Once upon a time in a distant 8-bit land, you and your snotty little brother sneak out of the house post-curfew. No longer able to contain your desire for adventure, you’ve gathered some character sheets, pencils, a small assortment of mismatched dice, and summoned your friend Jake for a ride (he just got his license)… to Default Town! Since none of you have ever been to Default Town, Jake recommends that you play a warrior and your brother play a cleric; every fighter needs a healer. A short while into the drive, Jake slams on the breaks and skids into the shoulder. “Goblins!” he exclaims, “Our first encounter!”
Knights of Pen and Paper (+1 edition) is an enjoyable low-fi romp through a fantasy kingdom, hosted by – quite literally – your GM (game master). Seated on opposite ends of a table, your party and your GM will travel the lands in search of fame and fortune. Fans of games such as Dungeons & Dragons will likely find the quirky, retro-nature of this game comforting and nostalgic. You’ll assemble a rag-tag party of level 1 (insert-class-here)s and follow a loosely-constructed plot in order to amass experience, new skills, and magical trinkets. Oh, and there’s a plot too… sort of.
Like any classic RPG, you begin KoPP by creating a new party of adventurers. Each party member begins at level 1 and is some combination of a “race” and class. Unlike any classic RPG, however, you don’t get to roll (or otherwise customize) any of the stats for each character. ‘Tis a simple game. While the classes in Knights follow the DnD archetypes – Warrior, Mage, Cleric, Rogue – the races are more like… friends and acquaintances with a smattering of the surreal. Your “jock” cleric will do just fine healing “Wolfie” the werewolf warrior’s wounds in battle, for example, but don’t even begin to think about adding something as cliché as an “elven” ranger to the crew. Furthermore, each of these races come with their own bonuses, so be sure and pair them with the appropriate class for the most uber-min/maxing possible. In the beginning, you’re only allowed to seat two players at the table, but can add more as your party progresses. The third character will cost you a bunch of gold (in-game currency) and the fourth requires that you purchase a Grail and then spend a ton of gold. Where do you get gold, you ask?
Light On Plot
“You peer through the keyhole in an old, ornately-carved door and make out a sparkly pile of…” Yep, to find gold you must adventure! Or, just fork over some real-world dollars and perform the conversion. It seems one can never truly escape the whole “freemium” model of mobile gaming, even when it comes to a game as old-school as this. Sad. /rant Where was I? Oh, so… once you embark upon your journey, something may strike you as rather odd… a noticeable lack of direction. In most tabletop games, the GM presents you with a plot and you (mostly) play-along as actors in the story. With Knights, however, you have some options. You can either go kill things for money/experience, accompany someone somewhere for a trinket, or rescue someone for the same. Unlike any “true” RPG, this game dumps you almost entirely into combat with little plot or story to be seen. This lack of story-depth disappointed me greatly, but I have to say – I got used to it.
I should be more accurate here… there is a story, but it’s so tiny and vague and lifeless that it’s mostly not worth mentioning. But there, I did it. In order to follow the storyline, you’ll tap on the exclamation mark next to the GM’s head and he’ll point you on your merry way. Which results in more combat. Knights, for the most part, is an xp/loot-grind masked in the fanciful robes of gaming-past. Fortunately for you, the grinding is pretty dang fun. No sooner had I shed a tear of sadness that I quickly became absorbed with KoPP’s addicting system of exploration, leveling, and buying new crap!
Build Your Own Encounter
Your characters level and make money by killing things – no surprises here – but the catch is how this all goes down. The GM essentially allows you to construct your encounters, allowing you to decide if you want easier or harder mobs in a battle as well as the quantity. Harder mobs in more quantities grants more xp and gold, but also risks a more hasty destruction of your party. Resurrection costs gold as well as travel, so always keep a small stash handy unless you want to lighten your RL pockets. Once you’ve killed enough baddies, you’ll get a feel for your party-synergy and skills and will soon be fighting five elites at once just for kicks. Combat does get a bit repetitive in that each character only has a few skills to learn, but the skills can be leveled when the character levels – not a total dead-end. In my battles, for example, I always open with “Weakening” from my cleric, followed by the rogue jumping into the shadows (bonus to critical hits) and the warrior hardening his skin (hp regen). The rest of the fight is just a matter of smacking around the mobs until they die. I have yet to tick the difficulty slider past the middle and still found myself forking out the dough to resurrect party members a couple times.
The Art Of Hoarding
Once you get the swing of combat, Knights is almost entirely a game about your revenue stream. The plot is just there as a carrot to get you into harder fights, but it can be somewhat humorous at times… in that self-deprecating, “I’m a nerd and I know it” sorta way. As you amass gold, you’ll have plenty to spend it on. You can buy healing and mana potions, magical jewelry that buffs your stats, and new weapons and armor once you’ve properly upgraded the blacksmith area. In addition to the usual suspects, KoPP grants you the ability to decorate the GM area with new walls, floors, rugs, and table designs – each of which confer a permanent buff to the party, and even seem to transfer to new games! Yes, the blend of “in-character” and more directly affecting the outside world is a cardinal sin, but it works well in this game and only serves to add to its campiness. It should be said that while there is a decent variety of items for purchase, I felt like the items didn’t vary enough in style and soon had all my player’s slots filled with junk. The “story” itself, meanwhile, will take your party from location to location, complete with random encounters along the way (more combat), until you either die a miserable death or beat the game. But hopefully by that point, you’ll have built a party capable of taking on the Gods.
Knights of Pen and Paper (+1 edition) is an old-school and entertaining grind through an 8-bit world. Despite seeming like a true tabletop game, it allows little in the way of true character customization or even a hint of engaging storyline. If you can get past the fact that Knights isn’t a replacement for your D&D 4E books and treat it for what it is – a simple, campy, wannabe RPG that reminds you of your childhood – enjoyment will be ripe for the picking. Your picking. Hey, get that out of your nose!