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.

Arion, Episode 20: Dogfight

I haven’t tried out the Fringe Space ship combat rules yet, so let’s imagine for a moment that encountering the cutter last episode had turned into a fight – picture it as a combat simulation for Arion to hone his skills and while away the long nights in hyperspace. As I’m new to this part of the THW rules system you get a didactic post with little narrative voice this time.

SETUP

Arion is flying a stock trader, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 2, and Hull 3. The minimum crew is 3, and there are only two crewmembers aboard, so Arion is at -1 Rep. However, even reduced to Rep 4, he still has Ace and Steely Eyes, so he will count +1d6 and +2 successes on the Dogfight table, and +1 success on the Taking Control table. Although the rules are slightly ambiguous on this point, I decide that as Arion has an effective Rep of 4, he begins with 4 bonus dice.

The opposition is a Star Navy cutter, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 4 and Hull 4. We’ll assume a full crew. Her captain has Rep 3 and Rage, giving him +1d6 on the Taking Control table. He thus has 3 bonus dice.

Each captain rolls 1d6, Arion getting 3 and the Navy captain getting 5. Navy therefore draws the first chance card. There appear to be 11 of these (the ones in orange type on p. 100) so shuffle and draw – Asteroid, opposing ship loses one success on the Dogfight table to dodge an asteroid. The Navy will play this as soon as possible, as per the rules for NPCs (p. 49).

TURN 1

We begin on the Dogfight Table, and there are only two ships so who fights who is obvious. Each captain rolls Rep dice, looking for successes; Arion gets 2422 = 3 successes, +1 for being an Ace, +1 for having Steely Eyes, -1 because of the Asteroid card which the Navy plays as soon as possible, i.e. now. Total, 4 successes. The Navy meanwhile rolls 263 = 2 successes.

We move to the Taking Control table, with Arion counting +2d6 as he scored two more successes, and again both captains roll Rep. Arion gets a modified 5 successes (2 from dice, +1 Ace, +2 from successes on Dogfight table), Navy 2 successes (1 from dice, +1 for being military). Arion lines up a shot and we move to the Fire table.

Arion scored 3 more successes than the Navy, so now rolls 3d6 vs the Dolphin’s Firepower (2); 252 = 2 hits, which I allocate against the enemy Hull (no witnesses!) reducing it to 2.

The Navy now go to the Continue On table to see whether they fancy dancing some more with somebody this good. Navy rolls 2d6, -2d6 for the two Hull hits taken, +1d6 for being military, so 1d6 overall. They roll a 4, and pass 0d6. This means they run for it.

Each side now rolls 1d6 + Thrust; Arion gets 4 + 3 = 7, and Navy gets 4 + 3 = 7. Since the Navy’s total is not greater than that of all pursuing ships, they surrender.

AFTERMATH

Since I declared this as a simulation up front, there are no Rep dice, positive or negative. Had this been a real fight, Arion would have got two increasing Rep d6, one for firing at an enemy and causing damage (though you can only claim that once per month) and one for destroying or capturing an enemy ship.

REFLECTIONS

Even as a novice, this is a very quick and simple combat system – you’ll notice that for a one-on-one dogfight no counters or models are necessary, although I would want to use them if there were more than one ship on a side.

I don’t like the chance cards and won’t use them again. That’s just me, probably, I’m going off drawing cards in general at the moment (which bodes ill for Savage Worlds, but that’s another story).

Life is good when you’re a Steely-Eyed Ace. Especially when the opposition has a rubbish captain.

Full Circle

About a year ago now, Charles Blakely made this comment on the post about Witness Protection RPGs: “Which games that you have GM’d before would you like to dig into deeper? That is, which ones could you go back and do more with due to whatever factors – more time, more resources, more inspiration, etc.”?

I’ve been musing on that comment ever since, so this post is a belated reply to it. As you’ll see, Charles, it takes me full circle; I’ve run a lot of games over the last 40 years, but most of them are not things I’d want to go back to, and of the few that I did consider, only one really seems viable.

