Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Monday 30 March 2020

Jonstown Jottings #13: The Duel at Dangerford

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.


What is it?
The Duel at Dangerford is a scenario for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, a confrontation between Sartarite heroes and a vengeful Lunar army.

It is a thirty-seven page, full colour, 5.11 MB PDF.

The Duel at Dangerford is well presented,  decently written, and illustrated with publicly sourced artwork. It needs an edit in places.

Where is it set?
As the title suggests, The Duel at Dangerford is set in Dangerford—specifically on the Isle Dangerous—as well on the road to Runegate. In the official canon of Glorantha, this takes place in the Storm Season of 1625, but due to the vagaries of the author’s campaign and ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’, in The Duel at Dangerford itself takes pace in the Storm Season of 1626.

Who do you play?
The player characters should ideally be heroes of Sartar. The scenario works particularly well if one of the player characters is a Humakti.

What do you need?
The Duel at Dangerford requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack to play. To get the most out of The Duel at Dangerford, the Game Master will need access to The Coming Storm: The Red Cow Volume IThe Eleven Lights: The Red Cow Volume II, and The Glorantha Sourcebook. To get the utmost out of The Duel at Dangerford, the Game Master will also need access to Wyrm’s Footnotes #12, Wyrm’s Footnotes #15the Dragon Pass board game, the Argan Argar Atlas, King of SartarArcane Loreand Troll Gods—although the last seven are really only of note or use if you are dedicated Gloranthaphile and have copies in your library.

In terms of the narrative, the player characters will also require an outspoken rival, ideally set up beforehand. If The Duel at Dangerford is run as part of the scenarios included in RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, this could be someone at the court of Queen Leika in Clearwine or if the Game Master has run ‘Cattle Raid’, then this could be a member of the Malani tribe.

What do you get?
The Duel at Dangerford is a simple scenario at its core. Divided into three acts, it begins in media res with the player characters on the road to Runegate with the Colymar Tribal Host, having answered the call to war in the face of an imminent invasion by a Tarshite Provincial Army. Following a council of war, the player characters are sidelined to Dangerford in order to protect the flank of  the Colymar Tribal Host of the Sartarite Army. As they make their way there, they spot both a second column of Tarshite soldiery heading towards to Dangerford, no doubt to cross the river there and conduct a flanking manoeuvre as was feared, and the fact that the column is led by no less a figure than General Fazzur Wideread, one of the greatest figures of the age. The player characters must therefore rush to Dangerford and find a way of stopping the advancing Tarshite forces, and it just so happens that the Isle Dangerous is a legendary duelling ground, where the Humakti rules of duelling are upheld by an ancient hero.

Unfortunately, as simple a scenario as The Duel at Dangerford is, it could have been a whole lot more simple. The problem is that it is overwritten, the author dwelling just a little too much on details and information that is not really pertinent to the scenario, either in the scenario’s extensive footnotes or annoyingly, in the text itself. So in a lot of cases, it is more hard work for the Game Master than it should be to prepare and run The Duel at Dangerford, but then it is underwritten else where, in particular not really giving information on how the the player characters go about performing a certain ritual on the Isle Dangerous. What is happening here is that the author is showing his love and knowledge of Glorantha, and whilst much of that information is interesting and whilst there is a certain joy to the writing, it is fundamentally just a little too much—certainly for anyone without that same degree of love and knowledge. Especially since the scenario suffers in places as a consequence.

In addition, The Duel at Dangerford comes with four appendices. The first contains a poem that the the author wants the Game Master to read out during the scenario, the second the author’s feedback on the scenario, ‘The Smoking Ruin’—all ten pages of it, some suggestions for expanding the scenario, The Dragon of Thunder Hills’ from the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack; and some stats for any Tarshite militia the player characters might encounter during the scenario. To be fair, this is all interesting content, but it is not useful content as far as The Duel at Dangerford is concerned—except the stats for the soldiery. The poem is optional, the author’s feedback on the scenario, ‘The Smoking Ruin’ is lengthy and not relevant, and the notes on expanding the scenario, The Dragon of Thunder Hills’ are very much optional. Now if the Game Master is planning to run ‘The Smoking Ruin’ or has not yet run The Dragon of Thunder Hills’, then both feedback and notes are useful, but they do feel as if they should be in a fanzine rather than here.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. The Duel at Dangerford presents a fantastic opportunity for the player characters to be heroic—especially if one of them is a Humakti. 
No. Either because your campaign is not set in Sartar or you have already run the Battle of Dangerford. 
Maybe. The Tarshites and their Lunar allies are sure to launch another invasion of Sartar—at least in your campaign—and The Duel at Dangerford could be adjusted to fit, just as the author adjusted his to fit.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Short, Sharp Cthulhu

Collections of short scenarios for Call of Cthulhu are nothing new—there was the 1997 anthology Minions, but that was for Call of Cthulhu, Fifth Edition. It was also a simple collection of short scenarios, whereas Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is both a collection of short scenarios and something different. Published by Chaosium, Inc. for use with either Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition or the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set, it is a trio of very short scenarios—scenarios designed to be played in an hour, designed to introduce players to Call of Cthulhu, and designed to demonstrate Call of Cthulhu. All three have scope to be expanded to last longer than an hour, come with pre-generated investigators as well as numerous handouts, and are designed to be played by four players—though guidance is given as to which investigators to use with less than four players for each scenario, right down to just a single player and the Keeper. All three are set in different years and locations, but each is set in a single location, each is played against the clock—whether they are played in an hour or two hours—before a monster appears, and each showcases the classic elements of a Call of Cthulhu scenario. So the players and their investigators are presented with a mystery, then an investigation in which they hunt for and interpret clues, and lastly, they are forced into a Sanity-depleting confrontation with a monster.

Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror starts out though with an extensive introduction—or reintroduction—to the core rules of Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition. This is to help the Keeper introduce the rules herself to her fellow players, whether sat round the table at home, playing online, or at a convention. In turn it discusses the investigator sheet, using Luck, skill rolls, bonus and penalty dice, combat, and of course, Sanity. Included here are references to both the Call of Cthulhu: Keeper Rulebook and the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set with pertinent points marked. The only thing not included here that perhaps might have been useful is a list of these references, possibly at the end of the section. Otherwise this is all very useful, if not as a reminder, then at least as a means of the Keeper having to avoid flipping through another book.

