Beneath the Sorcerer's Tower
Reviewed by Darius Whiteheart
This recent design by Mack was entered into UANL 31's Newbie Design contest and did very well, tying for second place. Some of the comments regarding the programming sparked my interest and I promised Mack I'd take a look at his latest work and provide some feedback.
The first thing that stands out once you get past the default title sequence is the new frame, a marble slate blue background, trimmed with golden bands. It comes from the Sega D&D game Warriors of the Eternal Sun, if I'm not mistaken, and looks great. The grey text is a bit hard to read against the slate background, but you can still make out the text without much trouble. I would recommend a slight altering of the Always colors to darken the default text a bit.
Mack has provided an optional pre-generated party, which made me happy. It enabled me to get straight into the action instead of spending thirty minutes rolling up six new characters.
Good introduction, which fills in the history of the Sorcerer's Tower and Portown, and the reasons why I am there. It sounds like I'm gearing up for a good old fashioned dungeon crawl in some haunted ruins, which are ancient enough that they might possibly house some...darker things.
Portown is the central location of the game, and you'll be making lots of return trips there to heal, rest up and purchase supplies and equipment. Characters begin with no equipment and only 40 platinum, so you have to be wise with your purchases. Excitement was building when I saw that the dwarf at the Bazaar was selling Torches, Iron Spikes and Rope...and that these might be needed during my dungeon crawl. I was not disappointed.
Mack has set up the town with a Small Town event (the reason for this is explained in the accompanying README.TXT file), and yet he has expanded it with the addition of another Question Button event. I'd say it qualifies as a Large Small Town, and is nicely done. The Ruins
What can I say? This is where the design shines. It's a classic dungeon crawl, exactly as the author intended. The encounters are well handled and rewards are given in a very P&P style method. It gives you the sense that each creature/encounter is unique, and each reward is well earned. The sense of danger is also heightened because your characters are merely 1st level, and there is no place to rest underground. The layout is nice, with several different areas to explore. There are underground rivers and lakes, a ruined tower, ancient catacombs, and several nice puzzles. I particularly liked the Rotating Statue and the Golden Mask. You'll need to pay attention to the room descriptions to find some things, or else make sure you cover each square of the room. I walked right past a component to the Mask puzzle several times before realizing it was there. NPCs
There was really only one to speak of, but I loved her. I won't spoil it. The Ending
Well...here's the thing. Though I 'rescued' Lemunda and defeated the bad guy, I couldn't complete the game. I did some poking around with the Web Page feature of Scruadat, and it appears that obtaining Quest 3 and Quest 5 is necessary to achieve the ending, but I couldn't find any place that either of those quests were actually granted.
Some more poking around revealed the ending, which was well written and gave me the sense that I had accomplished something during my adventures. If only my PCs had seen it! Nitpicks
In one of the rooms nearest the entrance to the ruins, I was given the choice via a Question List event to plunder through the monsters' chests, cloaks and sacks for loot, and loved it. But I was offered that choice at all three doorways to the room, coming or going, even after I'd gathered up all the treasure. After a while I felt like gathering all those items into the center of the room, tossing a lit torch onto the pile and dancing around it while singing "Light My Fire" by The Doors. Being the considerate guy that he is, Mack ran into a dilemma; he wanted to give you the choice to search for treasure and also the choice to leave the looting for another time. You can't do that by making the event 'Do Only Once', but there is a way. I'll write up the problem and its solution a bit later.
Like Tom, one of the judges for the design contest, I was never given the choice to 'Take the Boat', though I was able to return Lemunda to the town via the ruins. It was probably more fun that way anyhow, because she was so...memorable.
Some of the art was a bit out of place. I was puzzled to find several fireplaces in the middle of the underground rivers, though I understood it was meant to be a tunnel through the rock. Wall hacking is easy nowadays, and a true river tunnel would look really nice there. Also, many of the combat icons were inappropriate to their monsters. A quick check at Corhub revealed several excellent choices for things like Gelatinous Cubes, Giant Crabs and other things. Still, you never know with those cooky sorcerers...maybe the monsters were polymorphed?
Overall I think this is a great design, perfect for those looking for a two-hour dungeon crawl. My suggestions have to do with art and quest-tweaking, not with the premise of the design, which I thought was excellent. Well done, Mack, and I hope to see more from you!