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Subject: Dragon Storm Review - The Good the Bad and the Ugly. rss

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John "Omega" Williams
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DRAGON STORM
Review and Overview by John "Omega" Williams
2008

Today on the autopsy table is the anatomy of a perfectly good game gone so terribly terribly wrong. Dragon Storm was one of the first of a handfull of CCG games that dared to strike off into the wild lands of RPGs. Dragon Storm came out in 1996 along with DiceMaster and Arcadia. Each taking a divergent approach to the concept. RuinsWorld had come out less than a year previously and just as quickly vanished. Before that there had been such attempts as TSR's Cardmaster game in 1993 and the two horrifically botched SAGA card games for Dragonlance and Marvel Superheros. Dragon Storm though succeeded in every possible way and remains one of the best CCG/RPGs out there. Unfortunately it is also a prime example of how to kill off your product and turn away customers. More on that later.

The core game comes in a single starter set box. One standard booster pack and one expansion set was made for the game and then a few odd pre-sorted sets and a series of 5 books. Each starter contains around 70+ cards. ***NOTE: I do not have a box handy and BDP can't bother to list whats in a starter now.*** Cards are the standard 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inch in measurement. The game comes with two rulebooks - One covering the basic rules and meant mostly for players. The other being the GameMaster book and covering rules and examples. Both books are 4 pages each, originally multi-folded down to smaller than a card in size. Unfolded each page is the size of a standard sheet of paper. An unusual feature of the rulebooks is that they open in reverse of normal books and are read from front cover to back cover to inside back cover to inside front cover. The font used is a little on the small side. But not severely so. Text is divided into 3 columns per page. ***NOTE: Essentially you read it like a double-sided roadmap.***
The basic game comprises 270 cards. 90 common, uncommon and rare. The Kanchaka expansion added 60 more cards each for an original total of 450. Each card is VERY helpfully numbered and its rarity listed! ***NOTE: This system would break down after this unfortunately and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell just how many cards there are total. Rarity has pretty much gone right out the window.*** The cards are divided into two sets. Player: with an orange back, and GameMaster: with blue, and further subdivided as will be explained later. Each starter comes pre-packed with a specific set of Player and GM cards so that you are guaranteed playable out of the box. Each starter's prepack player set has a Human Dragon and some minor skills/powers for it. Starters almost always come with another character type in the mix. Though rarely enough to play the form fully right out the gate. But the system is such that one can play with just a base form setup. Players also get the Peasant Background card and a few combat oriented ones and some default equipment to get any character up and running. The GM is simmilarly outfitted with a set of default encounters, terrain, events and more. ***NOTE: The downside of this is that the starter boxes did not contain as many random cards as one might wish. This was though countered by the booster packs.*** Booster packs contain 15 cards with a preset number of cards by rarity. A standard and a Kanchaka Campaign set were released. ***NOTE: The boosters unfortunately suffered from very poor sorting. Individual packs can and do contain doubles of cards, sometimes several doubles! Boxes of boosters even sometimes were packed with near identical sortings of cards in the individual packs!***
64 different cards in presorted sets were sold as well. The first, Player Set 1, introduced 11 prepacked cards and 2 of 6 different item cards sorted into each case. The set introduced the new Tigrean Werecat as a player race. Set 2 was another jewlcase of 11 preset cards opening up some more forms for the werecat, new items and the Hunter class. Set 3: Witches Summer, the last of the jewelcase sets, comprised 12 preset cards and added yet more Tigrean tricks, another new class, new Witchcraft spells and some upgraded forms for the Pegasus. Set 4 was simply sold as individual cards apparently and comprised 12 new items. Set 5 was the last of the true sets and contained 12 more cards including some familliars, necromancy spells, a new class and more skills. The individual cards are sold at a cost of 3$ each, making the cost to get set 4 & 5 total to 72$! Past this point things get increasingly muddled and convoluted as BDP ceased normally distributing the cards in any semblance of packs or sets. 514 cards total by the end of this phase.
5 non-card booklets were also released for Dragon Storm. The first is Dragon Storm Adventure Book 1: Coming of the Storm, followed by Adventure Book 2: Kanchaka Valley, then Adventure Book 3: Haskalad Empire. This was followed by Guide Book 1: Valarian Champions, and then Guide Book 2: Necromancer's Manifesto. Each book back cover was printed with 6 or more cards that players could cut out and use. More on that in a later review. ***NOTE: The DS Guild was good enough to outlaw all the test cards from being used. Making them rather pointless.*** Beyond this about 400 cards have been released individually at 3$ each. Yes. That is right. You have to fork out around 1400$ if you want to get a complete collection beyond the Basic & Kanchaka sets... Assuming you can find the out of print ones anywhere.

