Monday, June 25, 2012

Tommy's Take on The Dark Woods

The Game Arts Guild were responsible for the interesting RPG Squawk a while they've released The Dark Woods, which is a very specific RPG, straddling the line between board game, RPG and story game. The most important question, however, is "is it good"?

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The PDF is only $4.99 at RPGNow, but you can order the softcover for $7.99 and a bundle for $9.99. The game is built for 4-8 players, but doesn't use a GM. The book is pretty small, only 37 pages (inclduing covers). The premise is that The Dark Woods are ruled by a dragon sorcerer and his minions, and the PCs form teams to fight past each other and take on the dragon sorcerer. There's no GM, so each each side alternates between playing their sorcerers and playing the enemies the other side is fighting.

The Dark Woods are filled with denizens from boggarts to dryads to dragons to nagas to humans (who almost always become corrupted and wind up transforming into something else) to varana (humans who have turned into lizard men) and more. Pretty much all of these have pictures accompanying them to help you out.

The rules are given next, using a single d20 and adding modifiers in order to beat a difficulty number. Each character has three defenses, which are derived from various abilities and include Agility, Intelligence and Strength. In addition, they have a Toughness ability which helps determine Hit Points.

Next are the breakdown of abilities, with pretty much everything having Toughness. Next are Attack abilities, which include Shooting, Knockout and Wrestling. Stalking Abilities are Stealth and Detection. Movement Abilities cover Acrobatics, Flying and Swimming. Support Abilites are things like Healing and Command. A 1 page rules summary follows, with a combat example following that.

From there we get to character creation, with abilities purchased by spending 24 character points. Toughness is the most expensive, and the one that everyone must have. A handful of sample characters are provided, including a dragon sorcerer not unlike the Big Bad, a human big game hunter and a Morlock necromancer. Once PCs are created and paired off, each team has to pick an association to belong to, with options including Necromancers and Rangers, and each faction having special rules in place for when they encounter certain types of creatures in the woods (like Necromancers that encounter undead immediately forcing them to attack the other team instead).

A map is included, and the teams move around the map, encountering enemies along the way (sometimes set for the map space and sometimes based on a random roll). As you beat enemies, you can drain their essence and gain more power. Stat blocks are listed for everything you can encounter.

Rules are provided for extending the game, which basically just entails whoever overthrows the Dragon Sorcerer becoming the bad guy for the next game, as well as six sided die and card variants for people who don't own - or hate - d20s. A short story is included for flavor, as is an index.

WHAT WORKS: A nice mix of stock fantasy elements combined with some new and/or relatively rare fantasy components. Simple system with easy enough character generation, good for a pick-up game. A ton of art for a tiny book, it never gets in the way and especially does a nice job of depicting the more uncommon elements.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Honestly, the book feels like it was almost laid out backwards. I'm used to flavor fiction at the beginning of the book and not the end, and I almost always prefer character generation before rules.

CONCLUSION: I'm not sure I'd call it an RPG aside from the character generation, and I'd be hard pressed to call it a story game. It's really almost a board game in a book, but given how easy the map is to print, and the low price point, I don't think that's a bad thing. If the physical book is laid out the same as the PDF is, I'd recommend getting the PDF over the book and just printing out the map, since the map is almost smack in the middle, then using some kind of tokens or figures to track movement around it. Definitely has the potential for a fun beer and pretzels type game.