I’ve always been a big fan of solo gamebooks, like the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series, so I was very interested when I heard that Fantasy Flight Games were releasing Legacy of Dragonholt, a collaborative story telling game set in their Runebound universe in December 2017.
Thanks to a generous promotion, I was able to pick up a copy from a local games store just before Christmas as part of a deal when buying two games and this evening I cracked it open and had my first game. The majority of the box contents are made up by the seven scenario books (one being the eponymous village) plus there’s also rules and character generation booklets, character sheets, a few props, cards and tokens. Being Fantasy Flight Games, the production values are all excellent both in terms of design and physical quality.
The rules and character generation book are free to download so I won’t describe the mechanics in detail, but at just over four pages including illustrations, the rules are not at all complicated and would suit younger or casual gamers. The first scenario book acts as a tutorial, explaining the rules as you go so you don’t really need to read them before you start playing.
Each player creates a character which is done by selecting a race from Human, Orc, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome or Catfolk, each of which has two available backgrounds – typically a more traditional one and a more progressive / integrated one and a class from Apothecary, Bard, Brawler, Knight, Sage, Thief and Wildlander. There are no restrictions on the combinations of race and class selection. Next you’re invited to describe your character through a gender, physical description, personality, ideals, background and name – none of which have any impact on the game but help you to become more engaged with your character and the story as a whole. Finally you select between five to eight skills which much include two from the list of six associated with your race and two from the list of six associated with your class. The more skills you choose, the less stamina you have available so you need to compromise, although bonus stamina is awarded for one or two player games. There are a total of six Combat, four Physical, five Mental, four Social and five Utility skills available to select from.
I choose a female Tribal Orc Wildlander named Gorax with the skills Archery, Duelling, Endurance, Stealth, Awareness, Survival & Runes, giving me a maximum stamina of 14 as a solo player. It took me nearly an hour to generate my character because I read the entire book, including all the race and class backgrounds as I wasn’t familiar with the Runebound setting but in future I can’t imagine it taking more than five minutes to generate a character.
If, like me, you prefer not to write on the original character and story sheets, copies of every document you need are also freely downloadable from Fantasy Flight Games in PDF format. You can also download pre-generated character sheets if that aspect of the game doesn’t appeal to you. Various unofficial character sheet generators exist – I found a couple on Board Game Geek.
I was then ready to proceed to the start of the first scenario, “To New Roads” which had an expected play time of 50-80 minutes. Play proceeds by reading through numbered paragraphs based on decisions you make, previous story points and the passage of time. There are no dice rolls or other random elements but your choice of skills limit your available decision options. Playing through the first scenario solo took me about 40-45 minutes and involved reading a total of 40 entries and passing through 19 decision points. In a multi-player game, players essentially take turns to make each decision and activation tokens are used to keep track of this. In a multi-player game reading every entry aloud would slow play considerably and if you did try to play with six players, you’d only be making a couple of decisions each per game so I think that would be difficult to keep everyone engaged so some sort of voting system might have been a better alternative. Obviously there’s nothing to stop you reaching decisions however you want, but I would still expect the game to play best with one or two players and I’m planning on playing through the whole game solo. In addition to your character sheet, you also have a story sheet which is shared between all the players and a log sheet for each scenario.
The text of the entries is well written and engaging in a cheerful sort of way and while the passage of time and loss of stamina do give some sense of urgency and tension, I’m not sure it’s the sort of game your character can die in so we’re definitely more in storytelling territory then most D&D type RPGs. That impression is based on the first scenario of course, which might ease you in gently! At the end of the scenario I gained some items, experience and fame, with the promise that experience could be converted to skills at a later date, which is good as I was already regretting not giving my character the Agility skill! I generally gravitate towards the more ‘crunchy’ old-school style of solo gamebook with all the rules complexity, dice rolling and character mortality that entails but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed playing this game.
I’ve read that Legacy of Dragonholt is the first Fantasy Flight title to use their Oracle system so assuming it’s a commercial success, we could be seeing further games in the same setting or games based on their many other properties.
Overall, a pleasant and relaxing game and I’m looking forward to working my way through the other six scenarios, most of which are described as having a similar play time (50 – 80 minutes) except one with a play time of 75-120 minutes.