Dragon Storm is a full RPG and thus requires a Game Master to host a session. But the cards are presented such that it is very easy to set up even basic adventures with minimal preparation. The game though has no solo rules at all. You also need some 6-sided dice to play. 4-6 is optimal, but you can get by with 3 or so. In 1997 BDP had a brief fling with Chessex and for a while was selling custom dice packs of 14 variously coloured speckled dice that came with a Dragon Storm emblazoned Dice Bag and a randomly packed card.

The rulebooks read as follows starting with the player pamphlet which is divided into 11 sections.

DRAGON STORM RULES
1.0 LIFE IN THE STORMLANDS: This is essentially a short story describing the setting and the situation and ties into the GM introductory adventure. The game is set in the Stormlands, a region ravaged by Dragon Storms - violent maelstroms of corrupted magic created by dragons and their shapeshifter minions. The only thing protecting the towns and people are Necromancers. Dragon Storms also cause hideous mutations in people and animals, even warping the very land. These spell casters are able to deflect and dissipate the storms and also diligently hunt down shapeshifters, especially dragons. Shapeshifters often are revealed after a Dragon Storm, some hiding amongst honest townsfolk. Some towns side with the Necromancers for protection, others are neutral trading posts, and a rare few follow their own callings. The players are one of these shapeshifters and must eventually uncover the truth.
2.0 WHAT IS ROLE-PLAYING?: A quick explanation of role-playing. One player acts as the Game Master, creating adventures and playing the NPCs and monsters that the rest of the group will encounter and interact with.
3.0 GETTING STARTED: Players are instructed to sort the cards into the GM and Player stacks and then sort out the cards by type. 3.1 PLAYER CARD TYPES: lists the various Player card types in no particular usefull order and each Capitalized. CHANNEL, DRAGON, GARGOYLE, HUMAN, ITEM, ORC, SHAMAN, UNICORN, UNIVERSAL, VALERIAN, WEREWOLF, WITCH & WIZARD. These are even further sub-sub divided into non-capitalized Ace, Anchor, Boon, Anchor Bachground, Anchor Flaw & Magic items. 3.2 GAMEMASTER CARD TYPES: Gives a quick note on the GM cards too. 3.3 RULES PRIORITY: Rules on cards supersede rules in the book. 3.4 GAMEMASTER'S RULE: Tells players that Gamemasters are allways right. Even when they conflict with the game rules.
4.0 WHAT IS A CHARACTER?: An explanation of the basics of creating and selecting a character with skills that compliment whatever concept the player has decided on and the cards have optioned.
5.0 HOW TO CREATE A CHARACTER: Most cards have a value listed on them, either positive number, a point cost, or a gold value. Character cards have a positive number and this is your allotment of points you may spend on skills, powers and transformations. As example. The default Human Dragon is listed +14 while the background of Peasant costs 2 points to pick up. Some cards have no value listed. These are most often Boons which are awarded to characters for completing some quest, or other deed. 5.1: PICK A CHARACTER CARD: The player is instructed to select one of the various character types if they happen to have one on hand. Dragon, Unicorn, Werewolf, Gargoyle or Orc. 5.1.1 CARD TITLE: This is sub-divided into race types. Human Dragons and Werewolves, Elven Unicorns and Dwarven Gargoyles. Orcs are not shapeshifters. They just like to tag along. ***NOTE: The Kanchaka expansion adds to this Ebony Elf Pegasus, Unicorns & Dragons.*** 5.1.2 CARD VALUE: Repeats the explanation of the card point system and informs that all card points must be spent during character creation. 5.1.3 STATS: This quickly describes the stats that characters, items, forms and NPCs may have. Strength, Coordination, Defense, Speed, Wisdom, Health Points & Carrying Capacity. 5.1.4 TAINT DEF: Some characters are resistant to high concentrations of natural magic both pure, called Od, and tainted, called Warp. A rare few are even resistant to magic dead zones, called Waste. 5.2: PICK A BACKGROUND: Backgrounds are the first thing to purchase for a character. They represent classes or professions that the character had before the start of the adventure. Some grant access to special skills or magic. Backgrounds include Peasant - which increases your starting HP by +8, Remorseful Apprentice - who can use wizard spells, Spirit Speaker - Who can use shaman spells, Nightfighter, Scout, Rogue, and Witch - who may use witchcraft spells. ***NOTE: The Kanchaka expansion adds Scholar, Wizard's Apprentice, & Bard.*** Backgrounds can only be purchased at character creation. An example of the process is also given. 5.3 PICK FLAWS (OPTIONAL): Flaws grant a character more starting points to spend. But inflict upon them some penalty. For example: Fear of Rats grants +3 points but will cause a character to be at -4 in any contest or battle with ANY sort of rat-like creature and they may even flee from the encounter. 5.4 PICK ACE AND ANCHOR CARDS: Players now flesh out their characters by spending any remaining points on various skills and perks. 