John Baker assesses a new roleplaying game by Wytchlight that not only promises realistic combat and great flexibility but is also an example of that very rare beast, a British roleplaying game.

Initial reaction to Dandanon was positive as the rulebook was presented in simple and solid, if not awe inspiring style. Like most fantasy roleplaying games, it is ideally suited to a quasi-medieval world in which powerful wizards wield terrible magic and mysterious beasts of myth and legend walk the land. So does Dandanon offer something different from all those other fantasy RPGs that have graced our hobby over the years?

Thankfully the answer is yes. Although most experienced roleplayers will spot sections of the system that remind them of this or that game, enough is as unique and innovative as it is possible to get these days. So, sword in hand, let us venture into the new and mysterious realm of Dandanon.

Character generation involves rolling 2d10 nine times and assigning the results to the nine primary statistics. Race selection comes next, which provides modifiers to the base (rolled) stats. Each race is described in terms of its appearance, abilities and culture. Whilst all of the old favourites such as elves and dwarves are here, goblins and orks are amongst a few others that also make an appearance. Also, although their names are familiar, the races are generally quite different to the typecast variants that we all know. Dwarves, for example, are actually the tallest member of the Troll Folk (they're still small though). As a skill based system, social class and race provide skill bonuses as well as special abilities such as being able to see in total darkness.

Skill points are used to purchase skills, which are split into physical, mental and general skills. Each character will have a number of physical and mental skill points based upon their respective stats. Whilst physical skill points can not be used to purchase mental skills and vice versa, either type may be used to purchase general skills. Also, as there are no character classes, all skills are available to all characters (unlesss the GM says otherwise). Even the ability to cast spells is purchased at the cost of a whopping 100 physical skill points. Physical skill points are used to represent the time that a character has spent in study instead of running about or pumping iron. Secondary statistics such as hit points and combat bonuses are calculated based upon the nine primary stats. To make life easier, a set of look-up tables are provided at the rear of the book for those stats requiring more than simple addition or subtraction.

Like most fantasy RPGs, Dandanon has an extensive selection of spells which are split into five schools of magic. These include Sorcerers, who tap into the matrix of raw power that flows through and binds together all things, both living and unliving, and Theomancy, the channeling of magical energy by a devout worshipper from his deity. The Theomancy school introduces an interesting point of departure from the norm in that there are actually very few Theomancy spells. Instead, a Theomancer may cast any spell from any school of magic that is relevant to their deity (such as fire-based spells for a Sun God).

Spells are cast using a spell point system and any memorised spell may be cast any number of times so long as the caster has the spell points. There are also three ways of casting any spell. Word Magic is the quickest, requiring little more than the will and a single word, but costs the most. Long Magic, on the other hand, requires the least spell points but the most time, with Short Magic falling between these two extremes. When purchasing skills, spell casting ability must be purchased in each school individually. This combination of schools and forms of casting gives players a great deal of choice - can they take the time to use Short Magic or is Word Magic needed?

Skills, statistics, spell casting ability and spell points may all be improved during the course of play. New skills and areas of casting may also be learned. This provides a great deal of control over a character's development.

The greatest difference between Dandanon and other roleplaying games however is its combat system. No rounds or turns here, instead everything is done based upon real units of time, in this case seconds. Whilst this may at first seem a little excessive and unwieldy, the system actually works very well and players should soon get used to working out when their next action takes place. Also of great importance to combat is the manner in which armour and damage is handled. When a successful strike is made that is not parried, the attack has a chance to penetrate the opponents armour fully, thereby ignoring it. This chance is lower with better armour and is modified by such things as weapon type and strength. If the armour is not penetrated then it will reduce the damage inflicted by its protection rating. All armour is rated against several types of attack such as thrust, chop etc.

Damage is inflicted both in terms of general hit points and location specific hit points, very similar to Runequest. However, weapons also inflict shock damage which may cause a character to lose consciousness. The effects of combat are very realistic; bones can be fractured, arms can be incapacitated etc.

A pretty extensive bestiary, a good short scenario and a brief introduction to the campaign setting provide the information needed to get a game up and running.

Opinion: As the first release from a new game company, Dandanon is an excellent product. With several additions planned for the system including the Dandanon campaign setting, adventures, science-fiction settings etc., there should be plenty to go at.

Some of the complexities of the combat system may be a little too much for inexperienced players, but those willing to persevere will enjoy a unique experience. Go on, give it a try, you'll be glad you did.