The Runners-Up

Classic Traveller. I’m not sure this counts as digging deeper, because it would be so heavily modded; I’d replace Book 1 with Savage Worlds Deluxe, I’d only use the iconic ships from Book 2 (probably with the deck plans from Moon Toad Publishing), and I’d apply stucco from Stars Without Number to Book 3. I still think that given enough time and thought, I could make the Dark Nebula boardgame a nice little setting, with worlds dual-statted for CT and SWN; but there wouldn’t be much actual Traveller left by the time I’d finished.

2300AD and Empire of the Petal Throne: Nice backgrounds in both cases; again I’d Savage them, because I prefer the SW rules; but EPT’s setting is both unique and complex, and I’ve run 2300AD for the better part of 20 years already – I’ve told all the stories I want to tell in that setting. I could recycle the old adventures for a new generation, but my experience is that doesn’t work too well – once I’ve run a particular adventure, it’s normally best to move on to something fresh.

We Have A Winner: Original Dungeons & Dragons

I could run a kick-ass game of OD&D now. I’d build it with these:

  • The house rules from Delta’s D&D Hotspot.
  • The map from SPI’s Demons boardgame as the wilderness map (and the premise of that game, sorcerors using demons to hunt for treasure while being pursued by secular powers, as the main plotline). I’d blow it up to 25 miles per hex to make it country-sized, and put the megadungeon in the mountain just south of Murad, which would be the PCs’ base town.
  • The sandbox creation rules in Sine Nomine Publishing’s Labyrinth Lord sourcebooks, Red Tide and An Echo, Resounding. If and when the PCs ventured off-map, I’d also use some elements of Spears of the Dawn to create the other regions around the borders of the main map.
  • Maps from Black Hand Source; Ancient Cities 2 for Murad, Ancient Cities Special Edition for the megadungeon.
  • Bits of Zak S’ Vornheim city kit.
  • A variant of the Peril rules from Moria for Decipher’s Lord of the Rings RPG; this would make it possible to run a megadungeon without stocking it first, which I find very boring.
  • At least some of the Icons from 13th Age; all 13 might be a bit much.
  • A more nuanced understanding of history and politics than I had in the 1970s.

I could probably set this up so that it could be played using OD&D, 5th Edition, or Savage Worlds; and maybe someday I will. You’ll notice it’s closely related to where the Irongrave campaign ended up, just before Beasts & Barbarians killed it and took its stuff.

What’s Stopping You?

Not a lot, actually – a little time, a little effort, a few players; but I already have the Pawns of Destiny and the Collateral Damage in flight, so let’s park it a while longer.

Four Against Darkness, Episode 1

“You can run D&D with just some PCs and a dungeon. I think that’s totally legit.” – Jeff Rients

For this more detailed trial run of 4AD, I’m going to make a couple of changes to the recommended map. First, henceforth the dungeon entrance will be at the top of the map, where you start reading; second, the sheet is going to be 27 x 19 squares rather than 20 x 28. This allows me to align the rooms centrally (most are an odd number of squares wide) and is better suited to a computer screen, which is wider than it is tall.

Our party tonight consists of Sable the Mage (who has memorised Fireball, Lightning and Sleep), his bodyguard and paramour Issa the Snow Barbarian, Ivan the rogue and Brother Aloysius the cleric. All are level 1, and between them they have 36 gp, which they save for the moment. Sable takes the lantern. Trekking cross-country, they find the stone doors marked on the map Sable purloined from the library in the Wizard’s Guild. With some effort, they force the doors open, and Issa and Aloysius take the front rank.

4AD01

Room 1 (as Sable marks it on the map he is scribing in his commonplace book) is apparently empty, apart from three doors leading deeper into the complex. Sable directs the party to search the room (p. 53), but it remains stubbornly empty. Preparing for combat once more, the group selects the left-hand door, and a short corridor leads them to room 2, which appears to be a dead end. However, no time to think about that now, as it also appears to be home to six hobgoblins. Sable casts Sleep on them, and all six lose consciousness.

“No doubt as a barbarian you have a code of honour which argues against slaying incapacitated foes…” Sable begins.

“They had their chance,” Issa interrupts, methodically slitting throats. “It doesn’t get fairer than that, down here.”