5.4.1 TYPE EXPANSION CARDS: At this point a player may try to purchase the equivalent of extra classes. These are always costly in points. But allow a character to essentially multi-class. 5.4.2 ACE FORMS: These are the transformations a character may perform. Some skills can only be used if the character has assumed their true form. For example a Human Dragon cannot use the Firebreath power unless in Dragon form. 5.4.3 BOONS: Explains again that Boons can only be gained from quests and can only have one of any given type of Boon. 5.5 BUY STUFF: characters start with 100 gp with which to purchase weapons, armor, equipment & provisions. Food Rations cost 1 gp each and players need both Food and Water rations. 5.5.1 CAPACITY: Characters can carry up to their CAP rating in items. Food and Water are 1/5th CAP each, gold is 1/20 each. Overburdening will penalize the character as the GM deems. 5.6 (5.6.1-5.6.9) FILL OUT THE CHARACTER SHEET: The GM section of the rules also has the Character sheet which players fill out with things like character name, player name, race, gender, age between 16-20, RP Points, Card Points, etc. 5.7 LAY OUT YOUR CARDS: Examples and an illustration of how to easily play by laying the cards out so that the bonuses show at the side. The cards are set up such that when so placed they take up a-lot less space.
6.0 PLAYING DRAGON STORM: Explains some of the basics of role-playing and storytelling. But that some tasks will require contest rolls, cards or combat. 6.1 (6.1.1-6.1.3) CONTEST ROLLS: Some tasks are not automatic and at this time the GM makes a 2d6 roll for a character to roll the appropriate stat modifiers and 2d6 against plus any other modifiers applied. If the players roll beats the GMs then they succeed in whatever task they were performing. 6.2 USING CARDS: Explains that some cards can be played to increase the odds in the players favour or to perform some special action. 6.2.1 TIMING: There are various timing factors to cards. Flash (F) cards act instantly when applied. Round (R) cards play for 10 seconds, a single round. Combat (C) cards stay in effect for 30 combat rounds or until the battle ends. Variable (V) Lasts as long as the player wants. Permanent (P) persists indefinitely after being applied. 6.2.2 DRAINING CARDS: A card that has been used is now "Drained" and flipped face down. Drained cards can usually be regained by resting somewhere. 6.2.3 COMBINING CARDS: explains that the effects of several cards can be combined. 6.2.4 FORM CARDS: Explains that assuming a form will alter the characters stats...
7.0 COMBAT: Describes how combat is performed. The battle zone where the fight takes place and the basics of a round. This can be either described or acted out with miniatures and scenery. 7.1 ROLL FOR INITIATIVE: 2d6 + characters SPD. Encounters also are rolled for. Actions are then performed from highers score to lowest. anyone with a negative Initiative cannot act that round. 7.2 PLAY INDEPENDENT CARDS: Cards listed as Independent may be played instantly at any time after initiative. 7.3 (7.3.1-7.3.8) MOVEMENT: Players have several move options and their speed adds +10 per point to the base. Move - up to 60ft. Block - An attempt to intercept anothers movement on a contest roll. This is declared as the opponent is moving. Dodge - Attempts to evade an attack that has been declared. The dodger flees at full movement and the attacker can opt to chase after them on a contest roll or not. Run away - Character flees at 2x movement and others may attempt to catch on a contest roll. Chase - Uses movement and action similar to Fleeing to try and gain distance on a target. Other complex actions may use up the movement turn as well. 7.4 (7.4.1-7.4.7) ACTIONS: After movement, if the character still has an action turn left, then they may attack, cast spells, use cards, etc. an attack is a 2d6 plus the appropriate stat bonuses. Melee uses STR and Ranged uses COR. The targets DEF rating is subtracted from the roll. This will be how much damage is dealt to HP. Damage may be either Lethal or Subdual. Spells work in a similar method and ise WIS or whatever stat is needed. Characters may opt to Defend instead for their action. Doing so adds 2d6 to their DEF score for any incoming attacks that round. 7.5 REACTIONS: Some actions like Dodging and Defending can be performed, using up an Action that round in response to an attack and can be performed regardless of initiative in this case.
8.0 DAMAGE AND HEALING: This section entails the types of damage and how they are recovered from. subdual renders a target unconscious at 0HP and is healed 10x faster than regular damage. A character is dead if Lethal damage reduces them to 0HP. Magical damage usually ignores normal DEF scores while Taint, Od and Warp effects can only be defended from if the character has such resistances. Poison and Disease Damage cannot be healed by natural or most magical effects. Antidotes must be found or purchased.
9.0 MINIATURES RULES: 1 inch equals 10ft of movement. Also 4 legged characters can move 2x the normal and flying ones can go up to 3x.
10.0 AFTER THE GAME: After a game session the GM awards RP points to each player. 20RP points can be spent to purchase 1 card point each.
11.0 EXAMPLE PLAY: About 1/2 the remainder of the last page is a detailed example of a battle.

