Wednesday, July 27, 2011

DragonRaid: The Weirdest Game I Own, Part 1

Like every other gamers out there, my boyfriend and I have a special bookshelf for games. We have our favorite games right by the table we play at.

As you can see, there is a ton of World of Darkness stuff. Jeff loves Mage, and I’m all about Vampire. Our group doesn’t seem to like it, but we have a lot of D&D 4e stuff as well, along with Jeff’s Star Wars books and my Warhammer 3e and Dragon Age boxes (stuffed full of supplemental sets and hidden under the Spiderman doll we use as a bookend when we take a few books off a shelf).
Of course, these aren’t our only game books. We keep all our other stuff with our novels and comics.

We keep all our books from the Old World of Darkness there, along with our 2e and 1e D&D books (and the few 3e products we like enough to mine for inspiration). It’s also become the repository for all the weird stuff I love but can’t seem to get our group to play; Hackmaster, GURPS, Stormbringer, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, and Jeff’s copy of Gamma World.

But wait.

What’s that, hidden in the shadows behind the boxed games and 1st edition AD&D books?

Oh my God, it’s DragonRaid.

DragonRaid was an attempt, in the 1980’s, to bring youth ministry to the gaming table. Having grown up in a Presbyterian home, I was vaguely aware of DragonRaid. My first pastor’s family had two teenage boys who were massive nerds. I was friends with their sister, and every time I went over to their house to play, I would end up wandering into their room and carefully picking up and inspecting rows and rows of Star Wars action figures and wrinkled D&D boxed sets. I’d heard them talk about Dragon Raid in a fairly neutral tone once. As the sons of a Presbyterian pastor, it must not have been as weird to them as it ended up being to the average gamer. To me, it was like the Holy Grail of... something.

I was a weird kid. I was the kind of guy who had stuffed animals and Aliens action figures. I was obsessed with the bizarre. I would stare at the VHS sleeves of Troma movies from a safe distance in the video store, curious enough to be enthralled by the weird thing I was seeing, but never curious enough to make that final leap and read the description on the back of, say, "Rabid Grannies," or "Surf Nazis Must Die."

So while for my pastor's kids, DragonRaid was just a game they didn't really play much or give a lot of thought to, to me it was weirdness given form. It was a fantasy adventure game where you murdered dragons for Christ.

Unfortunately for DragonRaid, I guess, it was blacklisted by the same audience it sought to market itself to. Because Dragon Raid featured dragons and wizards and runes, and it was a suite of rules that allowed players to take on imaginary character’s personae during play, it was deemed to be just as Satanic and vile as Dungeons & Dragons.

I have to admit, there is a part of me that gets nostalgic, in a way, when I look at this game. I’m by no means Presbyterian any more, and I haven’t been since I was fifteen. I won’t go into my history with the Presbyterian church here, but it has a lot to do with my being gay.

Even though I’m no longer a big fan of the church, I still get a little wistful about the themes of Christianity as a whole. There’s something deeply resonant about them to me. The powers of love, faith, and charity are fairly strong themes, and I will gladly admit that when I run games of D&D, I try and make the church of Pelor a weirdly idealized version of Christianity, with clerics who genuinely want to aid people, no matter who they are.

Beyond gaming, I can’t help but get warm-and-fuzzy feelings when I read Lewis’ Narnia or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, because there are loads of positive Christian elements in them. I’m sure Aragorn and Aslan would have a problem with homosexuality, but all that nobility and charity and resolve is pretty endearing.

Anyway, DragonRaid.

The game’s company has a website that sells copies of the game, and as far as I can tell, there’s only been one printing of it. There are little errata stickers all through the booklets, so I can only assume that my copy of the game, having been produced in the mid-80’s, is just a tad older than I am.

The game is legendary in my circles, because it’s just so weird. It’s not just a Christian RPG, but a ministry tool, designed to actively mold players into better Christians by having them recite passages from the Bible and slaughter the servants of Satan and stuff.

My college roommate got me a copy as a sort of gag graduation gift, and we were stunned when it arrived, especially as quickly as it did. We were almost convinced it didn’t exist, that it was some kind of elaborate hoax. So thanks, Zach. Your hard-earned money was interestingly spent, and definitely appreciated, because I have been fascinated by the very idea of this game for years.

Lately, I’ve been giving thought to the various games in my collection. I’m running Vampire for my group, but it’s not a permanent sort of game. I have pretty terrible gamer ADD, and my current plan is to wrap up Vampire in a month or two and plan another game while one of my players runs a mini-campaign of a game based on G1 Transformers. I've been flipping through my copies of Lord of the Rings and Warhammer, and wishing I had the cash for a copy of The One Ring, which is now available for pre-order on Cubicle 7's website.

This led me back to my copy of DragonRaid, which I feel so drawn to, in-spite of the fact that I will never, ever play it, unless I can get the right mix of people at the gaming table (along with plenty of booze).

So while I’ve no intention of running DragonRaid, but I’ve decided to give the thing a closer look, which I'll be posting tomorrow, or maybe later tonight, followed by a more in-depth look at the rules, and my attempt to create a character, by the end of the week.


  1. first off, you my friend have an awesome rule book collection! i may very well come to ur house and steal ur shelf haha
    and secondly, i must see this game!


  3. Sorry to ressurect this post - but a game that might get some of those "warm-and-fuzzy feelings... because there are loads of positive Christian elements" would be Pendragon. You play a knight, you try to embody the virtues of Chivalry and Christianity (if you are one). But its not a weird attempt to build spiritual warriors to battle evil in the real world, but a game for exploring Arthurian myth (and jousting, killing dragons, fighting Saxons, you know...).

    I say this as 'not a Christian, never been one', too.

  4. I also feel compelled to recommend Pendragon as a non-Christian. I am intrigued by Dragonraid though.