Monday, August 21, 2017

Playtesting Dragon Heresy

Last year, I played in a couple playtest sessions with Gaming Ballistic, and I recently found the play reports while poking around on his blog. The test was for Dragon Heresy, which is an in-progress 5e clone that will no doubt be on Kickstarter and for sale one day.

(For those interested, Dragon Heresy differs from 5e in two main ways. First, the setting is in fantasy-Scandinavia instead of the Forgotten Realms. Second, it employs several variants the standard D&D combat rules, for example "vigor" and "wounds" replace standard hit points and armor acts as damage reduction instead of as something that lets you avoid getting hit altogether. It stands in relation to 5e in simultaneously the same ways that both Iron Heroes and Arcana Unearthed stand in relation to 3e.)

The first play report is here.

In the first session, the characters were tasked with recovering some forgotten crown jewels and documents proving something like the authenticity of the jewels and their hereditary connection to some current nobility.

I played a rune-casting barbarian, a new archetype from Dragon Heresy who can express dwarven runes while raging. (If I recall, most of the runes allow the barbarian to deal or become resistant to different kinds of damage. The other new archetypes for the other classes seemed cool and flavorful as well.)

The highlight of the session was fighting an angry hill giant. The revised combat rules mean that characters and monsters have more "vigor" than they would ordinarily have hit points, but they also have many fewer "wounds" - so attacks that directly target the wound reserve, which includes missile attacks, are more powerful.

The second play report is here.

In the second session, we fought a couple of wights riding ghostly horses. In this fight, the things that don't improve with level - the way that hit points and vigor do - worked against us this time. Another character fell off a parapet and nearly died from the fall, because "wounds" are fixed at 1st level, and falling goes straight "wounds" not "vigor." My character also nearly died from sheer exhaustion. Raging increases exhaustion, rune-casting increases exhaustion, (and possibly, being touched by a wight increases exhaustion) - and again, the amount of this a character can endure is fixed at 1st level. Running yourself ragged remains dangerous throughout your character's life. So despite the wights probably not being as dangerous as the giant, both our characters nearly died in this fight, because the same damage-rule asymmetry that we turned against the giant got turned against us this time around.

Those were the only two playtests that I participated in. Not long after I played, he launched a Kickstarter for a standalone volume of his variant grappling rules, which is now for sale as the book Dungeon Grappling.


  1. Hey, thanks for writing this up! The project, as you can see, is far from dead. Ken Hite is editing a 400,000 word manuscript. I have great cover art, a lovely layout template . . . and will probably need a great deal of money for an art budget to make the book beautiful. I want to release a few more products first, so customers can have faith that I will do what I say I will do with product delivery, before I can go full-tilt with such a big lift.

    (And a clarification!: Wounds = CON + STR bonus, so it *can* go up with level as you improve those scores. But a 20th level barbarian with CON 24 STR 24 will max out at 31 wounds)

  2. Hey Doug, Glad to hear the project is still going well! I knew you were still working on "Dragon Heresy," but I had not realized that you were planning a series of shorter publications first.

    Also, right, I see your point about how ability score increases would cause the wounds maximum to increase as well, but at a MUCH slower rate than vigor or ordinary hit points would increase.

    1. I wasn't exactly "planning" to do a bunch of smaller releases first! I was going to charge straight ahead, but on one of the playtesters' encouragement, I reached out to a well-known designer and Kickstarter world-champion and he basically told me if I went to market with a giant book like that right out of the gate I was doomed. While that was painful advice to hear, he was probably correct, so I pulled the grappling system out of the DH manuscript and published that as a $5000 kickstarter (when all was said and done). I have two more products thus far in the queue that are smaller, to keep establishing my rep as "delivers what is promised on or ahead of schedule." THEN I can go for the big lift (and to do DH like I want, I'll need $100,000 to $150,000 which will cover a very large art budget and an offset print run).