Each of the three scenarios is tightly structured and follows the same format. This starts with advice on the scenario’s structure, specifically the timings if the Keeper is running it as a one-hour game. Then it discusses each of the four investigators for the scenario, including their notable traits and roleplaying hooks, what to do if there are fewer than four players, and what if there are more than four, before delving into the meat of the scenario itself. All three are very nicely presented, clear and easy to read off the page in terms of what skill rolls are needed and what the investigators learn from them. As well as really good maps—for both players and Keeper, but it has to be said that the maps for the Keeper are thoroughly impressive—which depict the different locations of the three scenarios in three dimensional perspective, each scenario comes with a sheaf of handouts, suggestions as to how each of its four investigators react when they go insane, and lastly, four investigator sheets. What is notable about these is that they are not done on the standard investigator sheet for Call of Cthulhu. This does feel off brand, but presented as straight text, the information that a player would want, or need is easy to find and easy to read.

So to the scenarios themselves. They open with Leigh Carr’s ‘The Necropolis’. Set in 1924 in Egypt this is a classic set-up, four members of an archaeological expedition excavating a tomb in the Valley of the Kings when the worst happens—they are entombed themselves! The quartet are driven to explore and discover as much as they are to escape, but the latter becomes more important when something appears to be inside the tomb with them! First though, they need to stop whatever is in the tomb with them because it seems very, very hungry… Of the three scenarios in the anthology, this has the largest area for the investigators to explore, consisting of five rooms rather than the single rooms of the other two. It is also probably the pulpiest in tone and style, and if the solution for dealing with the monster is a cliché, it is entirely in keeping with the genre. More of a locked room horror mystery than the other two, veteran players will enjoy the links to both Call of Cthulhu and Lovecraftian lore.

‘What’s in the Cellar?’ by Jon Hook switches to upstate New York in 1929. Arthur Blackwood, a respected local attorney is on trial for the bloody murder of his wife in the cellar of his family’s ancestral holiday cabin and is likely to go to the electric chair. He claims to be innocent, that his family is cursed, that there is a genie in the cellar who murdered his wife. Blackwood’s business and his defence team are desperate to keep him from being given a death sentence, so ask friends, family, a private investigator, and a psychiatrist—the latter to help prove that Blackwood is not deranged—to investigative. Although the opening scene takes place in New York, this is essentially a one-room scenario—the cellar. Here the shelves that line its walls are stocked with clues amidst the tools and bric-à-brac you would expect to find in a rural cellar. Again, there is a race again time—although neither players nor their investigators will be aware of it—before something goes wrong and the investigators find themselves trapped with something nasty in the cellar.

Lastly, Todd Gardiner’s ‘The Dead Boarder’ takes place in Providence, Rhode Island at the start of the Great Depression in an utterly mundane location—a single room at Ma Shanks’ Boarding House. All four of its investigators have rooms here and all four are worried about a neighbour of theirs. Apart from the late-night prayers, he was always nice and quiet, but has not been heard from for a couple of days. So being neighbourly, they gather to check on him, they are aghast to discover when the door to his room is unlocked, him lying on the floor in a bloody mess. Since no one has been seen entering or leaving his room—and everyone would know if they did—what happened to him? Of all the three scenarios in the anthology, this is the most detailed and the richest in terms of its play. All four of the pre-generated investigators have different motives for entering and examining the room, sometimes motives which will clash, so the investigators have more personal drives other than the need to survive. Where in the other the scenarios the investigators do not have an obvious time limit on their actions, here they do, as the police have been called and will arrive within the hour. So this will also drive the investigators to act. Overall ‘The Dead Boarder’ nicely brings the horror home, or at least to the room down the hall.

If perhaps there is an issue with Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror, it is with the monsters. Now they are not all the same, but they are the same in terms of being unstoppable, appearing from nowhere, and so on. This though comes from the format of the three scenarios and its built-in time limit, and really this would only be a downside were a group to play all three in quick succession. The monsters are also not drawn from Call of Cthulhu canon, so any player expecting them to be might be disappointed, but there is no need for them to be and there are plenty of other scenarios and campaigns where they appear anyway.

Physically, Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is very well presented, the choice of photographs is decent, the maps are good, and a great deal of the artwork can be used to show the players during play. In terms of design, the trio are also multi-function scenarios. They can be used as demonstration scenarios, though they are not long enough for the traditional four-slot of a convention game. They can be used as one-shots, as written or expanded in terms of game length by ignoring the suggested timings. They can be added to an existing campaign, but with each being written for their set of pre-generated investigators, this will take some adjustment upon the part of the Keeper. They can be used to introduce investigators, perhaps as flashbacks or prequels, and to explore their first encounter with the Mythos, rather than say, all of them having been run through ‘Alone Against the Flames’ or ‘Paper Chase’ from the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. Lastly, they can be used to introduce players to Call of Cthulhu and how it is played. Each of the three scenarios in Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror is flexible enough to support these functions and if not in terms of place, could also easily be adjusted in terms of date.

It would be fantastic to see more scenarios written to the format of Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror, whether as more demonstration games, one-shots, longer convention games, or investigator introductions to the Mythos. Overall, Gateways to Terror: Three Evenings of Horror delivers three, short doses of horror and does so in an engaging, well designed, and multi-functional fashion.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Brave New Mutant: Year Zero

At the end of the fourth and most recent campaign and campaign set in Free League Publishing’s Mutant: Year Zero post-apocalyptic future, there remained one big question, “What happens next?” Since 2014, the publisher has been exploring the place of mutants with Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, anthropomorphic animals with Mutant: Genlab Alpha, robots with Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and by with each release revealing a bit more the world and the disaster which brought it to its current state. Each release also saw the four different groups encountering one or more of the other groups for the first time, if only fleetingly, in the wake of the events which played out in Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, all four groups are together and interacting with each other. This is the new world of Mutant: Year Zero presented in a mini-campaign for setting, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death takes place in the Zone, the region first explored in Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days. The default Zone is The Big Smoke—essentially bombed out, flattened, and ravaged London—but it can easily be moved to the Game Master’s own Zone. All that it requires is a long body of water which boats can easily travel up and down. Advice is given on how to run it as a stand-alone adventure, but really Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is designed to be run as part of campaign, specifically after Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and ideally after Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days, Mutant: Genlab Alpha, and Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying. In addition, to get the best out of Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death, the Game Master should also have run Mutant: Year Zero Zone Compendium 5: Hotel Imperator. Since the campaign takes place after the events of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, there no restrictions on what type of characters the players can roleplay—be it mutants, animals, robots, or humans. This is one of the features of the brave new Mutant: Year Zero world.

As Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death opens, the world has changed. There is more trade and interaction between the different groups, there are more boats on the river, and so on, but there are ominous signs. In the depths of a snowy winter, there are disappearances around the Ark, including of people important to the Player Characters, and there are shadows in the sky—vehicles which float in the air and move fast. The Player Characters come across a Zone Rider—one of the couriers who carry messages back and forth across the Zone—under attack by a band of orderly and well-equipped soldiers. If they come to the Zone Rider’s rescue, or from a contact later on if they decide not to intervene, they learn of a mysterious new organisation known as the Army of the Dawn. It has recently taken over a wretched junktown to the west and renamed it Dawnville. The Player Characters are tasked with travelling to Dawnville, which is shortly to stage a wrestling tournament, to find out more information. To prepare themselves for that, it is suggested that the Player Characters visit two other places to conduct some investigation and learn what they can about the Army of Dawn. The first is a trading post run by Oscar Battenburg, an enclave Human from Elysium I known to trade slaves to the Army of Dawn, the second is the Showboat Saga, which travels up and the river putting on entertainments and which recently visited the Dawnville.

The Player Characters are also given a deadline—the wrestling tournament takes place in a week. To get them across the Zone in time, the Player Characters are lent a big-wheeled all-terrain robot vehicle and given some equipment. It is also likely that they will have been able to scavenge the guns and the armour of the Army of Dawn soldiers who attacked the Zone Rider—in particular, the tin helms which give the Army of Dawn soldiers the look of Great War soldiers. In comparison to a normal Mutant: Year Zero campaign, the Player Characters will be able to zip across the Zone, and with initially three locations—or as Mutant: Year Zero terms them, ‘Special Zone Sectors’—there is scope for the Game Master to run random encounters and ‘Special Zone Sectors’ of her own in between these three.

Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death actually consists of five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, not three, although the first three can be run in any order, followed by the fourth and fifth in that order. Each of these locations is nicely detailed and includes full stats for each of the NPCs, clear maps—both full illustrations of the locations and floorplans where needed, and events which play out when the Player Characters visit them. The five ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are all different in scope and theme. So ‘The Showboat Saga’ has a certain extravagance to it with its comparatively lavish performances and restaurant which becomes a mini-murder mystery, whilst ‘Dawnville’ is essentially ‘Bartertown’ from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome—complete with the equivalent of its own ‘Thunderdome’, which of course is where the wrestling tournament takes place. For the most part, the encounters involve a fair degree of stealth and subterfuge as well as combat. Certainly, the wrestling tournament will appeal to characters and players who like physical combat.

So what is going on in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death? Well, its events do stem from what happened at the end of Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium and the fact that it involves an army—the ‘Army of Dawn’—points towards a new force wanting to conquer the whole of the Zone. This is a genre staple, a new military arising to threaten the fledgling communities working to survive in the weird world order of the post-apocalyptic planet, but it well handled in Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death

Now Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death describes itself as a campaign, but at best it is a mini-campaign. With just five ‘Special Zone Sectors’, this is really more of scenario than a campaign and the first few, ‘The Showboat Saga’ and ‘Battenburg’s Trading Post’ in particular, are short, playable in a single session, two at the very most. The later ‘Special Zone Sectors’ are longer and more involved, and it will probably run to two or three sessions. Fortunately, the fact that the first few ‘Special Zone Sectors’ can be run in any order provides the Game Master with room to add her own content and perhaps bulk up Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death a little.

Physically, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death is well written, nicely presented in full colour with excellent cinematic-style artwork. Some of the illustrations show scenes that can happen in the campaign and the likelihood is that the Game Master will really want them to happen—such as a gunfight aboard an airship—because they look fun! However, it does need an edit in places and some of the artwork still has Swedish signs and writing on it. The campaign also comes with some good handouts, including newspapers and event posters, both a sign of the growing new civilisation of Mutant: Year Zero. These handouts though, are not collated at the end of the book.

As a campaign—or really a scenario—Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death begins to show what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like, the beginnings of new civilisations.  It returns to the openness of Mutant: Year Zero – Roleplaying at the End of Days after the closed and confined worlds of Mutant: Genlab Alpha, Mechatron – Rise of the Robots Roleplaying, and Mutant: Year Zero – Elysium, and of course, it brings each of the inhabitants of the four campaign settings together much post-apocalyptic roleplaying games of old, such as Gamma World.  In fact, with the new set-up, a Game Master with access to those old post-apocalyptic scenarios written in the early 1980s could actually adapt them to the world of Mutant: Year Zero. Overall, Mutant: Year Zero – The Gray Death shows us what the new world of Mutant: Year Zero is like and has the Player Characters confront the first threat to it in an action-packed scenario. It is though, just the next chapter. 

Friday 27 March 2020

Friday Filler: D-Day Dice

D-Day was a momentous event at the end of War World 2, marking the major assault by the Allies on a Europe which has been under occupation by the Nazis for four years. This single combined forces action has been the subject of numerous books and memoirs over the years, as well as films such as D-Day and Saving Private Ryan, television series like Band of Brothers, and boardgames such as D-Day and Axis & Allies: D-Day, both from Avalon Hill Games, Inc. Many of the board games which explore D-Day are simulations, typically hex and counter wargames. This means that they will only appeal to a certain type of gamer, the wargamer, and typically, they can only be played by two participants, each of whom commands numerous units, which depending upon the game can be squads, platoons, squadrons, battalions, regiments, and more. Yet modern gaming can and often does approach its subject matters with different mechanics and ways of playing. So it is with D-Day Dice, which combines co-operative play, dice mechanics, and a timing mechanism, all played against the board rather than another player. Originally published by Valley Games, Inc. in 2012 following a successful Kickstarter campaign, in 2019, Word Forge Games published D-Day Dice, Second Edition, again following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Designed to be played by between one and four players, aged fourteen and over, D-Day Dice, Second Edition can be played in roughly forty-five minutes, or less once the players get used to the mechanics or lose. In the game, each player controls a Unit of soldiers assaulting one of the beaches fortified by the Nazis as part of their Atlantic Wall. These Units come from one of four Allied nations—the USA, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada—and will be represented by a single die on the map and supported by a Reference Card and a Resource Tracker. Each turn the players will roll dice to generate resources and use to be able to survive on the battlefield whilst supporting each other and building up a force strong enough to get up the beach and breach the bunker. All this is against the clock and difficult odds. To win, every Unit must assault the bunker and survive—that is, have at least one soldier alive at the end, but if all of the soldiers in a Unit are killed or a Unit cannot advance up the beach before time runs out, then everyone loses and the Nazis win!

