the wonder of role-playing games: reviews, solo rpgs, old-school & narrative games

06 May 2016

Playtesting Four Against Darkness

In the Solo RPG G+ community Wes Camp had some posts about a solo dungeon-crawler called Four Against Darkness (4AD) by Ganesha Games. It is available for USD $8.00 as a PDF from DrivethruRPG (affiliate link). It is a simple old-school inspired game that only uses six-sided dice. You create 4 adventurers from the classic tropes (warrior, rogue etc.) and create a map as you go. If you’re interested in the game, scroll down to the end, please!

Let’s try it out!

I have 4 heroes: Kurm (Warrior), Warren (Cleric), Yselda (Rogue) and Bonifatio (Halfling). Default marching order is Krum, Yselda, Bonifatio, Warren. I use Alex Schroeder’s gridmapper for the map. So, this is the entrance room that I rolled up: And there are 8 goblin swarmlings (lvl 3, treasure -1, morale -1). My adventurers will attack, let’s see what the goblins’ reaction is: flee. This counts as having defeated the monsters, and I can gain loot… which is a scroll with a random spell… Lightning Bolt. I will give that to the Rogue. It looks like every class except Barbarians can use scrolls. Wizards are the best at using them but I have none in my party. So, obviously, my heroes are quite almighty. At least that’s what they think. So let’s look at the door on the left. An empty corridor. The search reveals a secret door! The adventurers will spy into the room. There are 6 Fungi Folk, lvl 3. We will attack as we will have surprise (and I want to test out the combat rules). You need to roll at least the monster level to hit them, in round 1 they count as level 2 monsters because of surprise. The Fungi don’t flee but stand their ground. So, the rules are a bit unclear about what happens when your attack roll explodes (you can reroll any 6 and add it). My first attack roll netted a 15 in total. Explosive Six Rule on page 6 says:

… In combat, this will let you kill multiple minions with a lucky blow. …

Later, on page 20:

Minions are encountered in large numbers. They have 1 life each. Every successful attack kills one. …

The Quick reference sheet says:

Attack procedure: (d6 + modifiers)/Monster level= number of minions slain. 1 is always a miss. 6 is always a hit.

That means that Kurm’s attack whirlwinds through the Fugi Men and slays them all. That’s 3 gp for the party. Kurm can make an XP roll because the party has defeated more than 10 minions. Success, he’s level 2 now! So, let’s take the door on the south. It’s a trap! Spears coming out of a wall, 2 characters are attacked: Yselda and Kurm. Both can evade (pfuuh). The party finds a piece of jewellery, worth 130 gp. Sweet! Next room (room 5): It’s empty but the party finds 1 gp. Back to room 4 but wandering monsters sneak up upon the group: 11 skeletal rats (lvl 3 undead)! Every rat attacks one party member and then the remaining 7 attack the Cleric because undead hate Clerics. After some rounds, the fight ends with now dead undead, Warren with 2 wounds and Bonifatio with 1 wound. The Warrior, Kurm, was able to level up and is now level 3. The party now enters the room/corridor north of room 3. It’s an empty corridor, the search reveals a Clue for Yselda. Next room, empty. Searching it reveals a secret door. We peek into it, it’s empty: Let’s enter the corridor and search. Hidden treasure! 117 gp but the gold is protected by a trap (lvl 4). Yselda, the Rogue, tries to disarm the trap. Success! The party follows the corridor and takes the next door, another empty corridor. Another empty room: The next room contains 10 vampire bats (lvl 1). The party wants to see their reaction. They flee. Another XP roll, this time for the Rogue. Success, she is now level 2. Hm, up until now I’ve only encountered minions and vermin, no boss monsters and not that much treasure. Let’s see if the next room (a dead end) will have some. Nope, it’s completely empty. Now I need to trace back and hope that no wandering monsters attack (1 in 6 chance). Room 11: nope. Rom 10: nope. Room 9: nope. Room 8: nope. Now the party can go further north. 6 skeleton rats, the party waits to see how they react. Ok, they fight. Must have seen the cleric. But ultimately they stand no chance, although Warren had to heal himself. He rolls for XP and levels up. Not a time to give up. (I added grey empty boxes to show that there are two corridors which the party can follow). But finally, a boss monster! An Ogre, but he’s not the final boss. Lvl 5, 6 LP, does 2 points of damage. The party has no mercy and attacks. The Halfling tries to hit it with a sling first and then needs to switch to his daggers. The others attack in melee. After 2 rounds of attack, the Ogre flees. The Cleric levels up because the party has defeated a boss monster. Now, treasure! Hm, measly 5 gp. Let’s stop here for a moment.

Some Thoughts

The basic rules are simple. But there are some fiddly bits which slowed down gameplay a bit. Dungeon-generators are generally pretty slow as you need to roll the tables. However, 4AD does a good job here. It uses only d6s and eschewing useless tables like wall decorations. That means that you create the necessary stuff. The dungeon wasn’t very exciting, though. I always have fun with mapping, so that part was ok. But the chances for empty rooms or minor monsters (vermins and minions) are much higher than the more interesting stuff. Makes sense in one way but is not very thrilling. Different from Ruins of the Undercity (RotU) there are no deeper levels. This will be a future supplement for 4AD. Also, the encounters are not scaled in level. The maximum level for player characters is level 5. A roll of 4 on the boss table is always a Medusa, level 4. In RotU the number of monsters and what kind of monster you encounter depends on your Average Party Level. In this regard, RotU is complete as it is able to simulate more dangerous areas for high-level characters. Some rules in 4AD are a bit unclear. One example you can see above. Another is when monsters flee. At some time in the rulebook, the rules state that you cannot loot the bodies of fleeing monsters. Later, the book tells you that if monsters flee they count as defeated and you get their gold anyway. So, there is a mismatch here. I’m also not sure how to fit the different rooms and corridors together. Should I flip some of the rooms so that doors match each other? Or should I just slap on the next room regardless if it fits? The Halfling class was underwhelming. I think the other classes are stronger or more useful. The Halfling has his Luck roll but at least at low levels that doesn’t count for much and he is very weak with attacking and defending. The Rogue can disarm traps and the others also have their own gimmicks. Moreover, the book could be better organized. As a first-time player, I had to flip a lot. The rules for combat are scattered amongst the chapter for “Encounters” and “How to Attack Monsters”. And these chapters don’t follow after each other. On the plus side, there are three pocket mods and two quick references which you can print out. That helps a lot. My first impression is that this is a solid game. It is fun and the rules work. I will need to playtest it a bit more for a better understanding.

The winner takes it all

I’m giving away 5 PDF copies. Just comment below and I will draw random winners on May 15th. Don’t forget to give me some way to contact you (email, G+, twitter etc.). And you’ll need a DrivethruRPG/Rpgnow account. The product itself contains a contest which you can enter if you post a review or playthrough. You can win lifetime supply for the game by the author. Hawt!

Links: Four Against Darkness (affiliate link), PDF USD $8.00 Cave of the Kobold Slave-Masters (aff), PDF USD $2.00 Gridmapper (might not work in all browsers)