Arto Hietanen
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The D&D Adventure System features already three different games, all following a similar set of rules making them compatible with each other. The original Castle Ravenloft (CR) was followed by Wrath of Ashardalon (WoA) and the latest game in the series is called The Legend of Drizzt (LoD). If you have just heard of these games, the first question that pops to mind is then which one of the series is the best. Which one should I buy, if I'm only going to buy one of them? Well this review is me trying to answer that question. This is not a review of the system rules, so please read some other review to decide whether the Adventure System games are for you.

I first bought WoA, and as an old D&D player who no longer has the time to play roleplaying games and rarely has the time to play even board games with friends, I was overjoyed by the fact that you could have a D&D-like dungeon romp experience even when playing solo! So I soon bought the other two games for more scenarios, monsters, heroes, well more of everything. Now that I have played all of those games for some months, I'll try to articulate what are the differences between these Adventure System games.

Heroes: The LoD has eight of them compared to five heroes in the previous games, and the LoD heroes have the most interesting abilities of them all. On the other hand, I don't like the power creep that has happened with the heroes (they are more powerful than the heroes of other games) which makes it harder to mix and match heroes from different sets. I prefer a classical adventuring party class selection, and as these heroes are from Salvatore's Drizzt series books, their classes match those of the literary heroes (no wizards or clerics here!) and the fact that they are known heroes with quite a lot of pre-selected abilities, somehow they don't feel that they are your characters. So actually I prefer the more generic D&D characters of WoA and CR with their more D&D-like class selection of fighters, wizards, clerics, rogues and such.

Tiles: LoD tiles are the best, no doubt about it. I like that there are some game mechanics attached to them, so finally the dungeon layout means something. There are also named tiles, which are good for homemade variants. The only negative thing is that I would have preferred them to be named Dungeon Tiles as in the other games, which would allow mixing them with other tile decks. WoA tiles have end-game chambers and also a long hallway mechanic in addition to generic (read: bland) tiles, but a lot of the tiles are scenario specific, which means that in most games they just sit in your box, unused. That is not a very smart design decision. There are also too few named tiles, which are always nice even if there is no game mechanic attached to them, as they tend to strenghten the theme of the dungeon. CR tiles are too open and they lack all gameplay mechanics, so every tile is pretty much like every other tile. The saving grace of these tiles is the huge number of named tiles, like the Arcane Circle or the Rotting Nook, which makes creating home made variants for these tiles easy. So this area of the game goes to LoD with WoA and CR trailing behind.

Monsters: LoD has also the best monsters. The fact that the monster deck includes stalagmites (no monsters), hunting parties (a pair of monsters) and tough mini-villains like the Troll makes for more variety than in the other games. WoA on the other hand has sentries, which are monsters which call for help instead of charging the heroes. This is a good and interesting mechanic, but there are too many of them when on average every fifth monster you encounter is a sentry. Also the aberrant theme of WoA gets pretty old quite fast, I'd rather fight undead of CR or the drow of LoD instead of, say a grell or a gibbering mouther. That said there are also humanoids ands animals in the WoA as well, but they don't really feel like a cohesive bunch of monsters. So this I give to LoD, then CR, then WoA.

Treasures: The original CR had quite weak treasures, most of them being beneficial events instead of a D&D staple, permanent magic items. WoA then overcompensated with its treasure deck, with all the items being magic items. It almost seemed like the CR and WoA decks were supposed to be mixed together. Last the LoD game had a pretty balanced deck, with a good mixture of beneficial events and magic items.

Encounters: CR has the harshest encounters of them all, with several cards that inflict up to three points of damage to a hero. However they are very fitting to the horror themed Castle Ravenloft and they do a good job that you feel the the Vampire Lord of the castle is watching you progress to his home, trying to constantly throw nasty stuff at the heroes to stop them for good. WoA has encounter cards where you wander into the area controlled by some humanoid clan, which makes you seed the monster deck so that the chance of encountering the said monsters increases greatly. Some of the LoD's encounters were the first to have a tie-in with specific tiles, making bad things to happen to thosee in selected tiles and unharming those who had taken care to avoid the potentially dangerous places. All in all I don't have a real favorite here, all encounter cards do their job as intended.

Scenarios: This goes to CR. Scenarios range from escort missions, to stopping the monsters from escaping the dungeon, to all heroes starting isolated from each other. LoD has also some variety, and also some scenarios with opposing teams, but I still rank it below CR in scenario variety. WoA has the weakest scenarios, but on the other hand it has a (very light) campaign mode and it also features a pretty good generic scenario which has a random victory condition mechanic via the chamber cards.

