Sunday, 2 April 2017

Exploring Four Against Darkness

In my last post I relayed the tale of the second chapter of the pre-programmed adventure Dark Waters, at the end of which I expressed a degree of boredom with 4AD.  The game is, after all, a randomly rolled up dungeon crawler into which the player has next to no strategic input.  In hindsight, what had made it interesting for the first couple of games was the novelty of the system and the possibility for me to tell the story around the dice rolls.  Perhaps the last time I had played it I wasn't quite in the mood to fill in the gaps.   The upside of the 6 by 6 Challenge is that it is making me play games but the downside is that it may be making me play games whether I want to or not in order to hit the target.  But the upside outweighs the downside!

To help build a little creativity and provide some sort of narrative background to the dungeon crawl I thought I would turn to one of the solo RPG game engines I have been toying with for the past year or so.  I went for John Fiore's The 9Qs as it looked simpler than, say, Mythic and therefore more in keeping with 4AD's simplicity.  For those unfamiliar with solo or GM-less RPG game systems (and I am hardly an expert!) the aim is to provide suitable prompts to the players' imaginations to push and pull the story in unexpected directions driven by random, largely dice-driven, elements.  In the case of The 9Qs  there are three sets of three questions (hence 9 questions) which broadly align to the beginning middle and end of a story/adventure.  As it explains at the outset, the system works better if the player has a ready-made context in which to set the action to help guide what happens next - starting from a completely blank sheet of paper would make this very difficult.

For the context I went to the Realm of Taakae from the venerable book Fantasy Wargaming by Martin Hackett.  You can find this book for pennies on Amazon and Abebooks and it is a nostalgic look at fantasy gaming in the late 80s and early 90s.  It is hardly cutting edge but did contain a fairly simple but well described world which would provide useful enough backdrop to any fantasy gaming I might ever get up to.

Not the last word in fantasy wargaming, but I have a soft spot for the book and the Realm of Taakae is useful, if basic, but best of all, free.

I might one day write up my modifications to Taakae but we will see how far I let my "inner nerd" off the leash!.

And so to begin!

The 1st point is to determine why the group is actually together in the first place.  That was easy enough: they were a group of would-be heroes determined to find objects of power in order to defeat the looming evil known as the Darkness.  Then to answer the 1st question: what was happening that would get in the way of their motivation.  A random idea generator was empowered (I rolled one of Rory's Story Cubes), the result of which triggered the thought that a King's Herald (I had rolled a mobile phone!) had arrived in the town to declare that a group of demons had violently kidnapped the High Priestess and taken her to who knew where.  Rescue the Priestess and the heroes may be given clues as to where to find the objects of power.  The 2nd question concerned what else was going on that may affect the heroes' plans.  Another Story Cube was rolled to reveal that a black glistening arch had appeared in the sky (having rolled a rainbow) over the nearby mountains to show that the Darkness was stirring and that the heroes needed to act quickly to avoid disaster (further dice rolls gave this "guidance").

I decided that I had enough for the background to a 4AD adventure.  The party was on a quest to rescue the High Priestess from the demons.  The resultant dungeon crawl is shown below.

The party penetrated into the dungeon complex.  It had clearly been a place of good power in the past and a residue of power was to be found in the remains of a blessed temple that gave power to Flandrian the Cleric.  But it had long since fallen to the Darkness and was infested with giant spiders, zombies and fungi folk.  But these were no match for the heroes especially now they were all at least level 3 and by the end would all be level 4.  Having penetrated into the depths of the complex they came across the Arch Fire Demon holding the High Priestess captive.  (I had rolled a small dragon but thought the fire demon was more authentic, especially as it was the Final Boss).  A short but brutal fight followed which resulted in the destruction of the Demon and the escape of the party through the secret exit they had discovered earlier.

I then returned to the 3rd question of The 9Qs to see what would happen next.  The party was attacked by a demonic raiding party.  While the heroes fought them off, a stray demonic arrow (the Cube picture) mortally wounded the Priestess who, as she died, gave them a clue as to where to find a powerful object.

Using The 9Qs did help a little to provide some context for the 4AD game although the game engine does require some time and thought to be paid to it: it's not a "shake the box" type of game and you do need to be in the mood for it.  4AD itself needs a power up for higher level characters - level 4 characters are tough and I found myself scything through minions and ignoring vermin.  I will play one more adventure to finish this part of the Challenge but I think that, for me, 4AD is a bit of a dead end, clever as it is.


  1. "The upside of the 6 by 6 Challenge is that it is making me play games but the downside is that it may be making me play games whether I want to or not "

    I assumed this wouldn't be a problem for me, since, if you look at my blog, you'll see I'm happy to play games all of the time. Except that in the last six weeks or so I actually haven't felt the urge. So not only am I not playing 6x6 games, I'm not playing very much of anything. I'm sure I'l get back into things, but it is affecting my targets for the year.

    Good to see people exploring alternatives for the games they've chosen; that's an unexpected bonus of the challenge.

    1. It's funny that when you "have" to do something it might turn into a chore - and I like playing games! Equally sometimes you have to make yourself do something for your own good - like go play a game! Otherwise I would just sit there staring at the TV and railing against the fact that I am not playing games 'cos I'm too busy doing other stuff.
      What hasn't helped is that I have been fitting in 4AD games in the periods around taxi-driving younger daughter to and from rehearsals for appearing at the Bristol Hippodrome, but if I hadn't there would have been no game for the 6x6 which I am enjoying.