In addition to creating RPGs that leverage IP like Aliens and Blade Runner, Free League has also been translating and revamping RPGs previously known to the European market. The game we’re looking at today, Dragonbane, has a storied history. Drakar och Demoner came about in 1982, originally as a game using Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. Chaosium’s games were a big influence on the development of the game, which is why the 2nd edition of the game introduced anthropomorphic ducks into the setting, as a nod to Chaosium’s Glorantha setting.

Speaking of Glorantha, Drakar och Demoner has gone through multiple owners, as well as multiple settings. The game rules and the setting have converged and diverged over the years, until Free League got the rights to the core game system and Kickstarted the game in 2022. The Dragonbane Core Set is the result of that Kickstarter.


I was provided with a preview PDF of the Dragonbane Core Set by Free League for review. I have not had the opportunity to play or run the game with a group, but I have played through a few solo adventures using the provided solo adventure booklet from this set.


Lead Designer & Editor Tomas Härenstam
Other Writers Roger Undhagen (Outskirt and Isle of Mist original texts), Andreas Marklund (introductory text, monsters, Riddermound, The Secret of the Dragon Emperor, new versions of Outskirt and Isle of Mist), Krister Sundelin (magic), Niklas Natt och Dag (The Village of the Day Before), Moa Frithiofsson (Oracle Cave), Johan Sjöberg (Bothild’s Lode), Gabrielle de Bourg (Dead Eyes Cave), Magnus Seter (Troll’s Spire), Gunilla Jonsson & Michael Petersén (Tower of Sighs), Svante Landgraf (Temple of the Purple Flame), Pelle Nilsson (Road’s End Inn), Mattias Johnsson Haake (Fort Malus, profession quotes), Mattias Lilja (new version of Isle of Mist), Shawn Tomkin (solo rules), Marco Behrmann (pre-generated characters), Nils Karlén (GM advice and tables), Kosta Kostulas (tables)
Lead Illustrator Johan Egerkrans
Additional Art Anton Vitus, Niklas Brandt
Graphic Design Niklas Brandt, Christian Granath, Dan Algstrand Layout Dan Algstrand
Translation Niklas Lundmark Maps Francesca Baerald, Niklas Brandt
Proofreading Brandon Bowling
Rules Review Jonas Ferry, Marco Behrmann, Nils Karlén, Kosta Kostulas

Layout and Formatting

This review is based on the PDF I was provided. After seeing all the components inside, I wish I had the physical boxed set to comment on them, now that I see everything that was included, but that’s on me.

The booklets in this set look amazing. It is set up in a traditional two-column layout, with a weathered parchment-colored background, and green borders at the top of the pages as well as the sidebars that appear throughout. The character artwork is in color, with a sepia-tone theme. The opening pages of the chapters have full-color full-page illustrations.

The Dragonbane Core Set contains the following PDFs:

  • Getting Started (1 page)
  • Dragonbane Rules (116 pages)
  • Dragonbane Adventures (120 pages)
  • Solo Adventures (12 pages)
  • Player Maps (19 pages)
  • Character Sheet (2 pages, full color and printer friendly)
  • Pre-Generated Characters (10 pages, 5 characters)
  • Standees (4 pages, 2 pages front and back of the same characters)
  • Battle Mat (2 pages, outdoor and indoor maps)
  • Adventure Cards (22 pages, 11 plot hooks front and back)
  • Improvised Weapons (36 pages, 18 improvised weapons front and back)
  • Treasure Cards (80 pages, 40 treasures front and back)
  • Initiative Cards (20 pages, 10 cards front and back)
  • Map of the Misty Vale (2 pages)

While I don’t have the physical boxed set, it comes with a full set of polyhedral dice, including 2d20, 1d12, 1d10, 1d8, 4d6, and 1d4.

The Rules

The core resolution mechanic is a roll under d20 system, where players are either rolling under an attribute or a skill. Rolling a 1 on a check is a “dragon,” indicating an especially good result, while a “20” is a “demon,” meaning something really bad happens. Special circumstances in the player’s favor grant a Boon, while circumstances against them grant a Bane. Unlike advantage and disadvantage in D&D 5e, players cancel out Boons and Banes one for one, meaning that it matters if you get two Banes and one Boon, because that will result in a net Bane on the roll. Not unlike advantage/disadvantage, once you have a Boon or a Bane, you roll two dice and either pick the best or the worst result from the dice you rolled.

