Tag Archives: adventure

Episode 40 – Cadets, Cards and Caves!

It’s been a little while (thanks to being busy with Ace of Spiesdo go and back it!) but it’s time for a brand new episode!

This one brings three interviews straight to your door! First up, Brian and Geoff Engelstein join me to discuss their new project Space Cadets. A co-op game that sounds like it’ll be a barrel of laughs, they’re also planning a live version before Stronghold Games release it for Essen 2012. Max Tempkin from Cards Against Humanity comes up next to talk about the incredible level of success that their game has attained – after reprints aplenty, they’re now planning on producing international editions… but how will they go about it? Finally, Arthur O’Dwyer discusses the perils of taking classic 70s interactive fiction “Adventure” and transforming it into a game for the tabletop: Colossal Cave.

As always, thanks for listening – and now… bring on the links!

This episode’s sponsor: Wrong Chemistry from Mage Company! Check them out on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamerati/wrong-chemistry?ref=live

Direct Download of the episode: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/ymhhwi/LMD_Episode40.mp3

Space Cadets on BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/123096/space-cadets

The excellent Ludology podcast, as presented by Geoff Engelstein and Ryan Sturm: http://www.ludology.libsyn.com/

Cards Against Humanity site (complete with Print and Play version!): http://cardsagainsthumanity.com/

Colossal Cave on Kickstarter (campaign runs until Sunday May 20th!): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/765522088/colossal-cave-the-board-game

Arthur’s online version of Adventure can be played here: http://quuxplusone.github.com/Advent/index.html


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Adventure Time! D&D Wrath of Ashardalon review

It used to be that to play Dungeons & Dragons was to bear the mark of the geek, the scarlet letters D&D were marked on your chest making you the prime target for mockery. Of course, as most of us have grown up, we have moved on and now see it more as a badge of honour, something to wear proudly. All of those evenings spent around kitchen tables, carrying a d20 in your pocket, lugging a stack of books around with you… we enjoy our games, we love to play. However, if you’re going to throw yourself into a decent D&D campaign, you need to make sure you’re there for the long run. You’re looking at hours of play, spread over the course of weeks or months. You’re looking at commitment. But what if you don’t have that time? We get older and our free time goes out the window, but we still want to play. How can we scratch that itch?

Last year Wizards of the Coast released something new in their D&D line – Castle Ravenloft. This was a new bite-sized approach that took elements from the 4th Edition books and turned adventuring into accessible chunks. With no Dungeon Master involved, this was stripped down dungeon crawling, the players versus the game. What WotC didn’t quite get was how ridiculously popular it would be – Ravenloft sold out within days of release as the followers from the Cult of the New fell for it in a big way. Copies of the game exchanged for well above RRP as Wizards scrambled to put together a second print run, which is now at least vaguely available. So what does the company do? Announce a second game in this new modular line and get the hype train rolling all over again – Wrath of Ashardalon!

So, it’s basically more of the same… but considering how highly I regarded Castle Ravenloft, I was incredibly excited about the follow-up. Wrath takes the original game and expands on it, enhancing the streamlined D&D experience a little more – not so much to make it scary and hard to understand, but there are a few differences. More on those soon, but first (if you’ve not tried this format before) how does it work? With no DM, the responsibility for running the game lies with the players themselves. Set characters are chosen with pre-rolled stats and (to begin with, anyway) an adventure is chosen with a set objective – the box comes complete with a book of scenarios to try out. Complete the mission and you win, fail to do so (and there are so many ways this can happen) and your days of glory come to a swift end. Each turn follows a set pattern, beginning with the Hero Phase – here you move around the board and attack any enemies unfortunate enough to encounter you. In traditional D&D style, everything is resolved using the ubiquitous d20 along with any modifiers. Rolling equal or more than the target number generally sees success, and recalling this single rule is probably the hardest part of the game.

