Review: Four Against Darkness

I had intended not to buy any more new games for a while, and then I found out about this new solo dungeon crawler. You know I can’t resist those.

In a Nutshell: Rules-lite solo dungeon-crawler from Ganesha Games, 65 page PDF, $8 at time of writing.

CONTENTS

This game has a lot of short chapters, so I’ll abandon my usual chapter by chapter approach for a broader overview and an actual play example.

In the game, you control a party of four adventurers who enter a randomly-generated dungeon to kill things and take their stuff. Characters are defined by their class and level, and have three attributes; Attack, Defence, and Life, this last being hit points. Monsters and traps are defined by their level. By default, the player goes first in combat; to attack, you roll 1d6, apply modifiers, and if the score meets or beats the monster’s level, you hit – each hit inflicts one Life point, with minions having one point and boss monsters several. If you’d rather talk, you let the monsters go first and a reaction roll determines what they do. If they attack, the character rolls a d6 and applies modifiers; a score of the monster’s level or better means you dodged the blow. Magic works much the same way, although spells have varying effects.

The majority of the book is made up of random tables for generating dungeons and their denizens. Rooms, corridors, various types of monsters, traps and treasure, special features, quests (which some monsters give you if you talk to them), epic rewards (which you can earn by completing quests), clues which you can collect to lead you to a major secret, for example the weakness of a boss monster.

There is a short equipment list, an equally short spell list, and rules for levelling up characters in an ongoing game. There is a dungeon generation flowchart, a party sheet, and a record sheet for keeping track of monsters slain (which you need to do for levelling up). Unusually, there are several PocketMod versions of key components, making it easier to play on the move.

FORMAT

Colour cover heralding two-column black on white text, liberally sprinkled with black and white illustrations.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I’d like an option for multi-level dungeons, which seems to be in the works. A wider range of character classes, spells and monsters would be nice, but is by no means essential.

It can be quite difficult to make out the square grid in the room tiles, if the contrast could be turned up just a little it would help me.

ACTUAL PLAY EXAMPLE

I select 4 of the 8 possible classes to form my party:

  • Retif, 1st level warrior (he can’t spell). He adds his level to his attack rolls, and begins with 7 Life, 2d6 = 7 gp, light armour, a shield and a hand weapon (which I decide is a sword).
  • Cirelc, 1st level cleric. She adds half her level to attack rolls (full level vs undead), can use the Blessing spell three times per adventure, and begins with 5 Life, 1d6 = 4 gp, light armour, a shield and a hand weapon (which out of respect for tradition I say is a mace).
  • Feiht, 1st level rogue. He adds his level to defence rolls, disarm trap rolls, and attack rolls if he is attacking outnumbered minions. He has 4 Life, 3d6 = 10 gp, rope, lock picks, light armour and a light hand weapon (most likely a dagger).
  • Draziw, 1st level wizard. He adds his level to spell attacks or puzzle rolls, and begins with three spells, a light hand weapon, a spellbook and writing implements. He has 3 Life and 4d6 = 16 gp. I decide to prepare Fireball, Lightning and Sleep, since some monsters are immune to some spells and that combination seems to give him the widest range of offensive options.

I put Retif and Cirelc in the front rank, Feiht and Draziw in the rear, and give Draziw the lantern to carry.

Map

Here you see the place of mystery they explored, rendered in Dungeonographer; areas are numbered in the sequence they were encountered.

