Review: Eyes of the Stone Thief

“That was nuts!” – Dag, Angry Beavers

As you may have guessed by now, this is the backbone of the Hearts of Stone campaign, whose session writeups you see on Wednesdays. It’s an everyday story of a sentient mobile megadungeon, the titular Stone Thief, and those who hunt it.

In a Nutshell: 13th Age campaign for character levels 4-8. 346 page PDF, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, published by Pelgrane Press.

CONTENTS

This monster is too big for my normal review format, so let’s hit the highlights.

First comes a group of four chapters explaining what the campaign is about, how to use it, and the key factions in play within the megadungeon, which are presented in the same manner as the icons in the 13th Age core rules. This book is not so much a scripted campaign as it is a selection of adventures which the GM can stitch together in a number of ways. I doubt whether any two groups would follow the same path through it.

Next is a group of thirteen chapters, each focussed on one level of the megadungeon. In each case there’s an isometric map, details on encounter areas, traps, monsters, links to factions and so forth. Not much on treasure, because this adventure is more about revenge; the GM is essentially left to hand out whatever treasure he or she feels appropriate. There are a few plot items which come in handy later in the story. The dungeon can rearrange the layout of its levels, and the book offers several possibilities for that.

Then there are ten chapters covering the opposition, the dungeon’s prey, and surface quests. The intent of the book is that the GM switches between dungeon crawls, quests for information, help and artefacts on the surface, and homebrew scenarios focused on the character’s One Unique Things and icon relationships. Four groups of opponents are provided, of which my favourite is the Vengeful Company – a rival group of adventurers who hog all the limelight whatever the PCs manage to achieve.

These are followed by a chapter of enemy reactions to the player’s activities, and two chapters on finding and killing the living dungeon.

We close with an index.

FORMAT

Two-column black on colour text. Illos every few pages ranging from less than a quarter page to a whole page in size. Full colour everywhere.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There’s a short section in my copy which is in black on white with no colour at all. Not sure what happened there but pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do that.

After the first couple of read-throughs I would have asked for more help navigating the campaign, but there is no real substitute for re-reading in detail several times and taking copious notes. I found creating a timeline for the campaign very helpful, but what is in that depends on which path through the adventure your PCs take, and I expect it to change repeatedly as we go.

CONCLUSIONS

13th Age is already D&D with the volume turned up to eleven, and I can picture Ryder-Hanrahan grinning maniacally as he twists the dial even further clockwise. Eyes of the Stone Thief is completely mad, and my main concern from running the game is how I am going to herd the players back into a gritty, low-magic game afterwards.

It is truly a great campaign, and is now the standard against which I measure megadungeons; but the GM needs to put a lot of work in, both before it begins and during play. I don’t think I will do it justice the first time through; maybe if I ran it again later for another group, they would get more out of it.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5. I am running this, true, but as you’ve seen I didn’t drop everything else to do so, and it needs more preparation than I would like.

Review: 50 Fathoms

In a Nutshell: 210-page plot point campaign for Savage Worlds from Pinnacle Entertainment, roughly $10 at time of writing. This is the Explorer’s Edition, which is updated for Savage Worlds Deluxe and includes content from the 50 Fathoms Companion. Think Waterworld meets Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

What’s a Plot Point Campaign? It’s the Savage Worlds version of an adventure path, with a number of adventures which together form a story arc, and a large number of side quests. 50 Fathoms is often said to be the best one, so let’s take a look inside…

CONTENTS

I should start by saying SW plot point books take the view that you want adventures to run, and any setting information beyond what you need to do that is a distraction – stuff you wade through searching for nuggets of information, but probably won’t use. The campaign is divided into three main types of session; the adventures on the story arc, which move the plot along; the side quests, which allow the PCs to gather the resources and information they need to take the next step along the main arc; and random adventures, which are a fallback in case they go completely off-piste. The first two types are in the Savage Tales section, the last is under Adventures.

The premise is that a piratical fantasy world is slowly drowning, and Earthly pirates are drawn through a dimensional portal to help save it. The story arc revolves around them figuring out what the threat really is and stopping it, thus saving their new home. Of course, as pirates, they might decide to slope off in search of booty, but as long as everyone is having fun, what does that matter?

