Dragonbane Offers A Box Full Of Classic Fantasy

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It seems that RPG boxed sets are everywhere from online sales to the shelves at the local Target store. There’s something primal about cracking open a box and digging into a brand new fantasy world. Even if the majority of these boxes are built as starter sets that offer up a fun experience in the hopes that the table will buy a core book to continue their adventures beyond the one contained within. Dragonbane, from Free League Publishing, offers a full campaign experience in this boxed set much like their Forbidden Lands and Twilight: 2000 boxes. You can tell lead designer Tomas Harenstam is in for the long haul. There’s a heft to this box that caught me by surprise when Free League sent the physical review copy. Is Dragonbane worth its weight in gold pieces? Let’s play to find out.

Dragonbane is a modern update of Drakar och Demoner, aka Dragons & Demons, which blended elements of Dungeons & Dragons and Chaosium’s early fantasy work into a game that a lot of Swedish kids played in the 1980s. I’m not familiar with the game beyond what I’ve read in the introduction of the boxed set and a few interviews with designers but I can say that this game blends those old-school influences with modern designs such as 5e and Free League’s own Year Zero titles. Attributes set up the base chance for 30 skills which players must roll under to succeed on a d20. Classes determine which of those skills can be improved. Individual skills are improved in play by earning a check and rolling higher than the skill after the session. On the modern side, the game uses advantage and disadvantage, or what it calls boons and banes, to reflect difficulty adjustments rather than hard modifiers. Heroic traits are gained on a rare occasion in a manner similar to milestone levelling.

Players can choose to reroll if they risk taking a condition that affects their character such as getting angry or exhausted. Each condition affects one of the attributes and the skills connected to it and forces a bane on all rolls on that attribute until the condition is cleared. (For those min/maxers in the audience, Constitution has the least amount of skills and Agility has the most, so keep that in mind in play) This is one of many optional rules called out in an emerald green sidebar, but reading those optional rules made me want to play this game with all those switches turned on. They are one of the many things that help differentiate Dragonbane from the many wonderful OSR games on the market.

The art also puts Dragonbane in its own class. Johan Egerkrans is the lead illustrator here. His style is one of the big draws to Vaesen and he and his collaborators here bring that same aesthetic to this game. While most throwback games go for gnarly line art or weird doodles that wouldn't look out of place in a third period Spanish class notebook, there’s an animated quality to the art in this game that still feels of the period even if it's more polished and colorful. I think that black and white art can be evocative for throwback games like this, but the painted illustrations here kept bringing me back to the Rankin-Bass Tolkien films and the paperback covers in the fantasy section of my long gone Waldenbooks. That art spreads out through the accessories included in the box: the maps, the pawns, the pre-generated characters. Even the treasure cards have unique illustrations of just how much gold a player might find in a particular room.

The box includes a campaign that charges the players with looking for a magic sword. First they have to find the pieces of a statue that unlocks the tomb. Then they have to get the sword and put it to use against the forces of evil who want the sword for their own nefarious purposes. It’s pretty basic stuff but it’s very well executed. The nature of the artifact hunt gives the players the ability to tackle the adventures in whichever order they want except for the final confrontation. Each adventuring site is built for a night or two of adventure and while there is dungeon plundering a plenty to be had, many of the sites also come with rivals or potential allies to talk with during the exploration. Each of these NPCs comes with a character portrait and a well-defined motivation which help the adventures stand out from the usual dungeon crawls.

Should the players wish to keep going (or the GM wish to break up the storyline with some standalone adventures), the boxed set provides two adventure generators. The first has the GM roll one of each fantasy die type to put together some writing prompts for an adventure. The second are a set of solo rules written by Shawn Tomkin of Ironsworn fame that give one site something of an endless dungeon feeling. Perfect for players who miss a session but still want to get involved in a story or for those unfortunate souls who haven’t convinced their table to try something other than D&D that want to enjoy the world of Dragonbane.

I think this game is an excellent opportunity for GMs who want to play other systems but have tables that are too locked into D&D. A lot of this is familiar; dungeons, sword, magic, d20s, but there are some elements that are different. Perhaps if the table enjoys pushing rolls, for example, they might be up for some Tales From The Loop after this game ends. There’s also an appeal to a campaign that lasts between 12-24 sessions with options in the box to expand the story if everyone’s really enjoying themselves. I wouldn’t be adverse to more Dragonbane either with new boxes exploring new ancestries, locations and storylines. It seems ripe for playable goblins to go along with the duck people and the talking dogs.

Dragonbane offers a throwback experience that has everything the GM needs to play in one hefty box.
 
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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

aramis erak

Legend
I like player facing only rolls. It works excellent in the Talisman RPG.
I will buy this box set to fuel my starter set addiction.
I played DB at a con last year. Me and another player ruined it somewhat with our inability to not roll under 18.
The issue of roll under on a d20 is the limited result range. Roll high in any game gives a very wide results range (1 to say 35 in 5th ed) to play with in your system.
Mathematically, roll high vs roll low only differ if the dice open end.
Tho' I'll note that Talisman Adventures actually skews slightly in favor of the players. Yes, it's excellent, its player facing rolls speed up combat a bit, and popcorn initiative favors the bold...