Open up the box for D-Day Dice, Second Edition and you will find an eighteen-page rulebook and a twenty-page scenario book; four Reference Cards and four Resource Trackers—one for each nation; six double-sided map boards providing twelve different scenarios; over one hundred cards, representing Specialist soldiers, items, vehicles, and award; thirty tokens; and thirty-two dice. Each of the map board represents a particular historical target, starting with Exercise Tiger, the Allied rehearsal for D-Day, through Omaha Beach and Pointe Du Hoc, up to Pegasus Bridge. Divided into various Sectors, they are marked with obstacles such as land mines and barriers. Many have certain conditions, such as Sectors where there is just room for a single Unit, have requirements to enter, and certain loses which need to be met—for example a Specialist or an Item—before they can be entered. Matching these conditions and maintaining enough Soldiers to keep going will challenge the players throughout D-Day Dice.

Of the thirty-two dice in D-Day Dice, Second Edition, four are black and are rolled when German weapons inflict damage on a Unit. Four are Unit Markers, used to track each Unit’s movement on the map and how much time the Unit has before it must move—either to an adjacent Sector or forward into a Sector closer to the bunker. These is a Unit Marker for each of the Units in the game. The other twenty-four—six per Unit and player—are ‘RWB’ or ‘Red-White-Blue’ dice and lie at the heart of the game. These dice are red, white, and blue, and each player has two of each colour. Each die is marked with six symbols that represent the resources in the game. Star symbols are used to Rally Specialists to a player’s Unit; Soldier symbols—single and double—add Soldiers to a Unit; medal or Courage symbols are used to draw Awards which grant various bonuses or to advance a Unit up the map; and Tool symbols generate Item Points with which to purchase Items. Lastly, Skull symbols cancel other die results if they appear in a player’s Final Tally.

On a turn, each player will roll his six ‘RWB’ dice. He must keep and lock two of them after this first roll, but can reroll or keep as many of the other dice as he wishes. After the second roll, he must keep and lock another two, but can keep more if he wishes. After the third roll, all of his dice are locked. This is his Final Tally used to generate the resources for that Turn, which are recorded on the Resource Tracker—which requires a little assembly before first game—and spent in that same Turn. Resources are not kept from Turn to Turn.

This is simple enough, but D-Day Dice adds a couple of twists to the dice mechanic. One is that is if a player rolls a ‘Straight’—one of each symbol on every die, he earns a free Award rather than purchasing it with multiple Award symbols. The other is if he rolls three identical symbols on different dice, so the same symbol on a Red, a White, and a Blue die. This grants a ‘RWB’ bonus. So three Skulls or ‘Dead Man’s Gift’ has a player’s Unit finds equipment on a dead soldier’s gear bag; three single Soldiers grants ‘Reinforcements’ which join a Unit; and three Medals or ‘Battle Cry’ inspires a Unit to go above and beyond the call of duty. Now it is not merely a matter of each triple combination granting a ‘RWB’ bonus, because the actual bonus is different for each nation. So for ‘Battle Cry’ for the USA either grants two Stars or enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement, but for the United Kingdom, it grants three Soldiers or it enables a Unit to advance into a new Sector without meeting its requirement. These little variations add flavour and variation to each of the Units.

A Turn consists of six phases. In Phase One, the players roll the dice and then do the Upkeep—recording resources generated in Phase Two. In Phase Three, they adjust Unit Markers, turning the die each Turn until the fourth face shows an arrow indicating that the Unit must move in the next phase. In Phase Four, each player can Rally a Specialist, Find an Item, or Draw an Award, depending the results of the ‘RWB’ dice that Turn. A Specialist adds an ability to a Unit, such a Runner which enables a player to give another Unit resources and Items no matter where they are on the map—otherwise they need to be in the Sector to either give or trade resources. Specialists are also important in the game because some maps require them to be sacrificed in order for a Unit to be able to advance. Such Specialists cannot be rallied again, that is, there are no replacements. Items are single-use items of equipment like the Flamethrower which reduces the Defence value of the bunker or the Despatch Case which lets a player copy the Final Tally of another Unit. Awards are again one-use cards and add a great effect to play, for example, the Bronze Star enables a Unit to stay in a Sector for one Turn longer, whilst the amazing Victoria Cross enables a player to determine every player’s Final Tally that Turn.

In Phase Five, each Unit which wants or to Move must do so. This is to a new Sector—either to the side or forward. A Unit cannot retreat or revisit a Sector. In Phase Six, Combat, each Unit takes damage according to the Defense value of the Sector it is in. Damage reduces the number of Soldiers a Unit has and if reduced to zero means that the Allies have lost. If a Unit can get into the Bunker, it will take a lot of damage, so a Unit will need to find Items which reduce its Defense value sufficiently for the Unit to survive assaulting it and so help win the game. This does not have to be done simultaneously, one Unit can successfully assault the Bunker and its player wait for the others to arrive. Once every Unit has attacked and held the Bunker, then the game is won. 

Physically, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is very well produced. Everything is done in full colour, the card stock is good, everything is readable in the Rule Book and the Scenario Book, and the dice feel good in the hand. Perhaps the map boards are a little small and they do not quite sit as flat as they should, but really, these are minor niggles. A better explanation of how the Bunker is assaulted might have been useful for less experienced players.

The rulebook for D-Day Dice, Second Edition also includes notes for solo play as well as adding Victory Points to the game. It ends with some advice on how to play too. The Scenario Book comes with three training missions on Tiger Beach as well as the other eleven maps. Pleasingly, each scenario comes with a dedication to the men and units who fought there along with the specific details about the map.