50 Fathoms (32 pages): A brief introduction to the setting, including what the characters initially think is going on as opposed to what’s really happening; a map of the Thousand Isles; character creation, which is standard except for a few new nautical edges and hindrances; new races; gear, including all manner of pirate goodies and ships. Races include Earth humans, local humans, the winged atani, doreen (dolphin-men), grael (walrus-men), kehana (fish-men), kraken (squidheads), red men (dumb barbarians), and scurillians (crab-men).

Setting Rules (10 pages): These are mostly focused on ships; navigation, repair and upkeep, ship combat, the fatigue that builds up in the crew on a long voyage and the carousing that can resolve it, trade, whaling and finally a section on “pirate lingo”.

Caribdus Gazetteer (4 pages): This is “what everyone knows” – a short paragraph on notable places and persons on the world of Caribdus, the general knowledge that any PC would know after kicking around the Thousand Isles for a few months.

Magic (3 pages): The only Arcane Background in this setting is Magic, and the mage must specify which element (air, earth, fire or water) he has specialised in; you can learn others later. There are eight new spells, a discussion of appropriate trappings, and a table showing which spells are available to which elemental specialisation – if it isn’t on the table, it doesn’t exist in this setting. To summarise, the earth mage fixes things, the fire mage destroys them, the water mage heals you and the air mage fills your sails with the right breeze.

The Thousand Isles (42 pages): From this point on, we are in GM-only territory. We begin by learning the true backstory for the campaign. Then there are 17 areas of Caribdus, mostly islands or groups of islands. Each is expanded for the GM with a little more background information, encounter tables, and (crucially) pointers to which Savage Tales the PCs might be drawn into in that locale. So in a typical session the players will say where they are going next, the GM will tell them what they meet on the way, describe what the place is like when they arrive, perhaps including places and people of note, and then embroil them in one of the Tales – or perhaps a randomly-generated adventure if they have exhausted all the ones listed for that area.

Adventures (10 pages): This contains the random adventure generator, as well as rules for salvage, trade, natural hazards, subplots you might encounter within the main adventure of the session, and random treasure tables for both mundane and magical loot – +2 blunderbuss, anyone?

Savage Tales (74 pages): This is what the book is really about. Almost 90 different scenarios and adventure seeds, ranging in size from a quarter of a page to several pages. There are two series of plot points, each 9 adventures long; you can play one and save the world, play the other and find a great treasure, or play both and do both.

Encounters (22 pages): About 70 NPCs and monsters, each with notes and a statblock. Those which only appear in one Savage Tale are listed with that tale, so there are quite a few more buried in the previous chapter.

…and we close with an index, character and ship sheets, and an advertisement for short fiction set on Caribdus.

FORMAT

6.5″ x 9″, full colour everywhere but with help from the option to suppress page background your printer might survive the PDF. Colour illustrations every few pages. Two-column black text on whitish background with colour trim. Personally I find it a lot easier to read with the background turned off, but most of you probably have better eyesight than I have.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

Some ship deck plans would be nice, but those are available for free from Pinnacle’s website, so I’ll let them off.

There is already a players’ guide, roughly half the price and contains only things it is safe for players to know.

CONCLUSIONS

As best I can tell without running it, this does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a ready-to-use story arc in a sandbox without requiring a lot of prep time, which is a really cool idea. It gets a lot of very positive commentary in reviews and the SW forum, and is reportedly held up to SW licensees as how to do a plot point campaign. Some GMs have reskinned it as a space opera setting, and I think that would work well, too.

However, I’m left with an overall feeling of “Yeah, I can probably make this work,” rather than “Jeez, I have got to run this RIGHT NOW!” For me personally, the gold standard in SW settings remains Beasts & Barbarians.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: Heart of the Fury

In a Nutshell: A campaign in 16 adventures for the FATE Core Edition version of Bulldogs!. 262 page PDF, written by Gareth Hanrahan, published by Galileo Games.

CONTENTS

The book breaks into a number of main sections: an introduction; 16 adventures, ranging from 6 pages to 54 pages in length; new species; and rules for psychic PCs, not previously an option in Bulldogs! The table of contents lists NPCs, monsters, ships, and other items separately, which is useful for the ones that can turn up several times over the course of a campaign.

The introduction gives the GM a concise summary of what’s going on – no spoilers, because figuring that out is one of the primary goals of the campaign.

