Yet Another Project: Dragon World

I may need to come up with a better name, but I ended up starting up yet another RPG project. I’ve been reading an obscure and in my opinion tragically overlooked manga called Dragon Half. When the renowned warrior Rouce went to slay a dangerous red dragon, he ended up marrying her instead, and the result of their union was Mink, a “dragon half.” She’s ridiculously strong, but all she really wants is to meet the handsome monster hunter/pop idol Dick Saucer. The magna got a 2-episode OAV series, which barely touches on Mink’s grand adventures. (There are, however, scanlations out there…) Webcomic artist Josh Lesnick also cites Dragon Half creator Ryusuke Mita as one of his major influences, and having finally read the manga I can definitely see why.

It occurred to me that Dragon Half is part of a genre of anime/manga, along with titles like Slayers, Maze, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves, and that I really enjoy that genre. I don’t really go in for the nostalgic lamenting of the current state of the anime industry that’s become so trendy these days, but there is something I miss about the style of anime that made me such a fan back in the 90s. Since I’ve had Apocalypse World on the brain after it helped me get over a major design block with Magical Burst, it occurred to me that I could probably rejigger the basic rules of AW to make a game for that genre. AW’s moves–both player and MC moves–really reinforce the genre, and changing them is a very powerful tool to make a game that does what you want it to. I’ve tentatively titled it “Dragon World.” Thanks to Dragon Quest, in Japan “dragon” strongly evokes Japanese-style Western fantasy, but I already get it mixed up with Dungeon World in my head, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a different title.

Rules-wise I’m probably going to drop the concepts of harm, gear, and barter (i.e., a lot of the stuff that puts the apocalypse-y stuff in AW). I need to explore the idea more, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that rather than having “hit points” or whatever, characters in a very comedic world (whether wacky anime or Looney Tunes) should have more of a threshold before they fall down, after which the scene ends and the action jump-cuts to whatever consequences there are. (Though in Dragon Half if the foe is a disposable monster they’ll often jump cut to Mink and company eating its roasted carcass.) Likewise, gear tends to be part of characters’ overall shtick (like Gourry and his Sword of Light) and money will tend to be ephemeral one way or another (food bills, thievery, etc.).

My tentative list of character types goes:

  • Adorable Mascot (Mappy from Dragon Half)
  • Conniving Thief
  • Dodgy Alchemist
  • Dumb Fighter (Gourry from Slayers)
  • Explosive Mage (Lina Inverse)
  • Half Dragon (Mink)
  • Nutjob Cleric (Amelia from Slayers)
  • Tweaky Shaman (a nuttier version of Fam from Ruin Explorers)
  • Useless Bard (pre-4e stereotypes of D&D bards, and a bit of Lufa from Dragon Half)

The MC moves are especially interesting to work on, since they very directly relate to the flow of the fiction (and I’m going to have to start watching relevant titles with an eye towards how stuff works in terms of moves), so there’s stuff like add silliness and introduce a new version of an old nuisance.

The other thing about AW that’s striking is the sheer economy of it. The rulebook feels like it’s written as though the book is a necessary evil for conveying the game, and it’s very clear that this is the right way to play/run the game. Moves often take up one to three sentences where other games would write them as a paragraph; AW gives an evocative name and the minimum text to tell you what a move does, and continues to the next one. Given my penchant for overwriting my games, the game’s economy of prose may turn out to be a good influence, but time will tell.

Mostly, this is a project that seems like it’ll be really fun to work on and even more fun to play. I started a thread on the AW forums, though the response has been kind of anemic so far, not that I expect a huge overlap between Apocalypse World tinkerers and Slayers fans. Anyway, I just wanted to toss this out there.

4 thoughts on “Yet Another Project: Dragon World

  1. You piqued my interest here. I don’t know anythign about AW, but I’m a huge fan of the ideas and aesthetics you are trying to emulate.

  2. Hey there, apologies if this is a random way to reach you, but I’m liking Magical Burst a lot, having also just finished Madoka Magica. I’m not sure how much feedback you’re sill looking for on your game, but one thing that I thought of while reading it was how combat was so important, yet the Youma didn’t seem to be very strong in motivation.

    That’s definitely how it is in Madoka, since they mostly fuel the drama, but I thought it might be interesting to make a random table not just for how youma look, but for how they act? I think there’s some great potential for Youma to be the source of drama, tension, and fear, instead of what they usually do, which is attack people for not using cosmetics properly.

    With that, I made some monster packets. I ran dry at about twenty though, but I was inspired and wondered if you’d be interested, since I believe what you’re doing is very cool.

    These are things like “Youma are colonists from another planet that was destoryed” or “Youma actually love the magical girls, and are sacrificing themselves to fulfill their wishes” or “Youma only attack evil humans, but still attack Magical Girls on sight.” Stuff like that to make the monsters more creepy and difficult.

    Apologies for the unsolicited feedback.

    1. I would prefer you commented on a post about Magical Burst itself, but I definitely appreciate the feedback. Usually I have to beg for feedback, and the fact that it’s been rolling in unsolicited is a big part of why Magical Burst has kept on going.

      You’re definitely right that the game ought to address the youma’s motivations, and I’ll definitely be interested in your thoughts on how to better implement that.

  3. Hey Ewen, I saw a Dragon Half TRPG on Yahoo auctions, so if you’re interested, I can pick it up rather cheaply. I also saw a Dragon Half art book for like 1000 yen the other day and thought I’d mention that, too.

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