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The Dark Tower

By Daniel Ray

They say first impressions are lasting impressions. My first impression of this scenario was the readme file, which was very competently written. In fact, most really good scenarios do not have such friendly documentation.

Unfortunately, the first impression did not last long. The scenario begins with the typical ho hum wizard teleports you to a strange realm for some unknown purpose. I've seen this before in a few variations, and each one seems to get worse and worse. This scenario was no exception.

Before I get to far I should offer a warning. Players who suffer from agoraphobia should really not play this scenario. The open spaces in this scenario are astounding. You can go hundreds of moves, slaughter hundreds of wandering monsters, without finding much of anything of interest. The readme should really come with that disclaimer.

On the Blades board, I often preach to newbies about classic mistakes. One of them is linking difficult monsters that creatively fill in the fields to overall quality of the scenario. This scenario falls into that pitfall hook, line, and sinker. For instance, there is one monster called a Herzou that has a 20% ability to summon Haakai. Now I could understand if this were a boss character. However, this is a monster that the party meets while wandering outdoors!

I quote a statement in the readme:

You may notice that there are many wandering encounters. There are also small huts scattered around. You might think that this does not make sense, however, in all such cases, one of two things is true. Either the occupant(s) of said hut are powerful enough to defend themselves, or insignificant enough that the wandering monsters ignore them. (Keep in mind, almost all of those encounters are with members of the Dark Tower's armies, or creatures controlled from there. They are not mindlessly rampaging.

I tend to give designers a lot of latitude on such things, but this is a bit too far! I don't think an Empire army could defeat a large group of Herzou. Why these creatures have not decimated the entire world remains a mystery.

Now, I'll admit something. I made it about halfway through the scenario before I decided to cast the "Quit" spell. I'm not sure if the motivation of the "Dark Tower" are ever flushed out. They were not in the first half at all. You just have monsters killing you because they are evil and they choose to kill you and ignore the other residents. There is very little description anywhere. It is just hack, slash, hack, hack, yawn. Missions are just handed out with no regard for why. Go kill this monster! Why? Because he's evil and I said so! Often the missions are not engaging and why they couldn't send out some regular soldiers long before you arrived is quite illogical.

Bottom line, the people here are just plain incompetent! I have no mercy for them. They deserve to be wiped out by the army of darkness. They are often rude, stupid, and lack any depth whatsoever. Why any rational group of adventures would stick around and help these one-dimensional people not just leave this land is beyond me.

One thing of mention is balance. The player mentions you can start with a level 1 party. Perhaps this is so, but then why are there items like Mithral Chain Mail readily available? The designer really needs to pick what the shops sell to match the level of the party.

Let's talk about dungeon design. The author REALLY needs to play some good scenarios for right now, he does not have clue. The towns are often designed illogically and I think it mainly has to do with the lack of motivation on the designer's part. For instance, there is a city called Coz which has a barracks that is none other than an EMPTY room that takes up the entire northeast corner of the city with NOTHING but beds. I'm not exaggerating there either.

The author comments in his readme:

Finally, many hostile dungeons may not make sense at first. Keep these things in mind, and they will.

I'm afraid I must once again disagree. The dungeons are little more than big fights taking place in hallways connected by doors and secret passages. Why any logical person would create such structures is a question that I lack an answer to. A good dungeon should have beds, places to eat, armories, and other appropriate facilities. All the dungeons have here are generally just wide open spaces and hallways.

The author seems to have a certain affinity for secret passages. Now secret passages are great and all. I use them a bit, but not to justify everything as a logic puzzle. There are very few logical challenges in the scenario that do not in some way involve secret passages. For instance, to see the leader of one city you need to find a secret passage to his throne room. Of course, the only thing between you is a closed portcullus. No reason for why other than it's just there to annoy you.

Now, I don't mind secret passages. But does entering every dang dungeon have to involve them? I tend to get hard on designers for using too many lever puzzles. This scenario yearns for the lever, open the gate routine! And in my opinion: That's pretty bad.

While on the subject of dungeons, I happened to uncover a dungeon called the Demon Maze (not imaginative I know, but I'll touch on that later). Basically it was nothing more than navigating through a bunch of tunnels. At the end you reach a portal only to be informed that you are not going in here because you have "no idea where it will take you". It was not long after that the Quit spell came into play.

Remember when I said the people in this realm are all one-dimensional? Well, I was not exaggerating. Far too many people you talk to say one or two things. Every merchant simply says "I sell this." and nothing more. This is acceptable in moderation, but none of the personalities, not even the main ones seem very interesting. I really did not feel like risking life and limb to save a bunch of biological robots.

Coming back to the plot, I must say that it REALLY needs some work. As I said, you are pulled into this mysterious realm by some wizard. Of course, he does not bring you directly to him and feels the compulsion to test you. It would have been nice if he would have said "By the way, I live in that tower in the northeastern section of the land past some town." Rather than doing that, you have to FIND the tower by asking around and paying an exorbitant sum of money to learn where your wizard friend is. Of course, your contact tells you little more than "Go east!" which is quite frustrating. Mentioning a few landmarks along the way might have saved some time. Needless to say, I was almost ready say "screw you!" and go back from where I came.

A lot of missions handed out suffer from the problem of giving inappropriate directions. For instance, one said go help a city south of here. Telling me the name would have been nice as would telling me that it was WEST not south would have also been nice. The next was "sanctify an evil altar northwest of here." As I said, there is no explanation of why, and the instructions are horrid and sometimes downright wrong. This was the main reason that I decided to abort this scenario among other major flaws.

There is one award this scenario would win if it were offered. I call it the 'least imaginative name' award. Basically most of the towns in the game were some variation of Tower/Valley/City of Evil/Horror/Demons or such. I'm not sure how many Caves of Demons or Crypts of Horror or Towers of Evil I smashed my way through. The monster names were involved the same amount of imagination being called Servants of Darkness and the sort. I sincerely recommend picking out some better names for things.

After all this harshness, I offer some advice. There was clearly effort put into this scenario and I can see by the amount of dungeon design and such. However, things need to be seriously improved and more beta-testing must be employed. My suggestion for the author is to give up designing scenarios until he plays some solid adventures to see what defines a quality scenario. After this, start over and begin designing something worth playing.

Btw, if I see another dungeon called the "Dungeon of Doom", I'm going to quit immediately.

My Score -- 3.6

- Stareye