In the past few years role-playing games have had a resurgence in popularity. Games like Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition have been very successful at bringing new players into the hobby. Role-playing clubs have been popping up at libraries, schools, and other locations across the country. Role-playing games are a social experience where players create a narrative together. Most of the players are the main characters and one is the game master who controls everything else. Role-playing games are a collaborative storytelling experience that naturally build relationship and enhance community. For those reasons it would seem, at first glance, that churches would be interested in getting in on being hosts for all of the new clubs that are coming into existence. However, churches and role-playing games have a rocky history. In the 1980’s part of the “satanic panic” was driven by evangelical fear that games like Dungeons and Dragons were teaching children witchcraft and satanism.
It was during this time that Dragonraid emerged. Dragonraid was created to be a role-playing game that also intended to teach the bible and spiritual lessons through playing the game. In the 1980’s this game did not manage to gain a lot of traction and it faded into obscurity. With the increase in role-playing popularity, Dragonraid is also attempting to make a comeback and it is available from Adventures for Christ. Dragonraid attempts to be a bible teaching tool and a role-playing game, but does it succeed at either?
Dragonraid takes place in the setting of NewEden. This is a world that was under the complete control of the dragons, who are the living embodiment of pride and sin. All of the people were enslaved and tormented by the dark creatures the dragons had invited to the world. Then the Overlord of Many Names came and began to free people from enslavement to sin. Without going into all of the back story, the Overlord sacrificed himself to create a land for the second born to live free of the dragons. It is from this land that Lightraiders are sent back into the Dragon lands to bring dragon slaves out of bondage and spread the light of the great Overlord. The Christian allegories of the setting are very clear and pronounced.
The basic attributes in this game are the biblical fruits of the spirit. To create a character a ten sided die is rolled for each stat. These numbers are added together to create physical vitality, and a bare minimum is required for the character to be viable. All of the skills in this game are based off of these attribute stats. The skills numbers are created by adding certain attributes together and then dividing by the number of attributes used. Players will get to select a few skills that are more specialized to make their character unique.
The system this game uses is based on ten sided dice. When a player attempts to do something they will determine the relevant skill and then roll two ten sided dice. One die functions as the the tens place and the other as the ones place to create a 1-100 result. Each task will have a difficulty number assigned to it and the players will have a numeric rating in the skill. To determine success a chart is used that cross references the difficulty level with the skill level. If the player rolled equal to or higher than the listed result it is a success.
When combat breaks out the system works a little differently. Combat always takes place on a battle grid. Combat is simultaneous. This means all players, including the adventure master, will write down what they are doing, reveal, and work out the results. Player’s may do one action during a combat round such as attack, move, use a word rune, or draw a weapon. When a player makes an attack, they will roll the ten sided die and add their combat ability. For the dark creature, the adventure master will roll an eight sided die and add the creature’s battle rating. If the player’s total is higher they hit and will roll damage. If the dark creature is also attacking, then the eight sided die is rolled and battle rating is added. The player will then roll the ten sided die and add their shield of faith rating. All damage is applied at the same time and it is subtracted from the character’s physical vitality.
The game does not have a magic system, but instead it has word runes. Word runes release the power of sacred scriptures for powerful effects. The word runes are actual scriptures straight from the bible. To use a word rune, the player recites it from memory. If done correctly the effect is activated, and the player will gain maturity units for character advancement. A few times per game players are allowed to read the word rune instead of recite it, but when it is read the players do not gain maturity units. The more powerful word runes require a higher “sword of the spirit” rating which is gained from getting maturity units.
What I liked
The all-star mechanism of this whole system are the word runes. I love how using the word runes requires actually saying the scripture. This mechanism is wonderful for two reasons. First, it accomplishes the goal of teaching scripture. Second, it uses a real world skill as a game mechanism and that is fascinating. Most role playing games abstract skills out to dice rolls, so to have the player’s ability to memorize and recite have a game effect adds a level of immersion that does not exist in a lot of other games. This is a truly novel mechanism that feels new and innovative.
I also really enjoy how this game encourages genuine role-playing. One of the ways this comes into play is through sin enchantments. Dark creatures can potentially curse a character with a sin enchantment which will create the manifestation of sinful behavior in the character. The game strongly encourages the players to role-play this, and the other players are to role-play talking their wayward friend back to the path of righteousness. Again, this accomplishes the Christian education goals of the game and it provides for a deeper role-playing experience than a lot of games strive for.
Another overall positive of this game is that it is extremely accessible. Compared to popular role-playing games on the market the core mechanisms of this game are easy to grasp. There are not a lot of extra special abilities, conditions, or rules to keep track of. This means that the game can be played easily with fairly inexperienced people and it can work well with all ages.
A final positive is the price. The game is sold in a box set for $35 from the lightraiders.com website. The production values are a little on the low end, but there is an impressive amount of content in the box. The going price for a role-playing today is $50 a book, so for all the content this game comes with it feels like a real value.
What I did not like
There is one notable exception to accessibility and that is character creation. I did not care for that at all in the game. First, it is the exact opposite of accessible. The boxed set comes with a character creation worksheet, and it really is needed to get it all put together. It is odd that such an accessible system has such a tedious character creation process. My second issue with the character creation is the complete lack of player agency. The core attributes are created by random dice rolls. This means that the player can not create any kind of concept beforehand about the character the want. For instance, if I want to make a gentle-spirited acrobatic character in this game then I just have to hope my roll for gentleness and agility end up being high. A simple modification of rolling a set amount of attribute numbers and then assigning them or using a standard array of numbers would have been preferable to how the rules are written.
The biggest glaring issue with this game is the adventure master manual provides practically zero support about how to create adventures. This is an absolute head scratching oversight. Supposedly the system wants the players to rely on published adventures and the box comes with three. However, there are only two more available. Only five published adventures does not give a lot of content for an ongoing campaign. It is really a tragedy that the game gives no guidance, inspiration or support to help budding adventure masters create their own edifying adventures in the world of EdenAgain.
Since the game relies heavily on the published adventures, it should be pointed out that I found them substandard. This is especially true of the first two adventures that are linked to one another. The issue with these adventure is they are totally on rails. In fact the rules heavily stress not to deviate at all from what is written in the adventure book. From a role-playing game perspective, this is dreadful advice. It removes all creativity and agency from everyone and changes the game from a collaborative adventure to a series of hoop jumping to advance a bland narrative.
The other issue I have with these adventures is how they are written. I am all for reinforcing personal holiness, but this game’s attempt at doing so is heavy handed. It comes off as preachy in the absolute worst way possible. The most terrible example is from a solo adventure meant to teach an adventure master the rules where it clearly implies that obesity is strictly a moral failing and those who are righteous will not be overweight.
The overall biggest issue with this game is it struggles to find the right audience. From a role-playing perspective, there are other systems that are better. The word runes are unique, but a group looking for a role playing game will pass this game up for other systems. As a Christian education tool this game has some real potential. This takes the important skill of learning scripture and adds an immersive level of gamification. However, the complete lack of tools for making adventures or ongoing adventure support make it really hard for a youth minister or Sunday school teacher to use this over the long term. At this point to do so it is going to require the teacher to be an experienced role-player to begin with. And that is who this game can be recommend for. If you are love role playing games already and you are looking for a truly innovative and revolutionary way to do youth group or Sunday school, then get this game. It has the potential to create memorable lessons that are truly engaging and fruitful.