|Designer(s)||Eric Goldberg, Gerard C. Klug, David James Ritchie, Edward J. Woods, Redmond A. Simonsen|
|Publisher(s)||Simulations Publications, TSR|
|Publication date||1980 (1st edition)|
DragonQuest is a fantasy role-playing game originally published by Simulations Publications (SPI) in 1980. Where first generation fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons restricted players to particular character classes, DragonQuest was one of the first games to utilize a system that emphasized skills, allowing more individual customization and a wider range of options.
Character generation 
Character generation is much more involved than D&D, with the player using 10 sided die to determine everything from the character's race to handedness to the number of points they have to distribute amongst the primary characteristics (Strength, Agility, Manual Dexterity, Magical Aptitude, Endurance, and Willpower) which determine the character's strengths and weaknesses. Being able to control the value of these attributes enables for greater flexibility in character generation. For example, players seeking a powerful magic user can divert points to Magical Aptitude and possibly Willpower. Those seeking pure fighters can invest their points in Strength, Agility and Manual Dexterity. By carefully balancing these numbers, fighter/mages, thief/assassins, and other combinations can be devised.
The magic system in DragonQuest is different from D&D in that there are distinct Magical Colleges, with each one carrying its own group of spells and rituals. Player characters who enter magical study are assumed to have apprenticed with a mage of their particular Magic College, and have learned all the basic spells and a ritual or two from their former Master. This precludes changing Magic Colleges in the context of game play, and so it is not allowed. Some of the Magic Colleges include: Earth Magic, Air Magic, Fire Magic, Water Magic, Greater & Lesser Summoning, and Necromantic Conjurations. The revised second edition added some colleges and removed others.
Players expend fatigue points to cast spells, and must roll percentile dice to succeed. Many of the more powerful spells have a very low chance of success, and may backfire with random results (many quite unpleasant). By expending experience points, a mage may improve their ability to cast specific spells by gaining rank in them. There are also advanced spells which can be obtained from more powerful mages in one's Magic College. This advanced knowledge may require a substantial cash payment or some kind of quest to obtain, however. Certain spells require expensive or rare elements to work properly, while the majority are merely spoken.
It is possible in the context of the game for player Mages to create magic items (such as rings, amulets, weapons, etc.) for later use by themselves or other party members. Such items are also found on occasion, either in the course of expedition and exploration or for sale at a well-stocked market or shop.
Any player character may choose to learn various skills in DragonQuest. Vocations such as Ranger, Thief, Assassin, Courtesan, Navigator, Healer, Mechanic, Beastmaster may be acquired by expending the necessary experience points. Certain other skills, such as Stealth, Horseback Riding, or a Language can also be practiced and improved. Characters are not limited to any particular set of skills, and a Halfling Assassin who speaks perfect Elvish is technically possible.
Weapons are learned in much the same manner as Vocations. The limitation is that weapons have various maximum ranks (levels) which can be achieved, while other skills usually top out at rank 10. Magic spells gain improved chances of success and better strength when rank is gained in them also, and this is done on a spell-by-spell basis (e.g. character is a fire mage and has improved his skill to rank 6 in Fireball, but rank 0 in many other spells of his magic college which he considers less important).
Characters are required to spend many weeks training after an experience-generating adventure in order to increase skill levels. Weapons training typically requires the aid of a person of greater skill than the player, and hiring a weapon-master can be expensive as well. Often, a group will return to town laden with gold, only to realize that between the several months spent training (room & board) and the cost of experts to assist them with training, most of the money is already spent! It is also possible that a character may actually be the expert in his/her local area, and thus might have to travel some distance to receive instruction from a person of greater ability.
DQ uses a hexagonal grid and miniatures for combat. Unlike other systems, where the lead figures are merely placeholders, DQ requires that characters know their facing, as attacks from the flanks and rear are more effective than frontal assaults. Combat takes place in 5-second "pulses" and characters may only move short distances while actively engaged in a meleè.
Each character has a strike chance % based on (mostly) their manual dexterity and the base chance of the weapon used to attack. Additional factors, such as running into an attack or achieving surprise—as in an ambush—modify this base chance. The defender's defensive % is subtracted from this number, and percentile dice rolled to see if a hit is achieved. When a hit is delivered, the attacker rolls a d10, adds the weapon's attack bonus, and subtracts the target's armor rating. In some cases, such as a target with plate armor, few weapons can do much damage directly. Only certain special hits can damage the target severely. But with time, even the most heavily-armored Knight can usually be worn-down.
