Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Gates to the Underworld

Gates to the Underworld

20-25 years ago, I remember reading a Phil & Dixie comic strip about mini-games in Dragon magazine. The gist of it was, how ambitious in scope some of them were getting. Although sadly, they pretty much vanished after that golden age of gaming, they aren't quite extinct yet. And some are indeed still very ambitious. This one, Gates to the Underworld, will lead you into Hell itself.

It's part of Dark City Games's line of "Legends of the Ancient World" modules. Basically, they are adventures in the vein of the old "The Fantasy Trip" Microquests. They are "programmed" adventures, which lets you play them solo, but they can be GMed as well. They come with their own rules set, which again is similar to, but not quite, the old Fantasy Trip game. (For more details on this, read my review of their first module, The Island of Lost Spells)

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The adventure itself is pretty complicated. A village, or rather, a small area has been plagued by demons. The PCs (well, you) must explore the area (including the country side and some ruined villages plus the one remaining one) and figure out how to close the gates to Hell. Which actually involves a short trip to Hell itself (which is I guess pretty similar that that of Dante's).

The most interesting parts are the villages and Hell. It's tempting to skip it, but the village you start at has a lot of information that you need to discover by talking with everyone possible. And at the end of the adventure, when you get to the underworld, you are often put in situations where you have to interact with damned souls. The descriptions of Hell are also quite vivid, if a bit graphic. (There's a warning about this on the cover actually.)

On the other hand, I found the countryside exploration a bit confusing. You really do need to make a map while playing through it, and even then I got a bit confused. Also I found the combat encounters in it a bit uninspired. Wolves and mountain lions mostly. Also made me wish there was more healing magic in the game's rules system.

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It's actually funny, for a small company, the cover art by Nicole Cardiff puts to shame many of the bigger RPG companies. The interior art is more what you expect, but this is not really a bad thing, it fits the nature of the product.

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I liked this adventure, but at the same time, I struggled with it. I have to admit, I got lost more than once. I would have to think it's somewhat on the "expert" end of skill levels.

Still, at the same time, the story in the adventure was compelling enough that while somewhat frustrating, I kept at it. I also really found that the characters in the adventure were both hokey and yet convincing and interesting at the same time.

So if you want to try out one of the Dark City adventures, this is probably not a good choice for a starter module, but is a good one if you played another one and are looking for a challenge.

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