Best Of Both Worlds? For Shizzle, My Drizzle.
I’m convinced that there is some secret order of fantasy writers, perhaps a guild, that endeavors to come up with the most absurd character names imaginable. Maybe it’s a bet, akin to Trading Places, or something. I mean, even the true classic fantasy and sci-fi novels have truly bizarre names like Bilbo Baggins, Tom Bombadil, Aes Sedai and other memorable monikers. Tom Bombadil sounds like an Indian bloke you’d be connected to after calling your credit card company or something, for example. I mean, if Jim-Bob Crank carved the balls off of Sauron with nothing more than a butter knife, would he be any less heroic because he’s not named Lionheart Steadfast or some such nonsense?
The worst part is that not only is this guild of poor name creators still alive and well, they’re just getting worse. Enter Drizzt Do’Urden. Despite the name, our beloved Drizzt is a fantasy staple, with R.A. Salvatore crafting several amazing books about the noble dark elf’s adventures. All that being said, and true, this article isn’t about dumb fantasy names. This article is about a game, and The Legend of Drizzt (LOD) is precisely that: an awesome fantasy game that happens to be about a character with a really dumb name.
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What makes the D&D Fantasy Adventure System series, of which this game is the third incarnation, so brilliant is that it’s infinitely replayable and totally customizable. While some people require handholding and need to be continuously led like sheep to the shears, some people have this amazing thing that only a loving God could bestow upon an entity: imagination. This underutilized gift allows some people to create incredible scenarios, fearsome adventures, and parallel worlds for brave adventurers to explore, pillage, and potentially fall to. The built-in adventures are great, no doubt, but beyond that the game series is a veritable Swiss army knife that provides the tools to develop your own adventures within the confines of the existing rule set. And it does so surprisingly well.
Ravenloft’s strong points were the themed tiles, the strong, integral and cohesive theme, and the fact that many of the treasures were useful items that you could lug around to fell the evil beasts within. Everything in the game seemed to scream, “Your party is totally in a vampire’s castle, hunting vampires!”
Ashardalon, on the other hand, didn’t make you feel that way in some ways. It had far more of a generic theme on the surface because the room tiles were generic, but it had chits to make any room less so. Also, in retrospect, the monsters within seemed less cohesive as bears, cultists, and demons all seemed to live together in peaceful harmony, which seemed a bit weird. The monsters were certainly more interesting, they just didn’t all seem to fit together. Further, the treasures were generally only situationally useful, and most were one-time use items, which kind of seemed antithetical to the idea of a dungeon crawl where you pick up items to then perpetually buff out your wee battlers.
Fortunately, Ashardalon made up for its few shortcomings by having a better system. It had a new “chamber” mechanic which allowed you to add complete rooms onto the board once the entrance was found, it supported doors, and it had a random adventure system within that allows you to create quick, fun, and mostly unique adventures on the fly without spending time authoring a “module” or campaign. Speaking of the campaigns, the true majesty of Ashardalon is that it contained a built-in campaign system complete with shops in between adventures, and all of the treasures had price tags on them. While this caused a slight conundrum because Ravenloft’s items do not have price tags, not to mention that Ravenloft uses two item decks where Ashardalon uses only one, it is a minor niggle at best.
Now, what makes this iteration better than Ravenloft and Ashardalon both is that Wizards has taken some of the best features from both, namely the strong, cohesive theme in Ravenloft and the improved rules and campaign system of Ashardalon, and then mixed in its own new flavors for a wonderful game that will certainly be remembered as the best of the batch. There are some aspects that I feel they went backwards on, such as the fact that there aren’t many chits that you can add to a room to make it more thematic, but they are overwhelmingly overcome by the improvements.
The first, and single most important improvement, is that the adventure book is no longer just a bunch of throw-away generic adventures. These adventures re-enact some of the great battle scenes from the R.A. Salvatore books, with some artistic license, but also have competitive, deathmatch, and “survival” mode type games. This is the biggest departure from the old formula, and it’s brilliant. No longer do you have to all play do-gooders trying to win against the game; now you can attempt to race to the finish as opposing teams, and in one mission you explore the cavern until one player transforms into a disguised assassin, who then changes teams and “goes Cylon”. All in all, it’s great that Wizards has finally shown a little more initiative and imagination in coming up with out-of-the-box scenarios that aren’t simple runs through a cave to kill a superbaddie.