The campaign as written assumes the PCs are the crew of a Class D Freighter working for the TransGalaxy shipping corporation, making high-risk cargo runs along the fringes of civilised space. The adventures can be run one after the other if you wish – the “Express Route”, the book calls it – or you can mix up the sequence and add in side quests, the “Scenic Route”, so long as you start with the first adventure and finish with the last. Sections called “Exit Trajectory” are listed for the adventures, giving several options for which scenario to run next. Some the scenarios, such as The Hunters, can be recycled and used several times over the course of the campaign. Unusually, the option where the PCs decide to go over to the Dark Side is also covered – I suppose you have to cater to that for Bulldogs.

Some of the NPCs, like the delinquent drop-out Hackragorkan (he’s an accountant), genuinely made me laugh out loud; this would not be appropriate for all games, but is definitely fitting for this one.

FORMAT

Colour cover around single-column black text on white with purple headlines and full-colour page borders and boxouts. A goodly number of colour cartoon illustrations.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

PDF layers so I can turn off the colour borders and boxout backgrounds.

I don’t like the cartoonish style of the internal illustrations. Your Mileage May Vary.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that the only way I can run space opera now is to play it for laughs, and for that, the Bulldogs! setting is ideal. Someday I may even try running it under FATE, though Savage Worlds works well with the adventures, so why change?

Bulldogs! adventures have always been a collection of challenges the GM can use in any order, depending on how the players react to the initial setup. I’d hoped Heart of the Fury would extend that to the campaign level, though it doesn’t quite – it does the next best thing, which is offer multiple routes through the plotline.

I can’t help drawing parallels between current US/UK politics and some situations in the plotline, but no doubt this is purely accidental.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5. I do want to run this one right away, but it hardly seems fair to stop any of my existing campaigns to do so. It would be easy to kick Collateral Damage onto this track, though…

Review: The Gaean Reach

I’ve been busy with the Hearts of Stone campaign for the last few months, but that hasn’t stopped me buying more RPG stuff I don’t need. That habit will likely continue, and I shall review these items as time and motivation permit.

In a Nutshell: This is an RPG of interstellar vengeance in the Gaean Reach, the setting for Jack Vance’s Demon Princes novels, and the Gumshoe rules system. 110-page PDF, written by Robin D Laws, published by Pelgrane Press, $8.75 from RPGNow at time of writing.

CONTENTS

Welcome to the Reach (2 pages): In which we are introduced to the concepts of roleplaying.

Building Your Vengeance-Seekers (7 pages): Character creation, in essence. This is slightly simpler than usual for Gumshoe, in that each player picks cards for his character’s Knowledge, Persona and Life, each of which gives the character certain abilities. Each player then explains how the villainous Quandos Vorn wronged his character sufficiently to motivate the PC dedicating his whole life to revenge, much in the manner of Kirth Gersen in The Star King, and what obstacles have prevented his vengeance to date. The characters then agree to join forces to rid the universe of Vorn.

The Rules of Reprisal (34 pages): The Gumshoe rules – I’ve reviewed these before here and here. I don’t like them, but the salient points are that they preclude the PCs missing anything important (though they may still misunderstand it), abilities cover things that would be skills or attributes in other games, and ability usage is not so much about the PC’s competence, more about how much time he gets in the spotlight doing cool stuff.

As in Pelgrane’s other Vancian setting, The Dying Earth, each character is given taglines – specific lines of dialogue they should weave into the session’s narrative as it proceeds, for example “Have you misplaced your etiquette guide?” In Gaean Reach, your character gains experience points (“tokens”) for using taglines in apt and amusing ways, and can trade those tokens for character improvements at the end of the session.

There are a couple of unusual rules worth mentioning. First, unspent tokens are lost at the start of the next session. Second, modern weaponry such as projacs and needle guns doesn’t deal damage; it is instantly fatal if it hits – but you can spend tokens on a Fortunate Avoidance, describing what miraculous stroke of luck prevents your character’s demise.

A Mordant Future (16 pages): The setting, painted with a broad brush; an overview of the Reach, capsule descriptions of ten of its worlds and their bizarre cultures, interstellar travel, and the ubiquitous Baron Bodissey, whose works are frequently cited in footnotes in the source novels. Explanations are offered for why technologies which seem obvious to us (such as computers) are not available in the Reach (spoiler: The Institute did it).

