Monday, 29 May 2017

Dwarf King's Quest: The Last Word

The battle reports are done, but we still haven't tapped out the well of WoffBoot XI

I apologise for the nature of these photographs. The hour was late, and there may have been beers.

With all the players in the same country for once, we finally play the epic conclusion to Dwarf King's Quest: Only One Gets Out Alive!

The title seems to imply that all four adventurers must fight each other, with only the last man standing (or dwarf, or lady-elf) free to escape the dungeon (now that would be a quest), but it's a little more conventional than that: a great big dungeon with Mortibris, the evil necromancer, waiting for us behind the final door.

This quest is pitched as a finale, using every tile and every miniature and every stick of furniture in the game. It also uses every Command Card, so unless we get seriously bogged down, time isn't going to be a consideration.

Being the end of the line, it removes the usual defeat condition: the quest doesn't end when one of the heroes is crippled. As long as one hero is left standing at the end, the adventurers win.

To spice things up, we agree beforehand that there would be no replays of this dungeon: either Kraken would stop us, or Leofa and myself (Stylus) would prevail.

Hello, I'll be your Evil Overlord for the evening. Kraken's the name, and coming into this with an unbroken streak of losing every game I'd played over the Woffboot Weekend, I was really looking forward to chewing up some heroes. 

Quest 8: Only One Gets Out Alive!

The final quest begins and we are tooled up for it! Especially the Dwarf, who has acquired Grund's magic hammer to make him smashy as well as tanky.

The level opens onto a bunch of skeletons and revenants (each section is more or less populated by theme), along with a weapons rack (that contains nothing better than our current kit) and some barrels (that we never bother to open).

Without delay, we fall into our usual routines: the Wizard throws out some hexes (by now I have three to choose from) on the closest Revenant, and the Barbarian squashes him. The Dwarf blocks off a corridor, smashing up a Skeleton for good measure, while the Elf shoots off another Skeleton.

We've got enough momentum by this point that the meagre amount of Skeletons the Overlord can resurrect isn't going to slow us down, and we head for the easiest door to open and reveal what is beyond (disappointingly, every door leads to the same section, which questions the point of having so many).

There was much talk from the heroes of how easy it all was, and how much time they had. Excellent, I told myself, steepling my hands. Yes, the easy starter room proved to be very little of a speedbump. All the same, they weren't hurrying anywhere, and even took an extra turn to finish mopping up my mouldy dead. Knowing how far they had to go, seeing them take six turns to clear through the first room left me optimistic, even if I hadn't scratched them yet. 

While we get organised for the next assault (the theme in this room is Zombies), the Dwarf pops open a chest to snag some more potions (our satchels are already clanking with the amount of potions we're carrying) and we clean up the rest of the Skeletons, leaving only a single pile of bones in our wake.

(Amusingly, this pile of bones resurrects into a Skeleton Archer and spends most of the rest of the game slowly plodding after us, never quite catching up and taking potshots where it can.)

(We even named him - Carlos the Jackal Skeleton, the lone sniper. He died as soon as he caught up with the wizard, who had grown tired of being occasionally shot.)

Without enough activations to swamp us (zombies are really dependent on numbers to get threatening), the Overlord backs his minions against the two double doors (again, leading to the same room, which seems door redundancy).

The Barbarian was our point man, and I think we used his feat to level the field when the Zombies made their play for him. Other than that, our usual combination of hexes and attacks clear the room without much fuss - hardly any feats or potions used so far, and only a couple of wounds taken.

Gah - I always forget about the Whirlwind feat! 

Behind the double doors lies the Zombie Troll section - all three of them. This should be an intimidating prospect - whenever we've stumbled in this campaign, there's usually be a Zombie Troll involved - but we're old hands at this now, not to mention supercharged. Moreover, the dungeon has obligingly put each Zombie Troll in a different tile, meaning we can deal with them in detail.

The first Zombie Troll gets one-shotted by a spectacular Burn spell (albeit boosted) from the Wizard. After that, we hex and isolate the other two, and they both go down.