4ad

Key

  1. Empty but with a special feature, specifically a healing fountain. Nobody is wounded yet so we ignore it and move on. I’m not bothering with checking for secret rooms in this game.
  2. Minions, namely 9 goblins. These fail to surprise us, so we go first – I can see from their reaction table that there is no point trying to talk to them unless we have enough cash to bribe them, which we don’t. The party attacks in the order listed above; Retif rolls 1 and adds his level to get 2, which isn’t enough to kill a goblin; Cirelc rolls 1, Feiht 4, and Draziw 9 (dice explode; Drziw rolled a 6, so gets to keep that and roll again, in this case adding another 3. Goblins have level 3, and thus each multiple of 3 damage kills one. Feiht got one, and Draziw killed three. The 5 surviving goblins now roll; a die roll determines that the extra attack hits Cirelc. I notice that the combat example on p. 48 doesn’t quite seem to match how combat is described earlier in the book, but let’s stick with the example for now. The goblins attack, which means the heroes roll to dodge, and suffer a point of damage for missing. Retif rolls a 2, but gets +1 for his light armour and +1 for his shield, total 4; this exceeds the goblin’s level (3) so he blocks the attack. Cirelc and Draziw likewise defend successfully, but Feith rolls a 1, so he fails to defend and takes one damage. In the second round, our heroes drop 4 goblins for no damage, and in round 3 they kill the last goblin – as there are none left to attack, and monsters always go last, they take no further damage. We now loot the bodies, rolling on the Treasure Table (at -1 because goblins) and collecting a gem worth 15 gp.
  3. Empty with a special feature, again a healing fountain, which conveniently heals Feith.
  4. This room was bigger, but by the rules is truncated to fit on the map. Inside are 3 skeletal rats (level 3 undead). Yet again the wizard’s attack die explodes and he offs all but the one killed by Retif. The rats sadly have no treasure.
  5. Retracing our steps without encountering wandering monsters, we move into this area and set off a spear trap. Retif and Cirelc both take one damage.
  6. 8 skeletal rats. it takes 4 rounds to kill them all. Draziw loses a hit point (now down to 2). Again there is no treasure.
  7. 5 orcs. This is a good chance to try a spell, as if it kills one of them the rest may well flee. Draziw fires a lightning bolt at the apparent leader, rolls a 6, adds his level for a 7 – and kills one, as they are level 4 beings. The rest roll a d6, score 2, and since this is in the range 1-3 they all run away, dropping a pouch of 6 gp as they go. Excellent.
  8. A potion of healing protected by a gas trap, how ironic. Everyone makes a defence roll ignoring armour and shields; Retif and Draziw fail, being reduced to 6 and 1 Life respectively. Draziw quaffs the potion and restores himself to 3 Life.
  9. A giant stone block falls out of the ceiling onto Draziw; fortunately he dodges it, and discovers 6 gp stuck in a crack on the side. (The tables tell me a stone block drops and there are 6 gp loot; I can’t help embellishing but wouldn’t like you to be disappointed in what the product actually contains.)
  10. Empty. That does happen occasionally.
  11. 4 zombies with no treasure. The party despatches these in two turns for no damage.
  12. Empty.
  13. 17 rats, no treasure. Rats are level 1, and you might think that since you can’t roll less than this on 1d6, you always hit; but p. 49 says a roll of 1 is always a failure on defence rolls. So while you are guaranteed to take out one rat per turn each, the rats could get lucky. In the five turns it takes us to kill the rats, everybody except Draziw gets bitten and loses one Life, but luckily none of the wounds are infected.
  14. We retrace our steps to the other door out of area 11 – no ambushes – and find 4 orcs in this tiny room. Draziw loses another hit point before the orcs are killed, and looting the bodies reveals another 5 gp. Cirelc decides now is a good time to break out the healing, and heals 7 Life – enough to refresh everyone to full power.

However, I decide to leave the dungeon (luck is with us and there are no random encounters on the way out), and tot up our winnings: 27 gp in all, just short of 7 each. Each time the party kills a boss, completes a quest, or survives 10 minion encounters, one character can roll to level up; we don’t qualify on any of those counts, sadly. Off to the pub then.

CONCLUSIONS

  • In setup and play, the game feels like a mixture of OD&D and Heroquest. It’s easy to reconstruct the classic parties from those games with the classes in 4AD.
  • The extreme simplicity of the game lends itself well to solo play, which I have found often bogs down if using the more complex rules of a full-blown RPG.
  • The tiles are small enough to reproduce as battlemaps, one per page, and lay out directly on the table if I were so inclined.
  • I can see myself not only playing this for its own sake, but also using it as a dungeon generator for other games. It gains the coveted 5 out of 5 for being something that I want to play right away. Oh look, I just have.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Four Against Darkness

  1. I have a few Ganesha games products and I respect their stuff for being good and simple at the same time. When I have worked through some of the big pile of T&T solos I have decided to play again this may well be next. I might also see if I can switch out the T&T rules for these in the solos..

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