Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

DragonQuest and I

DragonQuest (DQ) was the second roleplaying game I played seriously. In junior high school I borrowed it from an acquaintance of my older brother and devoured it. When I finally found a copy of it myself (the paperback of the 2nd edition) I was overjoyed, and later when a friend of mine had a chance to pick up another copy for me (the hardback of the 2nd edition) I was also thrilled. DQ was published by SPI (Simulations Publications, Inc.), a prolific board wargames publisher, and the organization of the book reflected their wargames heritage, with numbered sections, subsections, and tables. It is the sort of text that one has to read completely through before being able to understand it, since some things were used before they were defined. Despite that, when you do read it through a few times it was readily comprehensible. (An index would have made it much, much easier, as would have a contents with actual pagenumbers!)

A Description of DragonQuest

A DQ character has six primary characteristics: Physical Strength (PS), Manual Dexterity (MD), Agility (AG), Endurance (EN), Magical Aptitude (MA) and Willpower (WP), amongst which a randomly determined number of Characteristic Points are divided. Furthermore, every DQ character had a number of other secondary characteristics, most of which were calculated based on the primary characteristics: Fatigue (FT), based on Endurance; Perception, which started at a fixed value; and Tactical Movement Rate (TMR), which was based on Agility. A DQ character might also have some optional characteristics introduced by the GM, and one “standard” 1 optional characteristic is described in the rules as an example, Physical Beauty (PB).

The player of a DQ character can choose the gender of their character. Whether the character was left-handed, right-handed, or ambidextrous is determined randomly. A player who wants to be a non- human had chance to roll under a Base Chance for the race they want to be, and if they fail at the first race they can try again with a different race, for three chances total. The playable races are Dwarves 2, Elves, Giants, Halflings, Humans, Orcs, and Shape- Changers. Characters also have an Aspect, which is an influence upon the character based on the time and date of their birth, determined randomly in an abstract manner, which can increase their chances of success at various special times, and a Heritages, which is the social status of character, the legitimacy of their birth, and their birth order. Finally, a player determines the amount of starting experience points and money they have and can spend these on initial skills and equipement, respectively.

DragonQuest uses only 10-sided dice: D10s for damage, and D100 for skills. DQ is skill-based, and the major skills amount to professions: Alchemist, Assassin, Astrologer, Beast Master, Courtesan, Healer, Mechanician, Merchant, Military Scientist, Navigator, Ranger, Spy, Thief, and Troubador. Each of these gives the character a number of individual abilities with their success chances figured as a percentage by individual formulas based on their Rank in the skill. There was is no disadvantage to having more than one of these professional skills, other than the fact that the character will have more skills on which to spend experience points, making each individual skill advance slower. There is also a skill for each weapon, with a percentage chance of success based on the weapon's base chance to hit and the characater's Rank with that weapon. Finally, there are skills for stealth, horsemanship, speaking a language, and reading and writing a language, all figured with their own individual formula.

The Combat System is more tactical than that of AD&D (perhaps less so than 3rd edition D&D) and is played on a hex grid for tactical movement and takes into account facing. Damage is applied to the Fatigue characteristic first, representing effort made to avoid a more serious blow, and then to Endurance when all Fatigue is lost, representing actual physical damage. Armor reduces damage. If a Strike Check roll is 15% or less of what is needed to succeed damage goes straight to Endurance and is not reduced by Armor. If a Strike Check roll is 5% or less of what is needed to succeed, a roll on the Grievous Injury Table is necessary. That table has three sections, one for each weapon class (thrusting, slashing, crushing), and each section has multiple entries, but the entries for all three sections are numbered in the same series, so thrusting weapons do a Grievous Injury on rolls of 01 through 20, slashing weapons do a Grievous Injury on rolls of 21 through 80, and crushing weapons do a Grievous Injury on rolls of 70 through 100. Here is a representative entry:

14‑18

Tsk, tsk. A wound of the solid viscera. Usually fatal. Take 3 Damage Points to Endurance Immediately and 1 per Pulse thereafter until the bleeding is stopped by a Healer of Rank 2 or above or you die. Add 30 to the chance of Infection.

Every character was allowed 3 to join a College of Magic, thus becoming an Adept, and learn various talents, spells, and rituals, all of which were skill based. An Adept learns all the General Knowledge of his College during his apprenticeship and can learn the more advanced Special Knowledge later. Spells cost Fatigue to cast, have different Base Chances to cast which are modified by various factors (including Rank) to yield a Cast Chance, and have effects which are based on the character's Rank with the spell, often figured with individual formulas based on Rank.