But Mathematics don't trump the ingrained cultural «more is better»...by grade six, most students I've asked (well over 100), when asked which is better: roll high to win or roll low to win, most raise their hands for high. I didn't do more formal work on it, because I would have needed administrator approval to do a more formal study. It's about half higher is better, a third lower, a sixth for neither.
 

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teitan

Legend
In my opinion Symbaroum solve the issues that I had with roll low systems by making all the rolls player facing. I was really hoping that the new DoD would be a streamlined, and cleaned up version of that; with more general fantasy tropes that would make it easier for me to insert into my own setting.

But evidently we can't have nice things.




The problem here is threefold.

Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, and to a much lesser extent; Howard the Duck.

It's just hard for many of us that grew up with these cartoon/comic icons to see Ducks in an RPG as anything less than a Silly Joke.
I give you… Uncle Scrooge. The greatest adventurer to ever live. I’ll fight people over this one.
 

teitan

Legend
It's literally been a part of the fantasy RPG genre since the 70s. The duck race in particular dates to 1978-ish with their first appearance in RuneQuest. As for D&D, I will agree with you there. We didn't really start seeing anything anthropomorphic (as player character options at least) until AD&D 2e with The Complete Book of Humanoids.
That’s not true. Oriental Adventures at least. The Hengeyokai were shapeshifting animal folk. D&D had some in some of the side supplements. They were out there before the Humanoids book. Long before.
 

teitan

Legend
Dragonbane fills my long need for a game with a similar scope to oldschool D&D, without all the downsides of D&D, like classes, levels, spell slots, and the weird old attack roll system.
Magic not being split into arcane-divine. It also is the perfect game for a D&D cartoon style game.
 

rmcoen

Adventurer
(Thank you for discussing the rule mechanics and the game contents again, after two pages filled with... not.)

While I instinctively like the elegance of "roll exactly your skill for a critical hit"... I'm not a fan of roll low to succeed. I like it in certain very specific circumstances, I'll admit - there was a story (and an unrelated game, and also Dune) that explained swords in a high-tech universe by "shields activate at a certain speed/momentum/damage", so the trick was inflicting the maximum amount of damage, but less than the shield's trigger mechanism; you could use your skill (I forget if it was raw skill, or maybe "margin of success") as a modifier to bring your damage down or up... either trying to overwhelm the shield with too much damage, or perfectly slip in at the "maxed minimum" damage.

Sorry, was a tangent.

Having monsters (or even just boss monsters) auto-hit unless ACTIVELY defended against is an interesting choice. Makes the foe seem overwhelming and inevitable... all you can do is barely deflect blows, trying to keep a hit from landing... cinematic and exciting, unlike "okay it missed, missed, hit me for 36... I've still got 58 hp, let's go".
 

Arnie_Wan_Kenobi

Paranoid Robot Lamborghini
Having monsters (or even just boss monsters) auto-hit unless ACTIVELY defended against is an interesting choice. Makes the foe seem overwhelming and inevitable... all you can do is barely deflect blows, trying to keep a hit from landing... cinematic and exciting, unlike "okay it missed, missed, hit me for 36... I've still got 58 hp, let's go".
I think this would really force a paradigm shift in a lot of the groups I've played with, those whose approach is to "Leeeeroy Jenkins" everything they come across. I kinda like it, TBH.
 

rmcoen

Adventurer
I think this would really force a paradigm shift in a lot of the groups I've played with, those whose approach is to "Leeeeroy Jenkins" everything they come across. I kinda like it, TBH.
Agreed. Right now in 5e, that means the BBEg gets like a +15 to hit... which is still a lot of misses against an optimized 5e tank PC. But if it's "autohit, +7 if defended against"... then the monster gets a momentum and heft to it, which is counterable with player choice.
 

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
It's literally been a part of the fantasy RPG genre since the 70s. The duck race in particular dates to 1978-ish with their first appearance in RuneQuest.
Chaosium president Rick Meints discusses the origin of RuneQuest's ducks here. They first appear as a TTRPG species in RuneQuest 1st edition (1978), as the denizens who lived in Duckburg Duckpoint. Duckpoint is a map location featured in Greg's 1975 board war game White Bear and Red Moon. The first image of ducks as TTRPG characters was by Jennell Jaquays in 1979, as cover art for issue #8 of the Chaosium house journal Wyrm's Footnotes.

In Rick's post RuneQuest co-creator Steve Perrin also sheds further light on the story.

 
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Dragonbane Bestiary is now up for preorder, with PDF links available right away?
(it has extra playable races, cat/frog/wingedcat/lizard people, satyr, goblin, ogre, orc)

They have an adventure book coming out at some point (only cover shown now).
They are releasing hardcovers of the base book (with some extra content, at least a new adventure).

And look, RPG marketing out in the wild:
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Alright, having flipped through the Bestiary, 10 of the 63 entries are 'non-monster', i.e. just stat lines and skills, mostly the new player kins. My complaint is, and will forever be, that all NPCs should have unique monster actions (especially when a goblin does become a monster if it climbs onto a worg).

Another 10 entries are reprints of enemies that are in the core rulebook already! (like, technically there's 4 dragon entries here, but the only difference is that the same effect's power got adjusted up or down from the basic entry in the core book, they don't do unique stuff)

Not to sound purposefully negative, I'm just confused why a third of the book is... like this. Monster actions are a gloriously good idea, they should lean into them!
 

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