Monday, March 28, 2016

It's dangerous, don't go alone

Dungeon Saga, the dungeon crawling game released late last year by Mantic Games, is a great game. I have played through the entire game with my friends, and we all had a blast (ok, so far Mortibris is just not as hard as he should be for the final adventure, but that may be my mistake as the Overlord). I have also played it several times with different people, going through some of the adventures in the base game.

As the overlord, I am having a blast.  However, once the adventurers have played through an adventure (win or lost), it gets significantly easier for them, because the overlord has lost the element of surprise.  If the adventurers know which doors to avoid, and what is revealed beyond each, they can easily protect and use the heroes better.  As such, I don't feel there is much replay value within a single gaming group.

But the base game is not all there is.  Two expansion adventures have already been released, "The Return of Valinor" and "Infernal Crypts".  These add all new adventures and new heroes to explore them.  But they suffer from the same fate as the original box set adventures - once you know the secrets they just aren't as much fun to play.

Mantic anticipated this however, and dedicated an expansion to solving this problem.  The Adventurer's Companion is NOT more dungeons, heroes or monsters, but instead has everything you need to create your own.

Let's take a look

The art for the expansion box is nice, if a little dark.  Unfortunately there is a typo on the cover - I believe this was intended to be a "Resource", not "Resoruce".  While an occasional typo within a book is almost inevitable, the cover is the FIRST thing people will see - and having 10% of all the writing on the front box be wrong is just not acceptable.  I know they are a small company, but a professional editor / proofreader should help with issues like these.

The front of the box
The back of the box nicely describes the contents, but really isn't very special.
no glaring typos on the back
 The 'true' box is a book - just like the base game.  Nicely constructed, with magnets to hold it shut - I can easily see a set of these boxes on your game shelf looking like a set of ancient tomes.
Book/Box
Within the actual box is a set of half sheet character sheets for your custom characters, five (four pictured) shrink wrapped decks of cards, the book and two sheets of tokens.  Your mantic points are on the title card for deck 1, so make sure to grab them before tossing the title cards.
Inside
The character sheets are simple enough, and mimic the sheets that come with the base game.  This is fine to start with, but I can easily see where they would not hold up as a character advances (and things are erased and re-written).  This is one point where a nice character builder piece of software would really come in hand - to help keep track of changes etc.  Even a fillable PDF would be nice to have.
Blank character sheets
Then there is the book.  If you have followed the kickstarter,  you will know that the original hardback versions sent to kickstarter backers had issues - the table of contents has TBD for all the page numbers.  The commercial version here has a softback book, and it does NOT have these errors. At 96 pages, it has a good feel as a paperback - it does seem (to me) to be a bit thin for the hardback version.

The book
This expansion also comes with two sheets of counters.  The first sheet has what looks to be enough to play the base game - and in fact even on the back of the box it says that you do NOT require the base game to play with this - however you do need miniatures (which you may have), dice (and I bet you do have plenty of dice) and a dungeon floor.  Of course all of these are provided in the base set.
base counters
The second counters are a bit more unique.  There are a bunch of trap tokens (and blank floor tokens). There are also berserk tokens - which should come into play with the Green Rage minis.
2nd sheet of tokens
Of course then there are the cards.  There are nine types of cards, allowing you to customize your heroes as well as play the game without an overlord, or with an unknown dungeons.
Cards, cards and more cards
Getting a little deeper into some parts, first lets look at the character creation.

Characters are based around a small set of stats.  Movement, Combat and Armor are the main stats, but health (i.e. the number of wounds you have before taking an 'injured' penalty) is another one, and combat may have a second ranged stat as well.

To create you own character you first pick a race from among Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Gladewalker (treeman), Naiad, Salamander and Sylph.  Each race has a base state value and a unique racial ability, as well as a set of advancement options.

So lets make a hero.  He will be a Dwarf named Durkon.  As a dwarf he starts with a Move of, 2 Combat dice, 1 Armor, and 3 (out of 5) red hearts.  He has the racial feat "None shall pass".

Next you pick a profession.  The choices are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Demon Hunter, Druid, Fighter (with choice of Warrior, Ranger or Dervish), Paladin, Thief and Wizard.  Each profession will modify one or more of the character stats.

Durkon has chosen to be a cleric of Thor.  As a cleric, he gets an additional combat die, +1 to his armor, and +1 heart.  He also gets the traits Holy, Spellcaster and Divinity, and will start with 3 spells. Clerics, like all professions, have an advancement chart with two choices per level.

He then picks a free bonus - either +1 move, +3 Gold, a random magic item, an addition (random) spell or an additional song.  As a spellcaster, he is going to take an extra spell.  I deal out 6 of the divinity spells, and choose Transfusion and Speady Recovery.  I then have one more choice from all the divinity spells, so I pick Healing.  Then I get a random spell - Quick Recovery.

So Durkon, my Dwarven Cleric has M 6, 3 Combat Dice and Armor 2.  He has 3 white and 2 red hearts and the 4 spells listed above.

One difference with custom characters vs. those provided is how they can cast spells.  A spellcaster can only cast a spell that is their level or below - and all heroes start at level 0.  If you use a power crystal you can cast any level spell.   Healing and Steady Recovery are both level 0, Transfusion is level 1, and Quick Recovery is level 4.  Since clerics can't do petty magic, he cannot generate his own power crystals, so will have to depend on a wizard doing that and giving them to him.

