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Monday, 17 May 2010

Dragon Warriors II - part one

Here's the first part of Tim Harford's design outline for DW II, which he wrote following our long discussion (one of many) about where the rules needed to go. Another project I'd love to get back to one day!

Dragon Warriors II

1 - Design Principles

The idea behind Dragon Warriors II is to wipe out whatever is clunky and archaic about the original rules, and to add certain new elements to the rules – while keeping the connections with the original system visible.

The first against the wall
The first anachronisms to go from Dragon Warriors should be:
- The use of all kinds of different dice when six-sided dice would do;
- The use of character classes;
- Mechanistic rules for spell casting.

What needs to be added
DW II needs a more comprehensive skill system, although the number of skills will still be small. We also need a system for dealing with faith, which is central to Legend but not reflected in the rules.

Myth Levels and Special Abilities
There’s a question mark as to whether DW II should have “rank”. The desire to reflect the fact that some people are heroes and others are not, argues to keep “rank”. On the other hand, there’s little use for the concept in a skill-based system, which is what DW II is.

The compromise is this: high skills or attributes give access to special abilities; but the nature of the special ability depends on the Myth Level of the character. Only adventurer-types, that is “lead characters” such as player-characters and important NPCs, will have Myth Levels. Most people are Myth Level 0 no matter how highly trained in any given skill.

For instance: a character with Myth Level 1 reaching Defence: 15 can choose a plausible but impressive special ability such Leaping Dodge or Quick Draw. Myth Level 2 would give a choice of distinctly cinematic manoeuvres such as Arrow Cutting. Myth Level 3 offers The Elf King’s Parry, where the attacking weapon turns out to have been in the defender’s hand all the time, or The Ghost’s Walk, where the defender evades by stepping through the attacker – feats that are not just cinematic but clearly magical.

We explicitly want to avoid DW II becoming too much like a conventional level-based system. There are many other ways to distinguish between two characters of the same myth level, and so three Myth Levels (four, if you include Myth Level Zero) are enough.

Players would earn their first Myth Level quite easily, for winning their first important battle or pulling off an exceptional and story-worthy feat. Myth Level 2 is harder, the sign that the character is now a hard-bitten adventurer. Myth Level 3 is reserved for the characters who have achieved legendary status in the campaign.

The use of special abilities is an attempt to deal with several problems at once. Special abilities are a way of layering all kinds of special cases and exceptions over a basic set of rules that are (hopefully) clean and flexible. The very fact that special abilities break those rules are part of the fun.

Using special abilities in conjunction with Myth Levels also breaks the direct connection between being skilled and being a hero.

The highly magical special abilities also blur the distinction between the magical and the material – a distinction which should be blurred in Legend. Sorcerers achieve some of their effects by having mythical abilities associated with Pride; others are spells, and yet others are the result of alchemy or hellish bargains. It’s messy, but it’s messy within the same system that applies to warriors – heroes get their results in unusual ways.

2 – Character Creation

DW II has six attributes:

Charisma (formerly Looks)
Sensitivity (formerly Psychic Talent)
Toughness (new attribute)

There are also four humours – we’ll come to them later:


There are eight skills (for now) in four pairs:

Attack & Defence
Faith & Pride
Trickery & Alertness
Persuasion & Perception

Usually, they oppose each other in contests of skill, but not always.

Let’s leave to one side how those skills and attributes are generated. Suffice it to say that we have in mind a 3-18 / 1-20 sort of scale, but because DW characters are heroes there is nothing to prevent both attributes and skills going off the scale. Special abilities kick in at skill 15.

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