The Cobwebbed Forest

Introduction to the Cobwebbed Forest

Even after all these years, Dragon Warriors is the role-playing system to which I tend to compare new systems and games that I play. And if I notice something in another role-playing system that I like, my first thought then is always how I can introduce this to Dragon Warriors.

There are many reasons for Dragon Warriors' enduring appeal, including the unique atmosphere of the setting, the simple and elegant mechanics, and a charm that comes from flying in the face of a growing trend for games to pander to that community of politically correct meta-gamers.

So if Dragon Warriors is perfect, why this site? As much as I love Dragon Warriors, it is a product of its time and outside influences and just as I imagine most other long-term players of Dragon Warriors have had a go at 'fixing' the system, I am no different! It can be all too easy to start by tweaking a little bit here and a little bit there and, before you know it, you're playing yet another Fantasy RPG clone of Warhammer or D&D. What I have always kept in the back of my mind as I have put my own version of Dragon Warriors together is preserving what I love about Dragon Warriors.

I Love Simple Mechanics

Dragon Warriors is a very simple system to learn and play, with unintrusive mechanics for varied gameplay. However, the mechanics could be simplified further, in my opinion. For example, why does Attack vs. Defence work differently from Magic Attack vs. Magic Defence?

But these are not arbitrary changes - changing Attack vs. Defence to use 2d10 radically changes the probability of hitting an opponent and so I have also tweaked the Attack and Defence scores of certain professions and enemies. A single change can have a lot of repercussions and I have attempted to anticipate and adapt to these as part of this exercise. It is not perfect, but with more playtesting, I plan to get there!

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I Love Simple Combat

I have gamed with systems that have complex hit location charts, many different rules for many different weapons, different rolls depending on which weapon is striking what type of armour, etc., and whilst some games designers may feel that taking into account the humidity of the air, the friction coefficient of the ground and the position of the Sun in the sky adds to the realism of combat, all it really does is make it more complicated. I would rather play with just enough realism to suspend my disbelief and leave the rest to having fun.

Combat in Dragon Warriors is simple to resolve and fast. However, this simplicity comes at a cost of repetitiveness and I feel that what is needed are more combat options that work within the same simple framework. I even think there's scope to introduce breadth to the combat system, whilst simplifying the mechanic - options that work within the simple Attack vs. Defence and Armour Bypass mechanics, rather than outside of them. For example, why do I need to make an extra roll to make a called shot or to block with my shield?

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I Love Game Balance (or not)

Dragon Warriors does not pretend that Sorcerers and Knights are equal, or Elementalists and Assassins. Other systems (notably D&D and its clones) have worked very hard to make sure that all 10th level characters are of an approximately equivalent ability. Dragon Warriors makes no bones about the fact that some characters are better in combat than others. And that's the rub for me. Combat. Role-playing games are not about combat, or shouldn't be, they should be about character. Games that promote equivalence of combat ability are basically saying that characters can only be involved in the game if they can be involved in combat and, to make the game fair, must be able to contribute equally. Dragon Warriors, instead, takes the view that a character is not about dealing damage (or surviving it), but being interesting to play.

But Game Balance is still important. Dying on the roll of a single die is not fun for a player that has otherwise done everything right, so I have tweaked spells, fright effects and other rules that would instantly kill a character for a failed roll. It might not be realistic because life can be a b!tch, but I think it is more fun for the players. And whilst the danger of death still lingers heavy over the gaming table, it instead waits as a consequence of a deserving action, not an unlucky roll of the die.

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I Love Rules

This might be in contradiction to me loving simple mechancs, but rules are important, so long as they are simple. If characters want to make a called shot, I want a rule to be clear, consistent and easy to find. I do not, for example, want the rule to be buried in the description of the Golem in the Bestiary, I want them in the combat section and I want them to be consistent with the rest of the combat mechanics.

