If you can’t tell by now, I’ve played—and continue to play—a lot of games. And a lot of different types of games (though Dragonfire has stunted that some this last year, with its disproportionately high playtesting quota needs). So while it may sound hyperbolic, even with that breadth of perspective, I believe there is a powerfully unique element to Dragonfire (and its progenitor, Shadowrun: Crossfire).
More effectively than any other game I’ve ever played, Dragonfire tries to convince you that you’ve lost and that you should give up. And yet easily 3 out of 5 times, if the players would just push on, despite the insane odds and Exhausted tokens and Stunned characters, and the overwhelming feeling that the monsters are about to generate a Total Party Kill—victory can be pulled from the jaws of defeat!
We’ve had some pretty epic Hail Marys in the past. One of my favorites involved Talon’s Wizard that previously had to purchase Spirit Guardians to help save the second Scene. And at the end of the third Scene he’s Stunned, then top-decks that Spirit Guardians and proceeds to make a successful Devotion Check—with the only Devotion card in his entire deck—to get just enough damage to save our party’s butts.
However, last week we were playtesting the Calimshan Adventure Pack and had, without a doubt, the most ridiculously awesome Hail Mary I’ve seen in eight months of heavy playtesting.
Let me set the stage:
It’s the third and final Scene. In positions one, two, three, and four around the table we have a Forest Gnome Fighter [Heroes of the Sword Coast], a Tabaxi Bard [new Character screen for this Adventure Pack (see play testing stats below)], a Forest Gnome Druid [Heroes of the Sword Coast (I know, I know…two of them!)] and finally a Tiefling Warlock [Heroes of the Sword Coast].
The Hit Points around the table are: 2, 1, 4, 3. Hellish Rebuke [Warlock card from Adventure Pack: Shadows Over Dragonspear Castle] has been played the previous round, and so there’s a token sitting on the only encounter left…the Mummy Lord.
Now I’m not gonna show the whole card off, especially its nasty text abilities…you’re just gonna have to wait for the Adventure Pack for that. But here’s the damage track from our playtest card (the red outline on that 10 of the final row means immune to level damage). This card, hands down, is the sickest encounter we’ll have published to date. Even more dangerous than the Adult Green Dragon! And it had only the last two levels. We got this!
Except we move into the Dragonfire phase and we’re sitting at nine Dragonfire level! And …Not A Drop To Drink, a new Dragonfire card from this expansion (see the playtest copy at left), shows up!!! Now it’s a tough card, no doubt. But usually the combination of the high Dragonfire level needed for such a huge hit, combined with the Deadfall mechanic, allows’ us to usually miss the effect. In fact, in the half-dozen games we’d played with this card, I’d never seen its full impact yet. But we just blew through a huge swath of cards to get rid of the Gynosphinx the previous round—another brutal Difficulty Three card in this set—so we can’t possible clear that level 10 on the Mummy Lord that’s immune to level damage.
So the round begins. Player one (Jay) and two (my position) both draw cards and build power, knowing there’s nothing we can do. And let’s be very clear here…we barely made it to this point. There had been discussions of ending the game already. Twice. But as soon as …Not A Drop To Drink showed up, that discussion of quitting swelled into a din of pessimism. And even I was wondering if we should call it quits and re-set to get in another game before our time ran out that day. (Which is saying something, because usually I’m dogged enough to go to the bitter end of any game.)
On player three’s turn (Rob), the Mummy Lord attacked, dropping that character’s 4 HP to 2, but the Hellish Rebuke token then went off, eliminating the second to last level. Then the fourth player (Ben) went, and of course the …Not A Drop To Drink went into the discard, and we all were Stunned!
The din to quit became a cacophony! But I mentioned I’m dogged, right? I said we should keep going (and Jay backed me up). The next Dragonfire card was inconsequential, luckily, and we continue. On Jay’s turn, he draws a Master’s Longsword +1 Magic Item, which deals 2 points of damage.
On my turn, I draw a Stealth.
On Rob’s turn, he draws a card that won’t do enough damage—of course—and then the Mummy Lord attacks. Since he’s already got an Exhausted token, when he goes Stunned, he’s instantly Unconscious and out of the Scene, and the Mummy Lord immediately moves to the fourth player.
Rinse, repeat, Ben’s out, and the encounter rotates to Jay as the party leader. All is lost, right? We should just give up. The Mummy Lord is gonna take down Jay and then ruthlessly put me down, right?
But before that happens, we move to the Dragonfire phase…and up comes Dangerous Waters!!!!
Jay heals half his starting HP and immediately draws two cards after healing from Stunned: a Greatsword +1 Magic Item, which normally deals 2 damage, but for a Martial Class character deals 3. And then his second card is a Command Presence.
I also heal from Stunned and draw two cards: another Stealth, but also Encore [a Bard card from Heroes of the Sword Coast], which does 2 damage.
Jay then takes his turn and plays all three of his cards, nominating me to draw a card and play a card with Command Presence. I play Encore, and then with my Bardic Inspiration Feature it deals a total of three damage. Combined with Jay’s seven damage, we generate exactly ten points of damage and defeat the Mummy Lord!!!
So the next time Dragonfire sings its seductive siren song of “go ahead and quit,” don’t listen to it! The brilliance of the puzzle of this game is there is so often a path to victory, even if you might not see it at that moment.
Does that mean you’ll always win? Good heavens, no! (In fact, we got wasted in the game before this one.) But the next time you think you should give up, go ahead and keep trying and see what happens. And then do it again for another game or three, and I’ll bet at least one time (if not more), you’ll pull out that incredible, save-the-day victory when you were confident it couldn’t be done.
So grab that scroll, tighten your grip on your weapons and dig deep for that brilliant move you’ll all be talking about for a long time to come! I know I’ll be thinking about this Adventure for years.
Until next time!