Recently I've become acquainted with a new game called "Four Against Darkness" by Ganesha Games. "Four Against Darkness" (or 4AD for short, available here and here) simulates four adventurers braving a random dungeon, in a solo gaming capacity; so it fits in nicely with what I'm doing here on 'Alone Amongst Many.' Plus there is a competition in the rules packet and I admit I'm just as mercenary as my four adventurers.
I've been looking for a simple, solid, solo dungeon romp and have tried a fair few number of different offerings. I won't name names because none of them really fit the bill for me and I don't want to burn any bridges. (I'm not generally in the habit of giving reviews; my tastes are too esoteric to be of much use to anyone else, really.) Dungeon crawling can actually be rather tedious and even boring if done improperly, so it needs to be simplified (note I didn't say simple) in order to ease the burden of boredom upon the player.
4AD is reasonably simplified, and it makes the crawling considerably easier without totally drilling it down to bare minimums.
There are better and more thorough reviews to be had of the actual mechanics of the game, and if you found my little blog then you can find the others. Start here (and scroll down near the bottom) and here and here and go from there.
Some dungeon-crawl "simulations" try to do too much: I don't need to know for how long a torch burns, or if a monster is visible in bright light or dim light because it's right at the edge of the range of the light source. I don't need to keep track of how many arrows I've shot, or how many sling bullets I'm carrying, or how many feet I've moved this turn and whether I ran or walked.
4AD doesn't try to do any of that. It has a little bit of "crunchiness" but not a lot. Really, it has all it needs. Someone has to carry the lantern, and there are limits on how much treasure and weapons/armor each character can carry. And there are spell-casting limits. Other than that, there's not a lot to keep track of, so you can devote all of your attention to exploration and combat.
The dungeon is generated randomly as you go, so mapping is part of the game. This is why it's so eminently suited to solo play. You will need graph paper. The game only uses d6s. I used my "DoubleSix" dice from a Kickstarter.
Below is a photo of my gaming setup. You can click on the picture to enlarge it. I had the rules on my tablet, and printed out only the pocket-mods of the pertinent tables included in the rules. You don't really need to do this unless you don't have the full set of rules close to hand; having them on my tablet made it dead-easy to jump to whichever table I needed at the time.
|My gaming setup: tablet, graph paper, pencil, "DoubleSix" dice, and pocket-mod versions of the necessary tables.|
I wrote out my four adventurous Adventurers: Dirk Donovan the Warrior, Smitem Goode the Cleric, Dash Calypso the Rogue and Secretus Magicus the Wizard. The life points are tied directly to their Level, so there is no ambiguity. The pocket-mod doesn't give much room to write but I managed to fit it all there.
|My four adventurers: the pocket-mod doesn't give you much room to write, but such is the nature of the beast.|
I recorded the details of the exploration and encounters on the following pages in the pocket-mod. Below are Rooms 2, 3, 4 and 5 with their combats. I won't go into my shorthand notation; you can make up your own anyhow.
|A summary of my adventurous journey.|
Below is the conclusion to my dungeon. Amazingly enough, it ended after only 6 rooms. I rolled for the big boss and.... Well, you'll have to read my room-by-room summation below to find out.
|The conclusion of my adventurous journey.|
Here is my map. I was inspired to add the crosshatching; I don't normally do that.
|The map of my adventurous journey.|
I began in Room 1 at a three-way junction. I chose straight ahead (North).
Still learning the rules, I entered Room 2. It was empty. I searched it but found nothing. I think I remembered to roll for Wandering Monsters, but forgot to write it down.
Room 3 had a door that I decided was locked. This is an optional rule. My Rogue unlocked it no problem, but I then decided I wasn't going to do that any more this dungeon; not with still learning the rules.
Room 3 had a Level 2 Puzzle. My Wizard solved that and was rewarded with a 25gp gem! (This is only one of three places in the rules that I noticed a discrepancy: in the description of the Wizard on page 11, it specifically states that he adds his Level to rolls to solve puzzles or riddles. It does not state this in the Rogue's description on page 10. However, in the Special Features table under the 'Puzzle Room' entry, it does specifically state that "Wizards and rogues add their level to their puzzle-solving roll." So what to do? I tend to allow things that help my characters so I plan on using the table. This time it wasn't a factor.)
In Room 4 I met a Boss monster (but not THE Boss monster), an Orc Brute, Level 5, with 5 life points and 2 attacks! Wanting to see how the combat system worked, I had everyone attack in melee (as opposed to using spells). In order, the Warrior missed, the Cleric hit for 2 damage, and the Rogue and the Wizard both missed. Then the Orc attacked. I had him attack the Warrior. The first attack missed but the second hit for ... Well, I forgot to roll a second attack! (Still learning the rules, you know.)