It happens so fast, I neglected to take a picture of it. Take my word for it: there were briefly three Zombie Trolls in the image below.

Meep. Now I was starting to worry a little. I was attempting to marshall the trolls together in one room, where they'd have been much more of a threat. But they got picked off one by one before I could manage it, in a hideous display of heroic efficiency.

Bashing aside the two Skeletons and Revenant who guard the next doorway and we're presented with - shock - a choice of pathways! Either go directly to the crypt room and open the door marked 'X' (top-right of the image), or divert into a side-chamber (and bottom-left) which contains a chest.

The 'X' door is a key milestone - once we kick that down, the 'clock' stops - even if we run out of Overlord Command Cards (another traditional way of failing a level), the mission continues until either Mortibris is dead ... or we are.

But with plenty of Command Cards left to draw, we're feeling cocky. We also guess that the chest might contain something worth making the diversion.

While the Overlord raises undead in the crypt room, we advance down the corridor to whack the Skeleton Archer guarding the chest.

It's at this point we actually get delayed a little bit, mostly due to judicious use of Command Cards (not least the Delay one). Some Skeletons unexpectedly appear around the Wizard and we have to do some shuffling around the single-file corridor to deal with them, keep the others at bay, and still make a play for the chest.

By the time we do get ourselves sorted (the chest contains a few potions to add to our pharmacological collection), we're running ominously low on Command Cards left to draw. So while the rest of the party catches up, the Dwarf barrels in alone, knocks aside the last guardians, and takes down the door marked 'X'.

Just two cards to go, in fact. I was glad they'd made it, an instant win victory for me would have been very hollow. All the same, I was hoping they'd have been a bit more scuffed by now. A wound off the Barbarian, who resolutely refused to regenerate it for the entire game, and a couple off the Wizard, but not a single healing potion used by this point. Minions! I blame you!

To reveal the Big Bad of this campaign: Mortibris the Necromancer!

The final door is gone, so one way or another, it ends in this room!

Ol' Morty clearly values his privacy. Waiting for us in his inner sanctum are a mere two Ghosts, plus some scattered bone piles.

A reasonable amount, to be fair. And I'd been hoarding my command cards, so I could have resurrected all of them in a single turn, but the heroes were smart and made sure they'd opened the final door at the start of their own turn.

Unsuspecting, the Wizard and Barbarian dive in first, each planting themselves on the closest bone pile while our heroes assemble.

And the Barbarian had better get comfortable, because he gets immediately hit with a Darkness spell that both incapacitates and immobilise him. The Elf gets hit with a command card that leaves her dreaming for a turn, but half our party are already out and - oh look, he's raising Dwarf Revenants.

Thanks to the Wizard's magic, we manage to weather the storm and vanquish both Ghosts before they can cause too much trouble.

We also Brisk Work the Dwarf up into the room, who decides he's had enough of this nonsense and goes directly for a whack on the Necromancer.

Mortibris - who is exceptionally fragile in combat - hits back with Unspeakable Fear, which makes the Dwarf about-face and run out the room (ya wee chicken!). The same spell had been case on the Wizard earlier, but since he couldn't get any further from Mortibris, the effect was moot.

The Necromancer can only stall for so long - our heroes finally gather together and unleash as one. The Elf uses her feat to clear obstructing undead, then ping some wounds off Mortibris, then the Wizard summons some righteous flames and incinerates him.

"Watch out! He's hit us with the out-of-focus hex!"
Mission over, campaign over, the heroes triumph!

(but of Mortibris ... there was no sign....)

Back at the Tavern

Well it was a big game, and a long game, but the time flew past, so we certainly enjoyed ourselves (all being in the same room and not having to play over Skype certainly added a pleasant dimension to the board game, and I can see that style of play catching on).

It was nice to see my opponents face to face for a change! And just as nice not to break my losing streak for the weekend. Bah.

