Author Topic: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)  (Read 352 times)

Offline hans

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REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« on: March 16, 2017, 06:56:20 PM »
Remarkably, Dwelling in Darkness is the second mod created by ProphetSword (a.k.a. Ben Sanderfer) for the One-Week Challenge (http://ua.reonis.com/index.php?topic=3429.0). 

Under that time restriction, DiD is, as would be expected, a small mod (one town and 2 dungeons), yet it doesn't play like one.  I'm sure I exceeded the 2-3 hour average playtime.  Part of the reason for this is that the 2 dungeons are full of combats devised to challenge a 12th level party.  Thus, like good boxing matches, these contests usually last for multiple rounds. 

Visually, the mod is entirely EGA (16-colors), reminiscent of the early GoldBox games, such as Pool of Radiance and Secret of the Silver Blades.  Very retro-cool.  There's even a trippy special fx that was very 1960s pop-art-ish.   

While essentially a combat-focused monty haul dungeon crawl, Ben punches up the familiar story elements with some nice flashes of humor.  This keeps the tone lighter than his previous One-Week Challenge entry, The Voice of Vengeance

I very much enjoyed Dwelling in Darkness.   :)

The combats are almost all against tough monsters, yet I found only a few of the fights to be very hard.  Which was the only bit of disappointment for me.  The reason for this, I believe, is the presence of several shops in town that sell an abundance of high magical items.  By the time I finished, all of my heroes had at least -10 ACs, with one at -19.  Necklaces of Missiles and powerful Wands for anybody who wanted them.  Vorpal Long Swords.  My late father would've loved this aspect.  Myself, I think that next time I play this mod I may first alter the shops to only normal items, plus potions, for an even greater challenge.       
« Last Edit: March 16, 2017, 07:01:00 PM by hans »

Offline ProphetSword

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2017, 07:26:25 PM »
The combats are almost all against tough monsters, yet I found only a few of the fights to be very hard.  Which was the only bit of disappointment for me.  The reason for this, I believe, is the presence of several shops in town that sell an abundance of high magical items.  By the time I finished, all of my heroes had at least -10 ACs, with one at -19.  Necklaces of Missiles and powerful Wands for anybody who wanted them.  Vorpal Long Swords.  My late father would've loved this aspect.  Myself, I think that next time I play this mod I may first alter the shops to only normal items, plus potions, for an even greater challenge.       

Sadly, this is the one aspect of the one-week challenge that can cause issues.  You have no time to have anyone else look at the module to give you a sense that something like this breaks the balance.  In my mind, the combats might have been too hard if I didn't include a lot of items.  This is clearly not the case.  And this is the kind of thing that good playtesters tend to find when playing modules.

I suppose I could release an updated version and alter the stores, though I will probably wait to see if others have the same issue.

Thanks for the feedback and the review!
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Offline PetrusOctavianus

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2017, 06:36:42 PM »
I suppose I could release an updated version and alter the stores, though I will probably wait to see if others have the same issue.

I have a feeling I would have the same issue with the shops.  ;)

Offline ProphetSword

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2017, 07:25:03 PM »
Just so you know, I updated the module earlier this week and addressed these issues.  So if you play the module, I'd like to know if it's better balanced.
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Offline Ray

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2017, 10:10:38 PM »

Wow!

Dwelling in Darkness by Benjamin Sanderfer is an impressive adventure by any standard.  However, when taking into account that it was created as part of the Seven-Day Challenge of 2017--and it was also the second design created by the same author during the challenge--it becomes even more impressive. 

This game captured my attention and my imagination straight from the start.  I love the way my heroes were given just enough backstory to justify their high level of experience, but not so much that I felt like they were not my own.  I also appreciated the way my story was so skillfully linked to the town I was intending to save, but again without taking away my control of my own characters' stories. 

At this point, I've talked too much without mentioning that this is an EGA-style design.  Combine that fact with Ben's mastery of the Gold Box format, and you have an adventure that feels, straight from the opening text events, like a recently unearthed AD&D Gold Box adventure, lost since the 1980s.  The game never disappoints.  The structure of the story, the style of combats, the ability to rest, and the amount and quality of treasure all serve to reinforce the sense that this is a lost SSI gem.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and a fair amount of my enjoyment came from how substantial the adventure turned out to be.  While it never wears out its welcome, this is no 20-minute jaunt.  There is adventure to be had here, though it doesn't dally once the adventure has been had!  The town itself felt "lived-in," with a number of memorable NPCs and not a single site that felt like a "Shop."  There were merchants to meet, a priest to encounter, and an innkeeper that I'd like to speak with again in a sequel adventure.  There was a sense that this town has more adventures to share, and enough fun to be had that I would love to play them if they are ever unearthed.

And, finally, this design has some surprises even for us veteran FRUA players.  Dwelling in Darkness is the work of an author who is not just a master Dungeon Master and expert FRUA designer, but also a master of the Unlimited Adventures toolset, as well.  This adventure comes highly recommended...you'll be glad you played it!

Offline Nol Drek

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2017, 11:11:35 PM »
I just finished Dwelling in Darkness and I thoroughly enjoyed playing it. The graphics and combat reminded me of a classic Gold Box adventure. (Full disclosure: I'm biased in favor of the EGA art hack since I created it). There is a fully stocked town to explore and a surprising number of encounters to experience. I found the combat to be well-balanced, and I had to make use of the temple in town to raise some of my dead characters after some encounters with spell casters. I ended up with way more loot than I could carry because, in true Gold Box style, every monster left behind a pile of stuff they were carrying: Wands of Fireballs, Bracers of AC 2, Rings of Prot +3, etc.