A size comparison chart showing the silhouettes of the various character types is also provided.

The GM section is in the same format and covers the rest of the rules and pointers on how to run a game session.
12.0 WHAT IS A GAMEMASTER?: Explains simply that the GM handles all the monsters, NPCs and general setting up of the adventures the others will experience,
13.0 SETTING UP THE GAME: Basic explanation of the 4 main GM cards, Terrain, Scene, Cast, and Feature. A short story created with the cards is called an Encounter. Several can be linked together to form a larger campaign. The GM preps the game by sorting any cards they wish for an encounter into individual stacks. These are then referenced and revealed as the adventures may meet them. 13.1.1 to 13.1.4 detail different approaches to using the Terrain cards to create maps. From linear maps where the players progress from one stack to the next in a pre-planned order. To Blind maps where the players may wander freely, encountering what the GM has planned or even events on the fly. 13.2 explains the system of Challenge numbers for players and encounters. By totaling the points players have in use a GM can then gear encounters to meet that point total. Encounters with less points than the players are easier while those with more than the group will be more challenging. 13.3 to 13.3.3 cover pointers on how to create encounter stacks such as appropriate scene cards, how to create cast members and spirit encounters, and what features these beings may have.
14.0 RUNNING THE GAME: Gets to the actual rules of the game and the order of actions. 1st is Terrain movement: Players take about a day to travel from one card terrain to the next. They may also force march to forge ahead to the next terrain beyond. But this has its drawback in that players cannot recover spent cards until they rest. Players who drain all their Ace cards force marching will pass out. 2nd is Exploration: Players in new terrain must choose someone to make an exploration roll vs the GM's roll and modified by skills on the players side and the terrain number on the GMs. Failure means the players become lost or otherwise unable to navigate in the area for that day. 3rd is the Daily upkeep of the characters. They must eat and drink and rest. Food and water rations are expended and if the players can rest then they may try to recover any spent cards. Some terrain for example allow recovery of 1 card per 4 hours rest. Others might not allow any recovery at all, or require the expenditure of more food or water than normal. This is also the time when the players must check for damage from the terrain if necessary. 4th is the Encounter phase and where the GM plays any encounters that the area may have entailed. The GM describes what is seen, the players react and so it goes. About 1/3rd of the page is given in an example of an encounter. 5th is the aftermath of any encounters as players look for possible loot. If a player has an equipment card on them and the Cast encounter lists such an item as in the possession of the defeated foe. Then the player may declare that they have discovered the item now. The 6th phase takes place at the end of the session. The GM adds up all the points of encounters and divides this by the number of players present. This is how many Role-Playing points the GM awards each player at the end of the session. GMs are also encouraged to award extra RP points to players who are creative and get into the role they have created well. Also some NPCs may award Boons at the end of a session, these are special skills or bonuses granted as a reward. Flaw cards can also be bought off with RP points at the GM's discretion.
15.0 IMPROVISED ROLE PLAY: This section gives various pointers on how to GM a session on the fly, making things up as you go and using the cards as base guides when needed.
16.0 RUNNING A CAMPAIGN: Here pointers are given for extended games where a series of sessions are all interrelated, playing out an ongoing story of the GM and players creation.
17.0 THE HISTORY OF THE STORMLANDS: 1/3rd of a page gives for the GM the basic framework of the campaign world that Dragon Storm is set in. Long before the game begins, dragons ruled over the land and intermingled with many races to create fantastical servants. But eventually there came those seeking power and immortality. To this end the necromancers were born and during a huge festival of the dragons they laid waste to the vast kingdom. Each dragon or shapeshifter killed generates warp, taints the land and creates the ravaging Dragon Storms that the clever necromancers then blamed on the dragons and their servants. Opposing the necromancer rule are the Valerians, those guided by spirits to seek out and help any descendants of the dragons and their kin.
18.0 RUNNING NECROMANCERS: Detailing the general mentality and methods of the death mages.
19.0: SHAPE SHIFTERS' JOURNEY: The GM is given instructions for running the introductory adventure wherein the players first discover their natures. The players start out as average townsfolk caught in a Dragon Storm and then learn the truth of the matter. They transform into one or more of the various shifter types must come to terms with the fact that they themselves are one of these "evil" shapeshifters. Forced to flee their homes and head out into the wilderness seeking sanctuary. The group must deal with NPC encounters, evade a necromancer hunting party after them, discover an outpost town and gather info, fight off warpspawn raiders and eventually be contacted by one of the Valerians, an order dedicated to justice, and told the truth. Necromancers are the cause of the storms - Using them to both draw out shapeshifters and create more warped monsters which they can control. Necromancers drain the souls from shapeshifters to fuel their magical powers and to vastly extend their own lifespans. Dragons are the most prized of these targets. The characters are initiated into the order of Valerians and thus the real adventure begins.

This is closed with an advertisement for the Stormwatch Newsletter which was to contain news and data on the game and upcoming events and products.

Finally the Credits roll.
Designed - Susan Van Camp
Developed - Mark Harmon
Art Direction - Mark Poole
General Assistance - Glen Cooley
Artists - Chris Appel, Randy Asplund-Faith, Ed Beard Jr,
Melissa Benson, Heather Burton, Doug Chaffe,
Glen Cooley, David Deitrick, Lori Deitrick,
Daryl Elliot, Dan Frazier, Sandra Garavito,
Frank Gembeck Jr, Bob Gaidrisich, Gregg Glymph,
Diana Hurlan-Stein, Quinton Hoover, Debbie Hughs,
Mike Kimble, April Lee, Nichola Leonard Lubov,
Matt Malone, Mark Maxwell, Jeff Menges,
Ken Meyer Jr, Phillip Monsess, Jesper Myfors,
Mark Poole, Ron Rouselle II, Doug Shuler,
Cline Siengethaler, Brian Snoddy, Ron Spencer,
Ne'Ne' Thomas, Ruth Thompson, Susan Van Camp,
Christina Wald, Kevin Ward, L.A. Williams &
Robin Wood.
Playtesters - Only a few of many playtesters were credited.

A Character sheet for recording basic into on, a Resource sheet for recording rations, gold, etc on, and a quick refference sheet were also provided, each being the size of a card and thus easy to photocoppy and store with a character stack.