DQ has 12 Colleges of Magic in three different Branches of Magic:

  • The Thaumaturgies:

    • The College of Ensorcellments and Enchantments

    • The College of Sorceries of the Mind

    • The College of Illusions

    • The College of Naming Incantations

  • The Elementals:

    • The College of Air Magics

    • The College of Water Magics

    • The College of Fire Magics

    • The College of Earth Magics

    • The College of Celestial Magics

  • The Entities:

    • The College of Black Magics

    • The College of Necromantic Conjurations

    • The College of Greater Summonings

And, of course, there is a Backfire Table to roll on when your Cast Check is especially bad. Here is a representative entry:

46‑50

Your companions may well curse your name for this! The GM assigns a number to each character within Range and rolls D10. The character whose number is first rolled is the target of the spell. If no character's number is rolled, the GM rolls again until one character's number is rolled.

Producing temporary magic items is easy, since any Adept can learn the Investment Ritual which could store a number of charges of a particular spell in an ojbect. The relatively easily available magic items, the ubiquity of magic, and the variety of Colleges makes DQ magic very flavorful.

Experience is awarded for each session played, modified by Rank and possibly by race, doubled if the adventurers succeeded in their goals, and is spent buying Ranks in skills. Most non-human race need more experience points than humans to advance a skill, except for the fast- living orcs, who need less. (Experience, thankfully, has nothing to do with how many monsters the characters killed or how much treasure they found.) To advance any skill time must be spent training under a more skilled indivudual, which will usually cost money.

There were some in-game conventions for organizing adventuring parties, including an actual Adventurers Guild, which would draw up contracts (the standard contract was included in the rulebook), arbitrate disputes, and enforce contracts. These services are free to a guildmember, and cost a relatively small fee for others. NPCs adventurers were expected to be Adventurers Guild members and to insist on a contract if hired.

The book included a sample adventure, “The Camp of Alla~Akabar”, which I found very different from the AD&D adventures I'd played and run up to that point.

Reflections

All in all, it was a very nice system. Combat could take longer than AD&D, but an experienced group could make things flow quickly, and the additional tactical detail was attractive to me after the simpler combat system of AD&D. I think I became dissatisfied with it because there were so many things that had to be recalculated when characters gained experience, most using their own unique formulas. These days there would be a spreadsheet for these things, but at that time I had to do the calculations manually. And since I typically made the important NPCs using the same rules as the PCs, I did a lot of calculating. The various formulas were spread through the text, and sometimes were difficult to find. (I really should have typed up a complete summary of all the formulas.)

In looking back at DQ while writing these notes, DQ still looks like a fun game. I can see myself playing in or running another DQ campaign sometime when I have a bit more free time.

Unpleasant History

Unfortunately SPI was taken over by TSR and gutted, (see also) so many of SPI's plans for DragonQuest never came to fruition, such as their expanded magic supplement, Arcane Wisdom, which was written but never published before SPI's demise. TSR published just enough DQ material to keep their trademarks valid, including the DQ1 — The Shattered Statue, which was dual statted for both DQ and AD&D and included some of the material from the unpublished Arcane Wisdom, and a bowdlerized 3rd edition of DQ, with the nastier colleges of magic removed and some of the material for Arcane Wisdom added, which I'd never seen until 2010.

Fans

There are a number of DQ fan sites, and there have been various fan efforts to reproduce the DQ rulesbooks in PDF form, sometimes with house rules integrated. It is unfortunate that these have always lacked the permission of the copyright holder, which is now Hasbro, via their acquisition of Wizards of the Coast, which had acquired TSR.

