Posted by : David Guyll September 01, 2010

Late last night we cracked open Ravenloft to give it a shot. By "we", I mean two people that have played a lot of D&D (Liz and myself), and two people who either had a long time ago or only once. I decided to start us out with the scenario where we had to find and kill Gravestorm, a blue dragon dracolich. As the only person that read the Rulebook I had to explain how things worked to the players, which at first was confusing but after a few turns they started to pick up on the routine.


There was also some *ahem* issues at the start of the game as everyone frantically ran into differing edges in order to avoid drawing Encounter cards, which backfired when they invariably dropped tiles with black triangles in addition to when everyone was in a separate corner fighting off hordes of monsters on their own. By about the fourth or fifth turn we'd regrouped and started sucking up Encounter cards since we were more likely to survive taking a random point of damage or getting a random shot at free treasure than tackling a 2 hit  point wraith or blazing skeleton. In the end we succeeded against the dragon, partially because I kept forgetting to remind the players that it activated on everyone's villain phase, but also because we unloaded dailies on it while Liz ran around and broke the phylactery.

Having finally played it I can say that I really, really like this game. It's a lot like D&D if it were abstracted. Hit points are reduced to around 6-10 (most attacks deal like, 1 damage), the only defense value is Armor Class, and monsters don't have speeds, instead moving in "tiles" in order to close the distance and fuck your shit up. In a similar vein, powers with ranges also work the same way, allowing you to target enemies on another tile, or sometimes two tiles away. Many effects get changed as well, such as healing strike actually healing damage, or healing word working only once. I think this will be our new game of choice when someone can't show or no one wants to run, instead of doing a delve.

There aren't a lot of character options, and as I said before I'm hoping that Wizards releases an expansion in order to broaden the scope in terms of scenarios, characters, monsters, etc. Failing that, it looks like it would be relatively simple to create your own monsters and character cards. Hell, if you've got a massive minis library (or tokens)  you can directly use them since the game uses D&D Minis anyway.

The monsters are all pretty diverse: some of them are more dangerous when they are far away, such as skeletons with their slice attack or burning skeletons with their ability to nail everyone on a tile. Wolves are also nasty if they get a running start. Gargoyles are brutal in close quarters, able to hit everyone on the tile. Actually aside from villains the only thing we didn't get to fight was rat swarms and howling hags. I'm not fond of the kobolds at all. They seem very out of place and I'd have been happier with having vampire minions or even devoted cult fanatics. Hell, dire rats would have made more sense and been about as scary. They could have replaced the kobold sorcerer with a wererat of some kind and BAM, instant theme.

Liz absolutely hates the leveling mechanic. As I said in my review, you have to roll a natural 20 on an attack or trap disarm attempt and have 5 XP worth of monsters in the bank. I didn't mind so much as three of us managed to level before the game was over (only Devin's ranger didn't make the flip) and it was a fucking life saver. When you level your hit points and defense goes up and you get another daily attack. Not only is that a very potent boost, but it seemed to happened when we needed it the most: Devin was getting fucked up by three monsters, and thanks to my level-up was able to use an attack that hit all the monsters, dealing damage on a miss. That basically took care of two automatically and since I hit the last one, I was able to clear out all the monsters and save his ass.

A lot of fun. I was surprised that we'd managed to succeed, especially since my past experience with coop games like this almost universally ended in disaster. It wasn't easy (and might have gone differently if we'd had the dragon go every time it was supposed to, but hey, first time and all). We're going to play again today with a new scenario, so we'll see how we fare this time around (and I'll try to get pics this time).

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