Difficulty: I think that the difficulty is pretty much spot on on the CR. The game feels very hard and unrelenting in the beginning, but when you learn to play better, the game is very much manageable. LoD (due to powerful characters) and WoA (due to abundance of magic items) are too easy. When you are playing against the system, you need to feel the danger, or otherwise the game feels like you just go through the motions for one hour and then win. So I prefer a win ratio of about 50 %. Of course all these games have easily tweakable difficulty level and even with the default rules winning is never 100 % sure, it's just that the newer games are somewhat easier than CR.

Variant mechanics and compability: Even though I have rated these games for rules as written, as an owner of all three I have to say something about the possible variants they allow and how well they mesh with each other. LoD performs worst in this matter, as I have in earlier paragraphs said, the tiles and heroes are not so compatible. Also the extra tokens that come with the game, like the chests, while nice are nothing spectacular. CR and WoA tiles and heroes are interchangeable and they both have useful tokens which I use in all scenarios: the treasure and monster tokens. The treasure tokens need some work to use, but they can be used to diminish the amount of powerful magic items in WoA and so on. But the best thing for variety is the CR's monster tokens, it does add lot to every scenario when you don't know how many monsters lurk in the darkness. Sometimes the tile you explore is empty, but sometimes there is a posse of monsters (now we need the wizard with his fireball!). And as the token ratio is such that the expected number of monsters is just slighly over 1, you can just substitute the default of 1 monster/tile with drawing a token, and the difficulty level does not still get too high. So in this area, my favorite is CR, then WoA and LoD comes in as last.

All things taken together, I prefer CR and I think that WoA is probably the worst of the bunch, even though WoA has still some nice things going for it. That said, the differences between the games are minor, and I think that all of them are good games and everyone of them brings something new to the game. Even though CR is my personal favorite, I believe If, and I mean IF, you only can get one and you are not bothered with variants and such and you enjoy the theme, LoD is probably the most well-rounded of these games.
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K.Y. Wong
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Excellent comparison! One more consideration is of course the theme as each setting is very different from the other. If there is 1 theme that appeals more strongly to you, then that would affect your decision.
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Matthew Mesina
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I really disagree about LoD having less scenario variety. The only thing that really outclasses it in CR is the solo adventure. I say this because the ability to play co-op, semi co-op,p v. p, or in teams really constitutes a different feel to different sessions in LoD.

Also, I really don't believe there is power creep in these games for the simple fact that the players can cut the monster deck anyway they want. Add in the extra level 4 characters from "Dungeon Command", for instance. Actually, the allies from DC also further add to the difficulty tweaking. I think the D&D Adventure Series has the greatest range of adjustable difficulty that I can think of, when taken as a whole.

WoA added Curses and Doors also, which are neat additions.

Your review shines in that it makes it all the more clear to me that WoC intends for all these games to be taken a a whole, because each offers a different piece of a larger experience. I actually think that buying only one is missing out on a comprehensive package.
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soberman wrote:
I really disagree about LoD having less scenario variety. The only thing that really outclasses it in CR is the solo adventure. I say this because the ability to play co-op, semi co-op,p v. p, or in teams really constitutes a different feel to different sessions in LoD.

It's kinda like LoD offers different types of games while CR has better variety in pure coop one-off scenarios and WoA is the only one with campaign rules. So really each shows what is possible with the system.

Quote:
Your review shines in that it makes it all the more clear to me that WoC intends for all these games to be taken a a whole, because each offers a different piece of a larger experience. I actually think that buying only one is missing out on a comprehensive package.

Agreed. Also, not using the large number of components (many tokens are used in only 1 scenario and some not at all) to make your own scenarios is missing out on the intended potential of this series.
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Arto Hietanen
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As chromaticdragon said, the scenarios themselves are not as varied in LoD as in CR, but it does have different types of "play modes". That said, it still has the Defend the castle (well actually cave) type scenario where the monsters come from the fissures to a completed map in addition to the generic scenario of "draw n tiles and kill the bad guy(s)".

Also I should have probably said more about the theme instead of mentioning it in passing in the other paragraphs, but I thought that the theme will be quite apparent to new players on a cursory glance of the game box cover.
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Nice write-up!

