Monday, September 22, 2014

Windhammer 2014- The Tomb of Aziris by Sam Beaven

Things aren't going well for you in Varra, a thriving city on the edge of a dry seabed. You're out of money, in debt, spent the night in the gutter, and now your creditor's goons have come calling. Luckily, a chance for fiscal freedom emerges. If you can recover a treasure from the recently uncovered Tomb of Aziris your debt will be wiped clean.

Tomb is a pleasant and very well designed book. You're given a small amount of funds to provision yourself and then it's off into the desert. Both Varra and the desert are well realized and feel bigger than they are.What could have been a throw-away detail, that the desert was once an ocean, instead informs a lot of the encounters and gives the book a unique flavor. Beaven paints a rich picture with lots of details that stimulate the imagination. This setting could easily support a larger game, or other stories, and leaves you wanting to know more.

Also appreciated is that all the characters, including minor ones like shopkeepers or random bruisers, are written with unique voices and perspectives. Tomb is fleshed out and feels populated in a way that both Problem? and Castle of Spirits failed to.

The book's map, that is to say how the sections lead to each other, is very well designed. The book is divided into three clear acts, with the first, the initial trek through the desert, offering three distinct paths. Success in any of the paths allows you to circumvent one of three challenges in the third act. You can also obtain items or information that will help you through the second act. It's all very neat. At the outset you're given a chance to purchase some provisions. However, you won't be able to buy everything you want, and no matter how you outfit yourself, you're always going to be wanting something. I'm reminded of Etrian Odyssey, and how the director said there was only five character spots so you always felt like you were missing a key part of a full team. It makes for engaging play both that game and here.

I do have one nit-pic. Depending on your choices at the beginning, you're tasked with bringing back one of two treasures from the tomb. If you bring back the wrong one, it's a game over. However, the choice that leads to which treasure you get isn't clear. It's not at all obvious when you're making this choice that you're actually deciding on the treasures. To It is clued, but very subtitle, and to me falls just on the far side of being unfair.

Aside from this misstep, Tomb was a simple (but by no means unchallenging), engaging, and fun adventure. I can see it contending for a prize. Beaven says it is his first gamebook. I hope he writes more. Tomb shows he has a real understanding for the genre, and I'd love to see what else he can can come up with.

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