Free League has taken over Dragonbane and published a fantastic new edition of one of the most classic Swedish role-playing games ever...
In many ways, for me personally, role playing feels like a bygone era. An echo of something I did during most of junior high school and high school. We either sat in my parents' garage, met at the home of someone who had already left home and at one point we even rented a room in the middle of the forest for a few days and nights of fantastic gaming. Role playing was a way to socialise and escape the teenage thoughts of school and everything else life was about in the nineties. It was incredibly fun, and damn nerdy in so many ways.
Mutant, Neotech, Western, Chock, Eon, Star Wars...? The list of role-playing games I've experienced and played for hundreds of hours is long. All are associated with so many memories. But nothing more so than Drakar och Demoner, or Dragonbane in English.
The version I got home is the eleventh edition. The first one came in 1982 and it was with the fourth edition, published in 1987, that I myself dove into this world a few years after its release. The green box is synonymous with an extreme amount of memories. Orcs, elves, dwarves and above all: assuming the important role of game master, became a big part of my interest along with all the fantasy books I devoured. That, being a game master, was a role I really embraced and took extremely seriously. Therefore, it was quite nice when, after high school, I met a new group of players who already had one, and instead could create a character and take part in the adventure from the other side of the table. It is also mainly in the role of game leader that you usually get the rulebook and familiarise yourself with it, and many days of reading are usually required to learn all the information.
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Despite all this curiosity, it is now 2023 and the package from Free League, which since 2021 has owned Dragonbane, is a mighty one. The focus is of course the heavy, lovely and well-filled basic box, but we got some extra goodies that you can buy separately. A cardboard game master screen, quick rules for those who can't be bothered to familiarise themselves with the much more in-depth rulebook (or just have a handy way to look up something specific) and there were also a few extra dice.
Free League decided to use Kickstarter to realise the project with a new edition. They set a goal of 100,000 SEK, ended up with a total of 7.6 million and we can thank the huge sum and the over 11,000 who contributed to make this possible for the box being so full and well produced.
Before we dive into all the content, it might be good to have a brief summary of what role-playing games are. In short, it's a story presented by a game master to a group of players. They have a role-playing character and make choices in the story. Skills and traits are on their sheet and dice rolls (preferably hidden ones for immersion) are made to see if you succeed in using any of your skills, or when there is a battle. If you want (but it is not necessary) there is also a game plan and small figures to represent the environment and it then looks more like a classic board game. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this - it can be easier to get an overview, and can be used to show what a labyrinth or cave looks like, for example. But for us, we almost always played without any visual aids and let the story take centre stage. Having a game master who is familiar with the role-playing game and its rules is important, but it is even more important that there is a stable story that the role-players can experience. Having a group of committed players is also central, but how seriously you put yourself into actually playing your character can vary and often a group thrives on dynamics and different types of roleplayers. Usually it's friends who meet and you quickly realise what kind of player everyone is. However, if you manage to create an engaging story, either on its own or as part of a larger campaign, you have something good to build on.
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Because at its core, the story is everything I associate with role-playing games. As a stable foundation, there is a thick rulebook that is of course very good if you, especially as a game leader, familiarise yourself with, so we'll touch on that first. Many role-playing games completely abandoned the format of everything coming in a box, but Free Leauge gives us one where all content is neatly collected. The rulebook is a stapled book of 122 pages, detailed with many fine illustrations. It is a delight to read for those interested, and everything is described clearly and thoroughly. The box also contains a campaign in a booklet of 116 pages. A complete campaign with eleven different adventures that you can take on as a group until the last final adventure in the book. It is also possible to pick an adventure here and play it as a stand-alone.
The box also contains a map, a role play form, cardboard figures with small plastic pieces to attach them to and two piles of cards. The cards are a visual aid I can appreciate. Among other things, there are ones for treasures and it feels more fun to have one than to write down on a piece of paper that you have found some gold coins, for example. To then flip through the rulebook and take part of its content is to be offered lots of nice illustrations, to familiarise yourself with how everything works technically and at the same time learn what kind of system that Dragons and Demons use.
It goes through everything from creating a character. You choose your race, which refers to human, halfling, dwarf, elf, etc. Then you get into your class where everything from bard, hunter, magician and thief are found. A long section deals with combat and likewise magic gets several pages. At the end of the book, there is a chapter called "Beastarium" which deals with the monsters that inhabit the world. Alongside the ones in the roleplaying game title, there are ghouls, griffins, harpies, giants and more. All with descriptions and tables of their characteristics. There are a lot of tables, and it is good to be able to quickly look up and use them as an aid. The book is divided into sections so it is easy to browse for a specific rule quickly.
The content is fine, but if I were to find something small to complain about, a game master screen and the quick start rules booklet could have been included. At least the latter, or a simpler version of the screen. Here I would probably just get a self-made screen for the game master, although the one you can buy has many tools on the inside and a very nice illustration on the front.
The fact that the basic package comes in a box feels luxurious in a time when many roleplaying games are a book you have to buy and then buy everything extra. The only disadvantage of this that I can see is that you can't customise the content yourself in the same way as buying things loose, but at the same time it's an insanely affordable package. Everything also breathes quality, is in-depth in just the right way, has accompanying dice and ready-made characters in case someone doesn't want to create their own. The fact that it also comes with a huge campaign in a booklet that is a few pages thicker than the rulebook is also fantastic and after reading through the adventures it offers, there is no doubt that there is also a lot of room for a game master to come up with his own imagination, but at the same time have something bigger to lean on.
Regardless of whether you have experience and knowledge of this role-playing game before, or are only now getting into it, Fria Ligan has created an edition that in every way feels like an echo of previous editions, but which also feels modernised and nicely polished. Dragonbane is in every way a real classic for those of us who have previously been engrossed in this type of entertainment, but works just as well as a gateway to an absolutely fantastic world. As a role-playing game, it draws inspiration from many of the best in the fantasy genre and gathers all the content in a really nice and rich treasure chest.