Four Against Darkness: Buried Secrets

Buried Secrets

Just released a couple of days ago (19th June 2018) from Ganesha Games is the first of their new series of supplements for Four Against Darkness (4AD), The Gathering of the Four.  This new series will follow a different format to the previous supplements – four adventures each designed for a single level 3 character which have a more traditional narrative solo gamebook approach (i.e. numbered paragraphs) followed by a finale where all four characters adventure together.

This first book in the series, Buried Secrets, follows the adventures of the female cleric Rubria.  A copy of the core Four Against Darkness rules are required to play the game and as well as the usual dice, you’ll also need a standard deck of playing cards.  I picked up the supplement as a PDF for a couple of pounds via Wargames Vault but it is also available directly from Ganesha.  It was written by Victor Jarmusz and edited by Andrea Sfiligoi, who also did many of the illustrations.

The book is 34 pages including the full colour front and back covers.  There are some Black and white drawings and cartography but most of the pages are taken up by the numbered paragraphs that make up the adventure.

The supplement starts with a brief introduction, including a link to an online wiki with background lore and information about the game world for all of Ganesha’s fantasy games, Norindaal, which is a nice touch as not everyone will want to read through all the fluff for the setting.  Next you are provided with Rubria’s starting equipment and the choice of three religions to follow, which each give an alternative effect to the Bless power.  These religions are usable by clerics in other games of 4AD and I choose Luura, god of sun, light and healing which allows me to use Bless spells to Heal, giving Rubria the potential to Heal six times during each adventure.

Next you prepare your deck of cards, get a look at the unpleasant looking Chaos Table, learn about the special experience and lighting rules (you don’t need to track either) and get some background (you’re racing a necromancer to retrieve a treasure) before turning to paragraph 1 and starting the game.

In the first part of the game you are exploring a small town and the passage of time is marked by drawing cards from your deck which also have a random effect on encounters.  As you move around you draw cards (not necessarily for each choice you make) and when the deck of 24 cards is exhausted it becomes dark and the nature of some encounters change so it feels like you have to prioritise the places you visit and can’t just go everywhere.  As you explore and interact with the inhabitants of the town you can receive clues and keywords to use later in the game and acquire additional equipment.  The first part of the adventure contains 78 sections.

Assuming you survive the night, the next morning launches you into part 2 of the adventure starts and your deck resets but this time if it is exhausted you lose the game so there is much more of a sense of urgency as you need to skip over some possible encounters to conserve time.  There are plenty of encounters in this part and (not giving any spoilers) when it came to the grand finale, it ended in an usual manner due to a rather lucky exploding dice roll (21!).  The second part of the adventure contains 68 sections.

I completed the adventure on my first attempt and other than the final encounter, didn’t find it very difficult.  My overall play time was about 90 minutes and I relay enjoyed the story and the gameplay.  The full narrative of the traditional gamebook format combined with the innovative mechanics of 4AD gives a very satisfying game.  Given the fixed character and nature of the story, there probably isn’t much replay value once you’ve completed the game but with the promise of the remaining four parts of The Gathering of the Four being published in 2018, I’m excited to meet up with Rubria again in the coming months.  Recommended.

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