DragonQuest Products

SPI Products

  1. DragonQuest, 2nd edition, by Eric Goldberg (overall game design and development of character generation, skills, and adventure systems); Gerard C. Klug (design and development of combat system, editing and development of the second edition); David James Ritchie (co-design of magic system and development of magic and monster systems); Edward J. Woods (co-design of magic system); Redmond A. Simonsen (design of physical systems, graphics, and illustrations); Robert J. Ryer (rules editing and technical development); Brad E. Hessel (product oversight and editing); Peter Herzig, Nick Karp (development assistance); Ed Beach and friends, Cindy Bitowf, John H. Butterfield, Rich Collins, Greg Costikyan, Larry D'Ambrosa, Darryl Esakof, Gary Gillette, Greg Gordon and friends, Stephn Gray, Tom Harmon, Tom Holsing, Wes Ives, Robert Kern, Drake Letchner, Chuck Moore, Eric Risted, Neil Rosen, Tom Stanford, Tony Stanford, Jeanie Weber (game testing and advice); Manfred F. Milkuhn (art production management); Ted Koller, Michael Moore, Ken Stec (art production and technical editing); Jim Sherman (cover illustration); John Garcia (interior illustrations). SPI, copyright 1981; hardback, 156 pages, product number 3900.

    A friend picked up a copy of this for me someplace in Ohio. A lucky find, since that meant that we now had two copies of DQ for our campaign, and it was the hardback, which I didn't have.

  1. DragonQuest, 2nd edition, revised, by Eric Goldberg (overall game design and development of character generation, skills, and adventure systems); Gerard C. Klug (design and development of combat system, editing and development of the second edition); David James Ritchie (co-design of magic system and development of magic and monster systems); Edward J. Woods (co-design of magic system); Redmond A. Simonsen (design of physical systems, graphics, and illustrations); Robert J. Ryer (rules editing and technical development); Brad E. Hessel (product oversight and editing); Peter Herzig, Nick Karp (development assistance); Ed Beach and friends, Cindy Bitowf, John H. Butterfield, Rich Collins, Greg Costikyan, Larry D'Ambrosa, Darryl Esakof, Gary Gillette, Greg Gordon and friends, Stephn Gray, Tom Harmon, Tom Holsing, Wes Ives, Robert Kern, Drake Letchner, Chuck Moore, Eric Risted, Neil Rosen, Tom Stanford, Tony Stanford, Jeanie Weber (game testing and advice); Manfred F. Milkuhn (art production management); Ted Koller, Michael Moore, Ken Stec (art production and technical editing); Jim Sherman (cover illustration); John Garcia (interior illustrations). Copyright 1981 by SPI; Bantam Books, September 1982, ISBN 0-553-01432-3; softback, 156 pages.

    This is the first DQ book I owned. I wish I knew where I found it; probably either in West Vriginia, where I lived, or in Ohio, where my grandparents lived.

  1. Gamesmaster's Screen, Another DragonQuest Accessory, SPI, copyright 1980; 4 panel portrait-oriented folding screen; product number 3310.

    There's nothing to indicate who worked on this, but it just reprints a number of tables from the main rulebook.

    I used this through most of my Frontiers of Alusia campaign, and probably had it before then.

  1. Frontiers of Alusia Adventure Map, Another DragonQuest Accessory, by Rudy Kraft (design), Redmond A Simonsen (graphic design), David James Ritche (development); Ted Koller, Manfred F. Milkuhn, Michael E. Moore, Bob Ryer, Ken Stec (production). SPI, copyright 1981; cover one 11×17 inch sheet of folded cardstock, booklet one 11×17 inch sheet of folded paper, map one 33¼×22 inch sheet of heavy paper folded to just less than 8½×11 and printed on one side. The 4 8½×11 inch surfaces of the cover had a portion of the map on the front, a legend for the map on the back, and general description of the area shown on the map and an reprint of the “Danger Table” from section [63.1] of the DQ rulebook on the two inside pages. The booklet had 4 8½×11 inch pages with entries for various places and geographical features on the map with the Terrain Type, Danger Level, Encounter Frequency, Encounter Chance, and Encounter Table Modification and a paragraph of description.

    I can't figure out how I missed this when I listed the rest of these items! This was probably one of the earlier purchases I made for DQ after the rulebook and perhaps The Enchanted Wood. While it didn't contain much, it provided a starting point for hundreds of hours of pondering and nearly as much time gaming.

    I ran a long campaign with The Frontiers of Alusia, originally with DragonQuest and later with GURPS.

  1. The Palace of Ontoncle, DragonQuest Adventure One, by Peter Herzig (game design); Nick Karp (game development); Redmond A. Simonsen (design of physical systems, graphics, and illustrations); Robert J. Ryer (rules editing and development); David J. Ritchie (project oversight and editing); Richard Birch, Eric Goldbeg, Wes Ives, Ted Woods (game testing and advice); Manfred F. Milkuhn (art production management); Rosalind Fruchtman, Ted Koller, Michael Moore (art production and technical editing); Matthew Quayle (box cover illustration). SPI, copyright 1980; 28 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 316P11.

