DragonQuest is a fantasy role-playing game originally published by Simulations Publications (SPI) in 1980. Where first generation fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons restricted players to particular character classes, DragonQuest was one of the first games to utilize a system that emphasized skills, allowing more individual customization and a wider range of options.
DragonQuest 1st edition cover
|Designer(s)||Eric Goldberg, Gerard C. Klug, David James Ritchie, Edward J. Woods, Redmond A. Simonsen|
|Publisher(s)||Simulations Publications, TSR|
|Publication date||1980 (1st edition)|
1982 (2nd edition)
1989 (3rd edition)
Character generation is much more involved than D&D, with the player using 10 sided die to determine everything from the character's race to handedness to the number of points they have to distribute amongst the primary characteristics (Strength, Agility, Manual Dexterity, Magical Aptitude, Endurance, and Willpower) which determine the character's strengths and weaknesses. Being able to control the value of these attributes allows for greater flexibility in character generation. For example, players seeking a powerful magic user can divert points to Magical Aptitude and possibly Willpower. Those seeking pure fighters can invest their points in Strength, Agility and Manual Dexterity. By carefully balancing these numbers, fighter/mages, thief/assassins, and other combinations can be devised.
The magic system in DragonQuest features distinct Magical Colleges, each with its own group of spells and rituals. Player characters who enter magical study are assumed to have apprenticed with a mage of their particular Magic College, and have learned all the basic spells and a ritual or two from their former Master. Player characters cannot change Magic Colleges in the context of game play, and so are all essentially specialists in a college of magic. Some of the Magic Colleges include: Earth Magic, Air Magic, Fire Magic, Water Magic, Illusions, Ensorcelments, Greater & Lesser Summoning, and Necromantic Conjurations. The revised second edition and third edition (released by TSR) added some colleges and removed others.
Players expend fatigue points to cast spells, and must roll percentile dice to succeed. Many of the more powerful spells have a very low chance of success, and may backfire with random results (many quite unpleasant). By expending experience points, a mage may improve their ability to cast specific spells by gaining rank in them. There are also advanced spells which can be obtained from more powerful mages in one's Magic College. This advanced knowledge may require a substantial cash payment or some kind of quest to obtain, however. Certain spells require expensive or rare elements to work properly, while the majority are merely spoken.
Specific rules exist for player Adepts to invest objects to create magic items (such as rings, amulets, weapons, etc.) for later use by themselves or other party members. Such items are also found on occasion during an expedition or exploration.
Any player character may choose to learn various skills in DragonQuest. Vocations such as Ranger, Thief, Assassin, Merchant, Courtesan, Navigator, Healer, Military Scientist, Mechanician, Beastmaster, Troubador may be acquired by expending the necessary experience points. Certain other skills, such as Stealth, Horseback Riding, reading and/or writing a Language can also be practiced and improved. Characters are not limited to any particular set of skills, and a Halfling Assassin who speaks perfect Elvish is technically possible.
Weapons are learned in much the same manner as Vocations. The limitation is that weapons have various maximum ranks (levels) which can be achieved, while other skills usually top out at rank 10. Magic spells gain improved chances of success and better strength when rank is gained in them also, and this is done on a spell-by-spell basis (e.g. character is a fire mage and has improved his skill to rank 6 in Fireball, but rank 0 in many other spells of his magic college which he considers less important).
Characters are required to spend many weeks training after an experience-generating adventure in order to increase skill levels. Weapons training typically requires the aid of a person of greater skill than the player, and hiring a weapon-master can be expensive as well. Often, a group will return to town laden with gold, only to realize that between the several months spent training (room & board) and the cost of experts to assist them with training, most of the money is already spent! It is also possible that a character may actually be the expert in his/her local area, and thus might have to travel some distance to receive instruction from a person of greater ability.
DQ uses a hex grid and miniatures for combat. Unlike other systems, where the miniatures are merely placeholders, DQ requires that characters know their facing, as attacks from the flanks and rear are more effective than frontal assaults. Combat takes place in 5-second "pulses" and characters may only move short distances while actively engaged in a meleè.
Each character has a strike chance % based on (mostly) their manual dexterity and the base chance of the weapon used to attack. Additional factors, such as running into an attack or achieving surprise—as in an ambush—modify this base chance. The defender's defensive % is subtracted from this number, and percentile dice rolled to see if a hit is achieved. When a hit is delivered, the attacker rolls a d10, adds the weapon's attack bonus, and subtracts the target's armor rating. In some cases, such as a target with plate armor, few weapons can do much damage directly. Only certain special hits can damage the target severely. But with time, even the most heavily armored Knight can usually be worn-down.
Unlike other systems, which use "hit points" to tally damage, DQ has a two-tiered system of fatigue and endurance. Normally a weapon does fatigue damage only, but an especially lucky hit may immediately cause endurance damage or even a grievous injury, which allows the attacker to roll again on a table of nasty hits to the eyes, guts, etc. Once a character has lost all of his fatigue, he begins taking endurance damage instead. This is bad, since endurance damage requires magical intervention or extended bed rest to be recovered. Fatigue can be recovered by simply relaxing and getting a hot meal and a good night's sleep. Endurance damage may also increase susceptibility to infection, at the discretion of the referee.
