Four Against Darkness

Four Against Darkness cover showing four heroes discovering treasure in a dungeonI grabbed this game in PDF a while back and had a little dabble, but it just didn’t click with me. Not so long ago I had a notification from the publisher Ganesha Games that the game had been revised and when I looked again I saw a few changes and a lot more support. With the recent spate of lulu.com vouchers I thought I might give it more of a go if I had it in print, so I bought the core rules and the Caves of the Kobold Slave Master module.

This is a small format softback book with a few pieces of black and white art inside. The colour cover captures the tone of the game – we’re off on a big dungeon crawl! The book has 2 pages of content listing and no index and after a read through I feel could do with some reorganisation. Following the RPG standards of intro, character creation and equipment we jump to How Monsters Attack, then the tables for generating dungeons – but after that a mix of encounters, spells, wandering monsters – it could just have done with a little more structure.

Photo of game materials - rules, character sheets, monster tracker and graph paper
All set to go dungeoneering. Rules, character sheets, monster tracker and graph paper.

Even with a thorough read through this lack of organisation was initially a hindrance during play as it was tricky to find what I was after e.g. elements of combat are spread across the How Monsters Attack and later Encounters section, but after a few encounters it became much easier. There really isn’t too much to it system wise.

Character classes include the four bastions of OSR gaming: Warrior, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard. We have Elf, Dwarf and Halfling as race as class and Barbarian thrown in for good measure. The classes all feel distinct and bring various strengths to the game, but because it is so simple one Warrior feels very much like another.

Photo of rule book and created characters
Grimhault, Talmar, Xavier and Midigya ready to adventure. Character creation is very easy.

The mechanism for building the dungeon could’t be simpler – grab some graph paper, roll a D6 and draw the matching dungeon entrance. Select which path to take, then roll for the room that appears. There are 36 room and corridor options in all, rolled with D66 (i.e. like D100 but with D6’s). The room or corridor (which are mechanically a bit different from rooms) can be oriented in any direction and there is guidance on how to handle overlapping rooms and rooms at the edge of the paper. Once the location has been added roll 2d6 on the Room Contents Table; this can give anything from empty rooms to treasure, traps, vermin, minions, weird monsters, boss monsters, special events or special features. Each has it’s own table to determine what happens – maybe an encounter with some goblins, a Medusa or a cursed altar. There’s enough variety here to give some interesting outcomes – bribing monsters, fighting, effects on the party, quests, and magic items, certainly enough to add variety for a few play sessions.

Map of the dungeon half way through
Half way through the dungeon. The rules give handy icons to track progress and know what is in rooms when you reenter them.

Combat and actions are resolved by rolling a D6 (with 6’s exploding) – if you attack a monster roll D6 plus an Attack modifier (Warriors add their level, Clerics add their level vs undead, Rogues add their level if the party outnumbers their opponents). If you roll the monsters level or higher you kill one vermin/minion or one hit point of damage to a boss or weird monster.  Multiples of damage can be caused with lucky rolls – a series of 6’s could kill a boss monster with one attack. When you are attacked you have to roll over the monsters level on D6 adding your Defense modifier for armour, shield or a class bonus. If you fail that character loses 1 health, with some monsters causing other effects such as poison. Actions and Saves are resolved in a similar manner, for example a trap might have a level of 4 which must be rolled on a D6 to avoid.

Combats are quick, however they aren’t the only choice when an encounter occurs.  You do have the option to negotiate with some monsters which can result in them asking for a bribe to let you pass or them fleeing the room. If you negotiate and they choose to attack then they strike first in combat; because of this I didn’t negotiate at all and became the ultimate murder hobo. Once a combat is over you may be able to roll on the Treasure Table which can give anything from a few coins to gems, jewellery, scrolls or magic items.

Wizards and Elves are limited to six spells but include the classics of Fireball and Sleep. A choice of 3 spells is made per dungeon although this can be expanded by collecting scrolls as treasure rewards. Clerics have 3 Blessing spells and 3 uses of Healing per dungeon as well.

Photo of game in progress
Mid session disorganisation – I need a bigger desk.

Besides all this there are wandering monsters, secret doors, clues and hidden treasures. Wandering monsters can appear when exploring an empty room or as a special event. These are nasty as they always get first attack and if you are in a corridor they attack the two party members at the back – often your weakest characters. Secret doors, clues and hidden treasure can be found when searching an empty room. While these all have different game affects clues are the most interesting as when you have three of them you get a nice bit of information such as the location of a magic item.

At some point in the dungeon you will encounter the Final Boss – the chances of this increase as you defeat more bosses and weird monsters and if you explore all of the rooms in the dungeon the Final Boss is in the last room. This boss has one more hit point and attack than the usual bosses, but lots more treasure. After defeating the boss you will want to make your way back through the dungeon to the entrance; it’s likely you will do this but you may well encounter wandering monsters.

As you adventure characters gain experience and can level up. Each time you defeat a boss or weird monster or defeat 10 minion encounters roll over a characters current level to gain a level (two can level with a boss monster). This basic book covers up to level 5 although Four Against the Abyss takes our characters up to level 9.

Photo of characters, monsters and map when game completed
Two World Cup football matches and much dungeon crawling later I defeat the unnamed boss dragon and safely make it out of the dungeon.

The book finishes with some guidance and frequently asked questions and presents optional rules for using FAD as a stand alone RPG, followed by a useful flowchart and quick reference tables.

That’s about it. I really enjoyed playing this game and want to give it another run through while the rules are fresh in my mind – I expect the session to be considerably different. The game has an active community backing it on Facebook which gives an indicator of it’s popularity.

Pro’s

  • Quick to read
  • Simple rules
  • Fast to play
  • Captures Dungeon Crawling Experience
  • Great community

Con’s

  • Rules could do with reorganisation