I strongly disagree about the general power-creep, though (Drizzt, Artemis and Catti-brie aside). I mix and match and don't find any old heroes being outplayed.
While I still haven't gotten around to put up a proper ranking based on game play stats, from the top of my head, I'd go:

..................................
Best of the best - epic, not good
1. Drizzt - no comment
2. Artemis - simply avoids most monsters, can shrug off one hard attack
3. Catti-brie - out-of-turn action, monster avoidance and distance heal
.................................
Top tier - excellent in all areas
4. Thorgrim - good defenses, powerful cards, high-accuracy with healing
5. Arjhan - best defenses, excellent movement with trapping strike, area
of effect attack power
6. Quinn - not as accurate as Thorgrim but at distance. Dailies can take
out villains quickly
7. Heskan - Flaming sphere and wizard's eye
.................................
Good - some limitations
8. Vistra - strong mobility, healing and defense, limited damage
9. Bruenor - good defenses but limited in dealing with multiple foes
10. Allisa - no roll to hit amazing but lacks staying power when solo
11. Regis - excellent with many players, poor solo
12. Athrogate - offensive juggernaut with poor defenses. Once Snort is
gone, the dwarf won't last for long
..................................
Average Joes
13. Tarak - provides one "Wow!" moment once per game, otherwise ordinary
14. Wulfgar - healing at +5 not enough to compensate for AC12
15. Keyleth - better with other players, worse solo
..................................
Goblin fodder
16. Jarlaxle - lacks damage capacity to deal with strong monsters, too
reliant on items
17. Immeril - can be useful when facing clustered monsters
18. Kat - not much going for her

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Arto Hietanen
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Yes, I actually agree with you about the LoD heroes. Not all of them are tougher than the heroes of other D&D AS games, but like you said several of them are by a big margin. So that part of my review could be written better.

BTW, is is possible to edit posts that go through the moderating process (like reviews), if you want to make changes or clarifications?
 
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An excellent and very useful run down of the comparative strengths.

Overall I'd have to agree with your categories and summations, though I have a soft spot for Wulfgar. On a few occasions his >5 HP ability has proven very important.
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kasca wrote:


Overall I'd have to agree with your categories and summations, though I have a soft spot for Wulfgar. On a few occasions his >5 HP ability has proven very important.


Likewise. I never pick the Recuperation (healing) Strike with Wulfgar and always go all offensive with Rampage. Once he's close to dying, he becomes a monster. Reminds me of a certain green superhero of the Marvel universe. If you get the Bracers of Blinding Speed on Wulfgar, he is downright nuts! Four attacks for 2 damage each... It still won't save him, though, since monsters always get the first strike (and usually hit) on him.
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Bartheus wrote:


BTW, is is possible to edit posts that go through the moderating process (like reviews), if you want to make changes or clarifications?


I remember editing some typos in session reports, so it should be possible.
 
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Ian Monroe
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Thanks for the review, it's exactly what I was looking for. Mostly it clarified in my mind that I should probably just pick based on the theme. My wife is a big vampire fan so the choice is pretty clear.
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Graham Martin
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soberman wrote:
Also, I really don't believe there is power creep in these games for the simple fact that the players can cut the monster deck anyway they want. Add in the extra level 4 characters from "Dungeon Command", for instance. Actually, the allies from DC also further add to the difficulty tweaking.


So....because you can make the game harder, presumably to compensate for teh more powerful heroes, there is no power creep for the heroes?

I don't think that means what you think it means!

;-)

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Bartheus wrote:

Treasures: The original CR had quite weak treasures, most of them being beneficial events instead of a D&D staple, permanent magic items. WoA then overcompensated with its treasure deck, with all the items being magic items. It almost seemed like the CR and WoA decks were supposed to be mixed together. Last the LoD game had a pretty balanced deck, with a good mixture of beneficial events and magic items.


I realize I'm very late to this thread, but in theory, COULD you actually combine the treasure decks from all three games?
 
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Arto Hietanen
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Clammy721 wrote:

I realize I'm very late to this thread, but in theory, COULD you actually combine the treasure decks from all three games?

Yes, there is absolutely no problem with it and they work very well when combined. It is actually what I have done, albeit I also use a houserule which divides the treasures into major (value 1000 gp or more) and minor treasures (fortunes, blessings and items valued less than 1000 gp).
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Marty Kane
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Bartheus wrote:
I also use a houserule which divides the treasures into major (value 1000 gp or more) and minor treasures (fortunes, blessings and items valued less than 1000 gp).


That sounds like an interesting houserule. How do you decide when to pick from the major vs. minor pile?
 
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Arto Hietanen
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mekane wrote:
[q="Bartheus"]
That sounds like an interesting houserule. How do you decide when to pick from the major vs. minor pile?

I use the WoA treasure tokens. Picking "treasure" gets you a card from the major treasure deck. If you pick a 200-500 gp token you can at that moment swap it to a minor treasure (which you always want to do in a non-campaign play where gold is meaningless). It is a bit fiddly, but I've grown used to it.
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Glenn Darrin
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Bartheus wrote:
Clammy721 wrote:

I realize I'm very late to this thread, but in theory, COULD you actually combine the treasure decks from all three games?