Each of the character Attributes has a condition associated with it. If you take that condition, you roll checks associated with that Attribute with a Bane. If you fail a kill check or an Attribute roll, you can check one of those conditions to push the roll and get a reroll.

Damage is resolved by rolling a polyhedral die based on the attack being used, with an additional polyhedral die added based on the character’s attribute rating. For example, a character with a 13 Strength using a Strength-based weapon would roll the damage die for the weapon, +1d4 for having a 13 in the Attribute. Armor is subtracted from the damage taken.

Characters have abilities derived from their Kin and their Profession. Many of these traits are powered by spending points of Willpower. Willpower is also spent to power spells for spellcasting characters. Each of the starting professions has a Heroic Ability connected to it, except for Mages, who start with their spellcasting ability. As characters advance, they can pick up additional Heroic Abilities.

The initial Kin introduced in the set include the following:

  • Human
  • Halfling
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Mallard
  • Wolfkin

The initial professions introduced in the set include:

  • Artisan
  • Bard
  • Fighter
  • Hunter
  • Knight
  • Mage
  • Mariner
  • Merchant
  • Scholar
  • Thief

Your Kin only provides you with abilities and doesn’t affect your statistics. Some of those abilities are based more on culture than physiological abilities, but there is a mix of both. In addition to providing you with an initial Heroic Ability, professions also provide a list of starting skills. When a character is created, six of their starting skills come from the skills associated with the profession.


There are three schools of magic introduced in this set, although the text of the rules mentions that more schools may be introduced in the future. All the spells are organized under these schools, or are categorized as General Magic, meaning it is available to any spellcaster. The schools introduced in this set are:

  • Animism (spells related to nature, spirits, or gods)
  • Elementalism (spells expressed with wind, water, earth, or fire)
  • Mentalism (spells that affect the mind, or allow you to do more with your body through mental focus than you could otherwise accomplish)

Characters can learn spells when they find a grimoire or a teacher, but they can only actively prepare a limited number of spells based on their Intelligence Attribute. Spells have requirements that can include word, gesture, focus, and/or ingredients.

Some abilities are Magic Tricks, which you don’t need to prepare, but do cost Willpower to cast. These are simple abilities like being able to move loose objects, generate light, or repair clothing. Other spells are organized into ranks. A starting character can only know Rank 1 spells, but later, if they meet the requirements for higher rank spells, they can start to add those spells to the abilities they know. For example, the Protector spell only requires that you know a school of magic. Magic Shield, a Rank 2 spell, requires you know Protector, a Rank 1 spell. Transfer, a Rank 3 spell, requires that you know Magic Shield.

This has the overall effect of causing a mage to work their way up to more powerful spells without relying on a level-based system. It also means that a mage isn’t going to get more powerful spells unless they put in the work to learn related, lower-rank spells.


I’m not going to delve too deeply into gear, but there are some interesting aspects of gear and how it relates to game rules. Rather than just explaining what a piece of gear does, in general, about every piece of gear has a specific effect. For example, a saw tells you how long it takes to use it to produce a desired result. A tent tells you under what conditions it grants a boon when you are resolving travel. Having specific clothing negates specific journey mishaps.

Weapons have a durability rating. That means if you use a weapon to parry, and the damage that would have been done from the attack exceeds that durability, you need to get the weapon repaired. There are optional rules for damage types and armor, making some better against bludgeoning weapons, and others better against slashing weapons. If you are using these rules, and you have a weapon capable of doing multiple types of damage, you need to state your approach before you make the attack.

While the core rules give you a “generic” means of resolving improvised weapons, I wanted to call out the Improvised Weapon Deck that comes with this set. They are divided into different locations, so, for example, some cards are for improvised weapons you would find in an Inn. Instead of simply doing damage and then breaking, as standard improvised weapons, the weapons in this deck may trigger a one-shot combat trick instead.


