by Matthew Pook
Title: Assault on Darkspyre
Publisher: Hammerdog Games
Written by Danny O'Neill
Illustrated by Ralph Horsley
For their first release, new publisher Hammerdog
Games enters the d20 System market with something that is
substantially different -- at least in terms of format. BBA #2.1
Assault on Darkspyre, the first of the company's two initial
titles, is a dungeon bash for mid-level characters (seventh
level, ideally). This begins a trilogy of Darkspyre adventures.
Both Hammerdog titles are printed in an A5 format, but in order to be
read, they need to be turned ninty degrees from the standard portrait (vertical) format
to the landscape (horizontal) format.
Inside, the adventure is text heavy and without any art to break it up.
Writer Denny O'Neill has also drawn the maps, using ProFantasy Software's
Campaign Cartographer 2 program. This makes the maps easy
to read and allows snapshots of the dungeon rooms to copied and pasted
alongside their descriptions in the text. As well as being an extremely
useful touch, the map snapshots also work to break up the text in the way
that proper illustrations would have done, were there actually any
Assault on Darkspyre is designed as a "BBA" or "Building Block Adventure."
The intention with this concept is that each adventure can be used with any
fantasy setting, but to be honest, this is not a new feature in the burgeoning
d20 System market. The default setting is Hammerdog's magical
world of Denoa, the details of which can be downloaded from the company's
website. The second acronym to be
found in Darkspyre is "ABC," which stands for "Adventure Block
Card." Each ABC contains an addition to the material that falls under the
Open Gaming License, whether it be a monster, trap, magical item, or rules chart.
Throughout the adventure, the ABCs are referenced at the appropriate point, and
because they are placed at either the beginning or end of the book, the ABCs are easy to find and use.
The final major design feature in Assault on Darkspyre is
the sidebar that runs down the left hand side of each page and contains
icons that explain the details of the room at a glance. These icons fall
into two types: those that are standard throughout the adventure, and
those that are particular to an individual room. All of these features make
Darkspyre's unique format intuitive and simple to use. In fact, the
"room at a glance" sidebar explanations are an excellent new design
feature. Hammerdog deserves praise for those alone. However, a side effect of these innovations is that the book is perhaps a little
busy upon the eye.
The only art for Assault on Darkspyre is Ralph Horsley's excellent cover,
which actually shows Darkspyre itself. It is this daunting fortress which the
party must sneak into and sabotage in preparation for an assault by the army
encamped below it. Darkspyre is actually the tower of Archmage Malkanai, and
appeared in the midst of the mountain in the northern part of the nation of Kula,
a few hundred years ago. This was a great affront to the nation, which had signed
a Compact Against Sorcery, outlawing the use of non-divine magic within its
borders. Ever since its appearance, the armies of Kula have attempted to storm the
tower and punish the Archmage for having a different lifestyle, but to no avail.
Enter the players, under arrest for crimes against the same Compact Against
Sorcery. General Kaga, the current commander of the army besieging
Darkspyre, informs them that he can alleviate their sentence, if not
handsomely reward them, if they can enter the tower and disable the
defences. The General heretically believes that the only way to counter
the magical defences of the tower is to employ users of arcane spells and
items -- like the characters.
Via a secret route and through the use of a magical map, the party can
penetrate the defences and explore the lower part of the tower. The
dungeon has the feel of 1st Edition AD&D with just the
faintest murmur of a nod to Empire of the Petal Throne.
Their final objective in this first part of the trilogy is the control
mechanism for the barrages of cannons that blast huge piles of rocks down upon the besieging army.
Overall, this is a tough adventure and quite deadly should the party take
a wrong turn, but should provide three good sessions of play. It is thus
reasonably priced at $8.95. Yet what really sets Assault on
Darkspyre apart from the rest of the herd are the clever design
The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance