Imagine my surprise when, upon opening this pdf for review, I was suddenly transported back in time 17 years. In the span of a moment, I was lost in a magical forest of majesty, wondering if I should choose the well-traveled path known for scary skeletons (turn to page 64) or the rocky mountain road that passes much too close to the lich’s tower (turn to page 91). That’s how the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I devoured when I was thirteen usually read. Lucky for me, it did not take long to realize that this Party of One adventure from Open Design is an entirely different undead horde.
In Matthew J. Hanson’s “Kalgor Bloodhammer and the Ghouls through the Breach,” or “BB1,” you take on the role of the titular character (Bloodhammer, that is, not the ghouls) in defending the dwarven kingdom from an unexpected offensive from the hungry undead. You slip on Bloodhammer’s best pair of stone-toed boots (finely crafted, must be dwarven), just as the young warrior is about to face his most difficult trial: the final test for admittance into the elite Iron Shields organization. What is the test? It is armed combat against an older, stronger and doubtless beardier applicant of course. From that point on you are thrust helm first into a quick and dirty adventure with fierce battles, heroic efforts and even an unexpected sprinkling of dwarven politics. The adventure is especially quick and dirty if your dice luck runs like mine.
That is right. I said “dice luck.” Unlike the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I remember kind of fondly but with one raised eyebrow, in BB1 you actually run a solo adventure using the praiseworthy Pathfinder roleplaying game rules set. Not only do you need dice to navigate Bloodhammer through his defense of the city from certain devouring, but a pencil and some scrap paper is handy for tracking stuff like hit points and *gasp* magic items and secrets. It is worth noting that the book itself informs the reader that a d6, d8 and d20 are required. Add to that a d12, which is left out of the instructions, as I unfortunately realized after scrounging up only the indicated dice for my initial run through. Also, there is no need to worry about familiarity with Pathfinder, d20 or any other gaming system, since the basic combat rules are explained well as you go along. This asset alone makes it a fairly decent entry adventure for a new role playing gamer. On top of the rules and the dice, the pdf also includes level 1 and level 3 character sheets for Bloodhammer. Beyond the obvious appeal for those like me who like to check the arithmetic, this neat little perk is especially of interest for those who discover affection for your full-bearded ghoul-smacker and decide to carry him over to newer adventures.
This is all well for a beginner, and while I think there is enough here to interest a more advanced player, the limitations of the medium prevent a more dynamic game. That is presented as more of an observation than it is a criticism, because, when all is said and done, you make choices and those choices definitely influence the outcome of the game. This is, at a very basic level, how a game of Pathfinder should feel with or without a party. Without going into detail, some of the endings are purposefully quite unsatisfying, and that does not necessarily mean those endings are “wrong.” Simply, they sufficiently convey that there could have been more, which definitely hooks you in to turning back to section 1 and starting over again.
I think this solo adventure is great for someone just starting with Pathfinder or even Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 or 4th edition. I could see keeping a printed out copy on hand in a gaming group in case there are inexperienced players who simply want to get a feel for how the system works before diving in head first. In addition, if you are an experienced player looking to roll some dice between groups, you could do a lot worse than Kalgor. Finally, with a prevalence of handy iOS and Android dice rollers out there, running this adventure is a great way to pass the time on a flight or car ride. In fact, I might do just that for the drive out to GenCon this August.