While this debate is going on, Ivan searches the bodies (roll at +1 on the treasure table, p. 34), and finds a pouch full of Fools’ Gold. The party retrace their steps into room 1, where luckily there is no ambush awaiting them. Picking the middle door this time, they find an even shorter corridor leading to a somewhat smaller room, this time with two other exits. This contains a troll, which the party immediately attacks; Sable and Aloysius miss it, but Issa kills it, and then Ivan chops it into tiny pieces so that it doesn’t regenerate. Ivan reports disgustedly that the troll had but a single gold piece to its name.

Rather than risk an unnecessary ambush by returning to room 1, the group heads through the door opposite, beyond which lies an empty four-way intersection (4). Searching this for secret doors and compartments, they find a clue – a section of defaced and barely legible runic script carved into the wall, which Sable copies into his book.

Turning left at the intersection, they find a door leading to a large, L-shaped room (5) with two other exits. A dead adventurer lies on the floor, his arm outstretched towards a small jewellery box which Ivan thoughtfully appropriates; this proves to contain a jewelled necklace worth 80 gp. Ahead lies another door, beyond which is an odd-shaped room (6) containing a pair of zombies, who quickly fall before Issa’s axe; at this point they prove to be guarding a +1 magic mace, which is handed to Brother Aloysius. Picking the furthest door, they move on, into a square room (7) full of giant centipedes – these put up a stiff resistance but are vanquished without poisoning anyone. Sadly, they have no loot.

The next room (8) proves to contain a small dragon, and given how vicious they are, Sable attempts to parley. The dragon demands all the party’s gold, with a minimum of 100 gold or one magic item. Ivan steps forward and hands over the Fools’ Gold he acquired earlier in room 2, and the party’s own 36 gp, reasoning that even if the dragon doesn’t accept the Fools’ Gold as 74 gp, it’s still a magic item, so counts either way. Muttering under their breath, the party retreats into room 7 where they are ambushed by 6 skeletal rats. These put up the stiffest fight yet, managing to inflict a wound on Ivan before they fall to Brother Alyosius’ magic mace. No treasure though.

Heading away from the dragon, the party encounters a Y junction (9), which remains stubbornly empty even when searched. Both doors prove to lead to the same, small room (10) – home to 6 skeletons, which are killed in a short but vicious melee; the party recovers 4 gp. The party has now killed over 10 minions, so one character gets a chance to level up; I pick Sable, and roll a 6 on one die – this is more than his current level, so he advances, and being a wizard gets a new spell; I pick another Lightning Bolt, as I already know there is a dragon about, and they are immune to Sleep and Fireball.

Perforce heading back towards the dragon, the party is ambushed by a catoblepas in room 7, whose deadly gaze costs Aloysius a life. Issa and Aloysius are both badly injured before the beast is felled, so while Ivan is looting the body, finding a potion of healing, Aloysius casts his first healing of the adventure, restoring everyone to full health.

Continuing to room 6 in search of unexplored areas, the group is attacked by an orc brute – thanks to exploding dice, this is down to one hit point by the time it gets a chance to react, whereupon it clocks Brother Aloysius for two hits before Ivan yerks it under the fifth rib and puts it down, purloining 6 gp from it almost before it hits the ground. Killing a boss monster triggers another levelling up opportunity, and Issa advances to level 2.

Taking the only unexplored exit from room 6 leads to a square room (11) which appears to be a dead end; it is empty apart from a blessed temple, at whose shrine Aloysius gains +1 attack against undead or demons (which expires when the group kills one). The group retraces its steps to room 5, and takes the only unexplored exit there, which leads them down a long, featureless corridor to a small chamber wherein lurk 3 orcs. Two fall, the third fails to hit Issa, who cleaves it to the brisket. Ivan relieves the bodies of 2 gp, bringing their current total to 12 gp.

