Roleplaying game products have an incredibly diverse range, just as complex and varied as board games. While the themes often focus on fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and alternate reality, the subtext and mechanisms of action resolution create a different meaning from one game to the next. Depending on how the system adjudicates an attack, for example, the resolution can have vastly different meaning.
However, getting to this advanced understanding of the mechanisms requires some basic introduction to roleplaying. Once upon a time, for some players, this was a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure” with the “Cave of Time” introduced in 1979, hot on the tails of Dungeons & Dragons’ release. The books offered a plot tree path to many demises and a few successes by allowing readers a choice at the end of every couple of pages.
The next game for consideration hearkens back to this era of game design. Legacy of Dragonholt is a roleplaying game where players make choices based on text blocks read by one of the players. There is no game master or dungeon master. Each player can participate, but only one takes center stage in action at a time. While the game states it can support up to 6 players, Board Game Quest recommends only playing this title with 1 or 2. A single game session can last for as long as needed, but usually players can find a stopping point in the story every hour or so. Playing the entire campaign could last up to 40 hours (presumably) of playtime.
Like other roleplaying games, a campaign of Legacy of Dragonholt (the only way to play) begins with character creation. Characters do not have attributes like Strength or Dexterity. They merely have a list of Skills, a Stamina score, tracked Experience, and an Equipment list.
The skills a character may have is based on a selection of a Race and Class, both of which are mostly typical high fantasy selections based in the world of Terrinoth, Fantasy Flight Games’ generic fantasy world of choice. Once characters are created, players read the introduction in the first book and the game mostly introduces rules as needed.
Most choices are simply read out like a set of options: Fight the Bandits – go to entry 501, Negotiate with the Bandits – go to entry 602. Some choices will require a player have a certain skill while others will require that a certain plot point has been reached or a certain amount of time has passed. Depending on the complexity of the action being resolved, this could involve a lot of page flipping.
Because almost all of the rest of the description of the game involves revealing plot details, readers looking for a taste of what the text is like can read samples on Fantasy Flight Games’ website.
Should readers buy Legacy of Dragonholt? The answer to that depends on many things. In this reviewer’s case, the answer is “It’s not my kind of experience”. The answer for other readers may be a resounding “Yes!”. A player’s individual expectations from a roleplaying game create the different answers.
First, a Game Master’s job is to be the dynamic writer of a story. Even if the players diverge highly from a scripted adventure, a creative Game Master can artfully weave them back into the plot. In Legacy of Dragonholt, the choices are highly determined by the needs of a concise story. The text and character choices feel like the strongest railroaded plots. The lack of a Game Master and many dynamic choices make this feel more often than not like a choose your own adventure book with some skills options thrown in. This can be tiresome for a group larger than two players.
Second, the writing style has more in common with novel prose than what would be found in the tight-action focus of a screenplay. The descriptions are sometimes overdone and flourished rather than suiting the needs of brevity and cut-to-the-chase. Depending on which person is reading, this can either be extremely boring and droning or at best, relaxing with a few moments of true engagement thrown in. If gamers enjoy reading fantasy pulp novels, this will be right up their alley.
During the reading of all the text blocks, one item which became overwhelmingly clear is that the writers did their best to not have text blocks repeat, but really it felt like a text-based computer game. The same blocks are unavoidably read again when players enter a location they’ve been to before. The best pacing is when the story is specifically directed such as in a combat, not when players have a lot of choice of where to go.
Finally, the puzzles and combats available are hit or miss in entertainment value. The challenge of the puzzles included is interesting, but the text can give away too much and lead characters to a solution. Meanwhile, the combats are largely unexciting in a passive way, mostly a quick description to see what choices each new text block brings.
While Legacy of Dragonholt is as interesting as the form can be, ultimately it pales. For an experienced group, this is a test of patience, hopefully with a good reader. When taken on solo (and read more quickly), it feels near-tense but has at most the engagement of your average fantasy novel.
Depending on the level of patience/experience a reader has for common Tolkienesque tropes and a typical journey through fantasy lands in a choose-your-own-adventure style journey, Legacy of Dragonholt will delight or fail. The novel (pun intended) mechanisms can wear out quickly (especially with an experienced RPG group) and what players can be left with is a relatively standard plot. Legacy of Dragonholt is a title for solo play and new-to-roleplaying fans of fantasy literature, especially families.
Final Score: 3 Stars – Fun for solo play with lots of page flipping and standard fantasy novel structured engagement.
• Choices unavoidably reveal character development/plot spoilers
• Text is broken up a lot in location-based descriptions
• Writing is not as concise as could be for reading
• Combat is lackluster