I admit that I’ve been on a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons kick lately. While I’m a video gamer at heart, I’m no stranger to the tabletop; I’ve been involved in a fair number of campaigns in my day. That being said, recent forays into fourth edition have inspired me to give the Gold Box games a try; I recently stumbled across a link that I’d stashed in my “check out sometime later” bookmarks untold aeons ago, and decided that it was time to give it a try.
Incursion: Halls of the Goblin King is a roguelike based on the d20 rules, better known as the D&D 3rd Edition rules. If you’re familiar with roguelikes, the title should give you a fair description of the game’s plot: explore a randomly-generated dungeon and defeat the Goblin King on the lowest floor.
Everything in Incursion is based on the 3rd edition rules; as you explore the dungeon, you’ll see Hearing and Spot checks go by. Your virtual rolls and all of the related math is visible to you as a player; the biggest deviation from 3rd ed that I saw was the replacement of the standard D&D spell memorization with a mana point-based system- probably a good change, all things considered.
The halls of the goblin king are significantly more interesting (and, for that matter, prettier) than the pits of Angband or the Dungeon of Doom. The standard mostly-featureless square rooms of traditional roguelikes have been replaced by themed rooms, complete with short flavor-text descriptions. Exotic terrain is much more common in Incursion than it is in most roguelikes- you’ll frequently encounter flooded rooms filled with water or lava, walls of ice, and themed rooms like barracks or libraries. That being said, it’s always pretty clear that you’re traversing discrete, randomly generated rooms- there isn’t a real overall ‘plan’ to the dungeon. Monsters frequently appear (or at least spawn) in thematically-appropriate rooms. Although you’ll be meeting a lot of ‘standard’ beasts, the author has dug a little deeper into the Monster Manuals than you might expect; you’ll see more exotic creatures in addition to the standard assortment of orcs, goblins, and zombies. In general, monsters are rarer and more powerful than their equivalents in Angband or Nethack; according to the game’s website, the idea is that any monster should pose something of a threat.
The inventory interface can be a bit clumsy, but it’s not bad once you get used to it. On the other hand, taking something out of a chest and putting it in your pack is way more difficult than it should be.
My biggest issue with the game off the cuff was the character generation system, which seemed awfully top-heavy for creating the disposable characters you play in a roguelike. Unlike the streamlined pick-a-class of Nethack or even Angband’s stat-rolling, incursion uses a more-or-less complete 3rd Ed character generation process. If you knew the system cold, you could probably breeze through it, but as someone who hasn’t generated a fresh character in years, a screen full of 30 feats and skills to choose from is a bit overwhelming.
Despite all that, I imagine that a 3rd edition devotee would find a lot to like in Incursion- most of the rules seem to have been recreated faithfully and it’s significantly better presented than many roguelikes.