The next phase is Exploration. The expansion of the board is controlled by players, as any players who have characters standing at an unexplored edge of a tile draw a new one from the stack. A small arrow shows the direction it should face (pointing towards the character who discovered the new area) and a scorch mark signifies where that tile’s monster should stand to begin with. This monster is decided by drawing a card from the Monster pile, placing it in front of the player and grabbing said monster from the box to be put on the tile’s starting spot. Something else to take note of is the colour of the arrow; white is fine, but a black arrow means another card must be drawn and resolved immediately from the Encounter Deck. This also happens automatically if no new dungeon tiles are drawn, thus encouraging exploration of a new area at least once per turn. Encounters could be anything from stacking the monster deck in a certain way, triggering a particularly nasty trap or (occasionally) spotting some treasure – but yes… most of the time it’s something pretty awful.

Midway through a solo adventure. This one ended in an ass-kicking. It *always* ends in an ass-kicking.

The final phase of each turn is the Villain Phase, where all monsters on the board spring to life. Working your way around each player in turn – remember, there’s no DM – any monster cards that are in front of them are activated. Again, the simplified rules come in to play – easily understood and followed explanations are given for each monster that cover every potential possibility, be they adjacent to a hero or on the other side of the board. All you need to know is that eventually they’ll hunt you down and attack, you’ll get poisoned or dazed and eventually get killed.

Death happens a lot in Wrath of Ashardalon, but thankfully you’re on the side of good so you have some Healing Surges. Rather than having individual surges there’s a collective pot, meaning that particularly inept and squishy wizards who enjoy throwing themselves into the thick of battle can use more than one if they need to, not that I speak from experience or anything. All the usual D&D tropes are there, Daily Powers, traps and treasures… but Wrath of Ashardalon expands on the previous experience by adding new tile types and cards. Boons can make your life easier, while the additional Adventure cards give you allies to control. Watch out for the new Chamber tiles though, because that’s where the really bad things happen.

If you ever managed to get your hands on a copy of Ravenloft (which is still quite the challenge, at least here in the UK) you’ll know that WotC really tried to push the boat out when it came to the components. I know that some of the design decisions made by the team rattled some cages – a few folks thought that the minimal approach just wasn’t D&D enough – but they’ve elected to stay with the look for Wrath of Ashardalon. Everything is of high quality, from cards to the thick cut tiles that will make the scene for your adventures. You can certainly tell that Wizards are going for a big franchise here, making a grab for the Descent market, with piles of beautifully sculpted minis that are aching to be painted – the main villain of the piece, the dragon Ashardalon, is particularly impressive. There’s no way I’m going anywhere near these with a brush though – I’d hate to ruin them due to ineptitude and thankfully they look great without the need for my childish attempts at ‘enhancement’.

Calling them miniatures doesn't feel right when one of them is THAT BIG.

So, the game plays very well and looks great. There’s little downtime as players are always involved as they negotiate their way around the dungeons, and even those who may have deemed D&D as frivolous before will admit that this is very well put together. There is, however, something intangible that I think requires a mention. Wrath of Ashardlon really feels like something exciting. It’s taken what Ravenloft started and expanded, adding in new elements while keeping the game system fun. As mentioned earlier, the package ships with a book of 12 adventures, but those merely feel like a beginning. This big box feels like opportunity, it feels like potential. After a few hours of playing, my mind began to wander back to another dungeon crawler that had a major effect on my childhood as a gamer – Advanced HeroQuest. The hours I spent coming up with maps and adventures, writing awful scripts to read out as my friends dragged their way through fight after fight… all this came back to me.

So much is possible with this system that WotC have developed (and are still refining). The fact that you can crossover with Ravenloft (and the upcoming Legend of Drizzt) means that there’s a wealth of opportunity here. To those who complain that the twelve adventures in the included book aren’t enough – and there are a few dissenting voices – I urge you to go back to your youth, go back to the reason you picked up these games, and use your imagination. The route that Wizards of the Coast are taking looks to be one that will provide you with a stack of adventures later down the line (I reckon we’ll see a release along the lines of Descent’s Road to Legend before too long) but in the meantime focus on that one word: PLAY. This is the tabletop equivalent of a sandbox – set yourself a target, randomly generate a dungeon and see what happens. I guarantee you that there’s little else out there at the moment that can provide such depth and enjoyment in comparatively bite-sized chunks. And if anyone mocks you for playing D&D in 2011? Chuck your d20 at them. Wear your badge with pride. It’s the grown-up thing to do.

