DragonQuest was one of the first non-D&D fantasy RPGs that we tried out in high school. It was well advertised, SPI was a well known company, and they were trying some things that weren’t exactly standard game design at the time.
It was a point buy system for stats, but there was a random roll to determine how many points you could spend and what your maximum score in a stat could be. The more points you started with, the lower your max score for a stat. It also was an action point economy based game, which was based off of your agility and determined how many actions you could perform.
You could always choose to be human, but if you wanted to play one of the other available fantasy races, you had to roll a percentile to see if you qualified (my least favorite rule in the game). Roll well and you could be a shapeshifter or even a giant. Roll poorly and you were stuck with human. You also determined your birth aspect (zodiac-ish), birth order, and social standing randomly.
Interestingly, you didn’t necessarily start unexperienced. Once you had your social standing and birth order you could determine both your starting wealth, and how much experience you started with. You could then spend (or choose not to spend) both before play even began.
Experience is spent on weapon skills, spells if you’re a practitioner of magic, or on professions… but don’t worry about professions at start, because Rank 0 in a profession costs more than you’ll start with.
The magic system in DragonQuest is definitely not “standard” Vancian magic ala D&D. You learn individual spells related to the Spell Collage you’ve chosen, and casting costs fatigue.
Overall, the books follow the wargaming model of numbered rules sections (2.0, 2.1, etc.) but is otherwise somewhat poorly organized. Character creation and combat rules are in book 1, but the sections for gear, skills, and how fatigue & experience work are in book 3. Magic is in book 2, but again, you’ll be jumping back to the fatigue rules at a minimum. It’s a bit of a mess, honestly. Second edition seemed to fix some of that, but also made changes to things that aren’t immediately obvious. My memory is that third edition was basically second edition, with the demons removed from the rules.
But hey, non-vancian magic, no classes, weapon skills that level up individually, and some semblance of social standing rules. It was, however, more focused on the tactical combat side of things, not unlike Metagaming’s Fantasy Trip (Melee & Wizard).
So I start out and roll a 16 on 4d5. Checking the chart, that gives 94 points and a max score of 21. The minimum score for any stat is a 5.
4d5 you ask? I’ll come back to this.
Primary stats are: Physical Strength (PS), Agility (AG), Manual Dexterity (MD), Endurance (ED), Magical Aptitude (MA or APA), Willpower (WP). Secondary stats (calculated) are: Fatigue (FT), and Perception (PC). If you want to add additional stats like physical beauty you can add them, but there’s little guidance beyond that they should be determined randomly.
Fatigue is based on Endurance, and regardless of what you play, you will want as high of a Fatigue score as you can manage… so I set my Endurance to 20 (there’s no difference between 20 & 21 for Fatigue)… The rest of the points I spend how I wish… and clearly I’m planning on playing a magical adept. I put one extra point in Agility, as that will give me 10 action points.
My final score array is: PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18. This gives me a Fatigue of 22. Perception starts at 5 (2nd ed says 8).
Sadly, DragonQuest came from the same mindset as Gygax’s AD&D in that “realism” requires that female characters take a -2 penalty to PS, but get an extra point of MD and Fatigue. Additionally, you can choose to play your own gender, but if you wish to play a different gender you need to roll 25% or less. And, of course, there are no provisions for anything other than binary gender. If I were running a DQ game of my own, I’d toss this right out the window… but the exercise is to create by the rules, so…
And even that gets complicated. There were three editions of DragonQuest, and there are subtle differences between each of them. As an example, first edition uses 4d5 to generate stats. Second edition uses 2d10. It’s the same numbers, but a four die curve is not nearly as steep… but I digress.
Back to character creation… my next step would be to determine if I will play a non-human. The only race that interested me with these stats was Elven, which is a 30% chance. I roll a 76, so I will remain human.
Next step would be my birth aspect, and then heritage. I roll a 27, so I am Vernal (Spring) aspected. This will occasionally effect percentile rolls when times are favorable (or not so much). For heritage, I roll a 61, and then a 07 and so I am the bastard child of a Craftsman or Adventurer.
Those results directly influence my starting experience and starting money. I roll a 87 for experience, and a 65 for starting money. Applying the modifiers for parentage and birth status, I begin with 250 XP (200 * 1.25 for bastard) and 138 sp (55sp * 5 for station / 2 for bastard).
At this point we would start spending experience and monies. Note that because my MA exceeds 15, I get a 5% deduction for every point above 15. Sweet, magic will cost me 20% less.
I buy rank 0 in Dagger and Quarterstaff. I start with Stealth and Horsemanship at rank 0 for free, and I decide to be an adept of the College of Sorceries of the Mind (Mind Mage). That means I start with all of that College’s general knowledge spells, and its general knowledge rituals at rank 0 as well. I decide to raise my ESP and Control Animal spells to rank 1. This leaves me with 15xp unspent, which I leave in the bank.
DragonQuest is not a game friendly to beginning characters… you’re not going to feel heroic, so much as you’re going to feel like a n00b. Chance of success is pretty low at first. Again, if I were running this game today, I would likely give all of the PCs more beginning XP. In the game’s defense, it does hand out XP reasonably quickly, and you can earn XP during downtime between adventures as well.
And finally, we spend money on gear… and the gear listing is sparse. A GM will need to flesh that out because I can guarantee you one of your players will want something they didn’t include a price for.
I opt for a Roman flare for naming, and our young apprentice mage is named Gaius.
PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18
Fatigue: 22, Perception: 8, Action Points: 10
Dagger 0, Quarterstaff 0, Stealth 0, Horsemanship 0
Magic: College of Sorceries of the Mind
Spells: ESP 1, Limited Precog 0, Mind Cloak 0, Empathy 0, Hypnotism 0, Control Animals 1, Control Person 0
Rituals: Bind Will 0
Dagger, Quarterstaff, Tunic, Pants, Boots, Backpack, Waterskin… and some writing materials at a minimum.
Finally, due to SPI being acquired by TSR and TSR wanting to focus on D&D, DQ eventually died as a product. As such, you can only purchase it used these days, and there is not a legal source for PDFs of the game.