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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The baby and the bathwater

If I can try the patience of Fabled Lands fans with just one more bit of Dragon Warriors business, here's news of a rules vs setting discussion that has been started by Cameron Smith, one of the guys behind Ordo Draconis, over on the DW Wiki. The debate is about whether to decouple Legend from the rules system, and if so by how much. Cameron has made a very thorough and interesting start on this, and it looks like being a proper structured discussion aimed at reaching some solid conclusions.

One possibility is to describe Legend in terms of a vanilla set of rules-like parameters that allow players to understand how tough an NPC or threat is supposed to be so that they can adapt it to their own preferred rules. I'm going to throw out some ideas here, with the caveat that these are right off the top of my head and not official Legend/DW. I'd like the DW creative team to debate these, grab or modify anything that's useful, and freely jettison anything that isn't. Okay, guys?


Average 10, with a low of 3 and an upper limit around 20 for humans. Attributes are:

Cleverness (practical intelligence)
Reasoning (academic intelligence)
Psyche (innate affinity for and sensitivity to magic)
Size (good for hit points, bad for stealth)

Hit points

Average 10 for a normal human male. Ranges from around 4 to 25. Admittedly not all systems use hit points but this gives a sense of how physically robust vs damage a character is.


Range from 0 to a hard upper limit of 20:

0: no ability
1-3: hobbyist
4-6: apprentice
7-9: journeyman
10-12: craftsman (1st Dan black belt, PhD, etc)
13-15: master craftsman
16-18: senior master
19-20: grand master

Some skills come with a few levels pre-loaded, others need to be learned from scratch. Most people start with 0 levels of Magic, for example, but if forced to fight will find they instinctively have at least a few levels of Melee.

Skill categories (core)

Survival (includes perception)
Craft (armoury, carpentry, etc)

Sorcery here is the practical skill-set: ie, can you cast a spell. There would logically be subsets of Academic that included Magical Lore (knowing it takes stakes to kill vampires, ways to deal with faeries, etc). I envisage that more people would be smart in the ways of Magical Lore than would actually have levels of Sorcery. How often do you see Gandalf actually use Sorcery? He is just as effective using his Magical Lore cleverly.


The number of subskills need not be defined. We might describe a character as having Sorcery 7 (necromancy +5) without listing two dozen other subskills of sorcery that the character is less adept in.

I do however envisage that a few subskills will be very important. Perception, for instance. Magical Lore is another obvious one. Any adventurer ought to aim to pick up a few levels of that, or have a comrade who has, because it’s probably the only line of defence against magical attacks apart from your innate Psyche.

To get rules-y for a moment: if a character can use his Magical Lore score as a defence against magic, he can also give some of that defence to his comrades too. This would be because of charms he’d advised them to carry (wild garlic flowers, clover, whatever) and precautions you can take when attacked (cross yourself, etc). Say if I have Magical Lore X, I can give comrades I’m with (and who can hear me) X/2 in defence, and when they’re not with me they’ll have X/4 in defence for the next few days – until those herbs wither and they don’t know how to replace them. (Not that I want this to get all rules crunchy, you understand, but the way magic works is part of the world definition.)


Just to maintain consistency with systems like GURPS and RuneQuest, armour values range from 1 (padded leather) to 8 (plate). That applies whether you’re using armour bypass rolls as per DW, or the more usual armour absorption rules.

Anyone interested in this topic might also want to take a look at Tim Harford's notes on our discussions of DW2. Though that's really a whole other layer than the task of creating a system-agnostic language for describing Legend adventures.

Picture above by Jon Hodgson, as if you couldn't tell; even the man's sketches are works of art. In fact, I realize that I often prefer drawings at this stage to the finished article, and that's something I've been discussing this week on the Mirabilis blog. As for fully finished paintings, if you want to feast your eyes on some of the most beautiful fantasy artwork of this century - and maybe the last century too - don't miss this gallery of Edwardian magic by the incomparable Martin McKenna.

All right, that's the Dragon Warriors stuff almost over for now. We've got big Fabled Lands news coming up very soon, then a solid run of about three weeks of all-new FL stuff. Don't miss.


  1. For what it's worth, I love reading about Dragon Warriors. Your insights into game design are really pretty interesting.

  2. Well, thank you :) I do go on about the low-fantasy aspect of DW, not because I think it's the One True Way (Fabled Lands and Abraxas are *very* high fantasy, as is my favorite game setting Tekumel) but because it feels like that's what makes DW's world of Legend special. But Damian May made a very interesting point about Legend magic on the DW team group today, and I'm going to take the liberty of quoting it here because I found it very thought-provoking:

    Damian said: "I've always run Mystics as guys who could just be 'that good' to the outside observer. ('He tracked the guy through the Ooze, in the dark???') It's only at level 8 and 9 that things become truly unmistakably magic. Even Force Field isn't too hard to wave off: the bloke stands there, 200 arrows swarm through the air, not a one strikes home. Though I do instinctively like subtler spells the best, it's good to give players the option of going Nova - and the subsequent witch-hunt, torture, demonic attention that that sort of display brings."

    Great points. If the extreme magic is there but the player has to be careful about using it, you've got an interesting choice - the essence of both drama and gameplay. I hadn't thought about it that way because the PCs in our own games rarely get access to the kind of magic that would let them "go Nova".

  3. If the goal is to have a way of describing characters so that they can be adapted to whatever rules a GM is using, surely you need to leave magic out of it. Otherwise you're actually coming up with a new set of rules - not what you said this was for?

  4. "If I can try the patience of Fabled Lands fans with just one more bit of Dragon Warriors business..."


    I daren't hope we'll finally get the completion of the series, or even one more book, but a man can dream...

  5. Mitch - maybe I ought to start a DW blog too. Though I would have to clone myself first. And I think there is every chance of more DW books in some form... hope I'm not just dreaming :)

    Anon - you're right, I was getting sidetracked by the idea of providing a better description of "real" Legend magic which is not the issue here. I just wanted to get started on a meta-rules language for describing characters. So I will elaborate on that more. But I'll do that in a follow-up comment later rather than put up yet *another* DW post.

  6. Haha, I was referring to more FL books actually. You DID say dancing on the tables...

  7. Mitch - oh yes, there should lotsa dancing :) Just a few more days.

    Now, about that meta-rules idea... To test the usefulness of the system, I tried it with Subotai from “Mungoda Gold”. His meta-rules description would be something like:

    Strength 9
    Stamina 8
    Dexterity 8
    Agility 9
    Cleverness 15
    Reasoning 15
    Psyche 17
    Looks 4
    Size 10
    Hit points 11
    Armour: none
    Skills: Melee 10, Missiles 5, Stealth 6, Sorcery 16, Survival 10, Social 14, Academic 16, Athletics 3, Craft 4.

    So if you’ve got that description and you want to translate him into GURPS, say. In GURPS there’s no Agility stat, so you’d average Agility and Dexterity for DX. No separation of Cleverness, Reasoning and Psyche, so you’d have to average those for INT. (You see why I houseruled GURPS up to 7 stats.) Now we’ve got:

    ST 9
    DX 9
    IQ 16
    HT 8

    GURPS skills build on top of the governing attribute, and don’t normally go higher than 8 above that attribute, so converting skill-levels from 0-20 to 0-8 gives a x0.4 modifier:

    Sword 13, Thrown weapon 11, Spells 20, Survival 20, etc. (The Survival score comes out so high because of his high IQ, one of the foibles of the GURPS system.)

    This in answer to Anon’s point above. Btw if possible please give your name when leaving a comment, though I appreciate people without a Google or Blogger ID can’t do that.