Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dungeon Saga Adventurer's Companion Revised Edition

Now Mantic has gotten themselves into a little pickle.  Instead of being able to bask in the glory of releasing an excellent Dungeon Crawl boardgame relatively close to the original kickstarter due date, they have managed to get caught in a ton of pointless unforced errors most which could have been trivially dealt with either proper communication and/or a minor bit of effort.  Now I have covered that 19 of the 42 promised scenarios from the basic pledge vanished before going to the printer without notice.  Some(12 of the 19 by my count) we have been told will appear next year, the rest I guess only Mantic knows.

The list is almost long enough to seem nefarious but a lot of the items are so minor that Mantic most likely just does not pay attention.  For example all the pledges were supposed to get 8 hero mats for the first 8 of the 10 heroes.  During design they assigned some of these heroes to specific expansion campaigns and moved their mats into those.  Now that is fine for retail but the backers where getting different packaging and packing anyway so their was not extra work including all eight cards for all people.  At worst, the way packing was done some might have ended up with a couple of duplicate cards if they bought the main pledge and 1 or 2 expansions as the main pledge plus all three extra expansions was a special shipping carton anyway with its own packing list.  So they anger their customers over something that really would have cost them almost nothing to do right in the first place.

I can go down the list but this post is about the Adventurer's Companion expansion that was part of the core pledge and in many backer's eyes a key part of the package that we helped to raise a million dollars to fund.  Now the poor Adventurer's Companion has three problems in the eyes of many backers any of which would have been annoying but probably a write off but when combined make the item just a drag on people's attitude to the kickstarter and mantic as a whole.

The first issue I highlighted in the graphic at the top.  So in the campaign if you pledged 200+ dollars they said that they would upgrade your adventurers companion to a hardback version.  Now note that the text in the figure says that the hardback will also include the Dungeon Journal which was a kickstarter exclusive book that had bonus missions, kickstarter exclusive characters and Dwarf Kings Hold rules.  That probably doubles the size of the book and seems to make for a right nice little bonus.  You could also buy it separately for 30 dollars.  Mantic is currently claiming that the figure is an error and that it was never supposed to include the Dungeon Journal.  They add that the two different books are different size formats and could not be combined.  Maybe that is the truth.  I do not recall ever being told one was this size and one was that size and anyway that is why borders exist.  What I do know is that they used that same image three times during the campaign, had 6 months between the campaign and the pledge manager to correct it, and a second pledge manager window later to correct it.

They never did.  In hindsight, the second they did figure out their was a mistake they probably should have started brainstorming a compensation plan like refund or add on swap for people who bought it outright and some kind of small bonus figure for people who got it as the 200 dollar reward. It is a pretty big mistake to promise people a book twice as big as you plan on delivering but instead of anything like that they decided to pretend like it was nothing and they never meant that and we must be daft for thinking it.  I personally think that they are both legally and morally required to produce the book as shown and provide it to us at no addition charge.  I have no expectations of that happening as Mantic has made it clear that is just not economically feasible and there are no practical recourses for forcing a resolution.  I have already told them that is fine, I will just take the value out of their reputation.  So to sum of my feeling what Mantic should do is print the promised book and ship it to backers, what they might due is offer some token compensation, and what they will probably do is nothing.

The next issue does not just apply to the highest backers willing to put in 200+ dollars for a game that they have barely seen info on.  It gets everyone who got the basic pledge also.  So Mantic apparently forgot to do the final page proof check or get samples made before the full pressing since every single companion is littered with stuff like this:

Furthermore, all Spell cards that
are not currently the right way
up may be rotated a quarter turn
(see page xxx).

So layout forgot to put the reference page numbers in, they also left in some [insert image] and place holder text.  All of that is unfortunate but they got farther than that as some of the rules and critical info got messed up during some changes making characters have the wrong name for feats, missing advancement info for ranged attacks, all the monsters not listing their ranges, elves having no armor but 2 combat values.

So now backers are left with a book so full of errors that using it will just cause confusion.  Mantic provided a partially corrected version as a pdf through updates but missed most of the corrections that matter to the game and even an XXX or image insert still.  The example above is pulled from their corrected pdf.  It took me forever to find it by just searching the document for XXX using the pdf search function.

