Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery – An Old-School Solo Adventure

108760All red links and clickable images in this review are affiliate links (Affiliate Disclaimer).

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that it is a resource dedicated towards helping players get the most out of D&D as a solo play experience.

I’ve done that by publishing guides and recommending products that make solo gaming a little easier and more fun, such as the Mythic Game Master Emulator which is great for improvised adventuring on the fly.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could simply forget all that and simply pick up your dice, begin exploring and hacking foes apart with maniacal gleam in your eyes?

With Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery, you can do just that.

Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery is a solo adventure in the mould of classic choose-your-own-adventure books from the 80s, a throwback to the days when simple rules coupled with black and white artwork was more than enough to throw you into a world of wonder, imagination and exciting adventure, before game designers decided they needed to publish rule systems requiring PhD levels of mastery in order to get the most out of them.

For anyone not familiar with them, choose-your-own-adventures are books that allowed you to escape into a fantasy world created by the author. They are essentially novels, only that you weren’t simply reading along, but actually being involved and shaping the outcome of the story through choices made at certain key points in the story.

On the other hand, if you got started in D&D through these choose-your-own-adventures, you’ll probably know what I mean when I refer to the feeling of nostalgia when you begin to flick through the pages of this book for the first time.

But once you get over the nostalgia, only one thing matters: is Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery any good?

Let’s find out.

Back in the Day

set of open exercise book, pencil and dices - stock photo

This is literally all you need…

Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery is a solo adventure that uses the choose-your-own-adventure format, where you begin at the first paragraph, read through it, and select from a number of options at the end of the paragraph to determine where you will go or what you will do next.

Once you’ve selected an option, you are directed to another numbered paragraph in order to see the result of the option you took.

The paragraphs are jumbled up to avoid spoiling the story for you and this inevitably results in a lot of page flipping in either direction. It is a good idea to make a note of where you are in the story or use a bookmark whenever you take a breather.

Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery uses a d20 based rules system that will look familiar to any D&D player.

For example, the 4d6-drop-lowest method, which is the default method of character generation, is also used here.

Rolling a natural 20 on a 20-sided die (or 1d20) during combat is an automatic hit which inflicts double damage, while rolling a 1 is an automatic miss.

And if you find a +x weapon? Yep – you’ve just found a magic weapon.

Bread and butter D&D stuff.

The first thing you must do is get familiar with the rules of the game and create your character.

The rules of the game are very simple, so regardless of your familiarity with D&D (or lack of), it shouldn’t take too long for you to get up and running.

Some bookkeeping is inevitable, but this is often kept to the bare minimum.

Once you’ve learned the rules and created your first character, it’s time to read the read the introduction and begin adventuring.

Treasure Hunting

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Your first find. Don’t get too excited now.

Unlike most tabletop D&D adventures where your character begins with a modest amount of money or basic starting equipment, you are basically a pauper in game terms when you begin your adventure.

You begin with no starting equipment and everything you need must be acquired during the course of the adventure.

The good news is that you do obtain starting equipment fairly quickly, even if they are a little on the crude side.

Nevertheless, they are adequate for the first few encounters, after which you will finally have access to some quality equipment.

As a bonus, you can also pick up some useful trinkets right near the beginning that will help you stave off death for a little longer.

These include potions that are imbued with a variety of beneficial effects such as restoring health, ability scores, making you move faster and regenerating your wounds even when you are reduced to 0 hit points, and so on.

Some potions, such as potions of speed and invulnerability have an ongoing duration, so you can potentially feel their benefits for several consecutive battles before the potion finally wears off.

You may only drink a potion at certain times and never during an encounter, but it lasts until the end of combat and possibly into the next few encounters, depending on your roll.

For this reason, it is a good idea to drink a potion only when you know you are going to be dragged into a long, drawn out series of fights.

If any of your potions end up gathering dust, you can do a bit of bartering at the first available opportunity. This involves randomly determining what kind of potions or items are available for trade and then trading one of your own potions for any item that is available for trade.

