Crimson Dragon Slayer 1.11 One Hour Game is a condensed and slightly revised version of the namesake game, cutting out the intentionally gonzo implied setting to instead create an incredibly quick-to-play, barebones D&D retroclone that can be taught and played in an hour or less. Unfortunately, it also ditches one of the coolest parts of the original Crimson Dragon Slayer game: the awesome and evocative level advancement table based on achievements. Still, you’re getting a fully realized shell of a game that you can tinker with and add to as you please, in about 10 pages, and that includes an adventure!
Rating: Content 4/5 and Form 4/5.
Read on for the full review!
A very short time ago I reviewed Crimson Dragon Slayer and was all like, “Hey, this is really fun, but underdeveloped” and creator Venger As’Nas Satanis was like, “Patience, young grasshopper” and then handed me Crimson Dragon Slayer 1.11 One Hour Game and I was like, “Oh, I see…” as the deeper mysteries were revealed to me.
Less esoterically speaking, version 1.11 is a step towards simplifying Crimson Dragon Slayer (thus the One Hour Game tagline) and re-presenting it such that newer players and gamemasters (Dragon Masters, in this game) can jump right in. Not only that, it’s a stepping stone — a FREE one, at that! — towards development of a 2nd edition of the full Crimson Dragon Slayer RPG. In a lot of ways, it shows how living documents work towards becoming a full-release version of a new RPG, which Venger has announced is coming in 2018.
So, let’s take a look at this game. You don’t need to read my previous review, though I will make some comparisons.
Crimson Dragon Slayer 1.11: One Hour Game runs on the VSd6 system, a system that exclusively uses six-sided dice. Basically, a player rolls a number of d6s based on their character’s capabilities and the situational modifiers that come into play, looks for the highest number on those dice, and uses that as their result.
- A critical failure.
- A failure.
- Mostly/partial failure.
- Mostly/partial success.
- Critical success.
When rolling multiple dice, rolling more than one 6 usually counts for some extra, added benefit, such as inflicting more damage.
Deciding how many dice to roll, as mentioned above, is a matter of taking into account several factors, but they are pretty clearly explained. It operates on a graduated scale like so:
- Roll 0d6 when you’re doing some extremely difficult and/or are hopelessly unskilled at the task. Rolling “zero d6” means rolling two 6-sided dice and taking the LOWER number as the result, rather than the higher number like you normally do.
- Roll 1d6 when there’s great difficulty or if you’re unskilled.
- Roll 2d6 for most actions.
- 3d6 and 4d6 are reserved for highly skilled people, incredibly easy tasks, or tasks in which you benefit from some kind of magical or divine assistance.
A special dice roll, called a saving throw, is a roll of 1d6 (2d6 for characters of the dwarf race) that determines if you avoid the effects of special attacks, or if you succumb to death once your Health is depleted.
The only time you don’t roll dice like the above is when you’re rolling initiative to determine combat order and inflicting damage.
To establish who acts when during an encounter, everyone rolls 1d6, and you go in ascending order: 1s go first, 2s go next, 3s go after that, and so on. Rinse and repeat each round. Notably, thieves (one of the classes we’ll talk about in a second) get to halve their initiative roll, which is effectively like rolling 1d3 for initiative.
In the case of damage, you roll a number of d6s based on how well you succeeded, and you add the dice together to get the amount of damage inflicted, which is then subtracted from your opponent’s Health. Notably, rolling a “6” on one of your damage dice means it “explodes”: you add that 6 into the damage total, then roll again and add whatever that new number is to the damage total. As long as you keep rolling 6s on a die, you keep rolling and adding. Armor has a rating, and that rating is simply subtracted from the damage total dealt to you.
Creating a character is dead simple: pick a race, pick a class, pick a disposition.
There are three races, and each gives you a base Health score (your hit points, under most old school game systems), a single special ability, and a general physical and personality description. Humans get to re-roll a single bad roll in a game session, elves are resistant (but not immune) to magic, and dwarves are adept at making saving throws. Beyond those basics, you’re pretty much assumed to just know what an elf or dwarf are, which if you don’t and you’re reading this game (or even this review) you know maybe you should just crack open like any other roleplaying game or fantasy book or comic book or war game or anything else ever and try reading.
Your class tells you what sorts of things you are proficient at doing (meaning, which things you get more than 1d6 when rolling the dice), notes some ideas on starting gear, and tells you how many extra Health you get as you go up in levels. Not too surprisingly, the classes are:
Disposition is simply a descriptive word (or words) that give you an idea of what your character’s personality and demeanor is like. There’s a list of 12 words as starters, but you can pretty much do whatever you want here.
Weapons are mainly just icing on the cake: your damage is determined by how well you rolled to strike something, so it kinda doesn’t matter how or with what you do so. This extends to magic, too, so basically the idea is that every character is using the most appropriate measures they are skilled with.
As mentioned previously, armor simply has a rating (chainmail, for instance, has an armor rating of 4) and that’s how much damage is subtracted before applying it to your Health. So if a monster hits you for 6 points of damage, your chainmail soaks 4 of that damage, meaning you only subtract 2 points of damage from your Health.