Wrath of Ashardalon was released in 2011 by Wizards of the Coast and was designed by Peter Lee, Mike Mearls and Bill Slavicsek. Between 1 and 5 people can play and it will cost you around £40-50 in the UK (if you can find it, as it’s currently quite tricky to find in your local game shop!). Persevere though – it’s well worth trying to track down a copy.


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Fantastic Voyage – Campfire vs Fighting Fantasy

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll learn over the coming weeks that Campfire Burning is a man I have a lot of time for. He may be relatively new to the world of gaming, but his passion for it is boundless and his writing is beautiful. I don’t know if anyone outside of the UK is aware of the Fighting Fantasy series of books developed by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, but here’s Campfire’s reminiscence of a time when you could play a book…


The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Now there’s a name. Imagine, if you will, a volcano shrouded in smoke the colour of clouds at sunset, tinted by fiery spewed embers and belched from the furnace at the heart of the world. Imagine a magician deep within – no, a warlock, ruling over the labyrinthine underworld from a throne of skulls, who was driven mad by the magic he once practised and now seeks to infect the peaceful lands in the shadow of lair with insanity beyond insanity.

All this and so much more came into my head the first time I encountered Fighting Fantasy. I didn’t even know what a warlock was but the image was there, as vivid as any I’d seen, scorched into my young brain along with a mission, a geas, a quest. Only I could navigate the tunnels to face the warlock. Only I could defeat him.

In this case, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain wasn’t the Fighting Fantasy book itself but the computer game translation of it, and even though I alone had been chosen to kill the warlock and set free the land I had a little trouble with the keyboard controls, so I invited my dad along as well.

As early evening gave way to early night and my little sister was sent to bed, Dad and I set up the Spectrum, loaded the game and took it in turns to try and beat it. Sometimes he played even later into the night, but neither of us ever completed or made it very far into the game. There was a series of keys we had to collect before we could break into the warlock’s inner sanctum, and beset by squiggly pink imps it was an achievement just to find one of them, let alone the whole set. We cheered when we found one, and mourned when we died and had to begin again at the very start.

And although we never beat the game that name burned brightly in my mind for years to come, until one day I saw it again, this time on a friend’s bookshelf.

“Is this a story?” I said.

My friend took the book from the shelf and looked at the cover before pressing it into my hands. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s an adventure.”

I never played Fighting Fantasy books properly. I never rolled for stats or filled in the character sheets at the front. Much of my collection was second-hand, and I’d often see the ghosts of previous adventurers written there in partially erased pencil. Knowing the book’s previous owner had been through and died somehow added extra atmosphere and gravitas. At the start of every new adventure I set my jaw and took a deep breath, determined I would succeed where so many before me had failed.

I cheated, as many readers did. I always had a thumb marking the previous page in case I messed up, and as the route through the book became more and more convoluted I had to use fingers and bookmarks to mark my place. When I ran out of both I searched for other placeholders. Here’s my lenticular animated dinosaur ruler – I’ll hold the page with that. There were so many places to die in these books; I’d die and die often, and it was only by holding open a page with this finger or that ruler that I could come back from the brink and live to fight another day.

The descriptions got to me. They were what kept me playing late into the night, hiding my reading lamp down by the side of my bed until my parents had gone to their room and I could get on with my adventure. The lurid, grisly details that should never have been allowed near a seven-year-old were nevertheless tuned to my frequency, and provoked chills when I read them and nightmares when I fell asleep.

In one book, after I’d taken too many wrong turns and run out of fingers and bookmarks and dinosaur rulers I ran blindly into a new cavern and fell into what the book described as ‘a pit filled with carrion’.

That’s where I learned the word. I’d never run into carrion in my other books – in the works of Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton. There were lots of words and phrases I picked up only by reading Fighting Fantasy books, because The Famous Five never found treasure in a charnel house, and they never impaled zombies with chaos daggers. For years my mates and I thought ‘chaos’ was pronounced ‘cha-OOSE’ because we’d never run into the word beyond the world of the Fighting Fantasy books.