The twelve map boards and the four different nationalities—and then the addition of the Victory Point rules—give D-Day Dice, Second Edition a lot of replay value. As does its short playing time. It is also easy to set up again, so if one game is lost, it is not difficult to set up another and start again. Whether playing solo with a single Unit or multiple Units—which will take longer to play, but does keep the game’s co-operative element, D-Day Dice, Second Edition is tense and challenging to play. This is especially so on the later maps as you would expect, but it is not just because the players are relying on random dice rolls to determine how they plan and what they can do.

Throughout the game, the players are forced to think ahead and plan what they need on the route they are going to take up the beach, but this changes from map to map. Get that wrong and the game will be lost. So having learned one set of conditions to advance on one map, the players have to learn to prepare for a whole new set of conditions on another map. This is in addition to the game’s co-operative element which will often force Units to congregate in order to swap the game’s various resources. This may be an issue for the more casual player, but not for the experienced board or wargames player.

The ‘RWB’ dice and mechanics are not only clever, they also add some pleasing theme and variation to the different nationalities, though sometimes you wish that there was a little more of this national flavour and theme. That said, they form the foundation upon which a narrative can be told as D-Day Dice is played, as Specialists are Rallied, Vehicles and Items found, and Awards won, and a Unit makes its assault on the Bunker.

D-Day Dice, Second Edition is a clever implementation of modern game mechanics—dice rolling, co-operative play, timed play, and against the clock—to explore an old theme in a new way. 

Monday 23 March 2020

Retrospective: Plunder

By 1980, RuneQuest had begun to mark itself as a roleplaying game and setting in the form of Glorantha, which was very different in comparison to other fantasy roleplaying games. It was skill-focused and emphasised every player characters’ faith and belief system and world view in the context of the world of Glorantha, especially in the form of the superlative Cults of Prax. Then came along Plunder, a supplement detailing some six-hundred-and-forty pre-generated treasure hoards and forty-three magical treasures of Glorantha. Plunder does not add as much to the world of Glorantha, but it does support it, both in terms of the mechanics and the background.

The first half of Plunder consists of ten tables, each an eight-by-eight grid, thus providing sixty-four results in each table. In each space is the listing for a treasure hoard that the player characters might be found in their intrepid adventures in Glorantha. This might be nothing; 38 Clacks; 406 Clacks, 364 Lunars, 30 Wheels, and a single gem or piece of jewellery; or 1068 Clacks, 1383 Lunars, 332 Wheels, four gems or pieces of jewellery, and a special item. When the Game Master needs to determine the contents of a hoard, he turns to a table and rolls two eight-sided dice to get a result. Two further tables enable the Game Master to determine what the gems and jewellery are if there are any and what the special items are if there are any. So the gems and jewellery might be an excellent gemstone worth 900 Lunars or costume jewellery worth 45 Lunars, and special items might be a scroll written in Stormspeech which grants a +5% bonus to the Dagger skill if studied, an eleven-point Power storage crystal, or a wand with the Glamour matrix on it.

Mechanically, this all ties into the use of Treasure Factors from the second edition of RuneQuest, recently republished as RuneQuest Classic. Treasure Factors are are means of determining how much loot a monster or an NPC might. The Treasure Factor for any one creature derived from its Hit Points, combat skills, how many extra dice are rolled when it inflicts damage, armour, combat spells, special powers, any poison used, and any extra attacks. If there is more than one monster or NPC, their individual Treasure Factors are added together, and the final value broken down into groups of a hundred. When it comes to using Plunder, the Treasure Factor is used to determine which table the Game Master will roll on when it comes to generating the hoard for a monster or an NPC. So for a single Trollkin with a Treasure factor of six, the Game Master would roll on the very first table in Plunder, but add a whole lot more Trollkin and mix in a Dark Troll or two, and the Treasure Factor rises rapidly so that the Game Master will be rolling on a table later in the book. In general, if the Game Master knows the Treasure Factor, she can generate a treasure hoard with just a handful of rolls.

The second half is dedicated to just some of the magical devices to be found on Glorantha. These range from the marvelously mundane, such as the Golden Torches which never go out, even underwater or in great darkness or Soup Bones which can always be boiled to provide soup, to amazingly magical, like Tora’s Hammer, a stone Warhammer wielded by a hero during the Dawn Ages who slaughtered untold numbers of Mostali with it and which returns to the hand if thrown, and Glass Butterflies, tireless magical messengers which will deliver a spoken phrase anywhere in the universe! Many are very particular in terms of who can use them, such as Morokanth Thumbs, black lumps of thumb-like flesh which when Power is sacrificed, the thumbs can attach to a Morokanth’s hands and enable him to be as dextrous as any human, whilst others are tied to a particular cult. For example, the Lightning Bands once worn by the bodyguards of a high priest of Orlanth Thunderous, which when imbued with Power, enables the wearer to blast out a bolt of lightning via a spear. There are treasures from the Aldryami and the Mostali, Chalana Arroy, Chaos, Kyger Litor, Dragonewts (and from Dragonewts), Waha, Stormbull, and more. Some have more generic links such as Fire or Sky cults.

Every item follows the format. A description, followed by a listing of the cults associated with the item as well as those friendly, hostile, or enemy to it; a discussion of how common knowledge of the item is, ranging from common to one of a kind or owner only; its history and the procedure required to use it (and sometimes make it); and lastly powers and value. The latter should one come up for sale. For example, Bajora’s Shield is a large iron shield with a glowing Death rune on it. It is associated in friendly fashion with Humakt and knowledge of it is automatically known to Humakt’s cult, though it is a cult secret, it is famous and one of a kind. Its history is that it was originally carried by Bajora, a friend of Humakt who sacrificed his life to save Humakt from a thing of Chaos. All that was left of Bajora was his shield, which Humakt carried for the rest of Godtime in his honour. Humakt refused to use it though and so since time began, none of his followers can either. They do know of the shield’s powers, so anyone wielding it and wanting to use if to its fullest powers needs to be on good terms with Humakt’s cult.

The procedure to use it requires the wielder to be a Rune Lord of a cult not an enemy of Humakt. He must then sacrifice a point of Power. Once attuned it grants a +20% bonus to the wielder’s Shield skill, the same effect as the Shield 4 spell when in melee, Light spells on command with no expenditure of Power, and immunity to Sever Spirits when cast anyone other than a Humakti. The value 120,000 Lunars and selling it would offend any Humakti (although buying it to donate to the temple is fine).