In terms of the actual mission... hmmm. I don't feel we were particularly lucky during the game, but none of our characters ever fell below half-wounds, we never came close to depleting our resources and, considering some of the sticky moments we've had in other dungeons, we never once felt under pressure.

A few problems with this:

  • The dungeon may be huge, but we take it room-by-room, and there's nothing in there that we aren't well-practised at dealing with (the three Trolls, for example).
  • The heroes are really pumped-up by this point. Speaking for the two I was playing, the Dwarf is nigh-invulnerable and also hits pretty hard. The Wizard has a great range of interchangeable and complimentary spells, plus the ability to cast plenty of them. His physical vulnerability remains a weakness, but after 10 missions, it's easy to protect him (unless you're under time pressure)
  • Which comes to the next point: using all the Command Cards (in keeping with the 'use everything' theme) gives us plenty of time to deal with things. The best missions have been the ones where we had to race through the dungeons and, by doing so, leave ourselves exposed.
  • Mortibris is far too squishy. I know spellcasters aren't meant to be tanks, but if Grund can have a magic cloak that makes him impervious to spells and arrows, Mortibris should have something similar. Despite the spells at his disposal, he was just too easy to take down.

So while I appreciate the 'greatest hits' style of having a final dungeon with everything included, it felt more like a pleasant trek than a tense finale. I think we were both working through each room systematically and waiting for it to kick off, which it never did.

I strongly agree. From my point of view, having everything in use is sort of nice, but you're not factoring in the way that they get used. If room one is denuded of skeletons by the time the heroes leave, why not stick more on the map further in? If you can't place them, you lose them (or use bone piles instead). Same for the Zombie Trolls, and for goodness sakes, some more effective bodyguards in the final room would have been a no-brainer.

Okay, having a full hand of cards means I can bring plenty to bear. But against undamaged heroes with packs brimming with potions, the final game was a foregone conclusion. Mortibris is very deadly, his spells work well together and can cause a lot of problems for the heroes. But only if they're unable to work together, and Leofa and Stylus were much too well-practised at coordination for me to disrupt for long.

The theme of 'Only One Gets Out Alive' is a good one, except we weren't trying to escape the dungeon, pursued by Mortibris' wrath - it was a straightforward 'kill the end boss' mission. Fleeing the dungeon might have been a better take, given the adventurers are so used to keeping each other alive for maximum efficiency.

It felt like the Overlord really had a uphill struggle to even kill one hero in this mission. It would have been better to throw open every door in the dungeon, put all the minions on the board and doubled the number of activations. At least with Mortibris on the table from the get-go, he would have felt like more of an antagonist. 

Another alternative would be to scrap the dungeon tour and just have a great big fight almost immediately (maybe with a choice of doorways or side-chambers, to make it interesting). Mortibris could be surrounded by undead or bone piles (his honour guard really was pathetic) along with the three other flunkies (I know we beat them before, but they're undead - they can resurrect). Having to smash a pathway through to Mortibris, while dealing with the Elshara, Hoggar and Grund, would have been suitably epic and would actually have picked off a couple of heroes.

An early fight against the boss plus a massive wave of enemies, maybe give Morty an ability that allows me extra activations for nearby undead, and then a timed escape through a collapsing dungeon - that would have said epic finale to me. This was an on-rails shooter mission, more of a dungeon tourism routine that lets the heroes really shine but against limited odds. 

This may sound unduly negative, but of the seven previous missions we've played, only one of them was a real dud and half of them were proper nail-biters. I think this one just tried to do too much and, ultimately, was just too damn easy. We could play it every time with surety of success - and there are alt least three other missions where I would not say that!

I wouldn't say it's unduly negative. I'd say this level was a clunker, slow and dull with nothing of the pizazz it deserved. Might try writing my own, next time...

Still, it's nice to complete the campaign, Of the Dungeon Saga box sets, I'd still rate it the best one so far (that said, if the Warlord of Galahir can rustle up a decent finale, it might take the lead),

And a final thanks to Kasfunatu for the loan of his Dungeon Saga set - I still haven't painted my doors.

Sigh - give them here. 

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