Dragon Dowser solo journaling game using Carta

Review of Dragon Dowser, a solo-journaling TTRPG from Hatchling Games!

Dragon Dowser is a card-based solo journaling TTRPG that revolves around themes of conservation, connection, and saving dragons!

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Dragon Dowser is a TTRPG for all ages (reading and writing required)

Dragon Dowser is rated for all-ages and requires some reading and writing (or help from a grown up or facilitator) to be able to read the story and prompts on the card and then write about it in the journal.  With a kid who can’t read and write yet, a grown up could definitely play this with a kid by reading them the story and prompts and having a young one respond back verbally.

The game does not involve any player character death (if you run out of resources, you abandon the search and start over), and the prompts, while maybe lighting on some perilous events happening in the world, are experienced more through observation and give players some control over the tone of the events.  

For example, one of the cards talked about a group of soldiers (who the player character opposes) destroying a workshop and asked how they had done it and if anything was left behind.  I wrote that they took all of the equipment to repurpose for the machines that THEY were creating but left behind a small helper robot that hid in a wall compartment.  It was like the character was viewing this from a distance or seeing the aftermath, so not participating in a destructive act, AND I had control over the level of detail and intensity of the event with how I wrote in my journal entry.

Dragon Dowser is set in a chaotic world that you both observe and save

Dragon Dowser sets up its initial story VERY well.  In a few short and artful paragraphs, there’s a frame of this somewhat post-apocalyptic land that was saved by dragons and has now turned on them while a group of rebellious individuals has set out to rescue and protect these dragons before everything descends into total chaos once again.  

From there, the rest is largely up to how the player responds to the prompts.

For my response to the card I mentioned previously with the workshop, I wrote about a small helper bot that had hidden itself in the walls.  It was the first thing that came to my mind, and now… that means that in this world, the machines have an intelligence to them, and this influences future responses.  Someone else might have said that a crystal core power source sparking with magic was left behind, or someone else may have said it was a small clockwork dragon… each one colors the world differently and makes it unique to the player.

Your character in Dragon Dowser 

Your character in Dragon Dowser is a mysterious individual who is trying to save a dragon’s egg that’s being pursued by a group of soldiers.  Your goal is to find the egg and get back to the sanctuary while you still can in order to save the land.

You don’t have a character sheet since your stats are basically tracked by how your resources fluctuate with each card.  However, that doesn’t mean your character will not be fleshed out by the end of the game.  Each card that you pull has prompts that you fill in from your character’s perspective, so you build them as you play, which felt much more personal than many other one-shot tabletop RPGs that I’ve run.  It is VERY story and player focused, so you get that depth as you discover your character during the journey.

Cards, resources, maps, and dowsings in Dragon Dowser

Cards, resources, and prompts

The main mechanic for Dragon Dowser is the cards that drive the game.  As you play, you flip different cards that have part of the story for your journey, the impact it has on your resources, and journaling prompts that help you flesh out the world and your character.

Some cards will give you resources when something positive happens (like finding an ally), or you can lose resources when something negative happens (like if your dowsing crystal cracking).  When you reach zero resources, you have to abandon the mission and try again, so it’s really important to watch this number as you play!

Beyond this, cards also include prompts, which cover the main storytelling mechanic for Dragon Dowser.  They ask about the world, your character, people that you meet, and dragons that you may encounter.  With this being a solo game, you don’t have any other players to bounce stories off of, so the prompts need to be very engaging to keep the RP lively… and they are.  The questions have enough depth to be interesting while also leaving enough room for player creativity and world building.

The card map

I’ve played a few solo-journaling games that are based on cards, and one of the things that I liked about this particular one is that it creates a map from your deck, and you need to strategize your resource usage a bit.  Your mission is to find the ace of the dowsing suit you’ve picked (more on that next), which represents finding the dragon egg you’re searching for.  Once you have that, you then need to make your way back to a safe spot, called a sanctuary.  However, you need to spend resources to pass back through flipped cards, so you need to plan out your path carefully and weigh if you want to take risks with uncovering new stories in the last leg of the mission to maybe take a shortcut.

It’s also really cool because you will get a totally different map each time and never know what combination of events or prompts and world you’ll end up in.  This has VERY solid replay value.

Choosing your dowsing

Before you create your map, you choose something called a dowsing, which represents the suit of cards and some of the setting elements that your particular game will focus on.  If you choose talons, for example, you’ll be pursuing the ace of clubs as your dragon egg mission, the journey will take place in the summer, and you are trying to find an egg that was carried away by a lava flow.  Other suits focus on different elements, seasons, and themes to further create a new experience each time you play. 

Overall thoughts on Dragon Dowser

Dragon Dowser was an engaging and colorful solo-journaling TTRPG that had an amazing mix of feelings of wanderlust, adventure, and suspense embedded in each card.  I enjoyed the prompts and the room for creativity in answering them along with the immersive story that came through in the flavor text.  The art, too, is beautiful.  It’s expressive and full of motion, which also accurately reflects the writing.  I really enjoyed getting to try out Dragon Dowser, and I hope you do too. 

Find a copy of Dragon Dowser

You can find a digital copy of Dragon Dowser on itch.io OR go check out the Dragon Dowser kickstarter for physical prints here while funding is live!

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