Tag: RPG

Four Against Darkness: Why You Will Game Again

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.

Entering the Shadow of the Demon Lord- an EVG review

Robert J. Schwalb’s “Shadow of the Demon Lord” has been reviewed in quite a few spots on the interwebz. This review is for those of you who may be on the fence. I’m going to give you the top five reasons that this is the sorta thing you’ll like if you like this sorta thing (my grandpa used to say that and it just stuck with me).

shadow of the dl

1) Value– Player’s Guide, GM’s Guide, Barebones world, AND Bestiary in one well-laid out and nicely illustrated bundle for five sawbucks? This is one of the major selling points…..you’re not getting MOST of a game here – you’re getting everything you need in one pop…an amazing value.

2) Simplicity– For some this may be a bug and not a feature but you only need a d6 and a d20 to play. The game uses familiar d20 mechanics combined with a boon and bane system. (Boon roll a d6 and add the result to your D20 roll, Bane subtract the d6. Multiple modifiers provide more than one? They cancel each other out on a one to one basis. Simple, elegant, and I prefer it to 5E’s advantage/disadvantage system.

3) Familiar but Different– The mechanics and FEEL of Schwalb’s game are at once familiar and intuitive but also have some new splashes that are terrific. Humans, dwarves, and….clockworks? Goblins as a PC race? Yes, please! Corruption and Madness also make their Tolkienesque and Lovecraftian appearances respectively. How about taking a fast turn versus a slow turn? Fast is basically a single action but you get to step up in initiative, Slow gives you all your options but wait your turn…again the word is “elegant”.

4) Character Creation/Advancement– Hold on…let me just try to not lose my mind here. THIS part of the game was enough to not only make me buy it, but made me question RPG game design ever since. Let me just say that if you LOVE options but hate mindless bookkeeping, this is the system right here. The short version is this- You start with a novice path at Level 1: Warrior, Rogue, Magician, and Priest are the choices. I know, I know…you’re saying, “hardly revolutionary”. But then when you get to Level 3 (which your party advances as a GROUP- again just a great shorthand to move everyone along together) you select an expert path (one of 16 – with each of the four options basically branching). However (and here’s the kicker) – you can choose whatever you want! Tired of simply mixing it up in melee as a warrior? Grab yourself some expert path Assassin and get stealthy. Other than the normal issues (dedicated spell-caster will have more power within their spell-casting realm than those who dabble). This system is totally modular and simply works. Later on grab a master path or a second expert path for increased customization. This is simply the most amazing part of the game and if you’re in a store and have a moment flip to page 53 and read from there…then march to the counter and make the purchase.

5) Monsters and Spells and the World? Oh MY!
Bestiary– You’ve got monsters, you’ve got the framework to easily construct more, and Rob provides great advice on designing encounters.
Spellbook– Spell descriptions are TERSE and I love it. The game says look you’ve cast “fly” a hundred times in your rpg career, here’s the basic parameters and make rulings on the rest.
The World– The world provides a bit of a high fantasy at 5,200 feet overview of what’s possible in world design but I think most GM’s simply make their own. But if you don’t want to? maps, places, and hooks are all here.

That’s it. I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve been a gamemaster for 30 plus years. I’ve written and published my own work. I’ve picked the brains of the greats of the industry: Monte, E.G.G., Jolly, and Wolfgang. I can safely say Mr. Schwalb has secured his place in the pantheon with this offering…buy it today and you will be ready to grab the dice and roll with a great new system in no time at all!