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Ruins of the Undercity $5.00
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Ruins of the Undercity
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Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/08/2018 04:29:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is a toolkit for GM-less, solo-gaming that clocks in at 74 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 68 pages of content. It should be noted that pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’, which means that you can fit up to 4 pages of content on a given sheet of paper when printing this – provided, your sight’s good enough, that is.

This review was requested by one of my patreons.

All right, so, this is a GM-less solo-adventure generator, which means that the only target demographic, the reader, will be also the one who’ll experience the potential SPOILERs…and that puts me, as a reviewer, into a bit of a conundrum. If I discuss the details of the adventure itself, I will automatically SPOIL it….but at the same time, I can’t just discuss this in broad strokes. Thankfully, this is not just a solo-adventure per se – it is not a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience; instead, it basically acts as a kind of DIY-procedural-generating dungeoneering experience, where the single player and rolling the dice replace the random generation methods that would usually be taken over by, for example, a CPU.

This means that the supplement is pretty much defined by a ton of random tables for monster, trap, magic effect generation, etc. - these represent an alternative use of sorts – even if you’re not interested in GM-less solo-gaming, you may well derive some use from them. Now, rules-wise, this supplement employs Labyrinth Lord as a default, which is, for once, also the system I’d strongly recommend that you use for the supplement, at least when using it as intended. Why? Even minor modifications of the simple base engine can lead to more work on behalf of the player, and you’ll be rolling a lot of dice.

All right, that out of the way, the supplement assumes the backdrop of Cryptopolis – a total of one page is devoted to describing this backdrop, depicting a sprawling metropolis on the desert sands, with sunken civilizations and tombs below – this section is inspiring, but also unfortunately very brief, which taps into one point of criticism I have regarding this supplement – but we’ll return to that later. This backdrop also influences the magic items that can be found in the city and in the dungeon – magic babushs and turbans as well as artifacts tie into the per se interesting, if painfully sparse, lore. While the formatting of these items is per se precise, it does sport a few cosmetic deviations from wording standards, though none that per se influence rules integrity. In a somewhat odd decision, red notes in an unusual font are provided here and there and throughout the pdf as annotations of sorts – specifying, for example, that a magical scimitar that allows you to fight underwater sans penalty doesn’t help you actually breathe underwater. Whether you mind that this is not included in the rules language of the item per se or not, depends on your preference.

Now, running solo requires some considerations: You first calculate AL (Average Level): You add up all character levels, divide by 3 and round up. Multiclass characters multiply their level by 1.5, rounding up. Final results below 1 are treated as ½. Beyond the AL, character progression is pretty simple, so creating characters of higher levels is not difficult.

The ingenious and smart decision here, though, would be the routine: You establish a routine for “In the City” and “Into the Ruins” – the first routine handles city crawling, equipment purchases and selling, the second dungeon exploration. Here, we determine marching order, resting, etc. In the adventure log (sheet provided), you’ll note down e.g. detecting etc. – this is very important, for putting things down on the log prevents you from cheating and randomly determining who is hit by attacks etc.

Now, the city time comes with a randomly-determined time spent covering shops etc. and finding equipment, with a massive array of tables. 20 different city events and encounters can be found, though the respective set-up for them is pretty bare bones.

In the dungeon, a total of 6 mini-geomorphs to start off exploration are provided, and from there on out, we roll on the main table: We can get corridors, doors, chambers, stairs, dead end or wandering monsters – these all point to their own subtables. Doors, for example, can be 5 different types; 3 door locations can be found and we get 4 spaces beyond doors. In corridors, we have an illumination subtable, which btw. is not found for chambers per se. That being said, whether or not you roll on all of these tables depends on your own preferences; the strength of the system as presented is the fact that you can pretty seamlessly expand all these tables. Traps can affect the first line, whole group or a single target.

The pdf also sports a full table of magic effects, and there are a lot of different loot tables as well. Now, as far as monsters are concerned, this would be where the AL mentioned before comes into play: AL is compared to a matrix and thus determines the chance of the respective monster levels. If a monster is encountered in its lair, you roll on a different table, but on LL’s hoard class table. Monster tables for random encounters range from level 1 to 10. The entries refer to either LL’s books or the new critters herein. The more complex critters come with a sequence of default “AI instructions” – Death knights lead with fireball, follow up with power word: stun, etc. – if you’re familiar with how for example monsters work in e.g. Frostgrave, you’ll know how this works here. As a slight aside: I wished we got slightly more complex behavioral patterns here – or variations. While this would take up a ton of real estate, it could also render repeat encounters more versatile and less redundant. (1-3: Spell A; 4-6: Spell B…)

The pdf also contains some suggestions for character goals in campaign games as well as a massive table on character backgrounds and quirks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level – not perfect, but really smooth, considering that this is the company’s freshman offering. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, with usually color being only used for the annotations mentioned before. Pretty minimalist, but printer-friendly. The pdf sports a couple of artworks, but if you’re familiar with stock art, you’ll be familiar with the pieces herein. The pdf actually comes with moderately detailed bookmarks, though e.g. sub-sections like magic turbans etc. don’t get their own bookmark – in short, it’s better than no bookmarks, but not yet perfect, particularly considering the solo-gaming angle. I cannot comment on the PoD-version, since I do not own it.