So now my collectors hardcover is half the book I expected, but also full of errors that can take considerable effort to figure out how to handle.  Now the minimum they could possibly do here is correct these typo errors properly.  They have already done less than the minimum by not even getting that correct the first time.  Again the proper thing to do here is to reprint the item and send it to the customers but while it might be cheaper to do a softcover and send to all the customers it still amounts to probably 15 dollars a backer due to the shipping and packing costs which is probably not going to work for Mantic's bottom line.  Mantic has said some type of announcement will come Friday but they said something along the line making a correct version available.  Given that they probably do not want to send the book in retail channels this way a corrected version was probably already going to be available but who knows maybe they think these errors will be fine at the retail level also.  I have seen worse books before but it has been a while.

So for this part my feeling is Mantic should again provide the corrected version to backers free, but I think they might offer it for sale to backers at some reduced rate when they do a reprint, and at the zero level they must provide a properly corrected pdf.  Each backer is going to respond to this differently and that is a personal choice. 

The last area for concern of the Adventurers companion in the actual content inside.  Even if Mantic goes in and fixes everything that could honestly be called a typo or a layout error or a poorly implemented notation change the book has serious holes in it.  The Dungeon Saga Boxed Game is pretty limited in that it has 4 heroes who are used in all 8 of the real missions (2 training missions which each use 2 of the heroes to teach the game do not really count).  The levels of control on the missions go so deep as to describe every skill, spell, and item the heroes have so the play is not really flexible on that level.  Their is some variation in cards the overlord might have available during certain missions but each mission beginning at the same point every time.

The Adventurer's Companion was supposed to help this with "Advanced Rules".  Now Advanced Rules means different things to different people but I will only talk about what I think are pretty basic things that backers expected from the book.  The first thing it does reasonable well is allow for custom character creation.  The rules have some issues but most of those I think fall into the typo set probably or some basic FAQ.  I will say that it is again clear that no one really looked at this deep in the editing stage as serious issues appear very fast but they can be sorted.  So now we can make a character and take him on the scripted missions.

Now the changes for those characters were also scripted so we need something to replace that called the Campaign Rules.  Here we have to again think about the nature of the game.  In Dungeon Saga the Overlord is not a neutral storyteller moving the heroes through a series of adventures.  He is the villian out to destroy the heroes.  So he really cannot be in charge of the world.  So to deal with this, all the standard stuff that the storyteller would do during the times the characters are not actively fighting monsters is reduced to some cards and tables.  It is all pretty straight forward but a campaign is not all about the time spent going to and from the battlefield and chasing wenches at the inn.  The campaign includes the parts with the actual danger and that is where the adventurers companion goes well off target.

You can run new heroes through those same 8 adventures again but that will probably not be very rewarding so what help does the book give you for this issue.  The book has three sections to aid in this, the first is called Uncharted Dungeons, the second is A Dungeon to Call Your Own, and last is the Bestiary.

Uncharted Dungeon is a card based system to generate and populate a random dungeon and provide the heroes with a random goal for the dungeon that the overlord does not know.  That sounds pretty interesting, random is never as good as expertly crafted but hopefully it has some promise.  Well the whole thing goes sideways pretty fast in my opinion.  While the dungeon can be built with a little bit of guidance using the card mechanics most of the information the overlord needs is pretty weakly defined.

There is no guidance on constructing the overlord card deck outside a total card number that makes completing the mission if played under than standard rules very very challenging.  Now the cards that make up the overlord deck vary in power.  Does the overlord get to pick them?  Does he select them at random from all available?

The next question the overlord encounters is how many commands does he get per turn.  Normally this is defined in the scenario.  The more commands he has to work with the more minions he can have active at one time and the harder it is on the heroes.  It does not even list a value as far as I can tell for this.

Next comes the populating the dungeon part and for this it is at least specific.  The card tells you how many points you have for minions in a zone (it is listed as levels but that is a hero thing and not related to this), you can have up to 4 identical minions that come from the same line and overlord card or bestiary entry.  The points on the cards vary from 3 to 15 which means any section can contain something as weak as 3 skeletons who have 4 movement and attack with 2 dice or 2 werewolves which have 8 movement and attack with 5 dice.  Now it seems to me the challenge those provide to different groups of heroes is going to be very different.  So different in fact that maybe a totally random number of points is not the best idea.