The Bestiary lists a range of creatures, including Demons and Dragons, who are pretty important to the setting, as well as creatures like ghosts, giant spiders, and trolls. One important aspect of the statistics in this chapter is that monsters act differently than other NPCs. Monsters roll on a chart that determines their attack. These attacks just happen, they don’t use the same resolution that players use to see if they attack successfully. Creatures also have a Ferocity rating, which is the number of spots they have in the initiative. This means the GM isn’t deciding what attack to use, but rather monsters have their own randomly determined script. It’s very similar to the way creatures work in the Alien RPG.

Monster attacks can’t be parried, but they can usually be dodged. While goblins and orcs appear in the Bestiary, they both have a specific trait marking them as Non-Monsters. They resolve attacks just like player characters, and more importantly, they can be persuaded, and are noted as being individuals with their own goals and motivations.

While they aren’t included in the Bestiary, there is also a section of the book that includes stats for commonly encountered NPCs. These NPCs also use the same “roll under” resolution as player characters and have entries that give (only) their relevant stats/skills for their role in the game.


Like many other Free League games, combat initiative is resolved by drawing from a deck of cards marked 1 through 10. Whenever a character acts, they flip the card over to show that that turn has been taken. In some cases, such as an ambush, characters that are being ambushed will only be allowed to draw from a subset of cards, (5-10, for example). Characters can also exchange cards with anyone that has a higher card number that hasn’t acted yet, moving that character’s actions up so that the character that traded actions can act later in the round.

Turning cards over when a character has acted is an important mechanic for tracking action economy, not only because Ferocity can grant monsters multiple actions in a turn, but because various reactions cause a character to flip over their card rather than taking their regular turn. For example, a character can attempt to dodge or parry an attack, but that causes them to flip their initiative card rather than perform their regular turn.

Characters use the Evade skill to dodge an attack, or they use a relevant weapon skill to parry an attack. That means a character fighting someone that can be parried is often better off, because they have some kind of trained weapon skill, if they haven’t taken the Evade skill, which may take up one of their non-profession skill slots, and is based on Dexterity, which may not be one of their better stats.


The set doesn’t spend a lot of time on the setting. Most of the world-building exists in explaining how the different species interact with one another, and how various monsters fit into the setting. The large, overarching theme is that dragons and demons are primordial powers, with demons representing chaos and dragons representing order, and those creatures being foundational to the world itself.

The Misty Vale, a series of locations encircled by mountains, is primarily described in the adventure background material. In the ancient past, a powerful demon’s forces were rampaging through the world, and humans allied with dragons fought them back. The humans worshipped the dragons and founded an empire with this religion as it’s foundation. There are still remnants of both demonic cults and dragon worshippers in the region, but many viewed the reign of the dragons as tyrannical, and so they aren’t universally loved, even though they fought in opposition to the demons.

There is an orc leader and her band that are presented as powerful and potentially dangerous, but not a rampaging evil horde bent on destroying “civilization.” In fact, not only does the setting description take great care not to overly cast this band as evil, there are various orcs and goblins that are framed as helpful, or at least non-combat encounters in both the solo adventures and in the adventure/campaign booklet.

In many ways, it reminds me of the 13th Age setting, in that there is some history, and some knowledge of events happening in the past, and general trends in the current locations, but there aren’t deep lore or statistical dives into a strict timeline or hard numbers on population. It provides some very broad, soft boundaries that help to inform the style of fantasy in the game. This is an adventurous setting where there is evil to oppose, but evil is more about execution than individuals.

The Adventures

There are two booklets of adventures in this set. One is for solo play, but is noted as being useful for small groups without a GM. The other provides several linked adventures that can be played in any order, except for the concluding adventure of the storyline.

The solo play booklet includes a few additional rules to help with the survivability of a character in solo play. For example, there are two additional Heroic Abilities available in this mode of play, either granting you an additional initiative slot or allowing you to push a roll without suffering a condition, at the cost of some Willpower.

Solo adventurers can attempt to heal themselves more often. There are also oracle tables for  you to roll on to resolve answers to questions you might have, special Dragon and Demon effects for rolling a 1 or a 20 to keep you from getting into too much hot water randomly, and random tables for resolving NPC attacks in a manner similar to monster attacks where you don’t need to pick a tactic and roll under, you just use the chart for a melee, ranged, sneaky, or magic attacker to see what they do.