Another neat change from the other games is that there are terminations and portals built right into the game’s design. No longer do your maps have to be linear; now there’s these “fissure” tiles which can act as portals between areas, making for more complex designs, let alone saving you table space since you can now make more compact designs rather than long, skinny hallways. The fissures also can act as “spawn points” if you want to play a survival mode type adventure, or if you want to play through an adventure where monsters are squirting out of the maw of the earth to stop you from finding the +5 MacGuffin of Great Interest. In short, there’s a lot of neat tools in this toolbox that improve upon the other games in a lot of ways.
While the other games had five heroes, LOD has eight heroes to choose from. A major difference in these heroes, though, is that some have the new “stance” ability which allows them to place a marker on a card and gain an advantage during combat. It’s a neat change, and adds some more strategy to the combat formula that has served the series well thus far. Two of the heroes, a mercenary and an assassin, are both playable characters as well as Villains, meaning they can be played in most games by players, but in others cannot because they’re an adversary with their own Villain card who plays a role in the story the adventure tells.
Additionally, there are now “allies” which, like Ashardalon’s NPC cards, can add some depth to a game. Five of the playable characters can be brought into the game as allies, complete with their own AI cards telling you how they act. Two other allies are beasts that are sidekicks in the novels, Guenhwyvar (see what I mean about dumb fantasy names?) the black panther, and Snort the warthog. Unfortunately, the rulebook literally has not a single mention of the ally cards and how these actually get played, and the Adventure Guide makes little reference to the cards as well. This is the one major oversight in this game; the allies could have been fleshed out far more in the rules, although it’s pretty clear that you activate them exactly as you would monsters.
I’ve not actually mentioned the components yet, which I probably should at this point, so how about I do that now? Inside the box you get a couple of hundred cards, all of which are the usual awesome production value you’d expect. As far as game terrain, there are four large 2-section tiles, one of which is a start tile and three that are destination tiles, and then 32 normal tiles, most of which are fairly plain but some which are named tiles with artwork. The newest thing here is that all of the tiles are “cavern” tiles, which look like tunnels. This, unlike its 2 predecessors, is not made up of wide open layouts. This is a much more claustrophobic game. The tiles also have their own “pile” markers for monsters to use; this time it’s mushrooms that act as the bone piles did in Ravenloft. Finally, the terrain has just over twenty cavern terminations, four of which are the fissures I spoke of earlier.
As for the other bits, there’s a ton of chits and markers, as usual, so I won’t get into them all since most are similar to the previous games, such as trap, treasure, item, and other markers. The newbies are the “Stance” markers, which are used to place on player skill cards to indicate your character has changed his stance, as noted earlier. There are no new “Conditions” in this game, only the “Immobilized” and “Poisoned” markers, so there’s nothing new to learn here. One neat new thing is the inclusion of treasure chests. These can be put into rooms to be looted, and each has text on the back that indicates what you’ve found. It’s a bit like the coffins from Ravenloft, but it does add a bit of excitement. Of all of the new stuff, though, the single best improvement is in the models themselves.
The models in LOD are outstanding. The biggest big baddie in the box is the Balor, which is a total rip-off of the Balrog from Lord of the Rings. It’s outstandingly detailed, but with many keep-out areas, it’s going to be a bear to paint. More bad news: It’s the Legendary Evils model that costs thirty bucks if you want to buy it. In total, there’s 40 minis in the box, all of which are awesome, and some are that clear blue plastic that accepts acrylic paint perfectly to allow for a translucent look. My only complaint is that the figs come in six colors, which means that unless I prime them, it will be a pain to account for the base color. If you do decide to paint, remember to use a white, heavy primer like Armory primer, and whatever you do, DON’T FORGET TO WASH THE FIGURES FIRST! I’ve screwed the pooch more often than I’ll admit here by forgetting the simple step of dunking this style of mini in hot soapy water and rinsing well before painting. Don’t follow in my footsteps.