Another DQ feature is a three-tiered combat range system: Ranged, Melee, and Close Combat. Ranged Combat typically involves bows, slings, and thrown knives, while Melee is swords, spears, maces and most other weapons. Close Combat in DQ is wrestling on the ground with knives, fists, rocks, etc. DQ allows a party of adventurers to be surrounded and ultimately overwhelmed by large numbers of peasants, who rather than attacking singly and being cut to ribbons, will instead seek to surround and leap into Close Combat to subdue and pin down Player Characters. Some weapons, such as daggers, can be used at all ranges, but most cannot and are useless when the character is being shot with bows or engaged in Close Combat.
DragonQuest combat falls midway in complexity between D&D and systems such as Runequest or HârnMaster. It can take several hours to resolve battles. Tactics, choice of weapon, and use of spells are keys to victory. A feature of DQ is that novice characters and mighty adventurers have nearly the same ability to absorb damage—i.e. they can both be killed fairly easily (unlike D&D in which high-level characters can take remarkable amounts of damage without dying, but similar to Runequest where character hit points are mostly static). This requires parties to have a balance of fighting and magic skills, since a party cannot be centered on a single nigh-invulnerable figure (a "Conan the Barbarian" type).
An experience points system is utilized that enables characters to increase their skill levels in spells and vocations, making their characters more formidable. Experience is used to 'purchase' new and improved abilities, rather than conferring a blanket increase in character skills as in D&D.
As characters grow in skills and proficiency, the cost to raise to higher skill levels increases greatly, but the amount of base experience points awarded at the successful completion of an adventure increases as well. In addition, the Dungeon Master may award characters bonus experience points for valiant, clever or outstanding performance during gameplay.
DragonQuest appeared in three editions: a first edition published in 1980, a second edition published by SPI in conjunction with Bantam Books in 1982, and a third edition published by TSR in 1989 after they acquired SPI. As of 2016, the game belongs to Wizards of the Coast, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, through acquisition of TSR.
The original working title for DragonQuest was "Dragonslayer" (Ares Magazine #2), but this had to be changed to avoid a conflict with Walt Disney Pictures' movie, Dragonslayer. SPI later (in 1981) published a board game titled Dragonslayer, a tie-in with the movie.
The DragonQuest trademark prevented the Dragon Quest video game series from being published in North America under that title; the video game was retitled Dragon Warrior when it debuted in that market in 1989, and subsequent sequels also used this name until 2003. In 2003, Square Enix registered the Dragon Quest trademark in the US. This trademark abandonment by Wizards of the Coast indicates that they have no interest in future DragonQuest publications.
The first SPI edition came in a cardboard box containing three separate, softcover books, "Character Generation," "Magic" and a "Monster/Skills" manual. The second edition came as an all-in-one softcover version published by SPI. The third edition published by TSR came in yet another all-in-one softcover version with different cover graphics.
The differences between editions lies mainly in the addition and subtraction of some magical colleges as well as some modifications to combat mechanics.
There were supplemental materials released during the game's publication. There are several pre-written gaming adventures made for the DragonQuest system. A rolling screen for game masters was offered at one point, bearing helpful charts and tables necessary during gameplay. A large map of the fictional Kingdom of Alusia was released as well, which provided game masters a variety of habitats, environments and islands on which to place the action.
Despite the game's relative obscurity and continued neglect by its copyright holders, the game continues to be played by DragonQuest devotees. Over the years, DQ groups throughout the world have devised and playtested additional secondary skills (such as swimming and hunting), magic colleges, races (rules for half-elves, half-orcs, etc.), and monsters for the game since it ceased being actively published. An unofficial player's association exists online.
- Frontiers of Alusia (1981)
- Gamemaster's Screen (1981)
- Heroes and Villains (1982)
In the September 1980 edition of The Space Gamer (Issue No. 31), Forrest Johnson liked the system despite some flaws. "Despite its faults, it still presents a pleasing contrast to the sloppiness of [The Fantasy Trip], the illogic of [Dungeons & Dragons], the incoherence of [Chivalry & Sorcery]. It borrows good ideas liberally from the older systems, and offers noteworthy innovations of its own... At [the price], DragonQuest is a terrific buy."
In the November 1980 edition of Dragon (Issue 43), Douglas Bachmann had issues with lack of balance in the skills system, but found the character generation system "a delight". Bachmann also liked the combat system, saying, "The great strength of this combat system is that time and activity are closely related and regulated. The result is to allow one to imagine rather detailed combat scenes and to keep each player character’s activity within bounds. It is a very nice system and, when one becomes comfortable with it, moves along quite nicely." He concluded, "[DragonQuest] does have some problems, but I have found it to be an exciting game which has succeeded in setting limits and structuring activity while also encouraging creativity. For $10 you should get your money’s worth from the game."
In 1996, Heidi Kaye did a retrospective review of DragonQuest for Arcane magazine, stating that "DragonQuest's system remains eminently playable, offering an intriguing glimpse of the game world hidden beneath, itself there to be further developed and moulded by the referee. It sought to create a more logical, understandable and flexible fantasy system, and its direct style and conspicuous organisation made it an appealing option for the novice roleplayer."
DragonQuest was awarded the H.G. Wells Award for "Best Roleplaying Rules of 1980".
- Different Worlds #11
- "Review of DragonQuest". RPG.net.
- Johnson, Forrest (September 1980). "Featured Review: DragonQuest". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (31): 20.
- Bachmann, Douglas (November 1980). "DragonQuest: SPI gets serious". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (39): 49–50.
- Kaye, Heidi (July 1996). "Despatches". Arcane. Future Publishing (8): 17.
- "The 1980 Origins Awards". The Game Manufacturers Association. Archived from the original on 2012-12-16. Retrieved 2014-07-04.