The cards themselves comprise essentially the rest of the rules. Here you find locations, monsters and personalities that flesh out the setting a little. In many ways Dragon Storm has a certain Post-Apocalyptic feel to it as the characters wander a broken land and battle the magical equivalent of mutants. While having some of the standard trappings of most fantasy settings DS tended to take some interesting twits and turns with the people and monsters, quite a few unique ones popped up while the addition of Warp features means that no two NPCs need ever be alike.

One very attractive aspect of Dragon Storm was that people could contribute to the game by commissioning the development of personal cards. A few of which made into the game proper. Also people could pay for and assist in the development of new card sets by working with BDP. This was quite costly, but it allowed BDP to get funding for further releases. That is till the Stormriders Guild came along and banned all these cards. Even ones that had been payed for extra to ensure that they were Guild safe. After that new cards slowed to a mere trickle. Geeee. I wonder why...

Remember those Granilar Gold points I mentioned before? Well BDP doesn't honour those anymore. There is though a seperate company that will accept the points in trade for various things.

Lastly no review of Dragon Storm would be complete without mentioning the Stormriders Guild. This is an RPGA style assembly that was originally meant to give a cohesive game setting that players could advance in at conventions. What it did though was to quickly stifle the players with ever increasing restrictions and then kill off potential markets by driving off those who might have invested in further game development as those in control of the Guild also took it upon themselves to antagonize and restrict things to the point that they were attempting to covertly kill off certain established test characters for cards in development. Worse yet there started to appear trends that had been all too familiar in the RPGA. GMs more interested in gaining their quota of points rather than actually hosting a session to completion and non-guild players being turned away or treated as lesser. And so it went. 7 out of 10 members I talked to had negative things to say of the Guild and its ring leaders and a few were in the process of quitting alltogether. One irate player described the Guild as, quote: "Hitler-esque"... Dragon Storms creators allowed this to run totally out of control and in fact for a time the Guild was dictating actions to BDP instead of the other way around. You might have no problem at all with them. But I can think of better things to do with 20$ per year than paying someone dictate how you can and can not enjoy the game just for the "privilege" of participating at cons in more than a cursory manner.

Thus a game that had once been so promising and innovative slowly sank into obscurity. That BDP and Dragon Storm are still around in any shape is a testament to the tenacity of its creators. They still host games at conventions. Particularly GenCon, ConFurrence/FurtherConFusion and even DragonCon occasionally.
------------
And where do I come into this sordid tale? I was one of those developers who footed the bill for, and designed, a series of new player cards that would have expanded the selection in some interesting ways while also supporting a game that I really enjoyed. Around 1997 I started talks with Susan Van Camp and we worked out a concept and from there I hammered out the stats and text while Susan did the paintings. By 1998 two cards saw completion to the sum of 300$ and 500$ respectively in costs for the paintings and extra to make sure the cards would be Guild playable. Response was good and funding for an additional 6 cards was lined up. Also I began talks of hosting an ambitious PBM version of the game and started purchasing cases of boosters and starters in preparation for opening. Then in 1999 the trouble started. Previously during playtests at Guild games I'd had hints of something not quite right. Then at GenCon that year I got to witness a concerted attempt to outright kill off or discredit my character by no less than the Guilds leader and then his second in command in a followup encounter. I voiced more than a little dismay at this on the then official forum and all of a sudden I am being accused of "Suspicious Activities" by Mark Harmon and at about the same time the Guild announces that test characters have been flat out banned from use. Attempts to talk to BDP were rebuffed or ignored and by 2000 it was clear that something was seriously wrong. Further dealings with BDP were cancelled and to this day I've yet to receive the finished cards from the first print run. Over 2500$ shot straight to Hell. Others lost much smaller amounts. But the losses were telling and BDP in the end slit their own throats as at least 10k$ in prospective investors that I knew of decided it was perhaps better to go elsewhere.

