Ruined KeepGame: Ruined Keep
Publisher: PT Games, Inc [Site Info]
Review Dated: 21st, August 2003
Reviewer's Rating: 4/10 [ Just shy of the mark ]
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Total Score: 4
Average Score: 4.00
It's an old style dungeon crawl. The 32-paged PDF product even refers to dungeon level one and two. You'd probably guess it was a dungeon crawl rather quickly. The Prince is getting adventurers to empty the hills of monsters and explore ancient ruins. The ruins? The ruins are remains of castles and keeps from an antediluvian war. There is a mysterious land of wizards to the north, protected by a line of mountains. No one's ever returned from this land of wizards but people are fairly sure they're there anyway.
Huh oh. Readers familiar with this reviewer's personal preferences may well be bracing themselves for a 1/10 review.
I'd do it to. I've done it to Wizards of the Coast, I'll do it to PT Games if needs be.
But no, that's not going to happen here. Ruined Keep isn't deserving of that low a score. For a start Ruined Keep follows on from the (dungeon crawl) Goblin Cave and it does so effortlessly. That's not too much of a big deal, there's a reason why the old "clear the area of monsters" is a classic - it's easy to plug adventures together like this. The success here is that Ruined Keep doesn't have to follow on from Goblin Cave. I've not read that adventure and I don't feel I need to. I can think of countless products that don't necessarily require a second book in support but which seem awkward without it, that's not the case for Ruined Keep.
The adventure is suitable, we're told, for a group of 4 to 8 characters with a character level range between 7th and 9th. Four 7th level characters - eight 9th level characters. That's quite a gap. It's something that adventure publishers always do and always amaze me with.
Ruined Keep does need product support (in addition to the core rules) but it's a free PDF. You can download the philosophy rules from PT Games' website. This set of philosophical rules is another of the successes that push up the value of Ruined Keep's. A sidebar box briefly summarizes this philosophical angle as the natives eschewing the traditional black and white views of Good and Evil and living their lives by what's important to them instead. As a stinger, what's important to the people and how the live will influence their fate. I don't mind downloading free (and light weight) PDFs like this. I encourage people to do so. It's a good way of cheaply but effectively getting the measure of the company. The sidebar summary uses unfortunate language; the suggestion is that this extra PDF is filler because the full rules aren't available. How off putting. They should at least pretend to be offering full service and then make a song, dance and press release when they upgrade the freebie.
The use of language is an issue throughout Ruined Keep. It's perfectly correct English but the author, Peter Donis, seems to share a bad habit with me. Too often sentences are peppered with ", of course, " or begin with "However,". There's a fondness for commas and long sentences. I do this too and so my sympathy doubles. I think we should both stop it. We should both write shorter sentences.
There isn't much of a plot to spoil. Characters make their way along the road towards the Keep, encounter some stuffy knights, please a ghost and then end up dungeon crawling through the ruins. There are lots of Drow to fight. Okay. Why not? I don't know how rare Drow are in the Continent of Terra campaign setting. They've Fire and Ice Giants working forges for them. It's all classic high fantasy adventure where it pays to enjoy the action first and forget to wonder if it all makes sense.
The plot's not too important in a dungeon crawl then, it just needs to be good enough to hope (pray) for some suspension of disbelief. What matters in the dungeon crawl is the pace and feel of the game. The Ruined Keep does quite well here. In another better than expected move for the adventure the players will find that they can't fight their way through every encounter carrying a weapon. The challenge ratings of some of the encounters will sometimes exceed the party's abilities. That's great! A pet peeve I have for dungeon crawls is the miracle of a dungeon with a series of isolated encounters tailed to the predicted strength of the party at the time. In the Ruined Keep the NPCs will assess the risks before fighting, they'll use the magic items at their disposal and not bravely leave them untouched so the characters can loot fully operational magical trinkets from their bodies later. It may be a dungeon crawl but the Ruined Keep encourages a better shade of DMing.
The Ruined Keep looks good on the surface too. The maps are clearly computer drawn but are clear and colourful. There's a shade grey tile effect as a thick border around all the text pages and the effect works. The drawback to this is the printing. There isn't a printer friendly version of the document. The font is pretty but clear enough to read. The two-column format is flexible enough to deal with the blue background game system boxes. A closer look reveals the lack of internal hyperlinks or even bookmarks - but this isn't too damaging given there's only 32 pages to navigate. Another important check is the use of illustrations. The Ruined Keep does have illustrations; there are plenty of PDF products from small companies that do not.
There are new mechanics in the Ruined Keep. You've stats for High Humans (no illegal plants involved) and the Knights of the West prestige class. There are more than one Kingdom on the continent and rather than falling into the trap of tossing up a prestige class for every minutia of knight PT Games has done well to limit the mechanics to one class and allow the campaign to refer to lots of different Orders.
The Ruined Keep is cheap, just US$5, and fun. It seems just the ticket for newbie players taking the dungeon crawl introduction to roleplaying. It's a matter of personal preference and it's worth noting that my preference is to as far removed from the dungeon crawl as possible, I'm an extremist, most people reading this are not. Ruined Keep just about holds it own and PT Games, Inc seems like a company to keep an eye on.