A review by William C. Pfaff
For so many of us, young and old, we never lose our love of fantasy role-playing games. But Dungeons & Dragons sometimes takes a backseat to “Priorities & Paychecks” the less than fun game of life and responsibility. What to do when you can’t get the gang together and video games aren’t scratching the itch to sling dice and the thrill of recording tiny arcane symbols on graph paper? Andrea Sfiligoi has come up with a flawless solution.
Imagine a choose-your-own-adventure book and Dungeons & Dragons came together to create the most adorable, ‘don’t want to ever put it’ down baby on the planet. That’s what Four Against Darkness is. The basic guidebook is available in PDF format or a 90-page perfect bound book and will cost you less than an average dinner out. However, unlike fast food you’ll be simultaneously satisfied and hungry for more.
The basis is this: four PCs (all of which can be played by just one person or split up and run with up to four friends each taking command of a character) are wading their way through a dungeon filled with monsters, traps, treasures, and weirdness. In other words, thanks to the random tables, clever dungeon-generation system and a simple but robust combat system, you don’t have to wait for a Game Master or even any other people. You can sit down anywhere, anytime with a one page character sheet (which fits all four PCs on it), a 20 x 28 square map, a pencil, and a single d6 and it’s game on! Sound too good to be true? Read on my little Gygaxians.
Step one: choose and equip your 4 adventurers from Warrior, Cleric, Barbarian, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Rogue or Wizard. Yes, it’s an old-school callback where “races” are classes. And there are just a few types of weapons and armor is divided into just light or heavy armor and/or a shield. Enough choices to allow for strategic decisions but not so many as to induce “analysis paralysis”. It’s a terrific balance. After that grab your graph paper and start rolling on the charts: generate the rooms, the contents, and the rewards.
Monsters fall into two broad categories: Minions (which include the annoying vermin who don’t count for experience) and Bosses (which include the unusual creatures known as “weird” monsters). Taking advantage of the bell curve generated by rolling 2d6 the game has you encounter weaker monsters at a higher rate BUT the results are still random so that brutal Medusa might be lurking in the second room you encounter! Adventurers make attack and defense rolls so there are no dice to roll for the monsters. Let me re-emphasize that: the monsters’ level basically controls both their attack ability and their armor rating so only the adventurer’s need ever roll dice……pure…..elegance.
You keep fighting your way through the dungeon until you face the final boss. Defeat that big bad and then work your way back out and reload for another fresh dungeon run. And you will be making that next run and the next one. If this sounds too simplistic for any “hardcore” gamers out there let me just toss out the following fun facts. You can encounter fountains and statues. You can be challenged to solve a puzzle and you can collect clues for epic rewards. Monsters might offer a peaceful passing or offer a reward for completely a quest for them! That’s right – amazing depth, real gaming, and no game master needed.
Once your characters reach 5th level you’ll want to take on Four Against the Abyss! But that’s another review for another day. There are tons of inexpensive add-ons and adventures for this incredible game, but, if you haven’t tried it yet? Get started with Four Against Darkness and get lost in a game that delivers all the nostalgia and none of the hassle.