By Daniel Brakhage, Mark Potter, Vicky Potter, Randy Eliason, Tabletop Adventures, $4.75 PDF
It's quite hard to review a product that doesn't quite fit with your style of gaming. The temptation is to rail against it, or deride. But that would be a disservice, just because you won't find a product useful, doesn't mean somebody else won't find it a godsend.
Which brings me in a round-about way to Bits of Darkness: Dungeons from Tabletop Adventures. This 40-page PDf is a selection of "Fluff and Atmosphere". Little passages or text to spice up your dungeon delving, and avoid saying "it's another empty room".
They're designed to add color and fancy to otherwise bland dungeoneering.So here's my difficulty. I haven't run a game this way in years. I've always been a "Cut to the stuff that matters" GM. I like my player-driven story. I've played a fair few dungeon games in my time, sure, but I've rarely known a GM who couldn't improvise an evocative decription at the drop of a hat.
So I'm struggling a bit to see how this product will help me, or people I know. Maybe it's handy if you don't have 5 minutes before a game to rough out descriptive ideas and a theme for your dungeon? The product is for promoted as "for a harried GM who hasn't time to write what's in every corner of a Dungeon", so I suppose this is the market. However, even when I prepare games I hardly ever run anything with more than a few minutes worth of notes about key ideas, so I'm used to filling in those gaps myself. Grabbing something random that doesn't fit the feel of the game I'm going for, well just seems wrong. I suppose if you were running a sort of random encounter-based game, then you could slot these into your major encounters as filler.
Anyhow, the product has two types of section: Shards and Bits. Shards are mini-encounters, complete with D20 stats and possible offshoots. There are six of these, and they remind me of the color from the Warhammer Quest board game. Not that that's a bad thing at all.Bits are smaller, paragraph length items, such as:
"42: some sort of oily liquid is dripping from the ceiling in this area of the hallway. There is a shallow trough worn down the middle of the hallway, and the fluid trickles down it for abotu fifteen feet before disappearing into a crack in the floor."
I was slightly annoyed that I had to type that out again, since the PDF wouldn't copy and paste properly. Anyway, it gives you an idea of the kind of thing that is contained in the PDF. They're divided broadly into sights, sounds, scents and stuff, with about 100 in total. So you get your share of "the stone in this corridor is an interesting shade" and "dank rotting smells", to add to Dungeons in need of wallpapering. Lots of slime, muck, corpses, rats, spiders, you get the picture.
There's also 20 bits for catacombs and 20 bits of trouble, extras that may require a roll of some sort. If you lack inspiration, then I suppose many of these could be expanded into encounters, or used as a springboard for game ideas.
The last 20 pages are divided into cards that repeat the various bits, which you can print out and use for quick reference.
Overall: If you've been playing for a while, I doubt you'd get much use from these, unless you just want to grab a bunch of players and roll up a random Dungeon. If you've got a newbie who wants to DM a game of D&D, then this might help him on the way to learning a few pat responses for the question "So what does this room look like?"