Monday 18 March 2024

Lindenbaum 2021/22: The Eldritch Key (by Tiago Filipe Costa)

This is part of a series where I briefly talk about the Lindenbaum Prize winners and runners-up. This is a friendly gamebook writing competition, organised yearly by Stuart Lloyd. The entry discussed below was submitted for the 2021/2022 competition and won a Commendation Award. You can find the details of the competition here, links to all entries here, and the announcement of the winners here. Needless to say, all of these are available for free in PDF.

In this gamebook you play a master thief who must steal a dangerous artefact known as the Eldritch Key. Although there are multiple routes to get there, the end game plays pretty much the same, and there's only one "good ending".

The game is set in the lawless city of Makivel, located on Anarlan, the Prison-Island. There's magic and weird creatures, and the game has explicit Cthulhu mythos influences.

The combat mechanics are fairly involved: 2d6 + Dexterity vs. 2d6 + Dexterity, greater wins. Then the loser rolls 2d6 + Avoidance vs. the winner's attack score. If the defender succeeds, they avoid damage. Otherwise, the weapon's damage is deducted from the defender's HP. The character's basic stats are fairly decent, but to reliably defeat the stronger foes (especially towards the end), a handful of items are needed to boost the character's stats. I very much enjoyed the item-hunting aspect, but the endless rolling without any decision-making definitely felt tiresome.

At the beginning, the player chooses three abilities from a list of six (things like lockpicking, dark vision, or clean kill). These abilities can be used when explicitly offered as an option, and they are largely responsible for facilitating multiple ways to get to the finish line.

The writing is all right. It's simple, apart from a few embellishments here and there, much like an adventure game; the emphasis is definitely on solving the game like a puzzle.

The game features 100 sections, and the whole document has about 13,300 words, including the rules and background info. Apart from the fights, there are only a handful of game-ending choices (they can be avoided by gathering info or having luckier dice).

Things to improve upon:

  • the combat system involves too many rolls (this is especially true near the end)
  • the inventory system is nice; if expanded upon, I definitely want more of this
  • it's unclear whether damage from wielding multiple weapons stack (I assume the answer is yes)
  • a few of the "save or die" paragraphs felt too punishing particularly the loose stone block, but to be fair, some of these can be ignored with the right abilities and/or items

Friday 1 March 2024

The Underappreciated Combat Table of Barbarian Prince

Barbarian Prince is a great little game from 1981. James Maliszewski over at Grognardia posted a short retrospective in 2011, and in 2020 Anne from DIY and Dragons wrote an excellent three-part analysis (Map and Layout; Main Menu; Characters, Followers, Encounters, and Combat). It has been recently on my mind partly because of the Drifter series (see my review of the first game here) and a four-part actual play series by the Lone Adventurer.

Today I only want to look at one specific aspect of Barbarian Prince: the combat result table.

The gist of it is this: roll 2d6, add your Combat score, subtract the enemy's Combat score, apply modifiers if any, and consult the chart below to see how many wounds the attack inflicts.

taken directly from Anne's part 3 post linked above

Anne points out how the wording in the original rules is confusing and how the table above makes no logical sense. The Lone Adventurer criticises the rule for a similar reason. I didn't go looking, but I imagine other people being baffled by the above table.

However, this table is actually pretty ingenious. Let me show you a table of the average expected damage results arranged by final modifier to the 2d6 roll.

The first column shows the final result; next to it you can see how many wounds that roll inflicts upon an enemy. The columns after that alternate between showing the percentage chance of a result (given the final modifier noted on the first line) and the expected damage. The bottom two lines show the average expected damage per attack based on the final dice modifier as well as the percentage chance of inflicting at least 1 wound (i.e. the chance of hitting).

As you can see, the average chance to hit steadily increases (up until it plateaus at 83.34%, while also retaining the increase in average damage). The way the table is set up allows the chance to hit
(basically) to follow a gradual progression whereas if it was a standard 2d6 roll (something like 2d6+mods vs a target number), the progression would be much steeper.

Of course, whether the added granularity and hard-capped accuracy is worth having a chart is something we may disagree with; I can at least point out how deliberate the numbers are, and the fact that such granularity can be achieved on a 2d6 roll is just interesting to me in and of itself.