I almost wish someone had created a terrible design for the One-Week Challenge, because all of my reviews have probably sounded so hyperbolic that I have zero credibility left. But the bottom line is, from my vantage as a player and a designer, this challenge didn't just bring a bunch of new designs into the community--it blew the doors off in terms of quality as well as quantity. I saw tricks I'd never seen before, I saw art that amazed me, and I saw storytelling that was nothing short of humbling, and here's the thing--Descent into Darkness did all three of those things, too.
On top of that, Descent into Darkness adds something new to the mix in terms of narrative. Kaz-Keith is no stranger to twisting the narrative on its ear. I keenly remember getting to fly around as a baby dragon for a while in another design, and that was a lot of fun. The clever thing about Descent into Darkness, though, is that it appears to be a standard fantasy adventure. But, through some clever designing, Kaz-Keith creates an environment where you only really get to bring your character to the table.
Through excellent storytelling, and the aforementioned design tricks, this design is the closest I have ever come to actually showing up at a table with my character and joining a group of players who have been playing together for a long time. In fact, this is better, because every time I've actually done that in real life, I've found that the existing players have so many in-jokes that I can't really assimilate into their group, and there's always one jack-ass who keeps talking over me and spilling Doritos on my character sheet. In this case, the player brings a character into a group where everyone role-plays immersively, and an adventure plays out that captures everyone's attention.
Kaz-Keith writes that this game is intended as an homage to the founders of the game, in the original Greyhawk campaign. I've read quite a lot about those original days of D&D, and I have to say, this is exactly how I imagined it would be to play through an adventure in that era. The interactions between the characters, the implied interactions between their players, the way treasure was doled out, the way encounters occurred, and the types of encounters that took place. There was a sense of wonder, the vaguest sense of ecology, and sometimes a sense of...holy crap, did that just happen?
The storytelling is top-notch, the art elevates FRUA beyond anything SSI ever intended, and the game captures that 1970's feel that makes dungeon crawling fun again. There are some combat icons for monsters that I have always wanted to battle, but it is the number of encounters that are not combat related that really capture the sense of those old days. And there are even some combat encounters that lead on to storytelling events in surprising ways that feel particularly appropriate for the targeted era.
And then there's the ending, in which the adventure goes into overdrive and then goes into...whatever comes after overdrive. I have to admit that I didn't see it coming, and yet it felt absolutely perfect for a Greyhawk adventure. Like another adventure in the one-week challenge, there is more than one ending, and I was surprised to find that I wished I'd chosen the other ending!
Fabulous job, Keith, and thank you for putting my name in your credits. For whatever small amount my efforts contributed to what you shared with us here, you are most definitely, and humbly, welcome.
Loved this visit to your game table! You can DM for me any time.