One issue perhaps is that a few of the items are unlikely to come into play, for example, the Aluminium Tridents of various sea cults, and of course there are some treasures which are unlikely to fall into the hands of the player characters—mostly Chaos related. Plenty of the others though will be desired by the player characters and some will certainly be subject of great hero quests. If there is an issue with the selection it is that there are few treasures related to the Air and Earth cults, but that is likely due to the contents of Plunder, like Cults of Prax before it, being set in Prax rather Sartar and its surrounds.

Physically, Plunder is again a book of two halves. The first is tables—large, open, and easy to read tables, but tables nonetheless. The second is more open, with one or two entries per page. Some are illustrated, some not, but the artwork is decent, if a little ‘Swords & Sorcery’ in style in places. If any of the artwork is disappointing, it is the cover, which comes from the ‘chainmail bikini’ school of female depiction in fantasy. The skull panties are a notable feature.

At the time of its release, critics could not agree about Plunder. In Space Gamer Number 33 (November 1980), Forest Johnson said that, “About half this book is not very useful. It consists of a shorthand method for generating treasure. (This does nothing to lighten the real work – adding up all those cursed treasure factors.)”, but ended on a positive note, concluding that, “The lack of exotic magic items has heretofore been a weak point in RuneQuest. These items have authentic Gloranthan flavour, complete with history and cult affinities. The discreet use of these items will add spice to a campaign without reducing it to Monty Haul.” Conversely, writing in The Dungeoneer’s Journal Issue: 25 (February/ March 1981), Clayton Miner said, “The variety of the items, and the detailed information included with the great treasures is sure to make this book very useful to Judges. Of more use to a Runequest Judge is the first section of Plunder, which presents easy to use tables for determining that value of a lesser treasure…” and that, “…[T]his book would make a welcome addition to a Judge’s stock of Runequest items. Plunder is definitely a useful piece of work and shows a great deal of imagination, and the only question I had with the book as a whole is, why so none of the items listed under Treasures of Glorantha have a negative side effect on the user.”

Other reviews were more balanced. Oliver Macdonald, reviewing Plunder in White Dwarf No. 25 (June/July 1981) awarded the supplement just five out of ten, adding that, “All points considered Plunder is an interesting but by no means essential RuneQuest play aid, certainly not worth buying if you have a limited budget.” Plunder was reviewed by John Sapienza, Jr. in Different Worlds Issue 12 (July 1981). Of the first half, he wrote that, “I think that a bit of reflection will let the GM realize just how dull it is putting treasure descriptions together, particularly those that get improvised during gaming. Once you realize this, the usefulness of this play aid makes it attractive.” He was more positive about the second half, saying that, “…[T]he treasures are, by and large, not out of balance, and most of them come complete with cult associations that provide effective limits on their use. Other limits are the tendency of certain races to take offense and kill the wearer, such as a suit of dragonewt skin armor. Use this at your own risk, in other words. Neat.” before concluding that, “Plunder is a useful idea, and well done. I recommend it to all RQ GMs.”

Plunder is a curio from a bygone age and another style of play. That style of play is one in which plunder is important. In Dungeons & Dragons, it was treasure and it would directly count towards the number of Experience Points a character gained in addition to that gained from killing monsters. In RuneQuest and Glorantha, the plunder paid first for any dues you owed to your cult and temple, second any monies owed to a cult, temple, or guild for prior training, and third for any skill or spell training undertaken with your cult, temple, or guild. Certainly in RuneQuest II, all of this would cost a character thousands of Lunars. Not so in the latest iteration, RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, which presumes that a character’s training has already been paid for, though a character still owes his tithes to his cult and is encouraged to purchase further training. So there is less of an emphasis today on plunder when roleplaying and exploring Glorantha, as evidenced by advice given in the back of the core rulebook to cut the value of the treasure found when playing classic scenarios. 

So, forty years ago in Glorantha, the need for treasure was greater. Player characters had debts. Thus, the Game Master had to seed his scenarios with plunder aplenty—well not too aplenty because the characters had to have a reason to be coming back for plunder and the peril which went with it—and that took time and effort. Forty years ago then, the tables in the first half of Plunder were useful as they helped speed the process. Not so now when they feel redundant. Similarly, the second half of Plunder with its listing of forty-three magical treasures was useful forty years ago because so few of them had been then detailed in the early days of RuneQuest. So the forty three were useful, many of them tying into the cults described in Cults of Prax and so helping to build the world of Glorantha just a little further. 

Conversely, at this point in the history of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the current iteration of the roleplaying game has the same problem—few if any treasures of note have been detailed. There is background and detail to many of these forty-three items that the Game Master could bring them to her Glorantha today and they would still work. Doubtless, new supplements will appear detailing new treasures of Dragon Pass, but the conversion process is anything other than challenging. Until such a supplement is published, Plunder is actually more than a curio.

There can be no doubt that Plunder is no Cults of Prax, for it is very much a curate’s egg. Its dual focus and character—divided equally between the mundane and magical—mean that one half is at best utilitarian, at worst bland, whilst the other by comparison rich in detail and flavour. Conversely, the Game Master is likely to have got more use out of the Treasure Tables than the individual items, even if they are mundane, but nevertheless, the actual treasures in Plunder further showcase the more fantastical nature of Glorantha.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Disappearing a Disappearance

In classic Lovecraftian investigative horror roleplaying, news of the weird and the unnatural is spread by letter, by newspaper, and by word of mouth. Information spreads slowly. Not so in the modern age. Information spreads as fast as social media picks up on it. So when an Internet video of woman, crying and shouting about a community that does terrible things, including taking women and children, whilst society takes its money and looks the other way, before suddenly vanishing, screaming in agony, goes viral, it is sufficient to attract the attention of Delta Green. In response, the highly secret government agency assigns a cell of agents to investigate and establish what happened in the video, but not only investigate. If there are any signs of continuing danger, the agents need to save lives; if there are indications that this was an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to locate its source and stop it; and if this was due to an incursion of the Unnatural, they need to establish a mundane narrative for the video, make sure that nobody suspects Unnatural phenomena to be the cause; but above all, they need to make sure that nobody learns of Delta Green.

This is the set-up for Delta Green: Hourglass, a short investigation for Delta Green: The Role-Playing Game and Lovecraftian investigative horror published by Arc Dream Publishing. It can be played using the roleplaying game’s full rules or those from Delta Green: Need to Know. It also includes notes for running the scenario with agents who members of the Program—and thus members of Delta Green, and those who are Outlaws—thus not members of Delta Green. Like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass is another slice of horror which explores the subjugation and corruption of the innocent—though in not quite as brutal or obvious a fashion—and like Ex Oblivione before it, Hourglass also has links back to the very foundation of Delta Green, though not as obvious. In fact, the agents will probably have to dig deep into the scenario in order to find them, but their very presence suggests both a greater framework for both Hourglass and Ex Oblivione—though one that it not necessarily obvious—and the far wider influence of the peoples and things which drew the attention in 1928 of what would one day become Delta Green to the unnatural.

Were it not for the video, the community of Hourglass would be unremarkable. In fact, the only thing of note is the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, a staunchly conservative and insular commune of Christians with grounds just outside the town. A commune which the woman who disappeared belonged to. Could this be the community that woman was raging about before she disappeared? That the woman was a member of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is easy enough to determine, learning more than this will prove to be a challenge for both the agents and their players. Although insular, the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is an accepted part of the Hourglass community, it pays its taxes, and if its interpretation of Christianity is counter to that of the town’s devout Catholics or evangelical Christians, then it is at least Christian. So the town authorities are reluctant for any agents—if they become aware of their presence—to investigate either the disappearance of the women, believing the video to be a fake, or the Church of the Twelve Martyrs.

Most investigations by Delta Green require a degree of delicacy and so it is here. Agents who jump readily to conclusions or run headlong into examining the Church of the Twelve Martyrs may quickly find their efforts blocked or even themselves reassigned and under investigation. If they take a more systematic approach and dig into the clues and evidence before they approach the church’s compound, they will be better prepared. Even so, getting anything more than hints that there might be something weird going on with the Church of the Twelve Martyrs is going to be difficult for the agents. The compound seems to be normal enough, including a ranch and a farm as well as the church, but there is tension and a sense of paranoia in the air. Hopefully this should be enough to persuade the agents to tread carefully, for if they do not, the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs will react in an all too paranoid a fashion. There should be no doubt that its members will go to almost any lengths to protect the church’s secrets—with any luck the agents will have picked up on this after investigating the video. When the members of the Church of the Twelve Martyrs do react, the Handler is given some fun—sorry, I mean nasty—ways in which to mess with and torment the agents. Some of these are quite subtle, but others are enjoyably weird and brutal. These though will need careful staging by the Handler since the players may feel like she is messing with their characters. It is here perhaps that Hourglass could have done with some staging advice on how to handle that. (I would suggest taking the player aside to explain the situation and then letting him roleplay it out.)

Just as it is difficult for the agents to investigate the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, it is equally as difficult for the Handler in two ways. First in maintaining a balance between the paranoia of the various NPCs and their unleashing all hell on the agents, and second, in supporting the investigative efforts of the players and their agents without frustrating them in the face of some very careful and very paranoid NPCs. Another problem with the scenario is that it does have a high number of NPCs for the Handler to deal with. The difficulty of the investigation in Hourglass is really highlighted by the fact that resolution deals more with what could wrong and the subsequent repercussions than with effect of a successful outcome, though of course, the odds are against this. 

Physically, Hourglass is a slim, cleanly presented book. As ever, the artwork is excellent, but the area map feels as if it should have more detail and although there are floorplans of the church on the Church of the Twelve Martyrs, there is no map of the compound itself. It needs a slight edit, but the scenario is otherwise well written.

Delta Green: Hourglass showcases how far the forces of the Unnatural will go to work themselves into society, how far they will go to prey upon the weak, and how willing they are to corrupt the innocent. Coming to this realisation will be undoubtedly be horrifying for the agents and their players, but getting to it is not easy. Delta Green: Hourglass presents a challenging scenario for both Handler and players alike, and with its potential for frustration, is best suited to an experienced gaming group.

The Other OSR: Death Test

It is impossible to ignore the influence of Dungeons & Dragons and the effect that its imprint has had on the gaming hobby. It remains the most popular roleplaying game some forty or more years since it was first published, and it is a design and a set-up which for many was their first experience of roleplaying—and one to which they return again and again. This explains the popularity of the Old School Renaissance and the many retroclones—roleplaying games which seek to emulate the mechanics and play style of previous editions Dungeons & Dragons—which that movement has spawned in the last fifteen years. Just as with the Indie Game movement before it began as an amateur endeavour, so did the Old School Renaissance, and just as with the Indie Game movement before it, many of the aspects of the Old School Renaissance are being adopted by mainstream roleplaying publishers who go on to publish retroclones of their own. Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, published by Goodman Games is a perfect example of this. Other publishers have been around long enough for them to publish new editions of their games which originally appeared in the first few years of the hobby, whilst still others are taking their new, more contemporary games and mapping them onto the retroclone.

Yet there are other roleplaying games which draw upon the roleplaying games of the 1970s, part of the Old School Renaissance, but which may not necessarily draw directly upon Dungeons & Dragons. Some are new, like Forbidden Lands – Raiders & Rogues in a Cursed World and Classic Fantasy: Dungeoneering Adventures, d100 Style!, but others are almost as old as Dungeons & Dragons. One of these is The Fantasy Trip, published by Metagaming Concepts in 1980. Designed by Steve Jackson, this was a fantasy roleplaying game built around two earlier microgames, also designed by Steve Jackson, MicroGame #3: Melee in 1977 and  MicroGame #6: Wizard in 1978. With the closure of Metagaming Concepts in 1983, The Fantasy Trip and its various titles went out of print. Steve Jackson would go on to found Steve Jackson Games and design further titles like Car Wars and Munchkin as well as the detailed, universal roleplaying game, GURPS. Then in December, 2017, Steve Jackson announced that he had got the rights back to The Fantasy Trip and then in April, 2019, following a successful Kickstarter campaignSteve Jackson Games republished The Fantasy Trip. The mascot version of The Fantasy Trip is of course, The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition

The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition is a big box of things, including the original two microgames. So instead of reviewing the deep box as a whole, it is worth examining the constituent parts of The Fantasy Trip: Legacy Edition one by one, delving ever deeper into its depths bit by bit. The first of these is Melee, quick to set up, quick to play game of man-to-man combat. It is designed to be played by two or more players, aged ten and over, with a game lasting roughly between thirty and sixty minutes. The second is Wizard, which brings in more options in terms of tactical play because it introduces magic to the arena. Although the two integrate well, Wizard is more complex and harder to learn, yet offers more for a player to get into. The third is Death Test.