Finally we have the Boss for the dungeon.  Each of the dungeons is supposed to have 1 or 2 boss models which are sort of like an Evil Hero in the control of the overlord.  Sounds like fun to use.  How do I make one.  Well that is sort of covered for some of the races as they can be made like heroes with races and classes and levels.  Great that is not to hard lets look at an example.  No examples in the whole book of any Boss of any race.  Well lets just figure out what level to make him.  No guidance there either.  Well he should probably be a similar level to the heroes but their are four of them and only one of him.  So lets assume the overlord decides a level and sits down to make an undead boss since that is what the minions in the base game are.  What is the undead race template?  It is not there.  Well I guess I can pick a boss from the base game or make a living necromancer.

That seems like a lot of choices for a boardgame that is not supposed to be a RPG and most of them on the Overlord who is supposed to be the competition and not a neutral storyteller making an interesting tale.  Since there are so few missions in the main game I can see people trying out the uncharted dungeons pretty earlier in their playing of the game and maybe the unknowns will be easy to sort once you have experience and judgement but this is a little much for just starting out.  I also swear there was talk of having the Overlord gain levels and him having a real campaign but if he gets to make all these decisions with no guidance not sure how that works.

I again get the feeling from this that no one actually took this book and tried to play this.  They might have done it from another description but not this one.  They appeared to have made a fine system for building the dungeon and deciding what the heroes are trying to do but left everything else up to the overlord.  Balancing something like this verses Hero levels is not trivial but it is also just not reasonable to put in place no frame work for a system.  The Overlord has 4 things to control which will heavily influence the play ability with no guidance.

The next section is called A Dungeon of Your Own.  It is all about designing your own dungeon.  Well this certain is getting more toward RPG side.  If the Overlord designs all aspects of the dungeon he cannot really be the opposition anymore.  Well lets just list the basic steps:

1) A narrative idea.
1) An interesting arrangement of tiles.
2) Appropriate inhabitants.
3) Lots of testing.

Look another one of those pesky typos but not really it is joke from the author about how you have to do both those things.  The first 3 seem fine but the last one is a little strange.  Lots of testing.  I for one do not normally play a scenario even one I design myself to a level I would call lots.  Well maybe this section has some good information extracted from writing many scenarios.  Well there is certainly something written on those pages.  It is very inspirational about all the different things you can do.  Not much in the way of concrete guidance on stuff.  The author does say something about looking a Threat but I am not sure what that is.  My guess is that it is the levels that I called points in Uncharted Dungeons but no real description on how to turn threat into challenge based on character levels or abilities.  So like many of the questions we had with the Uncharted Dungeons not many answers.  Oh here is a little box:

If you’re thinking about
dungeon design then
you should also try the
Uncharted Dungeon rules
on page 74. These may have
ideas you can incorporate
in your own design, or
spark completely new ideas
of your own. Either way,
they’re worth a look.

That was what I was just reading a minute ago that left me with tons of questions about how to make it work for some specific set of characters.  This section honestly looks like a great introduction you write before starting into some concrete examples taken from the 40 or so mission prepared for the kickstarter.  He talks a lot about getting the Hero/Villian balance through testing so if it is so important maybe it should not have been ignored in the previous section.  It also appears very written from the point of view of the game designer trying to make dungeons to be played by thousands of players as opposed to a guy trying to take is buddies on a fun run through the dungeon once.

The final section related to the action parts of the campaign is the Bestiary section.  This is were all the rules for non heroes go plus the rules for making the Bosses using a race template match an evil group.  This was supposed to be populated for the KOW range during kickstarter with lines like this in the stretch goals:

 We will also write in the rules and stats for the Kings of War range of Orcs and Goblins in your Adventurer’s Companion

So lets look at the table of contents I will note the number of distinct entries also.

Forces of the Abyss........84  (8)
Boss: Lord of the Abyss.. 85
Abyssal Dwarfs..............86 (4)
Boss: Abyssal Dwarf....... 86
Basileans........................87 (5)
Dwarfs............................88 (6)
Elves..............................89 (5)
Ogres..............................90 (4)
Boss: Ogre...................... 90
Goblins...........................92 (6)
Boss: Goblin................... 92
Orcs................................93 (5)
Boss: Orc........................ 93
Undead...........................94 (13)
Piles of Bones................. 95
Dungeon Dwellers..........96 (3)

