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Reviews - Assault on Darkspyre
 
by Matthew Pook


Darkspyre cover Title: Assault on Darkspyre
Publisher: Hammerdog Games
Written by Danny O'Neill
Illustrated by Ralph Horsley
Price: $8.95

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 present.

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 innovations.

The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance


 

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