Bards have songs instead of spells - they can sing a song as their action each turn - and each has a specific effect.

song card - can be used by bards as their action

Advancing your character is simple - you gain glory for each adventure you complete on the winning side.  Glory then works like a pyramid - 1 point makes you level 1, 2-3 makes you level 2, 4-6 level 3 and so on up to 45-55 for level 10.  When you gain a level, you can either take a number of gold pieces equal to your new level, or learn a new ability from the master.  Each race and profession has a list of abilities that can be learned at each level.  The trick here is you can only choose one of the three, and sometimes there is only the single opportunity to choose something.  You may also get a fourth choice based on the location where you spend your downtime.

Location card - gives options if the character goes there between adventurers.

We have tried a few custom characters running through the base game - and had some difficulty with it.  The characters advanced faster than the levels were prepared for, and the much wider variety of spells (coupled with crystals to cast any level) often made the adventure too easy  (for example, the wizard had the spell that would lower the power of magical locks by 3 points (instead of 1) - so powered by a crystal he blew threw any magical locks without breaking a sweat - even those that were intended to tie him up for a round or two).  It seems to me that custom characters are best used in custom adventures, where the overlord can easily tailor the threat to the characters ( much like you would do in a standard pen and paper RPG).

One of the rather unique ideas is that when the overlord player is building bosses for their adventures, they use the exact same technique.  In the bestiary it has starting stats for bosses from several races - you then advance them to the proper level the same way heroes do.

Speaking of the Bestiary, it is nice but not quite as complete as I would have liked.  For example my evil stunties (Abyssal Dwarfs) only have four entries (and a boss).  Decimator, Blacksoul, Gargoyle and Obsidian Golem.  No Halfbreeds, Immortal Guard, or Grotesques.  However this is something that can easily be added onto in more expansions.

In addition to the character rules, there are rules for creating a dungeon on the fly, where neither the overlord nor the players know what is coming up behind each door.  The Uncharted Dungeon cards consist of five sub decks labeled A-E - one card is randomly picked from each sub deck, then these are shuffled and four are selected to be the dungeon deck.  The heroes start on a 4x4 tile, then you draw the first card of the dungeon deck.  Each of these cards has a single entry point and several exits, and a die roll determines which side has a door placed for an exit.

Uncharted Dungeon card

The event cards are used to determine what monsters are in an area, what traps might exist, and what the locks are on any doors or chests (as well as any treasure in the chests).

Event card.  Top section determines how many monsters are in a given area, middle section determines if there are locks (and traps) on doors or treasure chests (and the contents of the chest).  Bottom section is the heroes victory condition.

One other unique idea in the uncharted dungeon is that the heroes victory condition (which is randomly determined by drawing an event card) is kept secret from the overlord.  The overlord wins, of course, if his deck of cards runs out.  If the hero victory condition is impossible then they win by clearing the dungeon.

There are also some ideas for building your own dungeon, but these are basically guidelines, not hard and fast rules.

One of the new ideas that is not in the base game are traps.  Each time a trap is placed a blank counter is also placed, so the heroes don't know if it is real or no.  When they pass over the square, the trap is revealed, and there are cards for these.  If playing uncharted dungeons, then when a map trap is indicated, three random trap counters are placed from among all traps and blanks.

trap card
Lastly there are rules for playing without an overlord.  This again uses another deck - the invisible overlord deck.  These cards are used to see if the overlord interrupts, as well as the actions the overlord takes on his turn.  These are defined by determining the threat level of all the heroes, based on things like having the spellcaster ability, having a shooting attack, heavy armor or very light armor, having more wounds etc.  The highest threat is typically the main target of the card.

Invisible Overlord card - number of models that can act, what is the threat, what they are going to do, and can this act as an interrupt.
With all the new resources ( or are they resoruces) for both overlords and heroes available, this looks to be a great addition to add the one missing component - replay value.  Using the random aspects, there is no reason for the heroes to ever have to explore the same dungeon twice.  Creating your own campaigns is also a great way to add more to the game - and building them into campaigns can turn this from a one-off game to a series of adventures that you and your gaming group may remember fondly for many years to come.  It isn't quite a full roleplaying system, but it is fairly close - all that remains is the actual role playing.

The ability to have an AI guided overlord also helps for when either no one wants to play the bad guy (and seriously, in this sort of game the bad guy usually loses, though the best games are when the heroes barely manage to win on the last possible moment) or you actually want to try a complete solo game.  With no kids in the house, that is one aspect that I'd like to try.

Because it is all fun and games...

3 comments:

  1. Always interesting to read a review of someone not influence by the kickstarter issues, but general topics around here make me think more Mantic Fanboy so the opposite side of the spectrum.

    As note, characters do not start with the racial feats, they are just another option available if they choose to learn a feat.

    You mention that the custom heroes could get through the adventures easily but the flip side is that if you have no wizard who opens the wards RAW. Seems like bad plan to set up a game with 4 heroes and like 9 different classes but one is required for many of published adventures and pretty much all uncharted play. Similarly once you add in traps, only thieves can deal with them so you are either just taking damage from doors or avoiding the squares if possible. Poor Design there.

    There is a lot of good stuff in the box overall but not tested properly especially the version sent out in the kickstarter.

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