DragonQuest (1980)

Simulations Publications, Inc. was a plucky company. It spent most of its history trying to overtake Avalon Hill’s dominance of the wargaming industry. When D&D came on the scene, and made a lot of money, SPI wanted in on RPGs too. Their entry into fantasy RPGs was DragonQuest (1980).

The system is complex and lifts heavily from D&D and RuneQuest, but it is pretty solid for the time. It may feel less exciting or creative than a lot of its contemporaries, but it is maybe better thought out than most of them. It uses a skill based system, which is cool, has a pretty novel magic system (that uses fatigue points and a percentile system) and has a pretty robust character creation system that allows for a lot of fine-tuning. Combat reveals SPI’s wargaming roots, though, requiring miniatures and the management of lots of details – I never played, but it looks like combat takes eons to complete.

I love the look of the box, though. The graphic design is sweet and I quite like John Garcia’s interior illustrations. Jim Sherman’s box art is certainly something too. All of this carries through to the DQ adventures, which I adore but will cover at another time.

DragonQuest wasn’t the massive success SPI hoped it would be – the revised, softcover second edition (1982) was, I believe, the last book they published before TSR took over the company in an incredibly messed up way. TSR lent SPI money via a promisory note to pay off their investors, which SPI did, then two weeks later TSR called in the note. With no way to pay, TSR seized the company’s assets, ignored the debts (including outstanding magazine subscriptions) and went their merry way. Rude.

Fun fact: Enix’s Dragon Quest videogames were publishing in the US under the name Dragon Warrior because of the DragonQuest RPG copyright, which was only abandoned by Hasbro in 2003.

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