Dungeons & Dragons gets widely and constantly critiqued by folks, both fans and otherwise. Call it justified or a symptom of reigning largely unchallenged in the popular conception of tabletop RPGs, but Wizards of the Coast’s ultra-successful setting easily dominates conversations with each newly released sourcebook and supplement.
Because of its ubiquity - but also because many artists and players cut their roleplay teeth on some version of slaying rats in the basement of an inn - picking apart aspects of Dungeons & Dragons’ design is a common pastime. And every once in a while, a professed Twitter shitpost about modifiers spins out into a system of its own. Thus was created Chris Bissette’s A Dragon Game.
A Dragon Game reads simply, almost unassumingly so. The language is blunt and matter-of-fact. On the first page and under the “Doing Stuff” header, instructions on rolling read: “When you want to do something and failure would be interesting or risky you roll dice. If failure wouldn’t be interesting or risky, you just do it.” It explains advantage and disadvantage, deciding three broad stats - agility, brawn and cunning - from three results of a six-sided die and the costly, ritual-based magic that all characters can access.
One page contains two headers and six total words. “CLASS - You’re an adventurer.” “RACE - No.”
Bissette - designer of the solo roleplay system Wretched & Alone - explains in a Twitter thread that A Dragon Game was the result of their attempts to create an Old School Revival system that completely eschewed modifiers - those numbers proceeding a plus or minus symbol on nearly every box of a standard Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. “Here's how you do away with modifiers in any edition of the dragon game,” they begin. “Play a game that doesn't use modifiers.”
It’s intentionally glib and references the well-heeled response to a player’s eventual question of ‘how to play D&D but without this one pesky rule’. A Dragon Game uses a roll-under system for attacks and skill checks, where rolling exactly a character’s score value results in a critical success. When attacking or defending, damage is calculated from the difference between the score and the die result.
Not only is the roll-exact mechanic a wonderfully simple way to make crits feel unique to the character, nearly every aspect of combat is reduced to single rolls done by the character - eliminating the need for dice pools and number crunching after every sword swing or loosed arrow.
Bissette’s approach to levelling up and adventuring is appropriately sparse and to the point. A Dragon Game is a system that can be applied to any number of adventure game modules with a small bit of conversion. Designers can build upon the system or integrate it into their own campaigns as they choose, providing an 11-page release from the mathematical humbuggery of modifiers.
A Dragon Game isn’t revolutionary in scope, nor is it a three-inch-thick tome of worldbuilding and random tables. It’s somewhere between an OSR parody of D&D as roleplay default and an earnest attempt to show how paper-thin the walls of the hobby monolith can sometimes be. Those interested can pick up A Dragon Game at a pay-what-you-want price point on Bissette’s Itch.io page.