Four Things I Learned Playing DragonRaid, a Christian D&D Substitute

A while back, a friend of mine admitted he used to play “DragonRaid” as a kid. I figured it was a D&D knockoff, pretty common from the ’80s. Then he admitted that it was something he was forced to play in Sunday School.

Yes, it was a fundamentalist Christian version of “Dungeons & Dragons”. I was baffled, first of all that he had to play this, and secondly that it existed.

Being that it’s an old role-playing game from the ’80s, the entire thing is freely available online. So I got together a group, did some substitutions (mostly poetry for Scripture, since I was playing with a Buddhist, two Jewish folks, and an atheist), and we played the game.

And honestly, it was a little shocking what happened: we actually all enjoyed it.

The Game Rules And World Are Simple, But Solid

In a lot of ways, it’s heavily stripped down. That said, somebody clearly sat down with some D&D books and studied the system before constructing DragonRaid, and it shows. The gameplay is fairly straightforward: you use a D10 for all skill checks and roll against a few tables. You pick three weapons and skills at the start of the game and that’s it. XP (“Maturity Units” here) are tied directly to stats; there are no levels and each stat rises or falls independently.

Similarly, the game world, although the metaphors are thuddingly obvious (you’re playing a “TwiceBorn”, for example), is well constructed and has a lot of detail. You don’t have to fill in a lot of blanks. It was a nice surprise to see a game, religious or otherwise, so thought out. That’s probably a result of who was supposed to be the DM: Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, people who mean well but who may not necessarily be up on their Tolkien.

The Entire Thing Is Built To Prevent In-Game Dickery

I’m not going to lie, I rarely game because I’m a munchkin. So are all my friends, so whenever we game, it usually goes downhill fast. Here, though, beating up NPCs for their wallets and skinning gnomes to see if you can make a hang-glider out of them hands you massive stat drains and will kill you a lot faster than the in-game monsters.

The game instead rewards you for being nice to people. Granted, this in no way prevents muchkining: one of our group used to be Catholic, so he dragged in a lot of weirdness about slow martyrs and other saints pretty quickly. But it’s different, and it’s actually pretty funny.

Using Memorization and Recitation of Poetry Is a Surprisingly Effective and Fun Mechanic

I was incredibly skeptical of this part of the game. Obviously it’s designed to get you to memorize the Bible, so we tweaked it a little bit: you could use poetry, but you got marked down for consulting the book and the longer the passage you quoted, the more effective your “miracle” was and the more XP you got.

First of all, you learn that you’ve forgotten pretty much every Shakespeare sonnet drilled into your head in high school, and insufferable English majors have a huge advantage here. Secondly, it does devolve into an argument about using Slayer lyrics pretty quickly. But it’s fun and frankly it’s a lot more challenging and engaging than a lot of combat in pen-and-paper games.

It Makes You Think Outside the Box In Your Role-Playing

We’ve all seen the flowchart satirizing how to play D&D at some point (does it have gold? KILL IT!) The thing about DragonRaid is that it breaks that cycle: the entire idea is to keep you from becoming a homicidal maniac in-game. There’s combat, but it’s much trickier and riskier than charging in and throwing math at a goblin. You have to evaluate what fights you want to pick (or rather, try to avoid less strenously) and what fights you want to dodge.

I don’t feel the need to play it every day, and the simple mechanics would make it boring beyond a certain point.

But I was really surprised by how solid the game was and how fun it turned out to be. Someone sat down and made a genuinely good game instead of a preachy pile of crap, and it’s worth playing if for no other reason than that.