The solo booklet has several tables for randomly generating missions, and in addition to this, it has a mini-campaign outlined, with five linked adventures around the same story themes. When playing through these, you use a d6 to track some impending event that will happen for each of the missions, and when it advances to 6, your character will need to deal with that event.

I played through this event using an Elf Hunter, and I picked the Army of One Heroic ability for solo play. This gave me an extra turn in the initiative. I played through the first two missions of the outlined story before my character died, mainly because I forgot that I could recover hit points on a stretch rest, so I may have advanced the Threat die, but I probably would have had enough hit points to survive the monster I ran into. It was a fun way to get familiar with the ins and outs of the resolution system, including investigating secret passages, avoiding traps, and negotiating with NPCs that weren’t immediately hostile, not just combat.

As mentioned above, the adventure booklet contains 10 different adventure locations that can be visited, with elements of an ongoing story, with an 11th location that can be used to conclude the running story from the rest of the locations. There are also descriptions of the starting settlement, as well as random encounters based on journeys to different locations.

The included Adventure Deck can be used as handouts to the players when they hear rumors in Outskirt, the starting locations, about adventure sites. As they collect these rumors, the cards can remind them what was said about each location, and they can decide among those locations they have “gathered” which one they would like to explore first.

The overarching story involves finding four keys to unlock a site to recover an ancient magical sword, before those keys can be assembled by demon cultists hoping to bring a powerful demon back into the world. Not only are the PCs competing against the demon cultists, but the orc leader is also attempting to find these same keys, in hopes of stopping the demon cultists. That means that over the course of several adventures, you can eventually find out that the orcs aren’t really your enemies and you can start working together against a greater threat.

The charm of this adventure booklet, to me, is that it is a simple, straightforward storyline, but with elements you don’t always see, such as learning that the orcs looking for the keys aren’t automatically enemies, or that some of the demonic cultists aren’t really that devoted to the cause and may not want to fight to the death or even remain in the cult. I also really like the Demonic Omens table to add a feeling of impending doom as the adventures progress. I’m a big fan of using classic tropes well and in an engaging manner.

 Even if you aren’t planning on switching to this game long term, this feels like the kind of game that you play when you may have forgotten why you enjoy fantasy roleplaying, just to remind yourself of some of the wonders of adventuring. 

This set looks great. Its components aren’t just flashy but contribute to presenting the game rules and the adventures in a clear manner. It presents classic fantasy in a very accessible manner, and in an extremely attractive package. I like the focus that the game has in communicating what the Kin and Professions do with their Abilities, and I like the clarity that the rules provide by doing things like explaining what the gear is meant to do in a way that explicitly interacts with the game rules.


On one hand, I can see the virtue of only providing the baseline of setting information to run the adventure, and allowing the group at the table to define more of the setting, but I would have liked just a tiny bit more, like some of the religions of the setting outside of the demon and dragon cultists. There are a few places where the clean and simple expression of the rules seems to be a little at odds with some of the more granular aspects of the rules, like tracking durability on weapons, or armor types versus weapons. Even at its most complex, this is still a very clearly expressed system that is a lot less complicated than many games in the fantasy genre, but I think some of those optional or granular rules may still trip some people up.

Strongly Recommended–This product is exceptional, and may contain content that would interest you even if the game or genre covered is outside of your normal interests.

I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy the contents of this set. It manages to do multiple things well at the same time. It’s definitely a game that can appeal to gamers used to “old school” fantasy, but it feels fresh and not crusty or overly idiosyncratic. It takes tropes we all know well, cuts off all of the flash, polishes those tropes up, and says “look how shiny and smooth this can be!”

Even if you aren’t planning on switching to this game long term, this feels like the kind of game that you play when you may have forgotten why you enjoy fantasy roleplaying, just to remind yourself of some of the wonders of adventuring. I love how this manages to be a recreation of a beloved RPG, while also obviously mixing in the greatest hits of some of the other elements that Free League has been using to good effect over the last few years.