Patrice Crespin’s “Ruins of the Undercity” is at once a resounding success and a failure. It is a resounding success in providing the means to generate a solo, GM-less playing-experience with the Labyrinth Lord rules and achieves its goals in that paradigm with a resounding success. It can also be employed to “learn” the procedures of adventuring on your own; while many supplements explain rules, there is an implicit methodology that veterans often forget, so yeah, there is definitely value here.

At the same time, if rated based on the merits as an adventure, I’d consider this to be a failure. Any good GM knows that the details and unique components are what makes an adventure stand out; the terrain, the stand-out rooms, the bosses…and while the module does sport a couple of intriguing items and artifacts and goals, it sacrifices the details in favor of general appeal and replayability…and is worse for it: While you can generate an infinite array of dungeon levels with this booklet, my issue is…that they become somewhat redundant, somewhat bland. The little bit of lore that is here, is actually really cool, but it’s too little to make the city or the dungeon really come to life, to engage me. Then again, I’m a sucker for stories and indirect storytelling, so if you don’t mind procedurally-generated dungeon-crawler games, then you’ll love this!

If not, however, then this will be basically a huge amount of tables that won’t bring you too much joy. Rating this, then, is a tough job. As a person, this did nothing for me, apart from honest appreciation for the chassis presented. As a reviewer, though, I do have to take into account that this may well be exactly what you’re looking for. If you are less spoiled regarding what you expect from solo-adventuring, or if you don’t mind expanding tables, then this may well be what you’ve been waiting for. Ultimately, though, I can’t bring myself to see this as anything but a mixed bag – mechanically and design-wise interesting, but a bit too generic for its own good. My official final verdict will hence be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Dennis Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/09/2017 16:05:59

It's basically Appendix A from the AD&D 1e Dungeon Master's guide rewritten, possibly with more detail than you actually want. I would encourage you to provide the monster and treasure generation tables from whatever system you're actually using(Labyrinth Lord is the default system and it has you covered there) because what has been provided is rather minimal. Just enough to get you started. I should also say that I dislike the campaign setting but this is not an obstacle. Players will doubtless use their own imaginations so a detailed review of it is unnecessary. But the dungeon generation tables are just fine, although they could have been better arranged (print them and paste them together in a way that makes it easy for you.) Anyway, the price is right. So if a solo or GM-less dungeon crawl is what you want you should be able to get five bucks worth of game play from this product.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Michael R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/09/2016 22:40:19

This product taught me how to play d&d. Much more useful tutorial to the hobby than just reading rulebooks!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Daniel C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/08/2016 00:08:34

Ruins of the Undercity is a great module to use in a solo Labyrinth Lord campaign. The Undercity has plenty of old school atmosphere, particularly for a randomly generated dungeon. You can take the results of the dice rolls and use your imagination to make it your own unique Undercity.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Denis M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/07/2016 06:29:07

This was one of the first products I bought here and lead to my exploration of the OSR in general. While derivative of the random tables in the DMG, it expands them with flavor . This came to me at a time when I had no regular gaming group, and not only helped fill that gap, but lead to the successful creation of a long term online game revolving around a megadungeon. The tone is excellent, and I love the callbacks to the Fiend Highly recommended.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by Sophia B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/14/2015 04:07:22
http://dieheart.net/rotu/

What do you need to know?

Ruins of the Undercity (RotU) is a random dungeon generator for playing a dungeon crawl without a GM. You can play solo or with a group. It is written with Labyrinth Lord (LL) in mind and is thus compatible with most D&D retroclones/OSR products of the Basic/Expert vein. RotU comes with an assumed setting of Cryptopolis, a city which has an arabian flair.

Deep beneath the streets of the City-State of Cryptopolis, sanctuary of the lich-thieves and abode of the Red Goddess, sewers and ancient ruins mingle together into a labyrinth of horrors and wonders. 1 The product is available as a PDF (aff) for $5 USD/4,08 € or as a print version from Lulu for $9.90 USD/7,34 €.

What is it about?

The game features some blurb about the city Cryptopolis, a rotten metropolis on desert sands with old ruins underneath. This is just a short section of one page and not a fully fleshed out setting. Nonetheless, it’s evocative and will get your creative juices running.