Yes, there is absolutely no problem with it and they work very well when combined. It is actually what I have done, albeit I also use a houserule which divides the treasures into major (value 1000 gp or more) and minor treasures (fortunes, blessings and items valued less than 1000 gp).


Quote:
I use the WoA treasure tokens. Picking "treasure" gets you a card from the major treasure deck. If you pick a 200-500 gp token you can at that moment swap it to a minor treasure (which you always want to do in a non-campaign play where gold is meaningless). It is a bit fiddly, but I've grown used to it.


Excellent ideas! Thanks for the tip. This will inject some new life into these games for me. Much appreciated.
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Arto Hietanen
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Clammy721 wrote:

Excellent ideas! Thanks for the tip. This will inject some new life into these games for me. Much appreciated.

I have done this to fine tune the amount of treasures the heroes get. This way some monsters have nothing (100 gp in campaign play), most give you potions, fortunes, blessings OR gold (your choice), and gaining a major magic item is quite rare.

In my version the heroes start the adventure with a major treasure and the WoA Dwarven traders boon allows you to buy from 2/1 or 1/2 minor item treasures / major treasures (again players' choice according to the funds they have at their disposal).
 
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Bob Buehler
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Although I don't own LoD, I will likely combine those cards too.

Here's an extract from our campaign rules:

c) The Treasure Items from CoR and WoA are to be combined and divided into 4-level piles:

TREASURE PILE ARRANGEMENTS (AND COSTS)

LEVEL 1 PILE (300 GP):
(1) BURST OF SPEED
(1) CLEAR THE AIR
(1) CRYSTAL BALL
(1) DISTANT SOUNDS
(1) GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
(2) HARROWED EXPERIENCE
(1) HEROIC STAND
(1) HOLY WATER
(1) LEVEL UP
(1) POTION OF SPEED
(2) POTION OF RECOVERY
(1) RING OF ACCURACY
(1) SHAKE IT OF
(1) RUN!

LEVEL 2 PILE (600 GP):
(3) BREATH OF LIFE
(1) EAGLE EYES
(1) ELVEN CLOAK
(1) GLYPH OF WARDING
(1) INTIMIDATING BELLOW
(3) LUCKY CHARM
(2) LUCK FIND (*)
(5) POTION OF HEALING
(1) RING OF REGENERATION
(1) SCROLL OF TELEPORTATION
(1) SURROUND THEM!
(2) THIEVE’S TOOLS

(*) “LUCK FIND” – SPECIAL (LEVEL 2 CARD)
Choose any one of these effects:
Draw (3) Level-1 Treasure Cards, Keep (1) and discard others.
Draw (2) Level-2 Treasure Cards, Keep (1) and discard other.
Draw (1) Level-3 Treasure Card and Keep it.
Pay an additional 500 GP and draw (1) Level-4 Card and Keep it.

LEVEL 3 PILE (1000 GP):
(1) ACTION SURGE
(2) AMULET OF PROTECTION
(2) BOOTS OF STRIDING
(1) BOX OF CALTROPS
(1) BRACERS OF DEFENSE
(1) DAZE
(1) DRAGON’S BREATH ELIXIR
(1) FLYING CARPET
(1) GUIDED STRIKES
(1) HOLY AVENGER
(1) LEVEL UP
(1) LUCK CHARM
(2) MAGIC SWORD
(1) MOMENT’S RESPITE
(1) NECKLACE OF FIREBALLS
(2) POTION OF REJUVENATION
(1) REJUVENATING ONSLAUGHT
(1) SHIELD OF PROTECTION
(1) SCROLL OF MONSTER CONTROL
(2) SHORT REST
(1) WAND OF TELEPORTATION

LEVEL 4+ PILE (1500 GP):
(1) TOME OF EXPERIENCE
(1) WAND OF FEAR
(1) DWARVEN HAMMER
(1) DRAGONTOOTH PICK
(1) STAFF OF ELEMENTS
(1) WAND OF POLYMORPH
(1) RING OF SHOOTING STARS
(1) CROSSBOW OF SPEED
(1) THROWING SHIELD
(1) VORPAL SWORD
(1) BLESSED SHIELD
(1) PEARL OF POWER
(1) GAUNTLETS OF ORGE POWER