Death Test actually consists of two adventures—‘Death Test’ and ‘Death Test 2’—both originally published as MicroQuest 1: Death Test and MicroQuest 1: Death Test 2 in 1980. The new, combined edition comes in a box which contains the two adventures and some sixty-six new counters. Both require the map from Melee and can either be played using just Melee or a combination of Melee and Wizard. Both can also be played in a number of ways. They can be played solo, one player or several players against the adventure, instructions being included in the text as to how any monsters or NPCs will react to the player characters. They can be played with a Game Master controlling and rolling for the monsters and NPCs, whether is with just one player or several. They are designed to be played by between one and four characters. Ideally, these should not be beginning characters, but unfortunately ‘Death Test’ does not say how experienced the player characters should be. In addition, although having more characters in play will provide more tactical options—especially if they include a wizard, they do reduce each character’s final score at the end of the test. If they get to the end of the test, that is. In this way, ‘Death Test’ sets its own difficulty. It is easier with more characters, but the rewards will be less.

The background to ‘Death Test’ has the character—or characters—travelling to the city of Ardonirane, which is ruled by the famous and powerful war leader, Dhallak m’Thorsz Carn. He is once again hiring mercenaries, but will accept only those that pass a test—enter the labyrinth beneath his palace and there fight animals, monsters, prisoners, wizards, and rival would-be employees—and survive! Although there is treasure to be found, what matters to Thorsz is the mercenary’s or mercenaries’ performance. The more foes they defeat or kill, the more they will rank in his estimation and the higher position they will attain in his army.

The labyrinth consists of twelve colour coded rooms connected by a series of corridors. There are no doors, but entrances and exits are marked by black curtains, or rather black magical illusions which the player characters can sometimes pass through and others not, but which they can never see through. This means that in order to find out what is in a room, one or more of the player characters must enter said room. Most of the time, they can leave the way they came. Each room then is its own discrete encounter and with just a dozen of them, it allows for variety of denizens and challenges. ‘Death Test’ is not a dungeon in the traditional roleplaying sense though, the focus being more on combat—as the background suggests—than exploring, finding traps, and so on. Nor is it really a roleplaying adventure, a ‘programmed adventure’ certainly, but not a roleplaying adventure as there is very little, if any, roleplaying involved. That said, run ‘Death Test’ with a Game Master and one or more players and then there are opportunities for the Game Master to roleplay and bring some of the NPCs to life and thus for the player characters to interact with them rather than fighting them.

Consisting of one-hundred-and-sixty-seven entries over seventeen or so pages, there is a greater physicality to ‘Death Test’ in comparison to other solo adventure titles. This not surprising though, for Death Test is an expansion for a man-to-man combat game. So instead of sitting down and reading through a book and rolling dice as necessary, this is definitely an at the table affair with the map, the counters, and the dice in front of you. In further comparison with those other solo adventure books, ‘Death Test’ has a greater replayability factor. Only score enough points to get hired as a recruit? Well, why not try again to see if you can attain a better position or try it with a different mix of characters?

‘Death Test 2’ is double the size of ‘Death Test’. Again, it can either be played using just Melee or a combination of Melee and Wizard, but it can also be played using Into the Labyrinth, which covers roleplaying, character creation and experience, and advanced magic and combat rules for Melee and Wizard. Like ‘Death Test’, it can be can be played solo, one player or several players against the adventure, instructions being included in the text as to how any monsters or NPCs will react to the player characters. They can be played with a Game Master controlling and rolling for the monsters and NPCs, whether is with just one player or several. This is certainly the case if ‘Death Test 2’ is run using the rules from Into the Labyrinth. Unlike ‘Death Test’, ‘Death Test 2’ is intended for a party of four characters rather than between one and four, and it includes advice as how experienced the player characters need to be, for like ‘Death Test’, it is not designed for beginning characters. ‘Death Test 2’ can also be run like a traditional dungeon adventure, and this is supported with advice on adding it to a campaign and on expending gained Experience Points.

The background to ‘Death Test 2’ is that Dhallak m’Thorsz Carn is unimpressed with the candidates to join his army who succeeded at getting through the labyrinth in ‘Death Test’. So he has another built, one which is more involving and more challenging. Consisting of some two-hundred-and-eighty-seven entries over thirty-six pages, ‘Death Test 2’ only adds a few more rooms in comparison to ‘Death Test’. The increased number of entries allow for more detail, more things to happen, and more things for the characters to do. There are traps and puzzles, a greater range of monsters to encounter and magical items to find, players will find their characters tested in other ways than combat—‘Death Test 2’ includes the need to make Saving Throws. This is a richer environment for them to explore and no mere complex of arenas to enter and fight in. This does not mean that ‘Death Test 2’ is not a combat focused adventure—it very much is—but it is written far more like a traditional solo roleplaying adventure and presents a richer playing environment, so is far more engaging. 

Physically, both ‘Death Test’ and ‘Death Test 2’ are plain, simple booklets with paper covers. Behind the full colour covers, they are black and white throughout. Each is lightly illustrated, but the artwork is excellent throughout.

Of course, of the two, ‘Death Test 2’ is better than ‘Death Test’. It is more detailed and offers more options than just combat, plus it supports more roleplaying, especially if Into the Labyrinth is being used. On the downside, because it has more secrets to be found, it is not as readily replayable. In other words, there is less of the simple board game to its play than there is in ‘Death Test’. Yet ‘Death Test’ should not be discounted. Its simplicity means that it can more readily be replayed, and it is easier to both set up and play. At its very simplest, ‘Death Test’ provides a reason to play Melee and/or Wizard than just fights in an arena.

Death Test is a good combination boxed set, presenting two solo adventures of differing complexity and detail that offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of their set-up and play options. More so than traditional solo adventures. If you have Melee and/or Wizard, then you should put yourself through the Death Test—both of them.