Friday, April 27, 2018

Dragon Heresy Kickstarter

I've wanted to do a special series on this, but my job situation suddenly turned (in a good way) and I spent a lot of time these past couple of months handling that, traveling all over the country, diving into a lot of interviews and getting acquainted with my new work.  I offer this as an excuse, because I really want this to work.

Those of you in the know are aware of Douglas Cole and his work with GURPS, including some of my favorite Pyramid Articles: the Last Gasp and the Broken Blade.  Now he's got a kickstarter going for Dragon Heresy, a viking-themed D&D Open License game.  As of this writing, it has about 2 days left to get in on the action, and has already kickstarted, but I would be proud if I could help him jump over the $10k mark.

Alright, you say, why should I back this?  If you're a typical reader of my blog, several things are true about you.  First, you like detail, you like GURPS, you like rich settings and you don't mind fantasy.  You're probably not a D&Der, so why should you back a D&D game?

First, D&D is the lingua-franca of the RPG world.  Everyone speaks it, and so if you're with a group that's not super into GURPS, or you're trying to branch out, having access to some flavor of D&D is highly useful.  I have a copy of 13th Age sitting on my shelf, for example.  So if you're not a D&D fan, it should be noted that it's worth learning and worth getting into.

Second, most GURPS fans I know really appreciate the level of detail that GURPS has and tend to dislike the level of abstraction found in D&D.  Well, Douglas let me take a look at his rules and I did my usual thing of trying to tear it apart and to break it.  And I was surprised how well it worked. 

For me, I want several things out of a game, any game.  First, I want it to be able to handle all levels of play simultaneously.  For example, in Cherry Blossom Rain, I wanted our Big Damn Heroes to face off against hordes of minions (while still being threatened by them) or  facing off against equal foes in interesting fights.  I want to be able to play as a warrior or martial artist and have it be more interesting than "I hit him.  I hit him again."  Dragon heresy managed to do all of this. 

While the site might give you the impression that it's "Just D&D themed with vikings," it has in fact bloomed out of Cole's desire to bring more reasonable, "real-world" tactics to D&D.  I don't mean this in the sense that Cole is an actual martial artist who practices HEMA (though he is) and he wants to bring his superior knowledge of those techniques to D&D but rather in the sense that he wants things like shields to feel more like they really would, to give you a better sense of what's actually going on in a fight.  In so many D&D games I've played in, I've done something and it did damage and that was good enough, I suppose, while in GURPS, I can articulate precisely what I'm doing and see it play out in the game.  Dragon Heresy brings D&D much closer to the latter.  For example, he articulates the difference between vitality and "Hit points," with the latter representing Gygaxian "Luck, effort, focus and ability to effectively parry" and the former representing actual, physical integrity.  Thus, if you attack you succeed and do "some damage" to my hitpoints, what's really going on is that you're forcing me on the defensive.  But if you make an attack I cannot reasonably defend against (ambush me from behind, shoot me with a crossbow bolt), I'm forced to either make an extreme defense (losing more HP), or I suffer real damage, damage that can kill me.  Meanwhile, armor reduces actual damage, which creates interesting tactical trade-offs.  Where in classic D&D a well-armored character and a skilled swashbuckler both effectively have the same AC, here, a swashbuckler is harder to hit and thus harder to damage, while the armored character is easier to hit, but cares about it less because he can afford to ignore your light attacks that will glance off of his armor.  Likewise, different forms of defense bring different advantages with them that feel right, like having a shield to block arrows.

What made Douglas Cole famous, though, is his Technical Grappling, and he brings that with him into Dragon Heresy.  Grappling is famously bad in D&D, as lampooned in Darths and Droids here, but Douglas both manages to simplify it and make it tactically satisfying by using the same control points concept he offered in GURPS: success in a grappling roll results in points that can be spent in an effort to force your opponent into particular positions and situations, which makes it both quick and simple, yet enjoyably complex at the same time (Incidentally, if this alone interests you, check out his other work, Dungeon Grappling)

Finally, Douglas dives into deeper detail in your common races and common character tropes, encouraging you to think about your place in the world, and about the world itself.  While I didn't dive as deeply into this part as I did the rest (I was more concerned with combat mechanics and I've had limited time), what I saw looked impressive.

If the combat mechanics interest you as much as they interested me, it's definitely worth backing him for at least $5.  If you want the whole kit and kaboodle, it's a mere $20, which isn't bad at all.  Consider it, please.  Again, that link is here.
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