Shields are interesting in that they give you 2 additional armor (i.e. subtract 2 from incoming damage), but they also reduce your ability to fight offensively, meaning you roll one less die to attack. Say you’re a skilled Warrior swinging your sword, so you’d normally roll 3d6 to attack some dumbass goblin stupid enough to charge into melee with you. Well, if you’ve got a shield, you’re rolling 2d6 instead.
Wizards and Clerics use magic in the same rules-mechanics way, but the effects are kinda different in that wizards attempt to change reality through force of will and clerics tend to call upon the grace of their gods to enact miracles. The game leaves this open to lots of interpretation, but there’s a couple unique things to note that makes this game stand out (sometimes slightly, sometimes majorly) from other OSR games:
- Wizards can’t cast purely offensive magic without a device to do so (wand of lightning bolts, staff of fireballs, etc.). Otherwise, their reality-bending appears to be slightly less direct (climbing on walls like a spider, moving faster, teleporting, levitating things, reading minds), and they cannot heal things.
- Clerics can heal with their magic, and can do anything reasonably covered by a miracle (I imagine that means things like bless stuff, shield others, compel spirits, divine the future, etc.).
- Clerics can, once per day, “strike down demons, undead, or extra-dimensional abominations” which isn’t really described in any more depth than that, so you either succeed or fail based on your roll.
Most of those examples are my own, however, so I’m clearly reading into things with years of D&D spell lists coloring my interpretation. More guidance is necessary to truly make this document sing as a “new players and GMs can jump right in” primer.
So, how does magic work, mechanically? Well, first you decide how “big” an effect the magic has — how severely it warps reality or how impactful of a miracle it is — and that gives you a dice pool you roll to see how effective it is (just like any task). Plus, it gives you a cost in Health to enact it, so you gotta pay to play. It says that you can drain that Health from another person, but the cost is threefold and requires blood to be spilled, so you’re literally cutting open someone to provide a blood sacrifice. It doesn’t talk about willing vs. unwilling, so…keep a dagger handy if you’re a spellcaster!
Characters gain a level — which is simply adding health based on the rate that their chosen class says — after every session of play. While simple and straightforward, this loses perhaps the greatest part of the original Crimson Dragon Slayer game, which was a chart going from level zero up to level 10 and required certain activities or achievements to be met in order to advance to a new level. Here’s hoping that makes a comeback in Crimson Dragon Slayer 2nd Edition!
(Check out my review of the original Crimson Dragon Slayer for more on that bad boy!)
Opponents and Stuff
The included adventure — “The Curse of Xakaar Abbey” — gives you an idea of the challenges characters might face on an adventure.
- Monsters get a description that theoretically tells you how they attack, and provides their stats: Health points, Armor rating, and Attack dice pool. Some have special abilities that show you how to resolve different types of conflicts, like dominating characters to attack each other, or using an attack that on a critical success transforms a character into an allied monster. One thing that I feel is missing is that the attacks should list what the primary weapon/attack type is as well as the dice, because that can get lost in the descriptive text of the encounter location.
- A locked door provides some interesting results for characters that attempt to pick the lock, showing how you can use the dice pool system to create a sort of “timer” that adds tension and suspense to a scene.
- Traps, which generally just call for a saving throw or else you take some damage (or die on a critical failure). Some of the traps play with the number of dice you normally get for saving throws, so this shows how to modify the system a little to get different levels of challenges.
- Magic items that provide armor rating, or have limited-use charges of magic that show you how wizards can gain access to offensive spells.
Worth mentioning: the abbey map is absolutely gorgeous, and is done on a grid with a 10-foot square scale, so you can easily use miniatures or tokens to represent marching order of the characters or relative positioning during combat.
It’s An SRD
Notably, the introductory text of Crimson Dragon Slayer 1.11: One Hour Game says it acts as an SRD, meaning that if you want to write adventures or supplements for Crimson Dragon Slayer, you can just contact Venger and say, “Hey, I wanna write a thing!” and presumably he’ll be like, “Okay, here’s some deets on how to do so and legally say that you’re thing is made for use with Crimson Dragon Slayer” and then you write the thing and publish the thing and profit from the thing.
Know wud I’m sayin’?
My lawyer says that you probably shouldn’t write the thing without Venger’s permission. I mean, his name is Venger As’Nas Satanis, so if you wanna open that can of worms, enjoy your doom.
This booklet is 11 pages, cleanly laid out in 2-column format with some cool, evocative artwork. It comes in two versions: one has a cool backdrop coloring like old parchment and the other is plain Jane black-and-white for those of looking to print all 11 glorious pages.
There’s no cover, so this thing is primed to be printed in full, without any printer-ink-saving options like “Print only pages 2 thru 9” necessary, which is really nice: this thing is literally just a bundle of awesome ready to be printed out and used on the go. I’ll reiterate that the included adventure has some monsters, traps, and treasure for your reference, but even better it has a drop-dead gorgeous map of a ruined abbey in it, so that can be useful whether you play this game or not.
The lack of a table of contents and a character sheet is a little bit of an annoyance, but let’s be clear here: 11 pages. Characters are made up of literally 3 choices. It’s not like you need to flip through a lot to find anything (and the layout is completely logical), and it’s not like you need more than 3 or 4 lines on a 3×5 index card to write down the pertinent details of your character, so I can’t really complain about these minor details all that much.
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