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Subject: "On second thoughts let's not go to Swinecustom Castle" rss

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Are you aware of the dangers foxes pose to you and
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Help, I'm being held prisoner in an overtext typing facility! I don't have much time, they could find out at any m
I'm that weirdo whose number of badges sold prior to yesterday Bail Organa is keeping track of
The game begins with the Primordial Age. It's not entirely clear whether you're supposed to roll three or four times for events ("repeat three times"), but I'm going with three.

The first event is an underground river, and it's not at all obvious how to interpret the various results on its special table, but this doesn't matter a lot since the river mostly just sort of creeps across the page and it's in fact not going to have any effect on the game whatsoever. The second event means placing two mithral ore deposits, and the third adds a vein of gold. I suppose I could have drawn that in yellow instead of red since I have all the colours at my disposal.

The Age of Civilization begins and as recommended I'm going with dwarves for my first game. To decide on a name, I flip through a dictionary of foreign words and names, randomly hunting for likely nouns that I can combine. And thus is the realm of the Firetree Clan founded. (I later discover setup should not be counted as a year, but the difference is negligible.) After year 2, one treasure has been stashed and the population has grown by one.

The progress of the dwarven civilization is fairly deterministic. In years 3 and 4 they build workshops and the great vault of Coinladder Hall, respectively. They got the name out of a dictionary.

In year 5, the exploratory shaft is constructed. This is supposed to extend from your main shaft, but since this doesn't really make sense the way I expanded the mines, I put it under one of the deepest mine chambers instead. Nothing is found. I'm not entirely sure why they did that.

Year 7 sees the construction of the Hall of Records, which is just called the Hall of Records. Major burst of creativity there, dwarves. In year 8 they make up for this while building the big City of Leadgrove. Though I was kind of thinking of the whole thing as a city already, but I guess the exact scale of things is up in the air.

The last bonus room is the hidden vault with two free treasures, or at least I think they're supposed to be free. It could be, like, art objects. In year 10 the dwarves decide to go all out with an exploratory tunnel, and find something. They don't like this thing at all. They decide to pack up and leave. It's that bad. Here's what their realm looked like at its peak:

The Great Disaster that follows is three caves with plague in them. Which no one has found yet? The dwarves weren't going to stick around until that happened.

This is the beginning of the Age of Monsters, where things get kinda sketchy. Year 1 means setting up four groups (because in this age, setup is a year).

Group 1 is the surface kingdom. Throughout the age they multiply and build farms and do nothing else.

Group 2 is the delving Root Goblins, although they're actually hobgoblins. They set up shop down in the abandoned mines, appropriately enough. They mostly just mine along the gold seam, getting attacked a few times.

Group 3 is the breeding Death Fungoids, a faction I had to make up. Their special power was supposed to be that when they kill an alpha predator or a large wandering monster they gain 1 population, because of spores growing in carcasses or something? This never mattered since breeders can't kill alpha predators, and in the end, weakened by strife and lack of treasure (mushroom monsters need money to be scary and numerous), the fungoids achieved mutual destruction in the last year of the age with invading transdimensional fiends.

Group 4 is a lone owlbear, originally making its lair in the remnants of Coinladder Hall. Because owlbears love things like reliefs and sculptures.

Much like the newcomer of year 2, an ogre magi, the owlbear spends most of the age getting chased around the map and seldom holding on to treasure. They only fight each other once, and it doesn't result in a casualty. The ogre magi sometimes makes his home in the City of Leadgrove which offers some swanky accommodations for an alpha predator on the bum.

In year 3, a special feature is discovered. More specifically, a Shrine of Law that I suppose was built by the dwarves? Or by someone else? Was the Age of Civilization a really long time ago? Well, it's there anyway.

Group 4 is another breeder group, the Half-shrub Giants (please ignore that the group numbering is a bit off from here on). They contribute to the eradication of the fungoids but otherwise do little in this age. Group 5 is yet another breeder group, the Steam Wyrds. I have no idea what a wyrd is. They try to harass the hobgoblins but in year 6 surrender the final treasure needed by the goblins to end the Age of Monsters.