GM Tips and Tricks (14 pages): Opponents, alternate point-based character generation, how to plan a campaign, alternatives to the group of avengers such as government agents, traders, or planetary scouts.

The Cerulean Duke (19 pages): The obligatory introductory scenario, in which the characters further their quest for vengeance on Quandos Vorn by thwarting a scheme of conquest and plunder by one of his lieutenants.

Appendix (12 pages): Glossary, character sheet, GM’s party sheet and NPC sheets, cards for use in character generation, many taglines.

FORMAT

Black on white Vancian-flavoured text in a mixture of single and double columns, black line art and a red and black cover. Simple, efficient, easy on the eye and the printer, gets the job done. Thumbs up for this bit.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I would have preferred this as a system-neutral setting book, but arguably the companion Gaean Reach Gazetteer fulfills that need. I may purchase that at some point, as my love for the Reach is undiminished.

CONCLUSIONS

I still don’t like Gumshoe. I don’t need dozens of pages of rules to tell me that the PCs always find the crucial clue. That’s a good concept, but the implementation is unnecessarily verbose.

However, Robin Laws’ works often have enough good advice for the GM that I’m prepared to put up with Gumshoe being in the book. Gaean Reach doesn’t really cut it in this regard; I feel the main thing I’m left with after reading is the central idea of a group of PCs bent on vengeance, and you can get that from the cover blurb, or the Demon Princes novels come to that.

Overall: 2 out of 5. A few great concepts, executed in a manner not to my taste. Your Mileage May Vary.

Review: Interstellar Overthruster

This is a 63 page A5-or-so booklet from Albatross Press, written by Jed McClure and illustrated by Ezra Clayton Daniels. As it says on the cover, it is a set of hexcrawl rules for uncharted space. As an added bonus, I’ll also talk about the matching campaign seed, A Star for Queen Zoe, same format but only 35 pages.

Interstellar Overthruster

This attracted my attention because of how it’s intended to be used; the idea is that you generate your campaign’s sector of space on the fly, at the table, using dice, hex paper and other stationery supplies – you need a couple of different coloured pens and something to colour in the hexes as you go.

Now, be warned, creating random sectors is all IO does, so you will need another RPG for characters, combat both personal and space, chases, and whatnot. As written, IO assumes that you’re using something Old School or a retroclone – Traveller, Thousand Suns, Stars Without Number, that kind of thing – but really anything will work, so long as the mini-game that is IO can be swapped for any space exploration rules your RPG might have.

IO’s approach has several advantages. First, the GM has minimal prep work; at most, you need a homeworld and a reason for the PCs to be exploring – A Star for Queen Zoe addresses both, more of that below.

Second, neither the GM nor the players have any setting to learn, except maybe the campaign seed. The rest of the setting emerges in play. (It is assumed a previous interstellar empire collapsed, and the PCs’ homeworld is just re-emerging into space – a standard SF trope.)

However, if you use it as designed, the GM has to be comfortable with improvising plotlines – nobody has any idea what’s coming next.

At the table, exploration proceeds in three phases. First, the PCs scan adjacent hexes – this tells the players whether there is a system present, which matters as you can jump into an empty hex but not out again, and what zones the hex is in – more on this later as it is a cool innovation.

Second, the PCs pick a system, hyperjump there, and scan it to find what planets and lifeforms are present. This is based on a percentile die roll against a table with a full 100 different entries; as I understand the rules you have a traditional 8 x 10 hexgrid and roughly a one in three chance of a system in each hex, so you might reasonably expect to generate a number of sectors before things get repetitive. Each planet also gets a percentile roll on a table with a full 100 entries – much of the book is taken up with these tables.

Third, if the second step detected intelligent life and the PCs decide to land, they find out about local culture, technology, trade and so on. Intelligent life may be low-tech locals, whether human or alien, or it may be an outpost of another pocket empire. This is done with die rolls on half a dozen other tables, as is traditional. Finally there is another full 100 table of cosmic strangeness – the intention here is that every habitable world has something unusual and interesting about it. To an extent, these are scenario seeds, and pretty much the only part of the book that I would be cautious about letting the players see; the rest of this step could be replaced by normal world generation from the SF RPG of your choice.