It is a simple streamlined method of trading and the good thing about it is that you can trade away potions you will never need for more useful items.

Exploration and Combat

No sign of a certain fire drake from the north... Artwork By Markus

No sign of a certain fire drake from the north…
Artwork © By Markus

As solo adventures go, this one is pretty forgiving, though if your play style is anything like mine, you’ll be re-rolling characters quite regularly 😉 .

Making a bad decision will usually not be fatal right away, but can make things a tad difficult later on.

Fortunately, you are often given the chance to revisit places in order to put right some of the things that went wrong last time, but it is usually easier to try and get things right the first time round.

Death is a real possibility in this adventure – as you would expect.

When that happens, you can re-roll your character and begin the adventure again, taking a different path to the one you originally took, or you can do what I did and continue on from where you left off once you’ve re-rolled a character.

The problem with the latter is that it can degenerate into repeated dying and re-rolling silliness until you succeed at a task, which is fine if you enjoy that kind of thing.

For everyone else, it can break immersion, though the flipside is that going back to the start every time you die can be a little tiresome.

You will be thrown into action almost right away when you begin the adventure for real.

In fact, there is a fair bit of combat in this adventure and it can potentially become overwhelming, even near the beginning.

When you encounter a creature, its combat stats will be presented to you. This information is presented in a very simple format – only a sentence long and includes statistics such as the creature’s initiative bonus, hit points, armour class, attack bonus and damage.

The first few fights serve as a reasonably straightforward introduction to the mechanics of the game, but the difficulty of the encounters will inevitably increase once you delve deeper into the adventure.

The good news is that you may also meet NPCs that will help lighten the load for you.

In D&D terms, you are essentially a fighter in Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery. There is no spellcasting in this game, so combat will involve little other than simply bashing heads (or cutting them off).

It isn’t all hack and slash. From time to time, you will need to make use of the grey matter between your ears.

When you encounter a trap, you will find that they are not disarmed in the traditional way, but usually through solving puzzles. Should you solve the puzzle, you may be rewarded with hidden stashes of useful items or gain access to a new area.

For the most part, the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing and some of them simply require a little common sense.

Like with any good RPG, character development is essential (read: you want to level up!).

After a while spent bashing heads, solving puzzles, disarming traps and exploring, your character will become more skilled and experienced which allows him to gain a new level. Benefits include a greater capacity for taking damage and an increase in combat skill.

There are no experience points: you level up whenever the book tells you to, which is usually when you complete an important mission or take a breather.

Personally, it’s a good thing as keeping track of experience points can be a bit of a pain in the rear end.

Okay, I’ve told you what you can expect in this adventure. Now, the moment of truth…

The Good

  1. Easy to pick up and play right away.
  2. Old school style adventuring at its finest.
  3. Well written story.
  4. Fast paced combat.
  5. Lots of treasure and rewards.

Unlike most tabletop RPGs where a fair bit of prep is necessary, Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery allows you to get stuck in right away. This makes the adventure ideal for long commutes or when you cannot be bothered planning your next epic solo campaign or session.

I found the story in this adventure to be quite enjoyable and while there isn’t anything particularly innovative about it, it is well written and engaging.

More importantly, it returns to the roots of the time honoured tradition of adventuring, solving puzzles and hacking monsters apart so you can grab their loot – and it is perfect for when you simply want to blow off some steam.

Combat in Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery is fast, frenetic, and often exciting. It is a breeze to keep track of everything and keep things moving at pace.

This is just as well given that there will be a lot of combat. The simple rules allow you to finish an encounter and move swiftly onto the next, resulting in encounters that mesh well with the story rather than breaking it up as more complex systems can do.

Combat is generally pretty balanced overall. It does help if you roll well when you create your character, but even without taking that into account, I found most of my deaths in combat only came about due to some very unlucky rolls.

All things being equal, however, the odds of winning most battles are usually pretty high for you and if you are well equipped, it can be pretty fun and satisfying to wade through hordes of enemies and mow them down like wheat.