    I don't think I ever saw a copy of this in a store back when I was playing DQ. I got a copy of it in December 2007 from an internet store that deals in out-of-print games.

  1. The Blade of Allectus, DragonQuest Adventure Two, by Nick Karp (game design and development); Redmond A. Simonsen (design of physical systems, graphics, and illustrations); Robert J. Ryer (rules editing and technical development); David J. Ritchie (project oversight and editing); Richard Birch, Eric Goldberg, Wes Ives, Ted Woods (game testing and advice); Manfred F. Milkuhn (art production management); Rosalind Fruchtman, Ted Koller, Michael Moore (art production and technical editing); Tom Kidd (cover illustration); Jon Victor (interior illustration). SPI, copyright 1980; 28 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 317P11.

    I saw a copy of this in a store in a mall near Beckley, West Virginia in the mide 1980s, but as a teenager didn't have enough money to buy it, something I bitterly regreted at the time. I got a copy of this in December 2007 from an internet store that deals in out-of-print games.

  1. The Enchanted Wood, DragonQuest Adventure Three, by Paul Jaquays (adventure design); Gerard C. Klug (adventure editing and development); Redmond A Simonsen (design of physical systems, grahpics, and illustrations); Robert J. Ryer (technical editing and development); Manfred F. Milkuhn (art production management); Ed Beach, Greg Gordon, Stephen Gray, Robert B. Kern, John Kuhhta, Fred Malmberg, Dean Martelle, Tom Stanford, Tony Stanford, and all the DragonQuest players who participated in the tournaments using this adventure at Origins '81, GenCon East, and GenCon XIV (adventure testing); Marjorie Gray, Ted Koller, Ken Stec (art production); Timothy Truman (cover and interior illustrations). SPI, copyright 1981; 48 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 3551.

    This was probably the second DQ product I owned, and after the rulebook it was definitely the best. For many years it was the only DQ adventure I owned 4. Paul Jaquays 5, as I found out many years later 6, actually published several wonderful “present a setting with multiple groups in conflict and interesting locations”-style adventures, and The Enchanted Wood was his effort in this vein for DQ. Like several of the adventures he worked on (Caverns of Thracia is another example) this was really more of a campaign in a box, supporting way more than a simple adventure. I think this was easily the best of the few published DQ adventures. Amusingly, although Paul Jaquays learned the rules before writing The Enchanted Wood, he never actually played DQ.

  2. Arena of Death

    I'm pretty sure I owned this at one point; I seem to still have the tactical map. If I recall correctly it was a gladitorial game based on the combat system from 1st edition DragonQuest, or perhaps a predecessor to it.

  3. DragonQuest, 1st edition, boxed set; Eric Goldberg (Game Design/Development), Redmond A. Simonsen (Graphic Design), David J. Ritchie (Game Development). Copyright 1980, Simulations Publication Inc.

    I was amazed at my luck when I found this in a used bookstore in Buckhannon, WV, on Saturday, 20 February 2010, and bought it for 7$US. The bottom of the box is a bit water-stained, but the contents were all there, the chits unpunched. It was interesting to read the combat rules and see how they differed from the 2nd edition.

Judges Guild Products

I got all of the following in December 2007 from an internet store that deals in out-of-print games.

All three of these are set in SPI's The Frontiers of Alusia; I wish I had owned them when I was running my The Frontiers of Alusia campaign, so I could have mined them for ideas. They did flesh out the setting a little bit.

  1. Magebird Quest, A DragonQuest Adventure, by Dave Sering (design); Rick Houser (cover art); Ken Simpson, Erin McKee (interior art); Jerry Taylor, Roger C. Harvey, Rick Houser, John Mortimer (graphics and layout). Judges Guild, copyright 1982; 64 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 890; $10.00.

    SEARCH FOR THE AZURE SEA FALCON
    ADVENTURE ACROSS ALUSIA
    NEW MONSTERS AND TREASURES
  2. Heroes and Villians, A DragonQuest Adventure; by Edward R.G. Mortimer, Diane Mortimer, Scott Fulton (design); Bob Bledsaw, Jr. (cover art); Kevin Siembieda, Bob Bledsaw, Jr., John Mortimer, Rick Houser, Bill Wampler, William Francis, Mel White, E.L. Perry, William Schmidt, Aaron Arocho (interior art); John Mortimer, Mark Holmer (graphics and layout); Penny Goodman (composition); Judges Guild, copyright 1982; 48 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 900, $7.00.

