What's Eric Playing? #177: Legacy of Dragonholt
Alright, let’s go a bit out into right field with Legacy of Dragonholt. Generally speaking, I’m more of a “pieces and dice and throw stuff onto a table” gamer, but I have a deep love for narrative games, as well, from the more classic D&D-style games to games with a major narrative component, such as Pandemic Legacy, Near and Far, or Spy Club. I’ve been trying to figure out how to review legacy games (board games with a significant narrative component that play out over multiple games with persistent game-to-game effects and consequences), so reviewing a game like Legacy of Dragonholt (which, while not a legacy game, does have a major narrative campaign) hopefully will help me flex that part of my brain.
In Legacy of Dragonholt, you play as one or many characters called to Dragonholt Village by a friend of yours who expresses her desire to see you again after a while, but couldn’t be bothered to spell anything correctly in her letter. Nonetheless, you journey that way and encounter a whole new adventure. Will you be able to complete the quests, solve the mysteries, and uncover the intrigue in Dragonholt?
So setup kind of depends on where you are, gameplay-wise. The first thing you’re going to really need to do is create your character, so you’ll want to get out the Character Creation booklet and one of the character sheets:
Follow the instructions in the book to finish creating your character.
Generally speaking, for subsequent plays, you should use whatever book you were last using (I have omitted a photo of the books for spoilery reasons). For your first game, that’ll be “To New Roads”.
You can set aside the Item cards, but don’t look at them:
And if you’re playing with more than 2 players, give each player an Activation Token (you can use them at two, but it doesn’t super matter, so we typically don’t):
Honestly, once you’ve done all that, you’re basically ready to start!
If you haven’t created a character, yet, you should do so now. You’ll need to pick a race and a class, and each race and class have skills that members of that race or class tend to have, like Thievery or Streetwise or Performance. Generally, you take at least 5 skills, but you may take more at a 2 Stamina penalty per additional skill. At two players, you gain two additional maximum stamina, and if you’re playing by yourself, you would gain an additional four maximum stamina.
Anyways, once you’ve built your character, you can start your campaign. A campaign of Legacy of Dragonholt is tough to complete in one session (as each session is generally about an hour of play), so I’ll talk more about one specific session. Again, this assumes you’ve already gone through the process of creating a character.
If you’ve never heard of Legacy of Dragonholt before, it’s going to play like a simplified version of a tabletop RPG in a lot of ways. Rather than rolling a D20 for skill checks, like in Dungeons and Dragons (or some other RPGs), the skills your character has taken are just sort-of-checked as a binary “you have this or you don’t”.
What will happen is that you’ll generally read the given passage up to a choice, like so:
As you continue reading through the Legacy of Dragonholt review, you come across Eric. “Hello, traveler!”, he says, vaguely blurring the lines between a bad meta-joke and a complex narrative. You ask him what he’s doing, and he responds that he had meant to type a small excerpt from the Legacy of Dragonholt story book, but remembered that he didn’t currently have it on him, so similar to other narrative game reviews he’s done in the past, he’s just going to make it up on a whim. He wonders if you have any suggestions? Then again, given how lost he is in thought, you could probably just steal his wallet…
Steal this goof’s wallet.
Requires thievery (skill).
–> Read 6113.
“I don’t know if you fleshed out your own character enough; maybe explain his motiviations?”
–> Read 2005.
“Here, let me act out what you should do next.”
Requires performance (skill).
–> Read 7992.
“Maybe this book on metanarrative construction could help?”
Requires Book on Metanarrative Construction (C).
–> Read 7992.
I think that’s how it’s formatted; remind me to take a look next time I play. Either way, certain choices require certain skills, but only the active player’s skills are checked. If your actor / thief isn’t the active player, well, hope you like listening to someone explain character motivations for a few paragraphs. Either way, in To New Roads, you generally take turns having players be the active player by exhausting their Activation Token (flipping it face down). If your Activation Token is exhausted, you cannot make the current decision. If every player’s Activation Token is exhausted, you all flip yours face-up. In some later scenarios, players will have an “encounter” in which they are the active player for the entire duration of the encounter.
As you can see by the bottom prompt, some choices require that you have an item of some kind to proceed:
They’re labelled with letters (and I’m not showing the other side for again, spoilery reasons). You’ll pick them up through certain choices, and other choices may cause you to lose items or gain new ones.
Similarly, some choices may cause you to lose stamina. Once you’re at 0 stamina, you become exhausted, and must deactivate one of your skills in order to regain 1 stamina and keep going. It’s not lost forever, though it may take you a while to get it back.
Regardless of the outcome, other choices may cause you to mark Story Points, which may unlock a variety of good (or bad) new options as you progress through the campaign.
A “game” of it isn’t really “won” or “lost”, it’s just sort of played. You stop when you feel like, essentially, and as long as you keep track of what book you were using and what part you left off on, you can kind of keep going whenever. It’s very much like a more complex, game-y Choose Your Own Adventure book.
To that end, play until you either complete the campaign or feel like stopping!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The nice thing about playing solo is that you don’t have to spend a lot of time reading things out loud and you get a bonkers stamina boost (basically letting you have two extra skills for free). At two players, you get a pretty good stamina boost, as well, so knock yourself out. I feel like it probably excels in the one – three-player space unless you’re trying to use it as a ramp into more traditional tabletop RPGs; experienced players may get frustrated by the long amount of time between decisions they can make.
That said, I quite enjoy it at two or three, and I’m sure I would have fun playing it solo, as well.
Honestly, it’s a narrative, and I haven’t played to the end of the campaign, so “strategy” may not be the best name for this section.
- Try to get a wide coverage on skills. I think it might be a fool’s errand to attempt to predict the “perfect build” of skills to get you through any challenge (and I imagine they’ve made efforts to prevent there being a perfect build), but being proficient in many things may be helpful.
- Take some notes. You’ll find things that require certain story points or are only available under certain circumstances. It might be worth noting those so that you don’t waste time if you ever end up back at that location. Plus, those notes might help you explore a different path if you want to replay the campaign in the future. Memory is hard!
- Do what you want. I’m not convinced with a strictly narrative game that there’s a “right” answer as much as there is just a story you end up with. You’re not going to find the answers to what story you’ll like from me; you’ll just get what story I like. To that end, I’ll keep this section pretty short and say if something looks fun and you can do it, do it.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Super neat concept. It’s essentially right between a Choose Your Own Adventure book and an RPG. Similar to Spy Club’s Mosaic system, I’m really excited to see where this whole Oracle system will go next. Though, at some point, I’m going to forget the names of all these systems.
- The character creation is pretty simple. Pick a race, pick a class, pick some skills, now you have your max stamina, you done. No rolling traits, no random generation, I mean, heck, you don’t even really need a backstory if you don’t want. It’s pretty simple to just drop in and get started, which is a nice, low barrier to entry, especially for players new to the genre.
- The characters are great, too. It’s a very diverse world and I want to specifically highlight that. It’s rewarding to see a variety of people doing a variety of different things and it means that your character fits into the hustle and bustle regardless of their race or class, which helps my immersion a lot.
- It’s nice that you don’t really “win” or “lose”. It makes the game feel a lot more exploratory since there’s no real “CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!” point (though there are some small victories and quests to be completed along the way, and I imagine the larger narrative arc has some conclusion). It does make it hard to record plays in my BGStats app, though.
- It’s a very easy game to play. I don’t mean that there is no challenge; far from it. Rather, I mean that the actual mechanical progression of the game is simple. You could easily play it in bed relaxing or play it while laying on the couch and eating a snack, both things I regularly enjoy. This again is part of me arguing for an app version, but it’s also a very accommodating game and the casual atmosphere of it makes me think it would appeal a lot to new players, which is really great. I don’t have much experience in the tabletop RPG space, but this and games like it make me want to explore that sector more.
- The narrative book does a good job obfuscating the order of content. This is one gripe I, looking back, had with the Near and Far Character Quests — if you were reading one you could usually see another one that continued on that same storyline, which is frustrating (and campaign mode has a similar issue). For Character Mode, it would have been nice if they did what Legacy of Dragonholt does — have a bunch of nonlinear progressions.
- It’s unclear to me why the game doesn’t come with (more / any, in some cases) copies of things you’ll write on. A lot of the tracker sheets are just … printed on the backs of major books. I can’t write on books; that’s illegal. Or at least that’s how my brain feels about it. You should probably make some photocopies of the backs of each of the narrative books in order to have the correct tracking sheets. As someone who likes laminating things, I also laminated some of them.
- There’s not really a way to track stamina changes? I mean, like, tracking them on the character sheet seems kind of silly since you gain and lose stamina like, all the time. We’ve been using post-it notes. It seems like a problem that could be solved with like, tracker dice or something. Stamina tokens? I dunno, I’m just trying to add extra complex pieces to this game to give me more things to photo, I’d imagine.
- This style of game will definitely not appeal to everyone. I quite like it and would love to see how this system could be applied to other games in the future (especially as an app; could you imagine?). Like, this seems like an excellent game to keep people busy on an airplane or you could add, like, Exit-style puzzles (which would ruin replay value but whatever. Anyways, I digress. The one issue with a pure narrative game is that there’s a large risk of someone picking it up thinking that it’s something that it’s not. What it is is quite good, but I would caution you to make sure that you understand what it is before you get it.
- Reading everything out loud all the time can get a bit tiring. I would love a companion app that just audiobooks each section; it would be so much fun to have. Maybe I should just get some people together and make one.
OVERALL: 8.75 / 10
Overall, Legacy of Dragonholt is super! If you’ve never tried a pure narrative game before, this isn’t a bad place to start, and I’m not even a huge fan of fantasy! I won’t delve into that further but I imagine the reasons aren’t that hard to guess, but anyways. It’s got a lot of the nice parts of say, Dungeons and Dragons, but without as much complexity, making it feel more casual. Sure, there are things you can’t do here that you can do in D&D (mostly unscripted stuff since the entire game is kind of, well, pre-scripted and generated, to some degree), but you have to make tradeoffs somewhere. There will be some who lament that this isn’t a narrative game more in the vein of Near and Far (where there is a board game component but also a strong narrative) and I do love those kinds of games, but I would say that this wasn’t meant to be a game like those games, so I try not to judge it in the same way. To me, this is meant to be a more interactive form of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure-style books (as I’ve said), and I think it’s a really interesting system, in that regard. If you’re looking for a fun and straightforward narrative game or it’s your first time going anywhere near a narrative game, I’d highly recommend Legacy of Dragonholt! I’ve had a great time with it.