In round 2, the Warrior hit for 1 point, dropping the Orc to less than half his life points. This caused a morale roll, which he failed, so he fled. The Treasure roll provided 25 gp. And by defeating a Boss, one character got to level up. I chose the Wizard, as I wanted him to have access to more spells. Secretus Magicus succeeded in becoming Level 2! Hooray!
In Room 5 I encountered Minions, specifically 10 Fungi Folk. They were Level 3. All Minions have 1 life point each. This should be easy, I thought. I was wrong.
This combat lasted for three rounds, with various and multiple misses by the Heroes and the Villains. Over time, I finally wore the Fungi down to 4 remaining which finally caused them to flee. However, during the combat the Rogue, the Cleric and the Wizard each took one hit. This does not sound like much until you recall they only started with 4, 5, and 3! Additionally, when you're hit by Fungi you have to roll to save versus Level 3 poison or lose 1 life. I rolled three 1s in a row(!!) [with 2 different dice!!] so each character lost another life point. This put their life points at Cleric 3, Rogue 2 and Wizard 2. What's more, you have to defeat 10 Minion combats in order to have a chance at leveling another character! Now, I realize I should have had my Wizard use his Fireball spell, but I wanted to see how the combat system worked with regard to Minions; plus I was saving my heavy-hitting magic for the Boss monster at the end. And for all of that trouble, I only got 5 gp. Curses!
Room 6 turned out to be (coincidentally) the final Boss Monster: a Mummy, Level 5, with 4 life points and 2 attacks. Mummies are especially susceptible to the Fireball spell. So guess what I led off with? That's right, I had my Wizard cast Fireball! Oh yeah!
I rolled two 6s in a row plus a third d6, plus the Wizard's level plus 2 for the Mummy not liking fire = 21. This games uses the "Explosive Six Rule: Whenever you roll a 6 performing any character action, immediately roll another d6 and add the result to the total. This is cumulative: if you roll another 6, roll again and add it to the total. With enough luck, you could roll ANY number. In combat, this will let you kill multiple minions with a lucky blow. In other situations, it will let a character save against a threat higher than 6."
Now, this is slightly ambiguous (this is #2 of 3 rules I found that way), as it doesn't specifically mention here about combat with monsters with more than one life point. However in the "How to Attack Monsters" section, it states, "Every successful hit on a Boss depletes one of their life points," and regarding Minions it says, "Every successful attack kills one."
So I believe, as I read it, that the Explosive Six Rule will allow you to do multiple life point damage to a Boss Monster. And so that's what I did. That certainly seems to be the intent of the rule, in my opinion.
21 points is more than 4 times the Mummy's Level of 5, so that did 4 points of damage. One dead (again) Mummy. Mr. Wizard is very smug about this. He constantly reminds them that they should be very glad they brought him along, what with his puzzle-solving ability and his fireball spells. The Treasure ended up being 1 gem worth 120 gp.
That's a total of two gems worth 145 gp, and 30 actual gp. Not bad for a six-room dungeon. But in order to enjoy the spoils I had to exit back the way I came. For each room I entered as I retraced my steps, I rolled for a Wandering Monster. I annotated these rolls out to the side on the map. I successfully exited the dungeon without further incident, especially since I resisted exploring down the two unexplored corridors in Room 2. Discretion is the better part of valor, I always say (or I do when I'm laden down with gold and one room away from the exit!).
I should add here the third rule that I found slightly ambiguous. When you search an empty room, you roll on a table. One of the three results is, "Clue, secret door, or hidden treasure." However, there is no mechanism for determining which of the three it is you have found. Now I know I can just roll 1d6 and assign 1-2 to Clue, 3-4 to Secret Door and 5-6 to Hidden Treasure, but when you have tables in the rules detailing how, when and where you find things, to NOT have one is jarring.
But I'm weird that way. When I buy a set of rules, I expect them to tell me how to play the game. If I have to "fill in the blanks," then I might as well write my own game and play that. This is not just a criticism of 4AD, but of many, many another game I own (I'm looking at you, Two Hour Wargames!).
However, with only 3 instances of rule ambiguities in 4AD, I consider this a very minor annoyance, and an overall win.
The game was fast playing, even with learning the rules, and pretty satisfying. It pushed almost all of the buttons I like in a solo dungeon crawl. And for the parts that may be too simplified for some people, it's always easy to add a house-rule. There's also a decent amount of artwork in the book, although personally I can always use more artwork (unless it's just bad art which this is not).
And there's already a published adventure available, with more promised to come.
All in all, it's worth the price of admission.
And now back to our regularly scheduled solo RPG....