Author Topic: REVIEW: Descent into Darkness (by Kaz-Keith)  (Read 207 times)

Offline Ray

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REVIEW: Descent into Darkness (by Kaz-Keith)
« on: April 06, 2017, 04:08:26 PM »

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.


Offline hans

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Re: REVIEW: Descent into Darkness (by Kaz-Keith)
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2017, 02:02:13 PM »
Descent into Darkness by Kaz-Keith was created as part of the One-Week Challenge (http://ua.reonis.com/index.php?topic=3429.0) and while Kaz may have failed to meet that deadline, every extra minute he labored over this mod was well worth it!  This design is an amazing artistic achievement! 

I believe that this is the author's first mod since he won the UANL#26 "Starting Out" Design Contest with Legacy of the Dragon back in the year 2000 (http://frua.rosedragon.org/pc/uanews/uanl26/ct-dsn26.htm).  If so, hurray for the One-Week Challenge for inspiring a new mod from this noted author, after 17 years! 

Descent into Darkness has a very long introduction, so, depending on your reading speed, you may be spending somewhere around a half-an-hour in the beginning with little more interactivity than pressing Enter.  That time is well invested, however, providing considerable depth to the characters and their (Greyhawk) world.  Moreover, the writing is quite excellent.  Once through this part, there follows hours of exciting exploration, so don't be put off.  (Personally, I felt this took some of the pressure of me, as an author, because some of my mods have had lengthy intros, but now if anybody complains, I can point to Kaz who has me beat by a mile.) 

This is a single-player mod for a pre-made character, yet that PC spends much of the design as part of full party.  So, while the milieu is very Dungeons & Dragons (in the aforementioned Greyhawk world), this is not a GoldBox-style mod.  Quite possibly, it is the best non-GoldBox-style mod that I have ever played!   :love10:

There is so much deserving of praise in this mod, I should say "everything."  Story, art, music, eye-popping new special FX, combats, puzzles, surprises, --there is nothing I could point to as being less than superb.   :headbang:

Bravo, Kaz!  Bravo!   :hello2:

Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: REVIEW: Descent into Darkness (by Kaz-Keith)
« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2017, 05:02:46 PM »
Keith never ceases to amaze me. When I loaded up Descent into Darkness today, I went in with the highest expectations, and he still managed to surpass them again. And this is a design that was created as an experiment in fighting perfectionism, but if you don't count the occasional, very rare and very minor polishing issue, it's as close to perfection as can be, and creative to the max. It's full of experiments with original ideas, full of places, walls and creatures you haven't seen in any other design, and situations you've never been in before when playing FRUA. It's the dream of every curious explorer!

The focus is indeed on exploration, with a lot of free roaming in very well designed levels (I never felt the need to turn on Area View, even though its always allowed), supported by detailed descriptions and featuring many secrets. And it's also heavy on story-telling, with an interesting plot and cast, extensive 'cutscenes' and NPC conversations, and a setting deeply rooted in Greyhawk - I assume quite a few of the references regarding the lore went a bit over my head, but I was able to appreciate the story regardless, and I think everyone really familiar with Greyhawk and the old D&D classics will just love it. Combat is a bit on the simple and easy side, as you play a single pre-made level 5 cleric with no means to level up during the game, but it's still a lot of fun due to all the great new icons and the unfamiliar and unusual opponents.

Descent into Darkness is an instant favorite, definitely among the most exciting FRUA designs I've played. There's this old story I've told before, of how I discovered FRUA by mistaking it for a level editor to the Eye of the Beholder series, since I was unfamiliar with the Gold Box games but loved EOB. Kaz-Keith's designs offer the best of both worlds, the great graphics and amazing dungeon crawling atmosphere of EOB, combined with the rich story-telling and pen & paper feeling of FRUA and the Gold Box games. And this one is no exception, but a new culmination of this style, one of the most elaborate and perfect FRUA designs ever created, disguised as an anti-perfectionist 1-week challenge design. (It actually took 9 weeks to create it, but considering its scale and quality that's a huge surprise and triumph anyway. And it took me a whole afternoon and evening to play through, 4 hours at least, if not more.)


Offline Dorateen

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Re: REVIEW: Descent into Darkness (by Kaz-Keith)
« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2017, 08:42:44 AM »
Descent into Darkness is a well constructed design. The use of music and especially the wall art/backdrops are top notch. I enjoyed the dungeon layout, which was complex and atmospheric.

I would characterize the style of this adventure as follows. In a traditional computer role-playing game, the player rolls up a party and is often joined by an NPC for plot related reasons, or to enhance their team. This approach is found in numerous classic titles, going back to Pool of Radiance, where the the Temple of Tyr assigns Dirtan to accompany the characters. However, in Descent into Darkness, the player is put into the shoes (boots) of that singular NPC, who is attached to an already established party of adventures. It is an interesting flip of perspective.

The story-telling aspect is well done, and at times feels like reading fantasy novel with an entertaining cast of characters.

Some of the design choices I found clever include the option to review inventory items and personal journal when making camp. At one point, the player gets separated from the party, creating the tension of being lost on a separate dungeon level. That kind of team split is something you don't see very often. I also liked the dark areas, and fighting unseen opponents. Kind of had an old Wizardry feel in those moments.

Above all, with its strong Greyhawk influence, this felt like an homage to the roots of the role-playing hobby. The "icon of chance" is emblematic of the game, as well as being inserted here as a narrative device.

Thank you for making this module!

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