    The Frontiers of Alusia™ come alive! Here are numerous non-player characters to interact with your player's characters. These characters will add life to any DragonQuest™ campaign!

  3. Starsilver Trek, A DragonQuest Adventure; by Diane Mortimer, Bill Pixley, Scott Fulton, Dave Sering, 13 (design); Diane Mortimer (poetry); Roger C. Harvey, John Mortimer (graphics and layout); Rick Houser (cover art); John Mortimer, Lisa Agostinelli, Ken Simpson; Erin McKee (interior art); Penny Goodman (composition); Judges Guild, copyright 1982; 48 pages, counting front cover and back cover; product number 930; $7.00.

TSR Products

  1. DQ1 — The Shattered Statue, by Paul Jaquays; David J. Ritchie, Gerry Klug (Arcane Wisdom); Steve Perrin (editor); Daniel Horne (cover art); Paul Jaquays (illustrations); David Sutherland, Denis Kauth, Steve Sullivan, Diesel (cartography); TSR Inc., copyright 1988; 48 pages, separate 3 panel folded cardstock cover; product number 9221; $5.95.

    Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
    Also for use with the DRAGONQUEST Game
    Dual Game System Adventure
    An Adventure for 5-6 Characters, Levels 5-9 (AD&D rules)
    Contains portions of ARCANE WISDOM, a DRAGONQUEST rules supplement

    I'm reasonably certain that I bought this in a store somewhere, in which case I probably owned it a year or two after its publication date. Also by Paul Jaquays (and featuring the return of an NPC from The Enchanted Wood) this dual AD&D/ DQ adventure and rules supplement was too little, too late.

TSR also published a bowdlerized 3rd edition of DQ, which I knew about but never saw until 2010. It was a subject for controversy and resentment amongst DQ players.

  1. DragonQuest, 3rd edition; Gerald C. Klug (DEVELOPMENT of the THIRD EDITION); Jon Pickens (Co-ordination and editing); David J. Ritchie, Darryl Esakof, Nick Karp, Ted Woods, Deborah Ritchie (Additional MAGIC SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT); Paul Hanchette (THIRD EDITION GRAPHICS and ART PRODUCTION); Joe Chiodo (COVER ILLUSTRATION); Tim Truman (Additional INTERIOR ILLUSTRATION); Eric Aldrich, Matthew Erskine, Greg Gordon, Theo Patterson, Verne Wetherholt and friends (GAME TESTING and ADVICE). Copyright 1989 by TSR, Inc.

    I bought this in 2010, when I saw it going cheap at an internet store that deals in out-of-print games. It is a 8½×11 paperback (with much flimsier covers than the paperback 2nd edition), with a cover illustration much less striking than the 2nd edition cover. It is printed in black-and-white only, lacking the red headings and shadings of the 2nd edition.

    Sometime when I'm feeling resilient I'll site down and read it cover to cover and compare it to 2nd edition for differences. Sigh.

1

In practice every character had a Physical Beauty score, since it was in the rulebook, and indeed a Courtesan character was required to have a Physical Beauty score.

2

DQ, like most other fantasy roleplaying games, followed Tolkien's lead in spelling Dwarves and Elves.

3

Indeed, even encouraged, since there was no cost to join a College and no benefit for not joining, other than not having to spread ones later experience points over more skills.

4

My access to DQ publications in 1980s West Virginia was restricted by the limited stock carried by the local stores and the emptiness of my wallet as a teenager, although I did see a few of DQ products in stores in WV.

5

Paul Jaquays, now Jennell Jaquays, is a talented artist and designer who worked extensively in roleplaying games then moved on to computer games.

6

I became better acquainted with Paul Jaquays' work later through recommendations on the Internet and when some of it was reprinted for 3rd edition D&D and when Griffin Mountain was republished as part of the Moon Design Publications Glorantha Classics reprints. Oddly enough, I had read and been intrigued by Griffin Island, the 3rd edition RuneQuest boxed set, when I was first buying RuneQuest 3 material, but had somehow not connected Paul Jaquays of The Enchanted Wood with it.

It wasn't until gaming stores selling over the Internet became common that I tracked down his other RuneQuest adventures and his earlier D&D adventures from Judges Guild.