Back to the four-way intersection (4) without incident, and turn left; a short empty corridor (13) leads to another short, empty corridor (14) which in turn leads to another corridor (15) – where Brother Aloysius narrowly escapes injury from a dart trap as he bends down to pick up a potion of healing, no doubt dropped by an earlier explorer. Beyond that is yet another corridor (16), full of vampire frogs, one of which bites Aloysius before they are put down. Aloysius heals himself. The frogs are guarding another potion of healing; Sable takes that, as Issa has 9 hit points of her own now, and the other two already have one each. Trudging on, the team finds themselves in an empty four-way intersection (17) and goes straight across, following the corridor to a small, cramped room containing a weird monster – another catoblepas, the other half of a mated pair perhaps? Before it falls to their blades, Issa and Sable have each lost a life. Tangled in its matted fur is a scroll of Blessing, which Aloysius gets.

Returning to the last intersection (17), the party turns right, but finds their way blocked by rubble (because the room would be off the map). Back to the intersection and across it, to a roundish room (20) where a giant stone block (level 5) falls from the ceiling onto Ivan, inflicting 2 damage on him. Beyond the far door lies a large square chamber (21), occupied by 10 rats, but an enraged Aloysius smashes them to bits before they can bite anyone. To the party’s left is a short corridor ending in another door, but that opens onto another rubble-blocked vista (22) and they abandon that route, heading back to the chamber and across it to its only remaining exit; that proves to lead to a truncated rectangular room (23) where 5 orcs are camped. Three of them are cut down before they can react, their return strikes miss, and Issa decapitates both the survivors, one of whom is wearing a fine ring worth 130 gp. This brutal slaughter takes the minion death count up to 23, meaning someone can roll to advance; I choose Ivan, but he rolls a 1 and fails to improve. Meanwhile Issa opens the last door in this room, discovering a short, rubble-blocked corridor which the orcs have been using as a privy.

Closing that door against the smell, the team return to area 16 and take the north door into a corridor (25), where Issa falls into a trapdoor and loses a life. The others use their rope to pull her out, together with the Wand of Sleep she found at the bottom, and Aloysius uses his last healing of the trip to heal everyone. Pressing on brings them to another empty corridor (26), and ignoring the doors they march north – this leads them back to the entrance room (1) – I moved one of the doors around as it made more sense to make that connection than squeeze another area into the one available square. Another trapdoor yawns before Issa and she avoids this one, picking up a second +1 mace – as a barbarian she has an innate fear of magic, so hands it to Ivan, muttering about him not needing to worry about edge alignment now. They take the west door out of area 27 and enter a room full of skeletal rats (28), which give Ivan a nasty bite before they are slain. Ironically, they guard a potion of healing.

Room 29 is small, oddly shaped, and inhabited by 17 rats – Ivan gets bitten again in the course of dealing with these. The party now returns to area 26 to try the doors there. The west door leads to a short, empty corridor going nowhere (30); a good place for stairs leading down, but obviously things have not progressed that far. The east door can pretty much only lead back to area 4, but inside this strangely-shaped area (31) a chaos lord is lurking, and he begins by unleashing his Hellfire Blast on the party, taking a life from each member. By the time the chaos lord is dealt with, the party has lost 9 lives between them and is in pretty bad shape. Everyone who has one quaffs a potion of healing, after which only Issa is still wounded (because she stubbornly refuses to drink one). I pick Aloysius to level up, which he does barely. Ivan meanwhile acquires 4 gp and a jewelled gorget worth 120 gp.

Three doors left; moving back to room 3, the party kicks open the remaining door there to find an empty cupboard (33). With only two unopened doors left in the complex, our heroes trudge back to area 16 and take the south door. Beyond this is a dead-end room (32) dominated by an ogre; Issa loses another two life killing it – a high price to pay for 3 gp.

It’s dragon time. Back to room 8 and the dragon. Sable starts with a Lighning Bolt, zapping it for two life – now it has three left. Aloysius removes another one, but the others miss. The dragon retaliates, biting Issa and Aloysius. Sable fires his second Lightning Bolt and misses. Ouch. Luckily both Issa and Aloysius land their blows, and the dragon expires. Its hoard contains 10 gp, a wand of Sleep, and a potion of healing. That’s got to be worth a levelling up roll, Ivan gets it and succeeds.

There’s one place left to go, south from the dragon’s lair, and that room (34) has 6 hobgoblins in it. Pity to waste the Fireball, so in it goes; that plus several rounds of frenzied slashing and macework polishes them off without serious incident, leaving our heroes to loot jewellery worth 30 gp.