d) If at any time an Encounter Card (or the quest) says for you to draw a treasure card; draw either from the Level-2 Treasure Pile or pay 300 GP and draw instead from the Level-3 Treasure Pile.
e) To make it realistic during an adventure, in order to give a treasure item to another hero, you must be temporarily adjacent to the receiving hero at anytime during play and make the transfer at that instant only. So, another hero could move past your hero to take that item and then pass it on to the intended player at an opportune moment). Transfers are free actions.
f) Successfully disabling a trap is worth 1 XP for each and put the disabled trap card on the XP pile, but no treasure reward is received.
g) XP and treasure items can be converted in GP, but you cannot convert any GP or treasure items back into XP. XP to GP conversions can only be accomplished in town and the treasure items can only be converted into GP at half their original value in town. The conversion rate for 1 XP into 200 GP.
h) General Purchasing Costs (unless otherwise specified):
• 2 XP (cannot use GP) to re-roll only one attack roll/hero phase (not allowed on trap disable/condition ending).
• 4XP (cannot use GP) to unflip one used hero utility/daily power during an adventure.
• 5 XP (cannot use GP) to cancel an Encounter Card when you draw.
• 10 XP (or 5 XP with a natural roll of 20) to go to Level 2 only.
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Arto Hietanen
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Do you feel that refreshing the daily/utility for 4 xp is balanced? I mean that using an area of effect daily quite often nets you 4+ xp while killing a tile full of monsters, and if you can buy the attack back the next round, you could probably use it whenever needed 3 or 4 times per adventure. Granted, you might be missing on the "cancel encounters xp", but still that seems like an extremely powerful ability.
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Bob Buehler
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Great comment!

When I put together our campaign rules, I combined a lot of what other people had written at this site. The option is listed on our expanded Turn Sequence Help Sheet as follows: Once per Hero per adventure, allowed to flip a used daily or utility for the cost of 4 XP.

I must not have updated that part of our rules.

Am now eliminating this 4 XP unflip option altogether. There are already number of other magic items, abilities, etc. that rewards this occasionally.

I don't think we ever used this option, so we won't miss it anyways.
 
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Yep, I think that for most utility powers 4 XP for unflip would be fair, but for those attacks that instantly give you the same XP (or even more) back, it would probably be too good an option.
 
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I like these ideas! I don't own LoD, but let me add a few semi-random comments based on WoA and CR:

(1) I really like the monsters in CR, but I like the villains better in WoA. I think I may even try mixing the monster deck for more variety, then use the chambers from WoA (which then trigger a WoA villain)...seems like that could be a very fun game! I'll use the encounter deck that is associated with the base tiles (you can easily use CR tiles with a WoA chamber entrance in them...or just use the WoA base tiles). Has anyone tried that, or foresee any issues?

(2) It seems to me like you could base the level of treasure (major/minor or other such division) on monster XP.

(3) If you still find the game too easy, try this:

No automatic treasure. Instead, you can choose the following:
* Immediately upon defeat of a monster, you may purchase a Level Y treasure for Y xp...ie, a level 1 treasure for 1 XP, level 2 treasure for 2 xp, etc.

(4) Separate from the above variant, have monsters not drop treasure. Count each XP as 200 gp (or some other fixed amount of gold per xp), and have a tile in the dungeon (perhaps the start tile for a scenario) that is a "store" you can visit. You can reveal, say, 5 level 1 items, 4 level two items, 3 level three items, and 2 level four items...they are available for purchase from your monster XP if your character visits the store. These items don't refresh, except when an item is bought (reveal the next card in the deck). Visiting the store counts as an action, so you can move and visit the store instead of move and attack or move twice.

These haven't been playtested--just a few random thoughts!
 
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juan sebastian rams
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I think the idea of having different tiles between LoD and WoA actually healps the WoA campaing sistem to work better. As in when you go from one adventure to another you change tile tipe and monster difficulty to simulate the escalating conflict. Also i think im going to change the treasure mechanics to an all treasure token format. WoA treasures really felt overpowered, and if one intends to play the adventures in tandem then going from one to the other with the ability to purchase treasures doesnt seem like a bad idea at all
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Arto Hietanen
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Caverius wrote:
I think the idea of having different tiles between LoD and WoA actually healps the WoA campaing sistem to work better. As in when you go from one adventure to another you change tile tipe and monster difficulty to simulate the escalating conflict.


I like that they are natural caverns, that brings variability to the game and can be used for example to mark a change of state, like having different monsters in the caverns as opposed to the worked walls of the dungeon like you suggest. What I don't like is that the back side of the tile has to say Cavern Tile instead of Dungeon Tile, because that means that if I wanted to mix them in an adventure, the back side will give away the tile type before drawing the tile. I know that it is not a big deal, you can draw from the bottom or just not care about that, but for some reason they wanted to make that change that IMO has no positive things attached to it at all, just some negatives.
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