Here's what things look like after setting up the Thought Lord Cult for the Age of Villainy (and we're back to setup not being a year):

In year 1, the cult tries to infiltrate the hobgoblins but fails. This is bad news not only for the cult which loses one unit and must eat their starting prisoner, but also for the goblins. The humans launch their first expedition, just barely reaching the goblins and wiping them out, but failing to reach any treasure down that path. They go back up and build a city. Everyone else does nothing exciting. This year's adventuring group (strength 5) is utterly destroyed by the giants.

In year 2, the cult successfully infiltrates the wyrds. The surface humans launch another expedition which falls to some giants. The position right before sending in the second adventurer group:

The adventurers (strength 4) find and slay the owlbear, the wyrds and the giants in that order. By the time they encounter and defeat the Thought Lords as well, they have amassed 19 treasures! And the game technically ends there, although if given a chance, the adventurers would also have slain the ogre magi, all without taking any losses (and should probably have picked up the last accessible treasure right after killing the giants). No one found the dwarven vault, or the plague for that matter. The shrine was found but not used.

My expectations for How to Host a Dungeon were largely formed by the characterization of the game as built on procedural generation, with comparisons to Nethack and Dwarven Fortress. This suggests to me a game that would allow for player input within limits, then hit you - perhaps even surprise you - with the consequences of that input as ground through the gears of its system, the key not being whether event determination and resolution is random or causal but that one set of specifics should turn decisively into another. In concept, that's not something I would mind at all. With HtHaD I felt that the gap between input and output was too short and too transparent, and that many specific features offered no feedback into the system, leaving fuzzy and general procedures to work on a general game state.

It's difficult to say how close my interpretations and practices were to the intentions of the designer. In most cases I guess it doesn't matter because you're supposed to make your own judgement calls and play the game the way you like it, but there were times when I felt I was effectively deciding what was going to happen by choosing how to proceed. One thing I may have done wrong is that I respected the dungeon layout established in the Age of Civilization too much and effectively had only one stratum, instead of starting over with new caves and tunnels and just re-adding old rooms as needed. There were other goofs and missed opportunities, though I think no major ones.

My favourite parts were the earliest and last stages. Creating the basic map and adding the dwarves was pretty fun and matched my expectations fairly well. As I proceeded through the Age of Civilization I felt a lack of variability but also meaning in the expectation that I was laying the foundation for events in later ages.

The Age of Monsters wore out its welcome quickly. It was partly that the rules were often unclear and poorly organized (the rules for encountering especially are a scattered hodgepodge), but I also felt that resolving the actions of the various groups was not particularly satisfying and I dreaded having to add new ones. I suppose I could have run through this much quicker though if I hadn't been committed to drawing it all on the computer (there were at one stage more pictures and detailed commentary than what made it to the final report). I was quite relieved that the hobgoblins managed to gather enough treasure before someone could mess with them and keep things piling up.

I liked the Age of Villainy better even if part of this was simply that new groups were no longer arriving and existing ones could even be neutralized by the mind flayers. I wouldn't have minded if the game has gone on for another couple of turns, to reveal if the villains could have conquered the giants with some unwitting help from the humans, but neither was I devastated that it ended early with some lucky rolls on the part of the adventurers.

I would have liked to see more tables with specific events, factors and characteristics, and more detailed specifications for monster behaviour especially. In general, I would want for consequences to ripple uncompromisingly from specific choices and circumstances, for putting partitions between necessary player input to set up situations on the one hand and the subsequent resolution of those situations on the other, and consequently for the sequence of events to be more of a discovery and less of a decision. That's not to say there isn't currently potential for such discrete events, but too often in my game I felt the groups and territories formed an amorphous mass that I was being tasked to poke to make it slither in one direction or the other, rather than a teetering aggregation of discrete blocks that could occasionally collapse into new and unexpected constellations.

In summation I'm afraid the game did not live up to my preconceptions, that the parts I did enjoy somewhat for what they are ultimately had limited payoff, and that even though I thank the designer for sharing the game I don't believe I will play it again in its current form.
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Nicely written report, thanks!
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