Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Can Any Game Dethrone D&D

Last post, I mentioned how 13th Age helped keep players engaged in later levels by providing combat rules that were different for the GM than those being used by the PCs. I mentioned how Shadowdark was trying to keep players engaged in later levels by providing more manageable growth as PCs leveled up. What about a game that does both of these things?

I've already written a detailed review of Dragonbane. Since that review, a hardcover book of the core rules has been released as well as a hardcover bestiary. As mentioned in said previous review, the art by Johan Egerkrans is stunning and features prominently in both books. It seems that Johan is the exclusive illustrator for the entire Dragonbane line, and I couldn't be happier. The look of all the DB books is consistent and beyond gorgeous.

I am looking for an alternative to D&D that I can bring to my table, and I find myself giving Dragonbane another look. Its DNA isn't D&D, it's Basic Fantasy (the Chaosium system that RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu are built on.) While most RPG systems, and especially an old school system like Basic Fantasy do share some lineage with D&D, these games have been growing independently for over 40 years. I dare say that they have seen more growth and evolution than D&D itself has.

The newest version of Dragonbane is being published and distributed by Free League Publishing. Free League is a relative newcomer to the RPG space, and they are making a real splash. Free League is a Swedish company and they have been around since 2011. For many, they are the company to watch. I think that it's awesome that they have acquired the rights to Drakar och Demoner (Dragonbane in English) which was at one time Sweden's most popular fantasy RPG, and I think that they are leveraging it to become a challenger to D&D.

Since the Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast OGL debacle, there has been a lot of talk about moving on from D&D. Can any RPG ever replace D&D? Right now? I don't think so. In a few years? That's an entirely different question. If any game does it, it might be Dragonbane. It looks better than D&D. It's easier to play and more accessible than D&D. Its combat is more interesting than D&D. And at least right now, it doesn't seem to have the "power creep" that poisons long campaigns of D&D.

Toppling D&D's monolithic dominance might seem impossible, but people felt the same about IBM Computing before Apple came along. Free League Publishing is the Apple of the RPG world. If an upset is coming, I believe that they will be the source. Free League Publishing is the young upstart. They already have a sizable RPG catalog, including some high profile IP properties. Their IP RPGs include: Alien, Blade Runner, The One Ring (Lord of the Rings), and The Walking Dead. Other original and acquired properties include: Twilight: 2000, Vaesen, Mörk Borg, Tales from the Loop, The Electric State, Forbidden Lands, Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis: The Third Horizon, and Symbaroum.

It's also nice that Free League is a book publisher. They produce high quality physical books, not just digital PDFs. Others may argue that Paizo, the publisher of Pathfinder, which is arguably D&D's greatest competitor in the Fantasy RPG space, would be the one to dethrone D&D. Pathfinder is very much a "gamer's game," and Paizo seems very happy in that lane. I feel like to match D&D's saturation in the American consciousness, any game is going to need to be easily accessible to the average consumer. Dragonbane is just an easier game to learn and to play, and it has the word "dragon" in its name - that might seem like a silly detail, but it's a thing.

Whether Dragonbane dethrones D&D or not, it's a fantastic game, and Free League seems to be on fire right now. It's worth your while to check out Free League and the games that they have to offer. Hasbro doesn't need your money.

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  1. Mentioning Free League and not mentioning Symbaroum (or even ruins of symbaroum it’s 5e sister) is sacrilege

  2. I am fairly new to Free League and I am not familiar with Symbaroum. I will check it out. Also, I will add it in my list of games in the post. I wouldn't want to be a sacrileger.

  3. I have heard that Dragonbane's "Mirthful" marketing is a bit at odds with the lethality of the system in play, but I do love the look of the art, etc. However, having not even looked: does the combat system use "hit locations?" If so, that is traditionally a "hard stop" for me :)

  4. Game "lethality" can be mitagated by the GM and play group, but yeah. All the Free League stuff is a bit on the harsher old-school side if played as written, including Dragonbane. No, there are no hit locations.