Having completed my first game of Four Against Darkness, all four of my characters had survived (Warrior Level 1, Cleric Level 2, Wizard Level 2, Elf Level 2) and a modicum of loot acquired. Rather than playing through another procedurally generated dungeon, I thought I would try my hand at one of the available narrative mini campaigns and so bought Cave of the Kobold Slave-Masters as a PDF from Wargame Vault for the princely sum of USD 2.00 (about GBP 1.48 / AUD 2.66).
The 21 page PDF is a three part mini campaign aimed at four level 1-2 characters so was ideal for my existing party, although there are also notes about modifying the scenarios to cater for a couple of level 3 characters. I played the whole campaign in a single sitting of about four hours but I could just has easily split the game into three (or more) sessions. You do get certain opportunities to rest, heal and resupply between each chapter.
The first chapter begins with a short narrative explaining that kobold slave-masters have been plaguing the land, capturing goblins and an elderly adventurer who went to investigate. A recently escaped goblin has revealed the location of the kobold’s lair and the council of a nearby town have tasked the adventurers with rescuing the adventurer and dealing with the kobolds once and for all. This adventure is presented as a map of 15 interconnected locations with a description and instructions for each that you read as you enter it. The chapter replaces all the usual exploration rules from the core 4AD game and provides replacement vermin and minion tables for wandering monsters. The effects of exploring certain locations are diced for on specific tables but otherwise the locations will essentially be the same if you play this chapter multiple times. I explored everywhere and met some interesting new monsters, which all have their own reaction tables. The mechanics worked well and it was nice to have a narrative flow to the game rather than being randomised. It might have been good to reveal the map in sections rather than seeing it all from the start but that’s a minor quibble as you have no idea what’s in each location until you explore it anyway.
The second chapter is a standard randomised dungeon from the core 4AD game but with some changes including replacement vermin, minion and boss tables and tweaks to several other rules including traps, special features and special events which overall make it a slightly tougher game than usual. In this game I met some of the weird monsters and special features I’d not encountered in my original game of 4AD before coming face-to-face with the dreaded final boss. One of the key strengths of 4AD is that weird monsters and bosses (in particular) play completely differently to each other due to their unique effects and strategies and this is much more satisfying than many traditional solo gamebooks which just give them higher stats without changing any mechanics.
The third chapter is a different style of play again as it’s a slightly abstracted battle fought across three linked locations where you have to allocate your resources before the enemy’s strategy is revealed to you. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling any of the surprises, but suffice it to say that the final battle was a fitting climax to the campaign and brings the narrative arc to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Somehow all of my characters survived the whole campaign so I now have a much more experienced party (Warrior Level 4, Cleric Level 3, Wizard Level 3, Elf Level 4) and more gold than I know what to do with. For those less fortunate, there are a number of opportunities to recruit new characters into your party as you progress through the chapters.
Mixing together the three styles of play into a single campaign works beautifully and Andrea Sfiligoi and the rest of Ganesha Games should be immensely proud with the amount of entertainment they’ve managed to cram into so few pages. Don’t let the price tag fool you into thinking this is an amateur publication as the high quality of the illustrations, layout, writing and attention to game balance are all evident throughout.
Overall, fantastic value and something I would play through again with another party of adventurers in the future. In the meantime, the next supplement I expect to play is The Three Rings which is pitched at level 3-4 characters.