Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Island of Lost Spells (Rough draft)

The few years has seen something of a revival in classic gaming. Most notably Castles & Crusades and OSRIC trying to revive the 1st edition of AD&D, but some others, including a new version of Runequest, Paranoia, some supplements for Classic Traveller, and I think even a new-ish version of Tunnels and Trolls.

But this module (and the whole product line) flew under my radar completely. It's a revival of The Fantasy Trip and the old Microquest adventures from Metagaming, at least in spirit. It even comes in a ziplock bag!

If that doesn't make sense to you, some history: in the 70s and early 80s, there were a number of small games that were either in very slim boxes or in ziplock bags. Basically they came with a small booklet, a sheet of counters (thus a bag or box was needed), and a map or two. Most of them were wargames, but some were roleplaying games as well, or hybrids.

The Fantasy Trip from Metagaming was probably the most successful of these hybrids. It started off as a man level gladiatorial combat boardgame - "Melee" for hand to hand and "Wizard" for magical duels, but evolved into a role playing game with the addition of a supplement called "In the Labyrinth" and advanced versions of Melee & Wizard. And eventually there was a line of adventures for the system as well, called "Microquests". These were also notable because most (all?) of them were sort of like those Choose Your Own adventure books, suitable for solitaire play.

This product, "The Island of Lost Spells" (indeed all of Dark City Games products as near as I can tell), are meant to replicate those "Microquests", and it does a very good job of it.

It consists of a 32 page booklet (digest sized), a fold out hex map, a sheet of cardstock counters, and 4 page rules booklet. The hex map is marked with a number of generic rooms of various sizes, and with location indicators (like A, B, C, D)

The rules are pretty simple. Basically characters have 3 stats and possibly a few skills (not a big list, and each tied to an attribute), and to succeed in a task of some sort, they have to roll under the stat (or stat+skill) on 3 d6s (or 4 d6s in some cases). Armor is rated in points, and stops damage. Damage is applied to a character's Stength stat.

The adventure has the PCs exploring legendary ruins on an island, which in ancient times, was the home of a group of magicians. But first, they must putter around a village and equip themselves. And then get a boat out to the island.

It's for one to six players, but it's "programmed" so to speak, essentially like a Choose Your Own Adventure book or Fighting Fantasy, but with less prose and more RPG. Basically you start at entry 001, then pick from a variety of options, and so go to entry x, y, z, etc.

For much of the adventure it's pretty straightforward. But once you get into the actual ruins itself, it gets a little more complex. You need to use the included hex map you keep track of where you are in the room. This can get to be a little tricky, especially if you have cats.

Anyway, as you explore the ruins, you'll come across critters to fight, things to investigate (often requiring a successful skill check of some sort to reveal information), and occasional an NPC.

I would say that the adventure itself is well designed. Somewhat less linear than I expected, and a lot more complex.

On the other hand, there was a lot of page flipping involved. And while I understand how the positioning can be important for combat, it's also somewhat unwieldy in practice


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Void Station 57 (First Draft)

Void Station 57

Void Station 57 is the first in Dark City Games' "Legends of Time and Space" line of adventures. Like their other adventures, it is inspired by the old Metagaming Microquest adventures. Unlike those others, it's a science fiction adventure, not fantasy.

It comes with an adventure booklet (28 pages, digest sized), a hex map, a sheet of cardstock counters, and a small rules pamphlet.

The Adventure Itself

The adventure deals with the crew of a starship who has come upon a fueling station in the middle of a void that appeared to be derelict. Since the reason the crew stopped at the place is because they needed re-fuel, they don't have much choice but to explore the place and get it up and running to re-fuel their ship. But that won't be easy.

While I don't want to spoil things, they have to face just about every sort of nasty thing you've seen in movies like this. Okay, not quite that bad, but the station has a lot of different problems.

Since it's meant to be like those old Microquest adventures, it can be played like a regular module (that is, with GM and players), or it can be played solo - like those old Fighting Fantasy books, albeit with you controlling multiple characters.

Basically you start out at entry 001 in the book, then read the paragraph, and are given a choice of which way to proceed. Like if you search the place, go to paragraph X, if you go left, go to paragraph Y, if you go right go to paragraph Z, etc.

Sometimes you run into hostile enemies (and so you have to run the combat), or have to do something that requires a skill check. Occasionally you pick up plot words, which basically are used to keep track that something has happened to either advance the plot, or PCs have aquired something notable. (If you've ever done programming or written text adventures, basically they are flags)

As mentioned, the refueling station has a lot of troubles. As you play, you piece together the cause of what happened, through the descriptions of the rooms you explore, and from objects left behind by the now dead crew


It comes with a small 4 page rules sheet. Very simple rules. Characters have 3 stats and a few skills. In order to succeed at a task (like in combat), they have to roll under the relevent stat (or stat+skill level) on either 3d6 or 4d6, depending on the difficulty (usually 3d6).

Damage is applied to a character's Strength statistic. Armor stops damage.

It's pretty simple to adapt the adventure to Gurps and also converts extremely easily to Classic Traveller. The latter has a few more stats and the skills are differently named, but the stat and skill range is pretty much the same and you can actually convert on the fly.


While it definitely has a nostalgic feel, it's quite nice looking. The layout is crisp and clear, with consistent use of formatting (bold, italics, and the like). Seems to be well proofread. They picked nice, easy to read fonts.

The art won't "Wow!" you, but I've seen worse from much larger companies (and in much more expensive products). Although the cover art is quite good, actually. The map of the station is functional and easy to read.

Final Thoughts

I found this to be much easier to play than the other Dark City Games adventure I have - The Island of Lost Spells (a fantasy module) - part of it has to do with no magic making combat simpler, but also the structure of the module was better. Less page flipping, room structure was simpler, and a keyed map of the space station was a big help. The latter is also very helpful if you don't want to play it solo.

I also really enjoyed the adventure itself. It's a pretty clever setup, which oddly I don't remember seeing before in an science fiction module (though I guess there aren't all that many science fiction modules compared to fantasy ones), and some of the small details in the descriptions are really evocative and make it believable.