So, how does this adventure creator work?

First off, you need to create a party of adventurers with the rule set you prefer. As the book is written with references to Labyrinth Lord this would be an obvious choice. You can also use other systems but they might need some converting. For instance, the tables for monsters list the entries for LL. In my playtest I used the minimalist 1974 Style by Stan Shin with some houserules from Sine Nomine’s Scarlet Heroes (aff).

Next, the Average Level of your party is calculated. This mechanic helps scaling the challenge level accordingly. The formula was not explained that well, I had to read it several times to understand it. In my playtest I used two level 1 characters who would have had a very hard time if I hadn’t implemented the more heroic mechanisms of Scarlet Heroes. While it fits the old school thought it can be frustrating to have to fight against 13 kobolds or more with two starter characters.

Finally, you need to determine Routines. This is a worksheet which defines the default mode of your marching order, night watch or scouting order. It is a fall back to decide which character gets attacked/runs into a trap. I like that, it’s a clever idea.

The generator has two modes: city adventures and underworld adventures. In the city you can buy equipment, hire henchmen, sell loot and level up. This takes time and there is a 1 in 6 chance that a special event/encounter happens. The section about the city also contains equipment lists so you can see what’s available in Cryptopolis. I especially like the reaction tables for selling loot.

The real adventures lies in the dungeoncrawling part. You need some graph paper to roll up your dungeon. There are six starting areas available. The rest of the chapter is filled with explanations on how to roll up the areas and lots of tables. Some rules are hard to spot as they are sprinkled throughout the text. For instance, I first ignored some rules about exits because I overlooked them. To give you an impressions about the content, here is an excerpt of the tables available:

door type door location space behind the door illumination corridor type corridor features […] chamber room structure […] treasure type treasure container […] traps magic effects […] monster tables So you’re rolling a lot while playing this game. Some tables use a D20, some a D100. The monster encounters are scaled to your level with the Average Level value. As level 1 characters you mostly only have to deal with level 1 monsters although there can be a lot of them (10 kobolds in a 10″x10″ room with one exit!).

The game concludes with some vague advice on how to spin a campaign out of your dungeon crawl and an appendix with character quirks and background.

Look’n’Feel

The PDF weighs in at 73 pages total (includes cover and OGL). It is completely black & white except the cover. There are some sparse illustrations which look pretty nice. The tables are generally good to read. Unfortunately, the author chose one font called Gothic Hijinx to highlight some rules and references and this font is a) butt ugly b) very hard to read and c) doesn’t really fit a classic medieval fantasy/sword&sorcery dungeon crawl. The PDF has no electronic bookmarks which is a big drawback for this kind of product.

The Good

This is a fun dungeon romp. I really liked sketching out the dungeon as I go. It’s a very good solo game because you still have that sense of excitement as you don’t know what will come next. RotU is a very straight dungeon crawl and works very well within that constraint.

The Bad

You need to roll a lot. Some tables give fluff but after rolling the 100th time on the illumination table to get “no illumination” (70 % chance) I just gave up on rolling for that. Some tables are very repetitive or redundant. The promise of “an infinitive adventure generator with a twist” 2 is a bit misleading. RotU is not an universal adventure creator with lots of plots but a simple dungeon generator. The monster tables explicitly refer to LL monsters which either makes the use of LL as a rule set mandatory or a lot of flipping around in your prefered rule set to find the appropriate monster or the need for converting stuff on the fly. Seasoned old school players won’t have a problem with that. The Routines worksheet should be a separate download especially if you buy the print version.

The Ugly

As above mentioned, the font choice is pretty annoying to me. Furthermore, the product could be organized better. It mixes rules explanations and tables so you constantly need to turn pages. The PDF is not a good fit for that and it doesn’t have electronic bookmarks. It would have been better to separate rules explanations and tables so you’ll have the tables at one place. The scattered organization also makes it hard to find some rules.

The Verdict

I have mixed feelings about this product. On the one hand I had fun with drawing out the dungeon, fighting monsters and finding traps and treasures. On the other hand the tables were a bit monotonous which diminished the joy. The navigation of the PDF with no bookmarks and a disorganized content was a hassle. I still think I got my money’s worth for five bucks. However, RotU has some irritating flaws which doesn’t make it a must-buy.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ruins of the Undercity
Publisher: Kabuki Kaiser
by bjorn t. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/16/2014 15:08:17

This supplement is simply so easy to use, so great to play. Basically it is the dungeon generator from the DMG come to life. With a lot of extras that add to the enjoyment and make your dungeon crawl more elaborate and can even turn it into a real campaign. All without a DM or any preparation. So if you are in for a quick delve, alone or with friends, this is for you. True old school gaming at its best. i can't wait for the new oriental release from this guy!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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