Thursday, July 28, 2011

DragonRaid: The Weirdest Game I Own, Part 2

Just a note, all these pictures were taken with my cellphone. They're not that great, which is sad, because despite my issues with some of the game's elements, some of the art is really quite good. I'm sure there are legal issues with posting scans of the actual art within the books, so I won't do that. But seriously, I'm a huge fan of the art contained with the New Player Briefing booklet, and the maps scattered across the books are actually pretty well-made.

Let's begin with the cover.

 Good cover art draws your attention to it, and communicates the themes of the stuff that waits underneath it. To this end, the cover of the DragonRaid box does its job admirably. The font is clean and pleasing to the eye, and that logo is quite honestly really good. I'm a fan of that style of design. It's old-school, and makes me want to pick up the game and roll some dice. The art itself is also fairly good, and really surprised me. It is very well-drawn and painted, and the characters look like they've stepped out of the kind of calm, sensible art I was exposed to in church, but with awesome magic swords and wolves and a sweet ghost-stag in the middle of a dark, mildly-forbidding forest, where there are probably loads of monsters and stuff.

The tag-line below the art is something that certainly would raise a few brows. "Building warriors for spiritual battle," it says.

To be frank, this kind of skeeves me out, because I've borne witness to, and been the target of, "spiritual battle." While I'm sure this game is not designed to make players want to kick gay family members out of their homes for not conforming to God's vision of the nuclear family, I'm still a little wary of the line's tone.

Granted, I'm really, really not the intended audience of this game.

Politicizing aside, the DragonRaid box is fairly sturdy. I don’t think it would survive being thrown around too much, but it looks like shelf-ware won’t break it down very badly over years of lurking in the shadows behind the other games I own.

The back of the box displays the contents...

...but there are some changes that have been made since the game was initially printed. For one, there is no cassette tape. There is a CD, which means I can rip it to my laptop, which means I can bother my boyfriend with it on long car rides when it’s my turn to plug my mp3 player into the radio. I'll get into the CD, which contains an audio adventure and character creation software, in a later post. Rest assured, it is amazingly weird.

There are also stickers. Glorious, glorious stickers, all featuring that rad-as-hell art from the covers of the various booklets contained within the box.

So let’s take the lid off the box and look inside.

Inside the lid of the box is a note to new players. It basically tells them which books to read and so forth.
There are also a few sheets of paper on the exact same kind of paper my church used for their handouts and inserts in each Sunday’s schedule of worship, or whatever it was called.

One of the sheets is a list of all the different names for Jesus, and corresponding Bible verses. I’m not certain of the use of it. Jesus, as far as I know, is never invoked by name in the game. He’s referred to as the Overlord of Many Names, which is pretty sinister-sounding, in my opinion.

There’s a page of different websites, many of which are no longer active, and letters to new players, introducing them to the game and the Lamb's Bride, or whatever. I'll read one of them later, they're kind of long (and identical, it looks like). There's also a sheet of errata, an honest-to-goodness mail-order form (an artifact of a by-gone, pre-internet-shopping age), some combat worksheets, and two battle grids.

I’m really not certain of the utility of the grids.

They’re made of paper, so you can’t draw walls or terrain on them without them being permanent. However, they’re numbered, so that might be kind of useful somehow, I guess.

Then there are the stickers and the mini-posters, which feature some of the better art in the game. The art in the game ranges from bad to evocative, and I'm glad the stickers and mini-posters use the good stuff. It's a little corny, sure, but it captures the mood of the game perfectly.

I’m going to slap those stickers all over my city.

All over it.


My city has a huge graffiti scene, and there are stickers and spray-paint tags all over the place. Each hard surface is a ready-made canvas for art and advertisement, so I feel compelled to contribute something weird.

There’s also the spiral-bound rulebook and the CD.

The book is mostly just setting information, weapon stats, and Bible passages. Leafing through the book, the rules seem a little complex for an introductory product, and the monsters, for the most part, seem to be fairly thematic. The different classifications of dragon are based on different sins, I think, which was cool until I noticed that the rainbow dragon represented “pride.”


Rainbow pride.

Real classy there, Adventure Learning Systems, Inc.

Also there is something called a Fluster Beast.

I love this creature so much. It is a monster that flusters you. I'm pretty flustered just reading the description and looking at the cardboard cutout.