There is an element of resource management to encourage the players to explore worlds that lack an obvious reward (“we need to stop and forage, we’re almost out of food”).

I mentioned zones. I’ve seen random generation of starmaps on the fly before – one of the Classic Traveller supplements had a mod for this, for example – but zones are new so far as I know. When you scan a hex, you may discover that it is part of a zone, which may be a natural phenomenon such as a nebula, a state controlled by another spacefaring race, or an area of weird energy. (You colour in zones as you scan, to keep track of what’s where, and a single hex can potentially be in several zones.) Normally I would generate all the systems in the sector, then place empires and other zones manually, but this system lets you create them on the fly, thus reducing prep time.

A Star for Queen Zoe

You could just say “you lot are the crew of a scout ship and your mission is to explore this new sector” and not worry about their homeworld, but you do need some motivation for the PCs to be exploring. You could always make up your own, which is why this is a separate booklet, but A Star for Queen Zoe details Essex, a possible homeworld for the PCs, characterised by multiple competing states, 18th century technology (limited by available materials more than knowledge), and the recent discovery of a functional starship. Queen Zoe finds herself in urgent need of an offworld colony and commissions her (hopefully) loyal PCs to find one for her, thus providing the motivation for exploration. The plotline will be familiar if you’ve read King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle.

The booklet mentions the usefulness of political developments at home while the PCs are offworld, so at first I expected something like Stars Without Numbers’ faction rules to move that forward, and was a little disappointed not to see them; but they aren’t strictly necessary.

Coda

Put these two together with the SF RPG of your choice, and you have a campaign ready to go, no prep needed beyond creating characters. That’s very attractive, and worth a tryout at some point; but as you will see next time, I have other fish to fry for the moment…

Review: Star Wars – the Edge of the Empire

I only bought this because it’s what the WFRP3 group I play in wants to do next, but actually it’s better than I expected. It’s 440 pages of full-colour hardback rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games, and my heart sinks at the thought of doing a detailed review, so you’ll have to settle for a capsule summary. I will note that at £40 this is easily the most expensive gaming item I have bought – or intend to buy – this year, and it would have been worse if my FLGS had had the dice in stock as well.

In a nutshell, this is what WFRP3 should have been; all of the irritating little cards and tokens (and the big slipcase box you need to keep them in) are gone, in favour of a more traditional rulebook and character sheet. The game is set in the Star Wars universe around the time of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and player characters are fringer rogues – smugglers, bounty hunters, mercenaries and so on. Character generation is point-buy, and although I haven’t played it in anger yet, it looks like character development will focus on picking items from a talent tree; there aren’t many skills, and characteristics are very, very expensive.

The custom dice are still there, and whenever you try to do something you build a pool of dice of various types and colours depending on your characteristics and skills, circumstances, gear, what your opponent is like, how hard the task is and so on. You roll the pool, take note of which symbols cancel out which other symbols, and if you still have at least one success symbol, you succeed. The other surviving symbols give information to inspire how the scene is narrated; you might succeed but suffer side effects, or you might fail in a really lucky way. The dice pools look like they will be smaller than in WFRP3, where a dozen or more dice in the pool are not uncommon; characteristics in EotE are much harder to improve, skill dice replace characteristic dice rather than being added to the pool, and some talents act to remove disadvantageous dice from the pool; so 5-6 dice seems more likely. This means that characteristics are more important in EotE, as they limit how much skill you can apply to a given roll.

The various combat action cards of WFRP3 are replaced by a simple rule, that each success symbol grants +1 damage. That wasn’t so hard, was it FFG? Combat is, if anything, even more abstract than WFRP3 – sort of Classic Travellerish, with range bands. This is a shame, as it suggests they won’t bring out any pre-painted miniatures to support it.

I’m not going to talk about the setting. Watch the movies, it’s more fun that way. You know better than to watch Episodes I-III, right?

CONCLUSIONS

I can’t help feeling there is a better way to introduce narrative hooks than a dozen expensive custom dice, but it’s a tight little system and it ought to play well at the table. Too complicated for me to run, and I would like the rules to be available as a PDF, but a decent effort on the whole, and it’ll get played, which is more than can be said for most things I review.

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.