In this carrion pit I saw a figure huddled to the floor, stripping the flesh from one of the corpses. It noticed me and stood and, in that inimitable Fighting Fantasy way, it was given a name. That name was everything I knew about it, everything I had to go on. It was a GHOUL.

Because the Fighting Fantasy books catered to an audience raised on Dungeons & Dragons, I was expected to already know what a GHOUL was. Being seven, I didn’t – I’d previously thought ‘ghoul’ was just another word for ‘ghost’, but that night, shivering beneath my duvet in the stark glow of a bedside lamp I learned exactly what a GHOUL was, and what it could do to a scared little boy up way past his bedtime.

I don’t think there was a way to fight it directly, because if there had been I would have declared the ghoul dead and marched onto the next page reference. Maybe I needed the innocuous looking rusted rod I’d neglected to pick up on page 153. As it was, I had nothing, and so the ghoul grabbed me, sank its long, needle-like fingernails into my flesh, injected me with a paralytic poison, and that was it. Game over.

Only the writing didn’t end there. Oh, it made it clear there was no way I was getting out of this situation, but instead of saying “Go to page 1” it prolonged the nightmare.

The ghoul ate me. I was still paralysed, I was still awake and the ghoul ate me. It didn’t hurt, the book explained, because I’d lost all feeling in my body, but I could see quite well enough and I watched as it stripped the flesh from my bones the same way it had to the gnawed skeletons lying around me. The book made it quite clear that I wouldn’t be able to scream – neither my vocal cords, my tongue, nor my jaw would work. Instead I was forced to lay there, silenced, while the ghoul dissected and devoured me.

That’s when I learned what true horror was. Unable to look away, unable to cry; it was like I was a bluebottle and my bedtime story had come from The Mammoth Book of Spiders.

When daybreak came and brought another school day with it, my friends and I clustered in the playground and shared our adventures. At lunchtime we went to the dining hall and talked about this or that Fighting Fantasy book over sandwiches and squash. We loved the gore of it. We loved the horror. We loved it enough to write our own twisted fantasy adventures, where eyeballs were often gouged out and people routinely fell into lakes filled with skin-boiling acid. Every wood and cave in our stories hid myriad monsters, and all harboured the same intent: To make the hero’s death as painful and as prolonged as possible.

We wrote them in our spare time, but also during school hours, in creative writing classes. At the end of class we submitted them to our teacher and he took them home to read and mark. And where today we might have ended up seeing a school counsellor with concern for our mental well-being it was as if the more deaths we included, the better the marks we’d receive.

We struggled to out-do each other. Man-traps and carnivorous plants; piranhas and shape-shifters; walking cadavers and cannibal tribes – and beating at the heart of them, our multi-volumed bible. The books of the Fighting Fantasy series had distorted our childish imaginations into frightening places.

An entire generation of gamers were raised on Fighting Fantasy books. Years later some of us fondly remember the gruesome illustrations as being our favourite aspect of them. Others remember the gaming elements; how we’d roll dice and press our luck, and revel in victory when a good roll downed a beastly opponent. Some remember the intricate puzzles that were added to the later stories, that replaced the standard ‘if you do this than turn to page 98’ system with codes and riddles to foil page-holding cheats like myself.

Me, I remember the words. The bottom of a carrion pit is, perhaps, the least likely place to fall in love with the English language, but it was there I drew out my abridged Collins dictionary and learned that carrion was another word for dead and decaying flesh. It was there also that I fell in love with horror, when I realise that, with the sharp-toothed ghoul lumbering toward me, I too would soon be carrion.

The warlock still sits atop his throne of skulls, threatening the land and tempting hapless adventurers to enter his domain in search of honour, glory and adventure. And though I’m older now and cynical, and my vocabulary has grown a littler bluer in the interim, I can’t help but regard that title with the same simple wonder as a child up past his bedtime.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Now there’s a name.


If you’ve never read one, I’d suggest you try and get your hands on a Fighting Fantasy book. None of the insipid alternative that is the Choose Your Own Adventure series – go for the jugular, start with Warlock (which was reissued recently) and go from there. And make sure you’ve got a d6 and a pencil with an eraser…


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