At first glance, Dragon Warriors is a very 'rules light' system - with broad simple mechanics to resolve conflicts of all descriptions, simple skill checks, and much more besides, but as the system grew semi-organically in its infancy, several rules pop out of an otherwise elegant system and strike a discordant note. Called shots is one of them and it, along with others of its kind, have been overhauled to bring them into the core of the game's design.

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I Love Rules that don't Break when Stretched

Rules are only as good as the circumstances they encompass - consider a Rank 15 Knight fighting a Rank 1 Knight. Both are wearing plate armour and both are wielding a dagger, although neither of them have exceptional Strength. It is an unlikely scenario and most GMs would simply rule that the Rank 15 Knight wins. And he probably will, but only by virtue of the fact that he has more Health Points, not because of his higher Attack and Defence scores. This, to me, indicates that whilst the Attack and Defence mechanic works well, there is still room for improvement. The rules I present in this site attempt to consider extreme scenarios like this to ensure that they work intuitively across a spectrum of scnearios.

As an additional point, the rules should be internally consistent and comprehensive. If there are random encounter tables, they should take into account all of the creatures in the bestiary, not just the 'basic' ones. Random NPC adventurer equipment should consider all of the adventuring professions, not just the original four, etc. The Dragon Warriors rules received a much-needed edit in recent years, but to my mind did not go far enough to integrate the later material with the original system.

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I Love to Reuse Mechanics

Similar to the love of simple mechanics, I want to be able to reuse mechanics as much as possible. I want my combat mechanics to work with naval combat and mass combat, too, because combat should be combat. I also want called shots to work the same way regardess of whether I am trying to bypass armour or deactivate a Golem. This is perhaps the one area where Dragon Warriors suffers from being an old system - as more gamers played more systems, they learned what makes for faster and fairer game play and now I am trying to bring this into the Dragon Warriors system.

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I Love it when Characters can do Everything

The players should be able to learn about the myths and legacies of Legend and their characters should aspire to become part of that heritage, following in great heroes' footsteps. If a great Sorcerer created a great artefact, a PC Sorcerer should eventualy be in a position to replicate or surpass that feat. A legendary Knight may have slain a dragon in ancient times or banished a demon and, again, PC Knights may aspire to equal (or better) such epic feats and the game system should enable such journeys for player characters.

The Lands of Legends are full of mysteries that no rules system could ever explain or define but a little tweak to the magic system here, or skills of the mighty there, and suddenly new vistas of possibility are opened to each profession.

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I Love Heroism

In some rules systems, like Earthdawn and D&D, increasing in level has such a profound impact on the character's abilities that they quickly grow beyond any mere mortal's ability to bring them to account for their actions. However, in Dragon Warriors, even a high ranking Knight will have a Defence of 0 if sufficient numbers of peasants rise up against him.

An invulnerable superhero striding through kingdoms is no hero. Heroes feel fear and overcome it; they strive against impossible odds knowing their life is on the line, but do it anyway; they know that life can be cruel, arbitrary and imminently finite, but sacrifice their own comfort to bring hope, freedom and maybe even a little joy to the downtrodden folk of Legend.

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I Love Magic I can Understand

I love that the Dragon Warriors magicker professions are distinct, but I do not feel that their spellbooks make them distinct enough - there is too much overlap, too much imbalance and sometimes I feel that a spell is there because someone thought a fantasy game ought to have that spell, rather than because it made sense for that profession to be able to cast it.

I want the magicker professions to be able to do completely different kinds of magic and so have rewritten the spellbooks and have put together theories of magical lore and spell design. By understanding magic, it helps me as a GM determine where to introduce new spells and how to interpret spell effects and creative applications of spells.

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What would Dave Morris do?

Dave Morris published a three-part articles on what he thought Dragon Warriors could evolve into. It all started with a blog post recounting an conversation with Tim Harford about how they might go about it, and went on from there:

The long-awaited second edition ended up being little more than a polish of the original edition, but we can live in hope that such a marvellous reimagining of Dragon Warriors might one day make its way out of Dave and Tim's imaginations!

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