There is a generous amount of treasure that you can pick up, with some of these ranging from your run-of-the-mill potions of healing, to items that are a little more permanent. The items are generally well designed and I find myself wanting to test them out at the first opportunity, stealth be damned.

Also, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. There is no greater feeling than emerging victorious from a great trial and being rewarded appropriately for your efforts.

After all, isn’t this what D&D is about 😉 ?

The Not So Good

  1. The main character feels a little generic.
  2. One dimensional interactions.
  3. Some proofreading needed.
  4. Lots of treasure and rewards.

One of the things I like about Dungeons and Dragons is the ability to build and customise your own character in terms of the basic essentials such as ability scores, to fleshing him out with solid concepts, personality, backgrounds and so on. I feel the core part of enjoyment in D&D comes from having a character that you enjoy playing and even connect with.

Failing that, a well-written and designed protagonist that you assume the role of can make up for it.

Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery has neither of these things.

The main character in this book just feels… generic, not helped by the fact that his only contribution to interactions is to wear a myriad of expressions for the NPCs to read with alarming accuracy each time.

Personally, I don’t think it would hurt to include a few lines for the main character to say. Even if what comes out is not necessarily what you would have said, it would at least give off the illusion of a decent conversation.

I don’t fault the author for including NPCs that you interact with regularly in order to add some kind of interaction in what would otherwise be a lonely adventure, but it doesn’t feel like you’re having a conversation, as much as you are just standing there and listening to someone who loves the sound of his own voice a little too much and refuses to let you get a word in edgeways.

This isn’t helped by the NPCs’ uncanny knack of being able to read your mind with unnerving accuracy and answer any questions your character might have before he can blurt it out.

It can eventually become a little annoying, but on the flipside, conversations between the NPCs are well written.

Maybe I’m just not used to getting powerful magic items at level 2 or 3 – my main character in my current 5e campaign is around that level and not even a single potion of healing in sight – but it does seem a little excessive to be getting all that gear at such a low level, regardless of how hard you may have had to work for it.

You may find that you’ll reach a point where you would have to screw up royally or really upset the dice gods in order to die in this adventure.

That said, a case can be made for it given the amount of combat in the adventure, and the encounter balance does feel about right as it is.

Lastly, I don’t mean to be nitpicky with spelling (I’m sure there are holes that one can pick in my writing!), but there are a few noticeable spelling mistakes that could have been avoided.

In my opinion, the book is very polished. The art is nice and, on the whole, the story is well written and engaging, but even small things like this can detract from the overall professionalism of the work.

Still, it’s only a minor quibble.

My Verdict

4

Lost City of the Dwarves: Discovery is a great introduction to D&D based RPGs, with a simplified D20 system that anyone can pick up and play very quickly.

If you are new to D&D and want to see what it is all about, then this adventure serves as a great introduction to the game in its most basic form.

Even if you are a seasoned roleplayer, there is some value to be had from this solo adventure as long as you don’t expect too much from it and enjoy it for what it is: a great way to quickly begin a session of adventuring or while away a couple of hours on the train home.

(The red links below are affiliate links, which means that by clicking on the link and making your purchase, I will be paid a small commission which might go towards a coffee – writing is thirsty work, after all 🙂 . You won’t pay anything extra and the commissions will come out of the pockets of Amazon/RPG Now).

If you are interested in checking this adventure out, you can buy the paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon (not available in certain countries), or the PDF version from RPG Now.

Additionally, the author has released some free content on RPG Now, including three mini solo adventures, a codex that explains what the Path of Legends is all about and multi-player rules for those who would like to play the adventure with a group of friends.

You can download these free products here (click on the link and scroll all the way down to find the free stuff).

 

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2 comments

  • Nikolai

    Thanks, Ken, this is an interesting review.
    I wonder, can you insert a character from your current campaign into this adventure and pretend that his/her special abilities from DnD ceased to exist for a time. Suddenly the guy from the book is not so generic anymore.
    Just a thought.

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