Review: Draugen

Despite the near total lack of promotion or pre-launch info for the game, I’d been looking forward to Draugen for some time. A psychological horror game with Nordic themes by Ragnar Tornquist seemed the next best thing to a new Secret World game.

The logo and title screen for DraugenI think I may have over-hyped Draugen to myself a bit, but it still wound up being a solid game.

Set in 1923, Draugen is the story of Edward Charles Harden. Accompanied by his ward, Alice (AKA “Lissie”), he journeys to the remote Norwegian town of Graavik to search for his missing sister.

Upon arrival, Edward and Lissie find Graavik deserted, and as the days unfold they delve into the mystery of what befell the town as they search for Edward’s sister.

It is very much a walking simulator. There’s no combat, and the handful of challenges you do encounter are too simple to rightly be called puzzles.

Also, despite how I’d heard it promoted, I wouldn’t say this is a horror game. There are a handful of mildly scary sequences, and the story deals with some dark themes, but I don’t think it actually qualifies as horror. Indeed, most of the time the game is quite tranquil — relaxing, even.

Alice/Lissie in DraugenIt is, however, a mystery. You’ll spend most of your time uncovering clues, and the way the picture of what happened in Graavik slowly unfolds is very well done. It feels neither too slow nor too rushed, and it will definitely get you thinking as you try to put the pieces together.

However, if you want the sort of mystery where everything is wrapped up in a neat little package, you will be disappointed. The ending of Draugen is quite inconclusive, and it’s very much up to the player to decide for themselves what really happened in Graavik.

This is not a style of storytelling I’m especially fond of, but I felt it worked here for a couple reasons.

One is that it doesn’t feel cheap. Nothing is withheld from the player; you learn everything that characters in that situation reasonably could. They might not wrap everything up, but it’s not the sort of story that keeps everything vague and mysterious just for the sake of being “artistic.”

The other is that I choose to believe this is a TSW game.

An ominous message in DraugenGoing in, I had already half-jokingly decided that I was going to treat Draugen as part of the Secret World setting, even if it’s not officially labeled as such, and while nothing in the game disproves that notion, there’s not an enormous amount of evidence to support the idea, either. The closest you get is a piece of dialogue near the end that echoes a mission from TSW so well I question whether it can be a coincidence.

But I do grant even that is far from conclusive.

However, if I press forward with my idea that this is a TSW game, it works wonders to fill in all the blanks of the story. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but connecting Draugen to TSW is for me the perfect way to make the story make sense.

So Draugen didn’t blow me away — if I’m being honest, The Park is definitely the superior TSW-adjacent walking simulator — but it is a game I’d recommend. It’s interesting, and it’s well-done.

I wouldn’t say you need to know TSW to enjoy it, but I definitely think it helps.

If nothing else, it’s worth it just for the breathtaking graphics and soundtrack. This game is an absolute feast for the senses.

The beautiful scenery of DraugenI really want to visit Norway now.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Interestingly, it seems a sequel may be on the way at some point. The credits conclude with the message, “Edward and Alice will return.”


Dungeons and Dragons: TSW Homebrew Release

It’s taken me longer than I expected, but I have now cleaned up my notes for homebrew adapting the setting of The Secret World to fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons enough for a public release. Included in this are a core rulebook with everything you need to create characters and play in the setting, a short campaign of four “issues” (adventures), and a bestiary with stats for all the monsters in the campaign.

The Black Pharoah Akhenaten in The Secret WorldYou can download the files from my Google Drive.

Features include:

  • New death mechanics reflecting the immortality of Gaia’s chosen.
  • A sanity mechanic.
  • Racial choices replaced by five playable factions: The Illuminati, the Dragon, the Templars, the Brotherhood of Phoenician Sailors, and the Council of Venice, each with unique perks and abilities.
  • New feats, skills, and backgrounds (I’m especially proud of the Conspiracy Theorist background).
  • New subclasses for all playable classes (some classes are disallowed because I feel they clash with the setting). Some of these are direct adaptations of abilities and builds from the original MMO — leech heal with the Reaper archetype for rangers, or regen like Wolverine as a Predator rogue — while others are entirely new ability sets inspired by the lore of the setting. Pacify your enemies with the Sleepless Lullaby as a College of Binding bard, or follow in the footsteps of Theodore Wicker by choosing the Hellraiser origin for your sorcerer.
  • Rules for driving cars.
  • New and reflavoured items and equipment.

I tried to design this to be equally playable by both hardcore TSW fans and people with no prior experience in the setting (a difficult tightrope to walk). None of my friends played the MMO, and I do want this to be a tool to help introduce more people to the awesomeness of TSW. The core rulebook includes a lore primer to help people who don’t know TSW; however, you can ignore it if you already know the setting.

Some caveats:

  • This is an adaptation of the mechanics of the original version of The Secret World, not Legends. I don’t wish to rehash any debates, but I feel the original TSW was a superior game and a better expression of the setting.
  • The bestiary only includes monsters that were used in the campaign I wrote. If you want to create new stories, you’ll likely have to build your own monsters, or repurpose existing D&D creatures.
  • I fully expect some people to disagree with my interpretations of the setting (I expect my list of what classes are and are not playable to especially controversial). That’s okay. I encourage everyone to tweak things as they see fit. I’ll be surprised if anyone ends up playing this with exactly the rules I wrote.
  • I am not a professional game designer, and this hasn’t been rigorously play-tested. I tried to balance out the most broken stuff (my original draft for Backer warlock was horrifying), but there are still bound to be many balance issues. As much as possible, I tried to err on the side of making players too powerful rather than too weak.
  • More than anything else, I want to stress that I see this as a starting point for adapting TSW to tabletop, not a total conversion. Manage your expectations accordingly.

That’s about all there is to say. If anyone does end up playing using my homebrew, please let me know! I’d love to hear your feedback, and any war stories on how it went.