Saturday, March 22, 2008

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

Every once in a while, I find myself desiring Descent -- the floor tiles, the minis, the theme, etc. Then I play it. The odd thing is that I enjoy Doom; why like one and not the other? It might be that I fully expect to die messily and repeatedly in Doom, while I haven't accepted that in the fantasy genre yet. Or it might be that Doom is simpler in rules (fewer special powers running around), bookkeeping, and tactics (since melee doesn't play as big a role), so given less investment, I don't feel as much frustration when a plan capriciously fails. Whatever the reason, Descent annoys me despite my best efforts to like it, and Road to Legend, so close to a fantastic upgrade, just makes things worse.

Our party consisted of the orc Mordrog (Chad), the dwarf Corbin (Chris), the wizard Runemaster Thorn (me), and the chick with knives Silhouette (communal control), all with rudimentary equipment and one skill each. Ben played the evil Beastman Lord, conspiring to create eternal darkness ("Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun..."). We bought some potions, grabbed a nice bow for Silhouette (throughout the day, the best equipment went to the character no one wanted), got wounded in a bar fight (screwage without recourse was another leitmotif), and were given a map to a treasure a million freaking miles away. We then popped off to Starfall Forest to do a little exploring and get a little XP.

The first level of our newbie dungeon included a Master red dragon with extra armor and wounds just down the hall from the entrance room. His 8 armor made him impervious to all attacks, and the only other sources of XP were behind him. Not wanting to simply give up, we sent Silhoutette on a sprint to grab some coins in the entrace room. Ben spawned kobolds to cut off our escape, but we managed to kill four and get all of our characters just out of range of where the dragon's breath could reach on the next turn, and where we could all escape. Ben then played "Charge!" to double move the dragon, and "Rage" to double attack with Breath, killing two party members and missing a third by one or two wounds. In one turn.

We saw four dungeon levels and one outdoor encounter in all, and only one included a boss with armor low enough for us to defeat, regardless of tactics applied or deaths expended. And that's just unacceptable, especially since it is so easily fixed -- the dungeon level deck should either be three decks (one for each level), or each card should have permitted levels listed on it, like how the outdoor encounter cards only apply to certain trails. Reasonable levels like the ruined column/skeleton fight would be 1st only, while the Red Dragon of Everything-Killing would be 3rd only. The concern might be that adventurers will only hit the top levels of each dungeon to prevent the Overlord from getting conquest, but (a) the Overlord is still getting conquest from razing cities, (b) which he can then use to buff minions, making even the top levels harder, and (c) all the awesome rewards, particularly from rumors, are on the third level, so you've got to get down there eventually. Just that one change and Road to Legend would go from "absurdly broken" to "would play again" in my mind -- though Undying still both sucks and blows.

(Let's not even mention the fact that Ben was holding back on buying early lieutenants because what little part of him still has empathy for players knew it was a game-breaker.)

Should you try your luck against Road to Legend, take these lessons from us:

1. Don't waste a turn grabbing an early Rumor; even if you can get to it, you're not strong enough to beat the associated dungeon level.
2. Spend your first few turns hitting the dungeons within one space of Talamir -- it's 100% certain that you'll end up back in Talamir by the end anyway.
3. You're going to die a lot. Just accept it. The penalty isn't even that bad, and it's a quick heal!
4. Your first priority is 1000 gold for the Enchanted Boat, which opens up an enormous number of trails. Your second priority is 20 XP, which gets you your first skill training -- you should have plenty of money by then.

In other Saturday news, Chris dominated Colossal Arena so badly that he had to kill his own creature to sew up a win, Notre Dame thinks it still has another half to play, and Stanford tried as hard as it could to lose and failed.


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