Wayne Densley’s Chronicles of Arborell continues to expand in new directions with the general release of the advanced rule set for his collection of micro-gamebooks. The Advanced Legends of the Deep Guild Starter Pack is an expansion of the existing standard rules and contains an initial 120-section adventure entitled The Tombs of Hallad’Mortain.
These solitaire micro-gamebooks are a combination of board game and gamebook as they utilise gridded maps and text references to inform the player of where they are and what actions may be performed with each move. The map is broken up like a jigsaw to mask the layout of the tombs, so progress is made without full knowledge of exactly what lies ahead. The Advanced Rule Set evolves the previous basic rules to incorporate new character skills, new combat and terrain rules, special rules regarding the powerful Sharyah (ancient talismans of EarthMagic), plus a RPG-style promotion system whereby your adventures within this series form an ongoing career, allowing you to record missions and gain promotion within Guild ranks to acquire advanced skill and talent levels.
You begin as a Novice Brother of the Deep Guild of Das Vallendor – a trained Dungeon Crawler hunting for important artifacts and talismans within the ruins of Arborell. Your mission is to search the Tombs of Hallad’Mortain within the temple-city of Allas’prandor to locate the Glyddenrod talisman: a stave bequeathed to Hallad’Mortain to aid his machinations against the tyrannical ruler Aggeron the Great. The Guild desires its return, so you are tasked with its recovery, knowing that it is a great prize sought by many.
Your character’s personal attributes are defined by strength, agility, endurance and luck: the first two then combine to form your combat value. Combat is additionally influenced by the Sharyah you carry (and the aversion some creatures have to particular types), your chosen talents and skills, the terrain, and the weapons and other items in your possession. Regardless of these modifiers, every aspect of the system is easy to learn and understand, and there’s no confusion or tiresome calculations to make at any point.
The adversaries you may encounter in Arborell are highly interesting creations, many of them members of the Oera’dim – commonly known as the Horde – merciless creatures of darkness, given life by EarthMagic. Foes include the Morg (small spectral spirits), QuagWyrm (large serpents that infest waterways), Mantis Beast (gargantuan insects), Oer’daaki (sentient vine-like roots) and the dangerous Jotun (fearsome humanoid warriors). The Chronicles of Arborell contains a rich and complex history, with a vast array of detailed lore and mythology to be discovered about the land, its peoples and creatures. It’s this depth of background information and freely available resources that make the world of Arborell so absorbing and attractive as a setting for players to explore.
For a micro-gamebook adventure, The Tombs of Hallad’Mortain packs in plenty of gameplay, offering quite a few hours of underground exploration as you search the corridors and chambers of this multi-levelled labyrinth. Densley’s writing style is suitably depictive, providing both explanatory descriptions of the surrounding environment and numerous atmospheric details to create a sense of wonder at your many discoveries. This then also builds tension when approaching areas where danger possibly lurks in the shadows, or where great treasure may be located. As you progress deeper into the tomb you’ll (hopefully) acquire the Items of Note and some of the various Sharyah, which are helpful during your adventure and necessary to climb the Guild rankings.
Although many of the section references are repeated throughout the map, the length of the adventure is not overly compromised and a wide range of encounters will be experienced during any attempt. It’s also a comprehensive package, including a detailed bestiary, a short history of the Deep Guild and full details regarding the valuable Sharyah stones. At a price of only USD$2.99, Legends of the Deep Guild is certainly a worthwhile investment – plus you can access a wealth of other related material, at no cost, from the Chronicles of Arborell website.
STORYLINE: Your role as a Brother of the Deep Guild searching for rare artifacts provides the perfect background for the structure of these individual micro-adventures. As all future missions in this series combine into an ongoing career, every adventure completed will see you moving closer to promotion within the Guild ranks, so there’s plenty of incentive to reward your labours.
GAMEPLAY: Easy to understand and play, the mix of a jumbled location map and descriptive gamebook sections works well. The combat process involves a range of possible modifiers, ranged weapons and the ability to avoid or withdraw from some encounters – a beneficial rule set that creates variation and individual player options.
PRESENTATION: Neatly professional in style an overall presentation, the document is ‘print and play’ ready. Some readers may have difficulty with the very small text size, but this does not detract from the quality of the adventure.
REPLAY VALUE: Numerous adventures can be had within the tombs, particularly after you learn which items will be of most use and what talents and skills will of specific benefit. Although this is a condensed experience in comparison to a gamebook featuring 300+ sections, the game length and level of challenge here easily rivals what can be found in many full releases.
Review by Michael Reilly