Game: Idylls of the Rat King
Publisher: Goodman Games
Review Dated: 26th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 21
Average Score: 7.00
“Remember the golden days of role playing, when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level?”
No! I don’t! Back then, as a very young boy, friends and I made do with homebrewed game systems because D&D was too expensive (so far out of pocket money range) and rubbish.
So it seems very likely that this reviewer is going to rubbish Idylls of the Rat King as well, after all, this “Dungeon Crawl Classic” strives to be just like 1st edition D&D. That’s not going to happen though, Idylls of the Rat King oozes with innocent retro charm and really is a bit of fun. It’s easy to get into and simple to play. The product delivers exactly what it promises and does it pretty well. I just can’t rubbish the rat king, I have to sit back and enjoy the dungeon crawl for the jolly good fun that it is.
Regular readers of GameWyrd reviews might think I’ve gone mad. What sort of dungeon crawl could possibly get a better than poor rating – even if its a “does what it says on the tin” product? Regular readers won’t be surprised to discover that there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. When Idylls of the Rat King tries to be like a 1st edition D&D book it really does try. The covers (front and back) look so much like a 1st edition product that the Goodman Games logo seems spooky alien. The cover has text, a mini blurb on, just as the “good old” games did, there’s a yellow stripe across the top corner just as I remember the original pre-written adventures having. The maps inside appear on the inside front and back covers and are in blue ink and use basic grid design.
It is a bit of a gimmick, I suppose, but as with all good gimmicks, it works. The fact that it works probably explains why other publishers have already dipped into this pool of nostalgia and why Goodman Games has joined them. Necromancer and Kenzer have both taken this route and perhaps if I were more familiar with their products the Idylls of the Rat King would have less of a novelty appeal on me. As it is, the book is boldly labelled as Dungeon Crawl Classics #1 and I’ll have to see just how many more classic dungeon crawls the line can support before the charm starts to wane. Goodman’s retro feel classic is 32 pages long and costs US $11.00. I think that’s about right, I couldn’t be bothered with anything smaller but I wouldn’t want to pay any more either.
Spoilers. If you think its possible to spoil a dungeon crawl by giving the plot away – sling your hook now.
The plot is a classic to. Silverton has silver mines and they’re now infested with goblins. Silverton’s history tells how the townspeople chased the man who discovered the silver and funded the initial mines and his family out. They chased him off because the miners awoke an evil in the mines and they blamed and cursed him for this. The curse ensured that his grandson would be a fully-fledged wererat. The wererat grandson is back and he’s teamed up with the goblins. We’ve got goblins and wererat-goblins in those mines. As it happens the wererat found a gnome necromancer already working in the mines, using zombies as miners. The pair of them teamed up. Neither of them, though, has discovered the ancient evil, actually a vampire, that’s still buried there.
As the player characters explore down the four levels of mines they’ll encounter increasingly difficult groups of monsters and win larger amounts of loot. There’s some classically cheesy moments; one adventure hook involves a wounded nobleman who had been guarding a caravan stumbling into town and the mines are described as rooms with stone walls. There’s even a tomb of a good guy from the spookily named Soulgrave city down in the mines too and the players earn extra XP if they don’t desecrate it. But it’s an uncomplicated dungeon crawl, we laugh with, rather than at, the fact these few tunnels (rooms with stone walls!) contain zombies, wererats, necromantic gnomes, goblins, vampires, secret passageways, dire rats, fiendish dire rats and ancient tombs.
There are some terrible moments. Characters can come across mines filled with cowering goblin children and a few female goblins trying to hide them. The hit points for these wretched creatures are noted down as duly as the stats for attacking dire rats. That’s terrible only in the sense of the uncomplicated, Old Testament, brutality of this sort of dungeon crawl.
There are some nice touches too. GMs can actually read out the bite sized paragraphs of descriptions and encounters. The players may get fed up of the phrase “naked weapon” but never does the read-allowed text make the mistake of telling the players what their characters are doing. In fact, Jeffery Quinn, the writer, is on top form here. His writing style seems to have tucked in a little, retaining the flavour but creating it more precisely. This might also be the work of a good editor. There are player handouts in the back of the book; nothing so fancy as actual props to photocopy and distribute but handouts that can be downloaded in single-page versions from Goodman Games.
This reviewer, someone who’d not normally touch a dungeon crawl with a pointy stick, can honestly put his hands up and say that Idylls of the Rat King scores a hit; it’s on the ball. I can see Idylls providing an easy evening of fun. I suspect it’s quite likely that gamers older than me, or those with a real fondness for the “golden days” will simply love the Rat King.