There’s also a bunch of WordRunes, which are Bible verses you recite to cause effects. They’re the spell-system of the game. I've heard the argument that there are no spells in DragonRaid, and that there is no magic system, but I don't care. If you give me a list of "runes" I'm supposed to recite to generate special rules-exceptions and to activate effects, it's a magic system. Besides, as far as I'm concerned, the only difference between divine miracles and magic is that a sizable group of people don't like their magic being called magic.

I'll get into my thoughts on the Bible-passage spells at a later point, because they're something I think is really neat and thematic, and also something I'm really, personally, opposed to.

On to the books.

There's a New Player Briefing, which has some sweet art, and generally introduces players to the concepts of the game. There's also a thin rulebook, which contains the basic system in all it's obtuse glory. There's also a shrink-wrapped pack of hole-punched rules for the GM. I’m assuming this means the GM, or rather, "Adventure Master," is supposed to put them in a 3-Ring Binder along with adventure notes and the like. Of all the booklets in the game, this is the most confusing, and I actually can't figure out if there are even monster stats in this or in any other book, despite there being a lot of information on Fluster Beasts and Mound Orcs.

There are also three adventure modules. The LightRaider Test, Rescue of the Sacred Scrolls, and The MoonBridge Raid all have some removable handouts, along with a map of the setting on the back. I won’t go into it here, but the adventure design of Dragon Raid is fairly...

Well, it’s juvenile. Which makes sense for what it is.

These aren’t supposed to be fun hack-and-slash romps or sweeping, operatic dramas, but rather they are the kind of simplistic “edutainment” sorts of content you find in the average youth group program funneled into the general structure of a D&D adventure module. This game, after all, is youth ministry with monsters and dice. I'll get into that later, but there are trolls that try to sell you cigars, because cigars make you look cool, and apparently smoking them makes you an awful follower of the Overlord of Many Names.

I guess somebody should tell that to all the old guys in my church who smoked cigars after service on Sunday.

Some of the art is nice, though, particularly the hex-maps in The MoonBridge Raid.

Finally, there are some counters, dice, and character sheets and worksheets.

The character counters are actually pretty neat, though the art is very, very 1980’s. We're talking adventurers with afros and Burt Reynolds mustaches here. I'm actually going to cut them out and contribute them to my miniatures collection, because, well, I kind of like the look of some of them, totally un-ironically. In fact, the same is true for some of the art throughout the span of the boxed set. The monster counters are sort of strange (and poorly drawn), because taller monsters take up long blocks of squares. So giants are tall horizontally, not vertically.

The character sheets are also a bit odd. It’s nice that they have a table for the different d%’s of action difficulties, but it’s a little cluttered.

Also, the stats are weird.

Your characters have numbered stats for things like Love, Peace, and Kindness. I get that, you know, the game is supposed to evoke the tenets of Christianity, it’s a little silly. I think the idea, though, could be cool if done in a slightly more interesting way.

The dice themselves are also a little odd. The numbers are not colored in, so I imagine you’re supposed to paint them in or color them in with a crayon.

There is one d10, a “StarLot,” for the player characters to roll, and one d8, a “ShadowStone,” which the monsters and servants of darkness roll. LightRaiders, the PC’s, are inherently better than the bad guys, because they have Jesus on their side. The StarLot is the shiny, gaudy orange see-through die, and the ShadowStone is, fittingly, opaque and solid grey. From what I understand, ShadowStones are the corrupted forms of StarLots that belong to those who have been tainted by the Satan-dragon's wicked promises.

Having your StarLot turn into a Shadowstone represents the loss of faith, and thus the dying of your inner light.

Which is totally metal, and rad as hell, but I think I'm making it sound way more dramatic than the game does.

Also, the ShadowStone is sharp.

If you were to step on it, or grip it too hard, you would probably bleed. Servants of Abaddon, the Satan-dragon guy (the primary villain on the distant planet of EdenAgain) might roll smaller dice, but their dice are pretty wicked. If there's a player at your table you totally hate, throw this die at them. Their blood, suitably drawn by a tool of the Abaddon, the Satan-dragon, will consign their souls to the power of darkness, forever lost to the lies, cruelty, and wickedness of the Great Enemy of Heaven.

Anyway, for a mere $24, DragonRaid does give a lot of content.

I can’t say that all of the content (barring the adventures) is actually good, but really, unlike most games, DragonRaid’s core box does try and present the average player with everything they might need to play the game.

At the very least, it’s an interesting conversation piece, and something to mull over every once in a while.

I'll be giving the rules themselves a more thorough read later, and I'm going to roll up a character and put that confusing, limited-use battle grid to use.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you didn't have one of those ShadowStones back in high school. If so, I would most likely be horribly disfigured right now.