Four Against Darkness
September 14, 2017
1976417899 / 9781976417894
24 pages |
This first pre-written adventure consists of three parts: a pre-mapped dungeon with keyed encounters, a set of custom tables for use with the base game's random dungeon generator, and a final confrontation which provides rules for a large-scale battle. I think I would have enjoyed the pre-mapped dungeon more if it had been presented in a more gamebook-like fashion, with the map presented in segments and some textual links leading from one area to another; as it is, though, you just get the whole map up front, and playing through it really feels more like trying to play a GM-oriented adventure solo, rather than a true solo experience. One decision point near the end does very little to make up for the rest. The new random tables add a little variety to the game, but their value is limited. The final confrontation is just an exercise in interpreting dense and somewhat ambiguous rules. I won't say that I didn't have fun with this, but I was hoping for a more immersive and structured experience than I got; as it is, it just doesn't feel like a whole lot of design work went into constructing this adventure, and so you won't get a whole lot of excitement out of it.
The first published adventure for the Four Against Darkness (4AD) system strays from the random dungeon adventure creation method of the base game. In fact, Caves of the Kobold Slave-Masters consists of three parts, each presenting a different concept. The first part comes as a pre-written (or, as the author calls it, "pre-programmed") dungeon: Just like in a CYOA gamebook, the contents of each room are fixed. You're given a map and pick your path. There is even an attempt at presenting a node with three choices, made awkward by putting the numbers on the map with no clear indication that they do not refer to locations.
Next comes a random dungeon following the standard method, but this time with new tables for all kinds of critters: vermin, minions and bosses. Finally, the third part of the Caves adventure has you arrange your heroes (plus some reinforcements to spice things up) at three connected locations for an extended battle scene.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, all three parts leave something to be desired. The first one I like best, whereas random dungeons can get stale very soon if the dice provide no variety. Killing demon worshippers gets tedious after the first dozen....
The final battle could be exciting, if only the story would lead up to it, making it the climax of the adventure. I'm afraid this is not the case. The ties between the three parts are as loose as can be. Even the NPCs don't get properly introduced. With one exception, your helpers in the final battle are priests not previously encountered. You'll probably not hesitate to sacrifice them. Also, there is no foretelling at which of the three locations the enemy will show up, which turns the whole deploying of troops from strategy into blind guessing.
In sum, I find Caves of the Kobold Slave-Masters mediocre at best. I don't even blame the lacklustre writing, as the emphasis of 4AD clearly lies on the mechanical aspects. I have this feeling that the author is just not very widely read in gamebooks. If he was, he could have avoided many of the traps that he stumbled into.
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