As for the game itself? Its pretty damn good really. No other attempt at a CCG/RPG has pulled it off as cleanly as Dragon Storm did. But make no mistake. Its a full blown RPG and a CCG at the same time. Gameplay flows along nicely and there is a good sense of exploration and the unknown. Also the novelty of playing essentially a group of what are in other fantasy settings the "monsters" is a-lot of fun and each race gets some interesting capabilities to play with. The fact that you start off considered the villain is an added twist to the tale. The ongoing struggle to free the land, clear your name, and try not to become a throw-rug for a necromancer, give the players all sorts if incentive that some other RPGs occasionally lack. The basic rules, once you strip off some of the padding, are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up. The rest players and GMs can ease into as the game progresses. Despite the amount of cards involved there is no real random factor in encounters aside from terrain travel and a GM can dictate even this. Everything is set up in advance usually. The dice are used for combats and one or two wilderness skills. And players can tip the odds in their favour with a well timed card play. Just as the GM can nudge the odds in the enemy favour with creative uses of warps and other bonuses.Miniatures definitely help if you can get ahold of some to represent players and encounters. But you can make do with pennies, extra dice, or meeples even to track locations and movement during a fight. ***NOTE: BDP was once long ago planning its own miniatures set. Sadly that fell apart too.*** The fact that a starter box gives you always the basics you need for a GM and at least one player is a real boon to getting started. Pre-game set-up tends to be short once chargen is over. And even this tends to be a-lot shorter as the players do not have to finagle with stats and usually skill and equipment selections are limited to what they have on hand. Game sessions though tend to last just as long as any regular RPG. Especially if the players are really getting into character and playing things well with the GM. Expect a session to last a few hours. Though the introductory scenario can be played in about 1 hour or less. The number of players participating can contribute to the play time obviously. But the system is flexible enough that a GM can adjust encounters to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the characters present via the point system. It works very well at this task.

The art for the cards is excellent. On par with anything Magic produced as a-lot of these artists worked on that too. Susan has a very pleasant style of painting and she breathes a soft life into most anything she depicts. Others like Ron Spencer, Robin Wood, Melissa Benson and Ne'Ne' Thomas lended well their various talents. Spencer in particular laid down some pretty lurid and freakish pieces for a few Warp Spawn. From about 2000 on Susan became pretty much the only artist for the game. Aside from a few cheap CG pieces I spotted recently.

The biggest drawback for the game is that its not really for the novice GM. The cards are helpful yes. But only to a point. A GM for Dragon Storm really needs to be good at improvising and making things up. This can make or break a session very fast. Another potential negative for the game is that there are no dungeon cards at all. Rather unusual considering the setting. ***NOTE: I'd planned to design/commission a nice set of dungeon cards to fix this. You can guess how far that got...*** Another minor problem is that originally each race/class was fairly balanced and each had a niche to fill. But progressively the Dragon characters have gained more and more perks as time goes on. At this point a dragon can assume the forms of elves, winged elves, dwarves, vermites, orcs, and other oddities way outstripping the others. This isn't a surprise if you read the setting books. But it doesn't lend to balance really.
The Major problems with Dragon Storm is that A: Its now a *very* costly game to pick up if you want every single card and accessory. B: You *CAN'T* get a complete collection now. Cards have been dropped, the Dice set and the jewlcase expansions haven't been produced in almost a decade now, and trying to trade for cards can prove a real hassle unless you luck out and run into a former player looking to unload a-lot of useless cards. And C: Due to the rarity layout it takes much longer to get a complete collection of the original and expansion sets than in some other CCGs without forking out for more cases than one should have to. Combined with really atrocious sorting this can be a lesson in frustration. Or be prepared to hand out over 1200$ to purchase the cards individually. Then another 1400$ for the rest. If a complete collection isn't your goal then you can certainly get by for substantially cheaper. But the completists are going to take a severe beating.

Is the game worth getting now? Only if you are, or have access to, a GM with at least some experience. Otherwise past one or two sessions things will potentially bog down as you try to figure out what to do next. The more flexible and creative the GM is the better it is going to go. The game has virtually no pre-gen scenarios and the Scene cards are the most basic of plot hooks. The GM must improvise and be constantly creative with what he or she has on hand. But if you can get past that and the potentially costly problems of getting cards now then Dragon Storm can be a very fun experience. I'd suggest buying a single starter box and having a look at it as you'll have enough to play a basic game with one GM and one player right there and thus can get a feel for the system and see if it is to your liking or not.
And how often is it you get to play a Dragon or a Unicorn?

