I’d like to thank Krist Anthony Almario who sent me a review copy of this book.
I reviewed Four Against Darkness a while ago, and though I’ve had little chance to actually play it, I still find the game an interesting option if you’re stuck by yourself and are still itching to do some tabletop RPGing. The trick with a solo RPG is creating the illusion of a game master (story guide, referee, dungeon master, or whatever you want to call it). Four Against Darkness in its basic form does this fairly well if you’re looking to do a classic Dungeons & Dragons style ‘dungeon crawl.’ If you’re looking to recreate other aspects of RPGs, you’ll likely need to look further. This is where a lot of random charts can help.
There are several expansions to the original game, and I’ll admit, I haven’t read many of them. I believe some deal with overland travel (Four Against the Titans, if I’m not mistaken), while at least one deals with exploring an alternate dimension, making potions, and wooing demons (The Courtship of the Flower Demons). With this new book, Tournament of the Undead Viscount, Krist Anthony Almario takes your characters to a dark and rotten city far away where a mad ruler pits adventurers against each other in bloodsport.
There is a story aspect to this adventure. It’s not just round after round of brutal combat. However, it does feature round after round of brutal combat. It seems very likely that this would be a good way to get all your characters killed. And once you get in, you’re pretty much committed until you’re dead or you’ve won the tournament.
The book has some special rules for running a tournament, dealing with the damages (mental and physical) your characters are likely to accrue. It also gives you a way to recruit new team members if that’s something you need to do. The new rules seem fairly clear. Though I think you could get away with only having the basic Four Against Darkness, it would definitely help to have a copy of Four Against the Abyss, and there are places where several of the other supplements would help.
Due to what I expect will be a high death toll, I don’t know that I’d choose to run my characters through this adventure, which brings me to how I’d probably work it into my game. Above I mentioned that you might have to look beyond the basic game to recreate some of the experiences of playing in a more traditional tabletop RPG, like being pushed or pulled in a direction you might not have thought of yourself. I could see creating a chart to roll on between playing various scenarios. On this chart I might put various random events, like “targeted by thieves” where I roll to see what items get stolen from your inventory, and then decide if I want to create an adventure where my characters go and get the item back or get revenge or whatever. Or I might add “rich uncle dies,” and have a sub-chart of both lame and interesting items that might be left to one of the PCs. Then I’d put “receive message from Viscount Visfefan.” If I roll that, bam! I start this adventure. As the adventure feels a bit like you’ve been kidnapped, because once you get the message from the Viscount, you’re pretty much locked into the fight until you win or die. (I’d also probably add the inciting incidents of other adventures I might own on this chart).
Though the tournament and the combats within are the focus of the adventure, the thing I found most interesting was what you could do when you have downtime. There are a great many locations in the Viscount’s city, each with colorful characters, secrets you can learn, or bits of story. By visiting these locations that you can learn about what’s really going on, who everyone is, and where you can get some cool stuff (even some new player characters). These locations are the saving grace of the adventure. Without them it would just be like playing Mortal Combat. With them, you can come out of the adventure with a story to remember.