Escaping the now cleaned-out dungeon without incident, the party takes stock. They have two +1 maces, a potion of healing, a scroll of blessing and a fully-charged wand of sleep, plus 319 gp. Issa is half-dead, but that’s her own stubborn fault because she won’t drink potions of healing. Everyone has made it to second level.

Off to the pub, then.

Reflections

This is definitely a fun little game, but I would prefer it to be shorter – the last ten rooms were a bit of a slog. I should be able to achieve a faster game by making the map smaller, so I’ll try that next time; statistically that should make it a tiny bit easier to level up, as some of the quests depend on clearing out the map, but I don’t think it’s a game-breaker. The alternative is to split a game across multiple sessions, which is also entirely feasible.

The game plays very nicely just from the quick reference sheets. The main thing I had to keep checking was when PCs do, or do not, add their level to rolls; the main thing I kept getting wrong was how many opponents attacked each PC. Both of those will come more easily with practice.

Credits: Rules – Four Against Darkness by Ganesha Games. Map drawn in Dungeonographer.

Arion, Episode 19: The Searchers

April 2220 Setup

It’s not clear where in the strategic turn sequence (page 21) resolving Job Offers should go, but it makes most sense to me if they occur at the beginning of the turn, before random encounters. This is because any jobs hauling cargo or passengers will dictate strategic movement, and if Job Offers happen after that, Arion loses a month between jobs, which a hardscrabble free trader can’t afford. So:

  • Job Offers (4): [1] Joe #6, Manufacturing, Cargo Hauling, Ring 1 Sector 2 3/2 Gaea Prime, Rep -1 +3. [2] Joe #9, Specialist, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [3] Criminal #9, Hacker, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [4] Joe #6, Specialist, Rescue. Three rescue jobs in a row? I’ll lump the three of them together and use them as an excuse for travel; spending three decreasing Rep dice to take the jobs sounds like tooling up. I’ll decline the cargo hauling job.
  • Starting location: Fermanagh, Ring 1, Sector 4. Random Event: No. Campaign Movement: Yes, move to sector 1 to gain access to inter-ring travel. Encounter: None (they are optional, and I want to start moving).
  • PEFs (3): [1] Something’s Out There [2] Star Navy Cutter [3] Something’s Out There.

Fermanagh, April 2220

“Mr Osheen, I think it’s time we left Fermanagh.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“We need money, though.” Arion browses to the spaceport jobs board on the main display.

“Hmm. Running cargo to Gaea Prime space, I think not; the police there would shoot you on sight, Mr Osheen. Hmm. Look at this; three separate rewards for finding and returning missing persons… Ah, I see, while I was having fun with Ms MacDonald there was a raid by Hishen slavers. I wonder if they’re connected to that Razor I bumped into? No matter. Mr Osheen, what equipment do you think we should pick up for this mission? We need to rescue three unarmed civilians, I don’t know where they are but they will be under armed guard.” The grath looks the captain up and down, and considers for a moment.

“You should wear your body armour and get two machine pistols. We will require a squad support weapon, body armour, and the largest available blender.”

“What’s the blender for?”

“It will simplify consuming our enemies’ bodily fluids for nourishment.”

“Ooookaaay… I’m going to take us to a place I know in Ring 5, we can go shopping and find out where the slavers are; then we can ask them where they took the slaves. Hopefully all to the same buyer.”

“Will questioning the slavers create an opportunity to absorb their bodily fluids for nourishment?”

“Almost certainly.”

Deep Space, Ring 1, April 2220

The Dolphin encounters a Star Navy Cutter, whose captain is a Rep 3 Basic with the Rage attribute; fortunately, as we are outgunned, Arion wins the Talk the Talk; the ships exchange pleasantries then go their separate ways. There is no need to record the NPC captain.

Admin

Arion began with a lifetime Rep of 7. He deducts 2 for crew upkeep (one for him and one for Osheen), and three for the jobs he has taken on. He hasn’t done anything that would increase Rep, so there are 5 decreasing Rep dice and a final Lifetime Rep of 2. Arion rolls 22435 for the decreasing Rep dice, and retains his Rep of 5.