The NPCs were used well to give flavor text. Many encounters and piles of treasure was preceded by a comment from the Dwarf NPC. Other encounters gave you the feeling that you were sneaking into an evil lair and interrupting the inhabitants in the middle of a conversation. The scenario that this adventure reminded me of most was the Tilverton Sewers from Curse of the Azure Bonds, which is also one of my favorites. It is impressive how much was packed into this adventure with just one week of build time. I think I spent 4 or 5 very enjoyable hours completing this design.
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Offline Jadefang

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2017, 06:17:51 AM »
Hmm, so I played the module, but not sure if it was the updated version or not, because I found every fight easy.

First off, the way all the text was done in spoken dialogue was unique and nice, starting off with the introduction that integrated the player into the world right away. Though it was largely a romp and stomp up until the final battle, there were a large number of interesting encounters and areas with little backstories along the way.

As others mentioned, I seem to have played a version that still had a lot of overpowered magical items. Probably the biggest offender was the relatively cheap Girdle of Giant Strength in the magic shop, giving my entire party a massive damage boost (being 6x cheaper than the inferior Gauntlets of Ogre Power in the same shop was also very weird, though that's the fault of the game engine). Though the best buyable gear was +2, the vast amounts of expensive sellable loot from the dungeon made outfitting the party out of those trivial, not to mention there were even stronger items that could be found from exploring (biggest standout was the Vorpal sword that was found just one room into the dungeon).

I think what contributed a lot to the low difficulty, aside from the gear, was the lack of random combats. There are apparently no random wandering battles, so running back to town to refresh is always a safe, if somewhat tedious, option. Even then, though there are random combats for trying to rest in unsafe places, I largely did not have any trouble doing so after almost every fight.

I think the only monsters that spooked me were vampires though it was moreso the annoyance of having to go back to town to get restored from energy draining than any actual difficulty of fighting them.

EDIT: Oh, forgot to mention, one particular lategame encounter I enjoyed was when the mages cast a spell on your party, and the UI and colours go hella trippy until you break out of it. That was certainly one of the biggest surprises I've ever seen in FRUA.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2017, 08:55:27 PM by Jadefang »

Offline Kaz-Keith

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #7 on: April 13, 2017, 08:31:39 PM »
Ben's second (! I know, right?) completed project from the March 2017 1-Week design challenge - This time around my party met up with an old friend, with whom we shared some history, and began answering his plea for aid.

Exploring a small town and the subsequent areas encapsulating the adventure were a delight in all its EGA glory.  Nol's EGA hak was put to pretty and thoughtful use here, and I got to see walls and other graphics I hadn't seen for ages, if ever.

The adventure itself is geared towards upper-middling levels, which means the ground we covered was never sure nor to be taken for granted: some of the combats were arranged deviously-clever, necessitating good tactics using items and spells to defeat them without issue.  Other encounters seemed exceptionally easy, and I certainly ended up ruing not taking at least one subgroup of creatures seriously.  :)

I found 2 different NPCs that joined up, though one died mid-adventure and was not raiseable (he was disintegrated), though we still got to hear his ghostly advise and warnings from Beyond the Veil.

I mean no disrespect when I say this but I found that this was one of the easiest of Ben's adventures I've played, with item availability to enhance the playability greatly.  I peeped in the editor after winning through and I can definitely recommend this design as a good one for budding editors to look at and glean what might be gleaned.

There were some great graphics from the old Krynn days that also gave me more than one nostalgic smile.

Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: REVIEW: Dwelling in Darkness (by Benjamin Sanderfer)
« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2017, 09:38:15 AM »
Whoops, I think I might have played the outdated version, too. I found it already installed on my laptop (from several weeks ago) and didn't think of checking whether there was a new version. Oh well. I'm not really sure though if that's a bad or a good thing, because even though my party got pretty overpowered in the end, I didn't think that it made the combat too easy, as there are some tough battles where the party is outnumbered by very mean opponents and can still be defeated by bad luck, regardless of their equipment and tactics, so getting all that power felt like sweet revenge. It took me long enough to fight my way through these small dungeons, and I'm quite glad that not every single battle was set up to seriously endanger my party and drive me back to town again. I also appreciated a lot that there was no random combat (apart from the occasional resting surprise). I much prefer the style that allows you to clear out a dungeon with unique, challenging and interesting encounters to the style that wears your party down over time with the same tedious random combat events. Which goes to show once again that you can't please everyone, no matter how hard you try.

I loved how Dwelling in Darkness started out, the scenes at the inn immediately drew me in, and although I wasn't as observant as Jadefang and didn't really notice what it was in particular that made the story-telling so special, this approach of using only dialogue certainly had its effect on me. It was very well done and contributed to the fun I had with this design.

I found some of the main combat events challenging enough that they made me try and avoid them, seek a way around them first, and I wonder if they were deliberately placed like that to encourage further exploration, because the path I took through the dungeons seemed secretly guided by these difficulty spikes. If that was the plan, it worked well.

It also has to be noted that while you get loads of money and more magical items than you can carry, you also need a lot of cash to be able to raise your dead and restore all drained levels in the temple. There were cases when I had the priest cast Restoration 4 or 5 times in a row until a single character had regained all his levels again, each spell costing 1500 platinum coins. And training costs are according as well. In addition to that, the town offers a vault where you can store all treasure you don't want to carry around. So while the rewards in (at least the old version of) this design were pretty abundant, I didn't perceive them as inappropriate or hindering. I thought that the balance was pretty good, all in all. But I'm obviously far from the hardcore end of the spectrum of player abilities and preferences. If the design had been a lot harder, I might even have given up on it, frustrated and bored. As it stands though, it was the perfect balance for me and I enjoyed it very much (even in its outdated version, if that's what I played).
« Last Edit: May 02, 2017, 11:41:26 AM by Olivier Leroux »