Monday, February 16, 2015

Where dragon riders came from

 [art by Rich Longmore]
Dragon Riding is the first issue of the 13th Age Monthly subscription that started a couple weeks ago. You can pick up a subscription tothe 13th Age Monthly for the yearly price of $24.95. When you subscribe, you’ll get all the 4000+ word issues you missed so far in the year.
The Monthly’s second installment, Temples of the Frogfolk, will be published toward the end of this month. I’ll say more about the hopping-froggies soon, but for now I'm talking about how Dragon Riding made it into 13th Age. The biggest influences were Anne McCaffrey, Morno, Wade Rockett, and ASH LAW.
Anne McCaffrey because I discovered both D&D and her dragon riders of Pern the same year—1974—while living in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Somehow I got hold of the second of her dragon riders books, Dragonquest, instead of the first. I read it enough times that I had no choice but to include a school for dragons in the first dungeon that I drew on graph paper.
(Confession: the school for dragons was a big blank area in the graph. I had no real idea what the school for dragons was going to be like. It may not have just been luck that my 5th grade brain was never forced to figure it out, because I put the school behind the room that was modeled after the Watcher at the Gates from Tolkien’s Moria. Nobody ever made it past that room. Huh.)
Push forward many years and McCaffrey’s Pern books have had a great deal of influence on fantasy, maybe more than people know. McCaffrey’s depiction of newly hatched dragons impressing on humans to whom they bond as life mates has been used everywhere from Elfquest (elves and wolves) to the Temeraire Napoleonic dragon series by Novik. Maybe I’m wrong about McCaffrey creating that impression, maybe it was already in the wind somewhere, but I think she’s the person responsible.
At one point these 13th Age dragon riding mechanics had a bit of talk about bonding rituals and such-like magical impressionism. But handling it in any detail felt like a story angle that GMs and players should invent for themselves in a personally satisfying way if they’re into that type of thing, and in the end I took it out of the rules.
Morno gets credit because his illustration of dragon riding sold me an aerial dragon combat game once upon a time. As in, I saw Dragonlord, and I bought it. And then I really wanted to play it. I held on to it for years, tinkering with ways to make the game playable. Or perhaps the word would be “fully, enjoyably playable.” I think I still own Dragonlord somewhere in a forgotten game box, but it’s not like it is going to be any more playable now; so it was time to invent a system for dragon riding combat that would work.
Wade Rockett forced my hand by seizing on dragon riding as something cool that was happening in the Dragon Empire and not letting me forget it. I chirped, “Yes, sure!” to Wade’s suggestion of handling the topic in 13 True Ways. So when 13 True Ways grew wild and overpopulated, it was clear that dragon riding was going to have to come later. It’s even somewhat true that creating a dragon riding article pushed us farther on the path toward having a 13th Age Monthly. There’s room for smallchunks of constant fun, and there was a need for a few small pieces on topics that, in hindsight, we should have covered in 13 True Ways.
ASH LAW gets credit as co-author of the piece because when I turned away from the topic, pleading that I had other design tasks to handle, ASH kept designing dragon riding systems, each better than the last. ASH wasn’t going to let it go. He wants to write a 13th Age sourcebook on mounted combat and he was going to push the system through even if I was stuck in the mud of no-that-won’t-work.
So eventually I stopped being a stick-in-the-mud and designed a system we could be happy with. This Dragon Riding piece is going to serve as the basis for how other mounted combat works in the game. It also has notes on how to apply the mechanics to different types of campaigns and notes on how to run and balance battles for PCs who are on dragonback.

And it gives me a good reason to dig through old game boxes, because the counters and maps from the Morno Dragonlord game will be perfect for the sessions I run as dragon riding adventures! 

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