway. The rules, while familiar in many ways, are very different from D&D. For one, damage bonuses, that are derived from either agility or strength depending on the weapon used, are expressed not as static bonuses, but as dice. So, ability score values aren't just numbers translated into other numbers.

Actions in Dragonbane are rolled on a d20 and low is better. This is a "roll under your skill" system. I like these kinds of systems. My own RPG: Five By Five uses a roll under system. The skill list is small and seems focused on combat, but it looks infinitely and easily expandable. There are no levels in Dragonbane. This is strictly a skill based system. Use your skills to improve them. Grow in any direction that you would like.

The system has "boons" and "banes" which work exactly like D&D's "advantage" and "disadvantage" but it takes this a step further by leveraging these rules with "conditions." Conditions work like this. There is a condition for each of the 6 core Abilities. If you suffer a condition, then all rolls and skill rolls related to that condition suffer a bane. Why is this cool? Well, anytime that you fail on a die roll you can voluntarily suffer a condition (one you don't already have) to re-roll the dice. Mechanically, that's cool-ish, but here's the rub, you need to explain how suffering the chosen condition would help you succeed when you might have otherwise failed. That's role-playing gold is what that is!

In combat you use playing cards to track initiative. I remember doing that in Savage Worlds, and I like it. When you attack, you use your weapon skills. Armor reduces a small amount of damage from every attack. Weapons and shields have durability, because you can choose to parry an attack, but if the damage done exceeds the weapon or shield's durability then the equipment is damaged. Further uses of damaged equipment suffer a bane.

Defensive actions like dodging or parrying can only be chosen if you haven't yet acted in a round because they do use up your action for your turn. This makes sense, but is very different from D&D. It's more brutal, and makes combat more dangerous. That combined with the fact that weapons inflict higher damage than D&D means that combats in Dragonbane will be quick and deadly.

Speaking of "quick and deadly" monsters don't roll to attack, they just roll damage. Monsters are big scary and deadly. When they attack, you will get hurt unless you actively do something to prevent it. That's cool. That's scary. Also cool about monsters is they all have a small array of attack options each with its own narrative description and damage potential. This is super cool. Battles aren't just a back and forth of rolling to hit over and over.

So, BRP on which Dragons and Demons originated is itself based on a game called Runequest, but with the setting of Glorantha removed. Glorantha includes, among many other quirky things, a player character race of anthropomorphic ducks. I mention this because this race has survived throughout the various editions of Dragons and Demons and a "Mallard" player character is included in the Dragonbane Quickstart. (I just think a race of ducks is cool.)

The Quickstart comes with six sample characters (including the Mallard.) The character sheets are clean and beautiful. I can tell a lot about a game from the character sheet and I like these very much. Each character has a Kin and a Profession. These provide unique special abilities on top of the shared list of skills already mentioned. These special abilities as well as magic are fueled by Will Power Points.

Will Power Points like Hit Points are an exhaustible resource and are recovered when you rest. The magic system looks clean and straight forward, casting spells requires the use of magic skill. If you roll your skill and fail, you lose the Will Power Points, but like other skill rolls these can be "pushed" by taking on a condition in order to roll again.

If you want to check out the Dragonbane Quickstart you can follow this link. The Quickstart PDF document can be accessed about half way down the campaign page. Take a look and see if Dragonbane becomes your most anticipated RPG of 2023.


After finishing my review of the Quickstart Guide for Dragonbane, I received a PDF of the full core rules. Here are my thoughts on some things that were not already covered above. 

The full Dragonbane box set will include the Core Rules which clock in at 116 pages. This is perfect for me. I really don't like the 400 page tomes that many RPG products seem to aspire to. (Writers are paid by the word, after all.) I believe that less is more when it comes to bringing this kind of thing to your gaming table. In addition to the core rules book, there's a multi-adventure campaign of roughly equal size that includes 11 separate adventures to get you started.

I mentioned in my review of the Quickstart that I hoped Dragonbane would have evolved to be less like GURPS than did it's predecessor BRP. I actually said that I hope it's "less mathy." It is. Also, there are a lot more skills available than shown in the Quickstart.    

During character creation, players will choose their Kin which gives them access to a unique special ability and their Profession which provides a list of profession approved skills. Players will have anywhere from 8-12 skills (this is affected by your chosen age) -- six of your chosen skills have to come from your profession list, additional skills are chosen freely. 

Next are Heroic Abilities, which are like Feats in D&D. There are no levels in Dragonbane. So, many Heroic Abilities have prerequisite skill levels. Skill levels have a base value determined by your attributes. Your starting skills get a huge boost here however as you double the starting values of each skill you choose to start with. It's quick and simple math. Just look up your starting values in all skills and double the ones that you have chosen to be trained in. Done! Easy-Peasy!

Interestingly, you can only have the "Magic School" Heroic Ability at the start if you choose the Mage profession, but this is only at the start. After you have played, when you get the chance to choose a new Heroic Ability you can choose a Magic School if you want. (But, I assume that the GM would want this to be role-played accordingly to justify it. I am cool with that!)

Instead of XP, you have advancement marks. You check a skill if you roll a 1 or 20 when using it, and then you also check additional skills of your choice based on your role-play during the session. You answer questions like: "Did you participate in the game session?" and "Did you explore a new location?" You get a mark each time you can answer, "yes" to a question. For each mark, you roll a d20. If you roll over the marked skill, it goes up +1. I have mixed feelings about the randomness here, but it is clean and easy.

The GM can award new Heroic Abilities. The rules state, "No more than once per adventure." Adventures can really vary. I'd probably just give one out once every other game session.

My review of the Quickstart above covers most of the rest of it. All in all - I am very impressed with Dragonbane. I hope that I can get it to my table soon.

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