Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inspiration: Arawan

Art by Chris White
          Centuries before the dawning of the New Age an awesome and terrible Dragon came to Arawan.  To the villagers, he was fearfully known as Brimstone.
          For countless years, Brimstone ravaged the land with sulphurous vapor and infernal flame.  Finally, a great and powerful mage, the fabled Thucidibes, came forth to challenge the Dragon's pitiless reign.
          With rites of unspeakable power, and swords of unparalleled worth, the mage launched his arcane assault against Brimstone.  Swords scored the Dragon's body, fire rained against the mage's defenses and magic electrified the air.  Each combatant strove with his mightiest efforts to end, forever, the other's deadly menace.
          Days passed, the conflict raged unabated.  Finally, the mage's defenses faltered before Brimstone's tireless assault.  Seconds before meeting Death, the mage realized that his arsenal lacked one vital ingredient – the unquenchable flame of Heroic Valor.  With his last mote of strength the dying mage dispersed his finest swords to the Kingdoms of Arawan and imbued them with protective cantrips and arcane power.  In the embrace of Death, every man's lover, he hoped the future would bring a man of awesome valor who would, by proven valor, earn one of these weapons and end forever Brimstone's reign of terror.
          Centuries passed.  The mage's death wish remained unfulfilled, Brimstone remained the true lord of Arawan.  Finally, with the dawn of the New Age, man is struggling against Fear's sleepy grasp.  Arawan's Hero-Kings, and their valiant followers, are contesting the Dragon's fearful imperium.
          Will their valor, and the potent Mageswords, suffice against the power that IS Brimstone?
          It is up to you!
Thus reads the introduction for Dragonhunt, “Avalon Hill's trademark name for its game of fantastic battle.”  Released in 1982, the credited designer is Garrett J. Donner.  The back of the box offers a bit more color:
          ...And in this way a New Age came to A Man and he shivered no longer in the darkness.  And in the Kingdoms of Arawan the New Age brought man a war of righteous retribution against the ancient peril of the land, Brimstone.
          We, the High Chroniclers of Arawan, could greatly detail the War of the Dragon for the student, but thus is knowledge too easily gained.  Instead, let the proclamation of the seventh year speak for our valiant progenitors:
          “By order of the Kings of Arawan, for the greater glory and majesty of our most holy God, Morah, let it be known that the Dragon, sometimes called Brimstone, is declared anathema in the sight of both Morah and man, a creature spawned in the darkest bowels of unholy perdition.  By this multitudinous acts of evil, and his centuries of the grossest violation of proper order, has he earned the just anger of man and the pious hatred of our lord, Morah.
          “All vassals and freemen of the six kingdoms are hereby called to arms, in service of Morah and their rightful liege lord, to rid the land forever of this, our scourge.
          “We, the Kings of Arawan, together and severally, do proclaim unceasing war on this Draconian blight and all secret servitors of his cause.  By binding oath, sanctified and potent, we do further declare and insure that he who shall slay the Dragon Brimstone shall be proclaimed, and enthroned, as High King and Lord of the Six Kingdoms of Arawan.  Let all men of true blood heed and obey this, our holy writ.”

Each of the Kingdoms of Arawan consists of a castle, a village, and a cottage.  In the game, the kingdoms don't have names per se, but they can be identified by their castles.  Clockwise from the north they are:  Castle of the North, Moss-Stone Castle, Castle of the Sea, Silver Castle, Sunken Castle, and Hidden Castle.  In terms of units, at the beginning of the game, each player controls a hero, four knights, two snipers (I would have called them archers), and six men-at-arms.

The object of the game is to destroy the Dragon; however, infighting is to be expected among the players.  By capturing castles and villages, a player increases the number of reinforcements to which he or she is entitled.  Of course, a player suffers a set back if his or her own holdings are captured by others.  So as to prevent player elimination, a player's cottage is inviolate.

Units have an attack strength and a defense strength.  The attacking unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the attack strength .  The defending unit rolls 1d6 and adds the result to the defense strength; also, the terrain that the defender occupies may provide a bonus.  If the attacker's total attack strength is greater than the defender's total defense strength, the defender is killed.  Likewise, if the defender's total defense strength exceeds the attacker's total attack strength, then the attacker is destroyed.  If both totals are equal, then both units are wounded.

