Review: Dark Explorations

In Short…

Dark Explorations is Tad Kelson’s game of exploring lost civilizations that came before the Long Freeze. A self-described “simulationist-styled” game, it is built on a modified version of the d20 system. While the system itself seems perfectly serviceable, I found myself disappointed that the hints to the background and setting were completely un-expanded upon, leaving me with little desire to play the game.

Incorporation Of Images

The image set that Tad received obviously inspired some kind of world in his mind for exploration to occur in; unfortunately, that world didn’t end up making it to the page. The images that he includes in the document serve to show glimpses both of that unexplained world and of the society that the characters come out of, but again, other than a couple of captions they are unexplored.

I wish that the images could have been used to seed game mechanical information that would both expand the range of options open to the players, and create “setting nuggets” for the group to wrap their game around. The city symbols and the map image both had enormous potential for this kind of treatment, in particular.

The game is clearly inspired by the image set, but fails to build upon it in a productive (to me) manner. I have some thoughts on how to do so, to follow the category breakdown.

Playable

As mentioned, the resolution system for the game is built upon the OGL d20 system, which is proven in play and perfectly serviceable. I was intrigued by the advancement system, which said something interesting about the game world (again, see below).

Unfortunately, the system pretty much leaves off at task resolution and stat advancement. [Warning: theory-type talk ahead!] In a sim-style game, mechanics can be extremely important and effective ways to communicate the “Dream,” or the actual thing that play of the game is meant to simulate or celebrate. The limited skill list that is presented to us, and the fact that there are more Physical than Spiritual than Mental statistics are both little hints to these kinds of things (i.e. the world of the game emphasizes Physical action over Spiritual and Spiritual over Mental, and so on).

So, the theme continues on – I have little hints to what I’m really interested in, but nothing meaty to sink my teeth into. While I don’t see any reason you couldn’t sit down and play this game (with experienced gamers, at least), I also don’t have a reason to want to play it, mechanically.

Overall

I was really sad when I was done reading this game! The first page and the images gave me tantalizing little hints of awesome adventure setting with underwater travels and crazy buried cities, but the text itself gave me nothing to latch onto! I need a couple of things in order to hook me into a game, in general; a strong sense of what the characters do in the game (“explore” is too vague, sorry); and/or a colorful and evocative environment in which they interact. I want to play the game that this game promises is out there, somewhere – but the game text itself isn’t that game.

Further Thoughts

Tad, you should check out Ron Edward’s Mongrel, if you don’t know it, as an example of a game that gives you mechanics that show you how the game world works just from how they interact with one another. I think that you can attach game system information to (for example) the images in your game in order to fill out the world without having to spell out a whole “setting chapter,” or anything like that. I hope that makes sense!

I know that you didn’t manage to get everything into your submission that was in your head, but I definitely think that it would be worth re-visiting and fleshing out in every dimension.

-N

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Published in: on March 13, 2007 at 1:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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