Unlike other systems, which use "hit points" to tally damage, DQ has a two-tiered system of fatigue and endurance. Normally a weapon does fatigue damage only, but an especially lucky hit may immediately cause endurance damage or even a grievous injury, which allows the attacker to roll again on a table of nasty hits to the eyes, guts, etc. Once a character has lost all of his fatigue, he begins taking endurance damage instead. This is bad, since endurance damage requires magical intervention or extended bed rest to be recovered. Fatigue can be recovered by simply relaxing and getting a hot meal and a good night's sleep. Endurance damage may also increase susceptibilty to infection, at the discretion of the referee.
Another DQ feature is a three-tiered combat range system: Ranged, Melee, and Close Combat. Ranged Combat typically involves bows, slings, and thrown knives, while Melee is swords, spears, maces and most other weapons. Close Combat in DQ is wrestling on the ground with knives, fists, rocks, etc. DQ allows a party of heroes to be surrounded and ultimately overwhelmed by large numbers of peasants, who rather than attacking singly and being cut to ribbons, will instead seek to surround and leap into Close Combat to subdue and pin down Player Characters. Some weapons, such as daggers, can be used at all ranges, but most cannot and are useless when the character is being shot with bows or engaged in Close Combat.
DragonQuest combat falls midway in complexity between D&D and systems such as Runequest or Harn. It can take several hours to resolve battles. Tactics, choice of weapon, and use of spells are keys to victory. The main drawback to DQ is that novice characters and mighty heroes have nearly the same ability to absorb damage—i.e. they can both be killed fairly easily (unlike D&D in which high-level characters can take remarkable amounts of damage without dying). This requires parties to have a balance of fighting and magic skills, since a party cannot be centered on a single nigh-invulnerable figure (a "Conan the Barbarian" type).
An experience points system is utilized that enables characters to increase their skill levels in spells and vocations, making their characters more formidable. Experience is used to 'purchase' new and improved abilities, rather than conferring a blanket increase in character skills as in D&D.
As characters grow in skills and proficiency, the cost to raise to higher skill levels increases greatly, but the amount of base experience points awarded at the successful completion of an adventure increases as well. In addition, the Dungeon Master may award characters bonus experience points for valiant, clever or outstanding performance during gameplay.
DragonQuest appeared in four editions: first edition and second edition, a revised second edition in conjunction with Bantam Books, and a third edition published by TSR when they acquired SPI. As of 2006, the game belongs to Wizards of the Coast, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, through acquisition of TSR.
The original working title for DragonQuest was "Dragonslayer" (Ares Magazine #2), but this had to be changed to avoid a conflict with Walt Disney's movie, Dragonslayer (which was released by Paramount Pictures in North America). SPI later (in 1981) published a board game titled Dragonslayer, a tie-in with the movie.
The DragonQuest trademark prevented the Dragon Quest video game series from being published in North America under that title; the video game was retitled Dragon Warrior when it debuted in that market in 1990, and subsequent sequels also used this name until 2003. In 2003, Square Enix registered the Dragon Quest trademark in the US. This trademark abandonment by Wizards of the Coast indicates that they have no interest in future DragonQuest publications.
The first SPI edition came in a cardboard box containing three separate, softcover books, "Character Generation," "Magic" and a "Monster/Skills" manual. The second edition came as an all-in-one softcover version published by SPI. The third edition published by TSR came in yet another all-in-one softcover version with different cover graphics.
The differences between editions lies mainly in the addition and subtraction of some magical colleges as well as some modifications to combat mechanics. Most DragonQuest players consider the revised second edition to be the best edition of the game, but many faithful players have been known to combine elements from all editions, creating their own version of the game.
There were supplemental materials released during the game's publication. At least one pre-written gaming module adventure was made for the DragonQuest system. A rolling screen for game masters was offered at one point, bearing helpful charts and tables necessary during gameplay. A large map of the fictional Kingdom of Alusia was released as well, which provided game masters a variety of habitats, environments and islands on which to place the action.
Despite the game's relative obscurity and continued neglect by its copyright holders, the game continues to be played by DragonQuest devotees. Over the years, DQ groups throughout the world have devised and playtested additional secondary skills (such as swimming and hunting), magic colleges, races (rules for half-elves, half-orcs, etc.), and monsters for the game since it ceased being actively published. An unofficial player's association exists online at http://www.dragonquest.org.