Avoid the Stormriders Guild like a Vermite with the Black Plague...
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Mike Kent
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I play and have run Dragon Storm. It is a good light RPG. The problems I see are two fold:

1) The Game does not scale well. Once characters get advanced, the villains have to be so powerful that they can kill a character in one or two hits. If you give your characters a bunch of lessor enemies to attack, they just plow through them like so much chaff. After running a game for a year of monthly sessions, it gets increasingly hard to balance and present the players with challenging opponents that won't kill a significant portion of the player party. You have to introduce house rules to keep the players from dying. I allowed players to go negative hit points = to their defense. Another game master allows you to hit zero hit points but as long as you are healed before the same initiative number on the next round you are not dead. This leads to players dropping and popping back up with 5-8 hit points, only to get whacked down again....it kind of resembles whack a mole!

2) The $3 expansion cards are clearly not balanced. The character classes that came along later are clearly superior than the those in the starter set or in the Kamchatka expansion. The later spells and classes far out strip the original cards. That leads to having to buy lots of $3 cards to have a good character. Something that I pretty much refuse to do. Our game master allows scanned proxies so that we don't go broke playing the game. I allow them too. (i.e buy one original, but if you need more than one, use a proxy.)

I have no experience with the storm riders guild, so I cannot comment on that organization.
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Brian M
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Quote:
That leads to having to buy lots of $3 cards to have a good character.

Or, this leads to having to houserule a lot of the older cards to keep everything viable, which is another good option.

Or just skipping the deluxe cards entirely - one can spend quite a long time playing with just the base set and Kanchaka and still have a lot of variety.

I really loved this game; fast playing, cool theme, great card art. But, as others mentioned, it really deteriorated over time; BDP's interest in keep the cards balanced seemed to drop so badly one began to wonder why the cards even had point costs on them.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Verily. I ran into this on a minor scale while designing cards for DS and working with BDP on the other projects. I actually had to lower the point bonuses on the character card from what BDP would have used so that it remained in line with the original ones.

I missed out on some of the above mentioned power creep as by the time things fell apart between my company and theirs they had just finished what would be the last of the card sets. And back then they were ALOT more costly. 5$+ per card before they caught on that maybee this wasnt contributing to sales. I believe the Foxwings came out in 2001 and the Griffons in 2002. Glancing at these two they look to still be more or less within the paramiters of old. The NightWitch though I have to agree was an indicator of trouble. It essentially makes the Nightfighter class redundant. But only under certain circumstances. Past that I lost track of things till recently when I completed compiling a list of all the cards currently out there. Something not even BDP could accomplish. ***NOTE: Their official card list is both incomplete and innacurate.*** I'll post it if/when the urge kicks in.

The Guilds answer to characters in the higher power ranges was to... Ban them... After a certain card point limit the player must retire the character or be refused to play it in offocial games. I believe they also made gaining points exponentially harder. Its not a bad idea honestly. But the execution of it by the Guild was so backhand to the players that again they lost more. And round and round it went.

The game can accomodate more experienced characters, but you really need an experienced GM to keep things on track.

If you stick to just the cards from the original sets then problems are generally alot less. But past the end of the jewlcase sets things begin to get progressively iffy on some fronts. Getting into the game today, if you are a completist, is an appallingly costly propposition for an RPG and former CCG. Evan if you stick just to the original and expansion and go only with cases and boosters the problems with sorting and rarity I mentioned in the review can derail this.

I had a great time working with Susan and BDP. And the sudden change in attitude was so abrupt that I still like the game iteself immensely. I just refuse to deal with the problem members whom I see as having killed off what otherwise would still be a viable game even now.
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Tristan Hall
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Thanks for the detailed review!

Someone mentioned it on my blog and having never even heard of it I thought there wouldn't be much info available about. Then I came across this bad boy.

Gotta love BGG. cool

 
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John "Omega" Williams
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How much presence did Dragon Storm have outside the US?

I know it shipped to Canada. But past that I do not know.
 
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