Reflections

I see a story arc is already emerging; find the slavers, find the slaves, bring them back. This will likely lead to ongoing animosity with one or more of Razors, Hishen, and pirates.

Much like other story-driven THW games, you get some months in Fringe Space when nothing much happens.

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.

Arion Episode 18: Recruiting

“So, Mr Osheen, thank you for responding to my job advert – nice to see you again. Let’s get right to it. What do you hope to achieve as First Mate on the Dolphin?”

“We wish to kill our enemies and absorb their bodily fluids for nourishment.”

“I see. And have you any previous experience of this kind of work?

“We have killed many enemies and absorbed their bodily fluids. For nourishment. The local police do not approve. We do not understand why.”

“No, I meant do you know anything about starship operations – piloting, engineering, navigation, that kind of thing.”

“We know that we must protect the Captain and prevent others from killing him and absorbing his bodily fluids for nourishment. We also know that we must not absorb the hydraulic fluid for nourishment. Or the hyperdrive coolant.”

“You know what, Mr. Osheen, the way things have been going lately, that’s good enough. You’re hired.”

MONTH-END ADMIN – MARCH 2220

Firstly, I decided Arion needs some muscle if he’s out in the Big Dark all alone, so I recruit the Grath Criminal for that purpose; I also think he will be a handy foil for Arion in future writeups, as the Grath are big, dumb, nearly indestructible, and can absorb any fluid for nourishment. I need to be careful to keep him aboard ship in Gaea Prime space though, as they will shoot him on sight.

Rep

As you can see, a single month can include several encounters, any of which could result in increasing Rep d6; so the support cost of one decreasing Rep d6 per group member per month isn’t going to be as harsh as I expected. I suspect the bulk of increasing dice will come from adventures on-planet, though.

  • Starting Lifetime Rep +1
  • Support -2, completing the trading mission +4
  • Encounters: +3 for episode 15, +1 for episode 16, -1 for episode 17.
  • Net increasing Rep this month +6 – roll 255242, no change to Rep.
  • Ending Lifetime Rep +7.

Contacts

Hmm, the contacts are racking up quite quickly here, not sure I want to track those. I might just say that when the ship lifts, all debts are paid, and the contact list resets. Rather than rolling to confirm whether an NPC has been met previously or not, I might decide that if the same NPC stats are rolled again (say, #10 on the Exotic table) it’s the same NPC.

  • Perry Anderson (Rep 4 Politician, Corinth)
  • Roger Houston (Rep 5 Pilot, Corinth, previously recruited)
  • Captain Pollard Lush (Rep 4 Drunkard, Gaea Prime light freighter – history)
  • Anne MacDonald (Rep 5 Corporate Exec, Shaker NPC #10, Fermanagh)
  • Officer 182 (Rep 4 Grath Police, Exotic NPC #10, Fermanagh – history)
  • Xeog and two Hishen police impersonators (Exotic NPCs 5, 7 and 11 – history)
  • First Mate Osheen (Rep 4 Grath Criminal, Exotic NPC #9, Fermanagh, previously recruited)

Worlds

Looking at the sample systems table on p. 82 I can see I’ve already established enough detail to fill in the rest for the campaign worlds mentioned to date, so I did that. I also note that the home world tables on p. 13 generate different results, so decide not to worry about it and just pick whatever seems appropriate.

  • Corinth: 1/4 Indy Basic, Ring 3, Sector 1
  • Fermanagh: 2/3 Indy Basic, Ring 1, Sector 4
  • Makaria: 2/4 Indy Basic, Ring 3, Sector 6

REFLECTIONS

The campaign movement for a typical trading run would be: Month 1 – move from planet of departure to sector 1 in current ring. Month 2 – move to sector 1 in destination ring. Month 3 – move to destination planet. Three months for a cargo run seems a bit long to me.

For further study: Fringe Space looks like it will be good for ongoing picaresque wandering, but one thing I did like about Larger Than Life was the story arc. I’ll reread FS in depth and see how that sense of direction and progress could be incorporated.