In short, all of the bits in this game are outstanding, as usual. I especially like, or maybe dread, the big purple spider creature. The model is just plain creepy. But I love it. The parts all punch out of the sprues perfectly, with no tearing at all, and they bag up quite easily if you sort them by size and shape. It took me maybe twenty minutes to tag and bag them all, in fact. I wonder at what point I’ll just get a big Plano box to contain all of the bits for all of my D&D Adventure System games, since 75 percent of the bits are common to each set.
So here we are, at the end of my article. I usually get into the rules and the feel of the game, but because this is simply the next iteration in an astonishingly good series, I’m just going to pass on that. This game plays identically to Ravenloft and Ashardalon in virtually every way, with the only real differences coming in the form of the “Stance” mechanic and the new competitive, race, and hidden traitor adventures.
I simply cannot wait until I get the chance to draft a huge campaign that starts with my nizzle Drizzle escaping the clutches of Glitterdoom the Purple Dragon (no, Glitterdoom isn’t actually a purple dragon, but in this game, he’s made of purple plastic) only to have to defeat Ashardalon and his horde of Cultists in order to obtain both the map to the hidden entrance to Count Strahd’s keep and the Sun Sword, the only artifact known to be able to defeat the fiend.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: LODis good in its own right, as was Ravenloft and Ashardalon, but you have to look at all of these sets as an ever-expanding toolkit to craft your own epic adventures. It’s D&D light, to be sure, and my only singular complaint is that I truly wish that Peter Lee, head designer of this series, would have had the foresight to design some level four and five player cards for each of the eighteen characters that are playable in the series. Being limited to level two when the game now has campaign rules just feels a little cheap.
If I play through ten adventures in a campaign, I’d like to be a little more meaty than what amounts to a squire being upgraded to a foot soldier. I understand that the games are not meant to be “Dungeons and Dragons”, but even games like Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel that have been around for twenty years have the ability to buff your characters with more experience.
I’m hoping that Wizards will eventually start releasing small, twenty or thirty dollar supplemental expansions to this, complete with new characters, new monsters, and maybe even some campaign books to be used with the series, sort of like what Days of Wonder did with Memoir ’44 or, perhaps more apropos, like FFG did with Descent. The biggest barrier to entry for these games rests on the fact that not everyone is looking for a toolkit.
Some people want a game that can be played fifty times, right out of the box, and they’re not looking to have to invent their own scenarios. While there are always scenarios up at the Wizards site, I’d really like to see a fifteen to twenty dollar perfect-bound Player’s Guide type book that has a bunch of cross-game campaigns. All of the tools are there, it’s just up to them to put it into use.
What Makes Legend Of Drizzt Legendary:
– The theme is entirely cohesive this time, and the models are outstanding
– Varying scenarios make for greater replay value
– New, exciting mechanics really spice up the series and make this the best of the bunch
Why The “Swedish Chef Theory” May Be Right:
– I’d have liked more ‘named tiles’ or room markers to vary the Underdark more
– Too many one-time use items like wands water down the campaign “buy options”
This is absolutely the best in the series from every perspective except theme, and that may be because I’m not a Drizzt fanboi. I think Ravenloft still feels the most thematic, but the fact is that this game stands on its own as a dark adventure through the tunnels of an underworld city. Great bits, great theme, and truly innovative design of the adventure book make this a must-buy for fans of the series as well as a solid choice for a newcomer to the series.
I’d almost recommend Ravenloft over this due to the fact I love how well the theme fits the gameplay and the bestiary for that game, but this gives you so many options on how to play that this is clearly the best in the series as far as value. All that being said, if you hated Ashardalon or Ravenloft, I wouldn’t expect you to like this. I can’t see how you couldn’t like the series, but if you don’t, then this isn’t for you.
Check out the game here, at Wizards of the Coast’s site:
I’d also like to point out that before this article, I knew little about Drizzt Do’Urden (hurnde hurnde hurnde) so I obtained a copy of the latest book from R.A. Salvatore, Neverwinter. Wizards sent it to me along with this game. From the perspective of a guy whose only forays into fantasy novels, meaning swords ‘n sandals versus spaceships and ray guns, I have to admit that the guy can write. It’s a really interesting book, and I’ve subsequently gotten the previous book in the series as I’ve kind-of gotten into it. Still, I sure wish there’s be a Jack Whittaker as a hero sometimes, because trying to pronounce some of these absurd fantasy names can get old really, really fast.
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