Dragoons20 Review

While I was bopping about the internet the other day, I tripped over a new Microlite20-based fantasy game called Dragoons20. Written by Randy Angle, the game document can be found at Hoppsbusch.com along with a Pocket-Mod version of the rules and a printable character sheet. Given my current project of interviewing microlite authors, I knew I wanted to give this game an immediate read-through.

The Dragoons20 document divides content into players’ and GMs’ sections. Character creation, advancement, powers and equipment are contained in the players’ section, while combat, hazards, monsters and even the results of characters dying and going to “Hell” are contained in the GM area. Necessary sections are easy to locate; the “regular” document itself is only 28 pages of easily-readable type (including the title page, a character sheet, the OGL and a blank page), so it’s simple to use. I’m usually a big guy for two-column format, but there are no issues here, and each section is clearly marked. Good work on the layout.

The description of Bantamwart, the world of Dragoons20, takes up most of one page. We are told that the technology is primarily clockwork (or “clockwerk”) and steam-based, but there is nothing else given to illustrate this. The general physical cosmology is laid out in a sort of Spelljammer manner, which piqued my interest, and a few basic divine concepts are also presented to us with just enough information to get the mind wondering. The author describes the game as “The Cartoon Steampunk Fantasy World of Scallywags and Scoundrels”, but not much is given to back that up in the fluff.

Characters are class- and level-based, as in Microlite20. There are four stats, instead of M20’s three, with M20’s Mind stat split into Intelligence and Charisma, a change I agree with. There are seven skills, including M20’s Physical, Knowledge, Subterfuge and Communication, along with Survival from M20 “Expert” and two new skills, Tactical and Recover, which do exactly what they say.

Eight races and six classes offer plenty of options. The races are all “small” in stature — gnomes, kobolds, pixies and so on. Character abilities are handled through the “powers” that the player chooses from class lists. These are more like Talents from d20 Modern than D&D 4e’s Powers, though they do include combat and spellcasting abilities.

Every character may have a “sidekick” pet called a Dragoon (whence the name of the game), which starts out with low stats but grows as the character advances. Dragoon stats are created with 3d6 drop lowest, rather than 4d6; as the character advances the player may add points to stats, choose additional powers and increase all skills. Dragoons with Strength 19+ may be ridden as mounts. There do not appear to be any downsides to having a Dragoon pet, making it a stylistic choice.

There’s a surprising amount of useful stuff packed into this small document. The equipment list includes multiple “fast packs” with cost totals. Creature rules include brief notes on making your own creations. There is even a section for converting “legacy” races and classes — your standard d20 fantasy stuff — using the Dragoons20 mechanics, on page 24. The character sheet is clean, simple and attractive.

Being a derivative of Microlite20, Dragoons20 uses the same d20+mods rolling method. Characters have Heart Points for combat and Star Points for powers and magic. A character can “invest” variable SP in many of the powers, getting greater returns for spending more energy, something I liked a lot. SRD items are easily inserted into the game.

My only quibbles with Dragoons20 are things that could be fixed in a few minutes or with a good errata sheet. For example, HP and SP are determined with simple formulae based on a character’s starting stats plus a random amount per level — but we are not clearly told if the random amount is added at first level. Nor are we told if the “max at first level” rule is in play, if so. For skills, all skills start at one rank, but we are told one skill gets “+3” and another “+2”. Does that mean one skill is at +4 total and another at +3, or that the +3 and +2 replace the starting +1?

After looking through the powers lists, I am convinced Dragoons20 could be used to play a “straight” fantasy game just as easily as the tongue-in-cheek, cartoony world the author has created. I enjoy the “talents” concept from d20 Modern (and some other d20-based games) and like applying it to fantasy. I also think the powers system could be the base for a fast, fun supers game. Overall I give Dragoons20 a hearty thumbs-up, though I think the established world of Bantamwart needs more than a bare-bones one-page introduction.