So 13 total pages with a good number packed into that limited space but they all seem pretty short.  Pretty surprised that the Abyssal Dwarf range is 4 types big.  I think also the Dungeon Dwellers being limited to Giant Rats, Giant Spiders, and Bat Swarms while being classic types is a pretty short list.  I know I was hoping for more.  Here we can see how the races that are not standard Hero races have Boss templates so you can make a Orc Boss using the standard Hero rules but not a Undead One.  Given that the base backer have mainly undead that is a little short sighted.  This section also lacks any guidance on how to create over lord decks for these groups.  This should be a major distinction and while races that show up in expansions have some cards the others have no guidance.  As the overlord cards are what give the minions character some suggested cards for their decks would be great.  So again they give you some information but leave a lot more up to the Overlord and players than I think is really optimal.

The last key section of the book to touch on is the invisible Overlord Section.  This is a card driven system to replace the real overlord with a set of tactics and targets for the monsters to do.  This section is very hard for me to judge some people say it works great some people say it does not.  All I can say is that it does not appear very clear to me.  This section would be greatly enhanced by on the board examples either in the text or already prepared in a digital form.  It is complicated enough with 7 Threat Classes, 5 Tactics, and 6 Monster characters that a flow chart or Invisible overlord panel would have been a great idea to help people order the processes in their minds.  This is another section that I do not think was properly gone through in this form.  It might have been tested plenty from a rough draft or something but this form I think is problematic in presentation.

I also mentioned that their was supposed to be an overlord side of the campaign but that is pretty much not existent.  If you build a Boss you can put him through the downtime system but if the heroes win he will not advance and the tradition in these games in not the exact same Boss on every mission so the heroes will quickly outstrip him as they collect levels and magic items.  Ofcourse since the uncharted dungeon has no way of generating dungeons balanced to the characters it does not seem like their is an obvious place for the Heroes and Bosses to compete at the missions to gain the levels and such any way.  I think many people envisioned a system where the overlord picked up new minions and stuff to control as the heroes advanced so he could match them with some rewards for winning a mission or two.  Not really anything like that.

Now since Mantic needs to go in and fix the book some they can also go back and look at these issues and while there at it they can clean up a few of their other missed goals by adding the Witch and Dwarf Engineers that were promised as distinct classes as something.  The Witch could be a Example Boss and the Dwarf Engineer could be a Hero of Mantica if it is to much work to actually do what they said they were going to do.  Then add a few more monsters from the new expanded KOW 2 ranges.  Then they might have a book that is worth getting people to reinvest even a little and not feeling totally like they were just buying the same book twice because Mantic messed up the first one.  I think uncharted needs either ranges or scalings for the commands, minions, and bosses based on Hero levels or some type of point buy system which would also be helpful to make the design your own dungeon from a use your best judgement to something closer to a board game.  Currently Mantic created a solid system for making the leveling characters in a storyteller free setting but left us with very little structure to fill in between naps.  Unfortunately this is probably real work and since Mantic has already funded 3 kickstarters after Dungeon Saga and already has our money I doubt it will get done.  Plus if they say they are doing a revised edition before the current one has even hit retail it is not going to sell as people will just wait.

So I think Mantic should go in and improve the book to bring it more in line with backers expectations, I expect mantic might provide some guidance in a FAQ for some of the glaring issues, but I doubt Mantic will admit that this is not the book they promised and do anything along the lines of a proper revision at any point in the near future (1 year so).

I would go digging back through all their posts to study what they said they were going to do and hunt down videos of people talking about it but Mantic I have found just ignores that sort of stuff and it is not really going to do any good.  It has been over two weeks since I clearly demonstrated that the infernal Crypts expansion was supposed to be 8 not 6 scenarios in length and they have said nothing on the topic.  When they do respond I have not found that their response having any evidence and have even found that they can be show to be incorrect in minutes of checking their pledge drive updates.  The ball remains in Mantic's court nearly two weeks after I expected some type of action.  They really have not even gotten to an apologetic posture and currently preferring the confrontation.

Sorry for the long winded discussion.  I will review the base game in the near future when it shows up.

Here someone tries the Solo and Uncharted Rules I discuss above:

Update Mantic announced it reprinting the book to fix just the typos.  No additional content and no adjustments to rules or anything.  You only have to pay a nominal shipping charge of I think 4 dollars to get another copy of the book.  The sad thing is I  am not sure if it worth the 4 dollars.  The typos are stupid but not my core issue with the book.

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