Players roll dice to determine the movement of the Dragon, but any given player might have a choice regarding the direction in which the Dragon moves.  If, during its movement, the Dragon encounters a unit, it will attack that unit.  Dragon combat is handled differently than other combat.  Essentially, 2d6 are rolled and the defender's defense strength and any terrain modifiers are added to the result.  The Dragon Combat Table is then consulted.  When units attack the Dragon, attack strength is added to the roll instead of defense strength.  (Multiple attacking units may combine their strengths.)  The Dragon does not receive benefit from terrain except when attacked in his lair, in which case it is subtracted from the attacker's total.

The Dragon Combat Table allows for three possible outcomes.  One possibility is that a Dragon Card is drawn.  Otherwise, a number of units are killed (or wounded) and/or the Dragon is wounded.  The Dragon cannot die by virtue of the Dragon Combat Table.  The Dragon can endure any number of wounds with no effect other than the Dragon becomes enraged.  Dragon Cards can have various effects.  In some instances, the player drawing the card can direct the Dragon's attack; in other instances, the Dragon may attack the drawing player's units or holdings.  Among other effects, the Dragon may take a nap.

So what's the point in attacking the Dragon if you can't kill it?  Well, the Dragon can only be killed with a Magesword and the only way to get a Magesword is to “prove” your valor by wounding the Dragon three times.  Using a Magesword to attack the Dragon is handled differently than other forms of combat.  In Magesword combat, the attacker receives a random number of Magical Defense counters and the Dragon has a number of counters that represent his body.  Basically, the attacker rolls a die and the corresponding Dragon counter is removed.  Then someone rolls on behalf of the Dragon.  If the result of the roll corresponds to a Dragon counter that has not been removed, then one of the Magical Defense counters is removed.  The process repeats.  If the Magical Defense counters are depleted, the attacker loses.  If the Dragon's counters are depleted, the attacker wins.

Variety is added to the game by 'fantastic beings,' no more than two of which will be in play at any given time.  Based on turn order, players can choose which fantastic beings enter play and (to some extent) control their actions.
  • Banisher – If the Banisher attacks a unit and prevails, the player controlling the Banisher sends the unit to any unoccupied hex on the board.
  • Berserker – If the Berserker moves and kills a unit, it is possible for him to move and attack again that round.
  • Demon – Other than Heroes, any unit killed by the Demon is removed from the game.  Units other than Heroes and the Dragon cannot kill the Demon but only wound it with a 'kill' result.  If a player's Hero kills the Demon, the forces of that player can obtain additional Magical Defenses for use in attacking the Dragon.
  • Disperser – The Disperser can cause adjacent units, other than the Dragon, to move away from the Disperser.
  • Dragon Charmer – If the Dragon Charmer is in the same row of hexes as the Dragon, he can cause the Dragon to move away from or towards him (but only if the Dragon is awake).
  • Eagle – A player may use the Eagle either (1) to transport one of his or her units to an unoccupied hex on the board or (2) to 'harry' another player's unit.
  • Paralyzer – Units adjacent to the Paralyzer cannot move or attack.  This power does not affect the Dragon, other fantastic beings, any unit in possession of a Magesword, or any unit occupying a castle, village, or cottage.
  • Revivor – A player controlling the Revivor can return a dead unit to play.  This power does not work on units killed by the Demon.  “The Revivor has no power in Hell.”
  • Teleporter – The Teleporter can be used to teleport a player's unit to any hex (presumably unoccupied) adjacent to the Teleporter.
  • Troll – The Troll ignores 'wound' results.
A quest to kill a dragon is by no means original and – by itself – offers little in the way of inspiration.  It is the setting of Dragonhunt that offers inspiration for RPG scenarios.  Kingdoms ostensibly unified in combating a Dragon but taking advantage of the situation to gain territories at the expense of one another.  The Dragon is akin to a force of nature, but a kingdom can make surreptitious attempts to affect the Dragon's choice of targets by means of lures or magic or enlisting the aid of fantastic beings.  The hunt for the Dragon need not be the adventure, it can serve as a backdrop for a stage upon which Hero-Kings, fantastic beings, player characters, and a host of other entities may strut.

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