Our RPG Cup Overfloweth: Knights of the Chalice

By Kieron Gillen on August 11th, 2009 at 2:06 pm.

Ooh, those bloody zombies

Since it was being euologised by Demiath on the forum, I decided to download the demo of this highly-retro turn-based RPG. It uses the D20 Open Gaming Licence to accurately translate something that’s worryingly close to the real D&D experience. It’s combat driven with splashes of dialogue, but the fact the rules are sophisticated enough to allow tactics means I found it compelling – if somewhat hard, even once you’ve battled past the interface. Certainly the sort of thing which works best if you’re a veteran of all things polyhedral. The full thing’s fifteen dollars, but you can get the demo here. More beneath the cut…

There’s a lot to like here. It’s the sort of thing which makes me think back to the days before I actually got my Amiga. In my head, the main reason I wanted to have one wasn’t to play Speedball or whatever – it was so I could finally catch up with some of those lovely D&D Gold Box games. In practice, I played one and headed off into my glorious Amiga adventure (which included RPGs, of course – just generally a little more obviously glamourous). The demo itself is a robust little thing – apparently a section not from the whole game, with a pre-generated level 3 party, you’re immediately going in, put into interesting combat situations and trying to work out how to pick stuff up.

(The game alternates between right-click-to-change-icon-purpose and drag and drop pretty much randomly. Hover and drag to a character to pick up.)

I also like how its enlarge spell works:
Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum! I smell the blood of a level 4 kobold.

In other words, there’s much to like here. Like many Indie RPGs, Heroic Fantasy games are the sort who like showing through their thinking of What Makes An Interesting RPG in their Design notes. And here’s a video of the demo in action.

Demo and full purchase available here.

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95 Comments »

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  1. Clovus says:

    After NWN2 I vowed to never play another CRPG that used D&D rules. There has to be a better way to create an electronic combat system than having my processors roll dice at 2.3ghz.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    Will definitely download demo and try it later tonight. People on RPGCodex have mentioned impressive AI. Opponents don’t charge into a web spell and get stuck as is usually the case, they actually try to move around it, and an enemy mage might fire off a fireball to burn it away.

    Sort of what BioWare has hinted will be in Dragon Age actually.
    :-)

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    In the final fight I played – being fast and loose – I backed off and tried to defend a position, but the enemies refused to actually just pile in by themselves. It seemed pretty nifty.

    KG

  4. Nezz says:

    There must be a way to get a retro look on game text without using an almost illegible all-caps comic font.

  5. DMJ says:

    You disturb a group of games journalists during their lunch! They turn toward you, pieces of flesh falling from their mouths.

  6. J Arcane says:

    Better pick this up now while you still can. The OGL doesn’t allow electronic adaptations, and while Wizards generally allows freebies to go unmolested, you can bet they’ll be on top of a for-pay product in a heartbeat.

  7. Lobotomist says:

    After over a year of waiting (yes knew about this game development) i finally played a demo.

    I awaited great indie game. Based on turn based strategy rpg, with real dice rolling D&D rules. That focuses on gameplay and not on graphic.

    Instead its a mixed bag…

    For some reason – developer insisted on old school graphic … which is good, but in turn makes games interface intangible mess, completely inappropriate even for most low budget games.

    Playing the game. Should be effortless. Even more so with minimalistic graphic.

    But in this game even reading the text is a chore…

    My message to developer.

    Back to the drawing board. Redo the menus. And re-release

  8. mister_d says:

    The characters look like they’re going to, er… fall off the floor — if that makes sense? Not a bad thing, it’s actually quite endearing.

  9. Demiath says:

    Very impressive to see just how fast the RPS machinery works!
    It might be interesting to add that, according to play testers on the official forum, the game is supposed to be at least 25 hours long, which is a rather impressive amount of content for an indie RPG.

  10. getter77 says:

    Yep, game is well wrought folks. Even within the whole 3 race 3 class thing you can have entirely different parties based on your eq and feat/spell selections which will change up the experience for you. You can find a fluid trailer or 2, though a bit old, on youtube as well.

  11. getter77 says:

    J Arcane: The FAQ addresses the legalities in part…doesn’t seem to be anything about not being able to make a proper game out of it. They cite all the OGL quotations like mad in the f1 stuff.

  12. J Arcane says:

    getter77: Yeah, looks like I got the D20 STL and the OGL confused again. Sorry about the unnecessary fearmongering.

    Still, if you were at all a fan of Ultima or the Dark Sun games, this seems pretty damn cool, if, like the old SSI games, a bit tricky to get the hang of at first.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Looks sweet, I may have to check out the demo for this one.

  14. monkeyhat says:

    Looks neat.

    Too bad the text is impossible to read.

  15. postmanX3 says:

    Looks awesome.

    I’m still wondering how long it’ll be until someone makes a game based off D20 4.0. Then again, I seem to be the only one in the world who actually likes that system, so oh well.

  16. Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

    @mister_d:

    Endearing indeed. That there’s Ultima style. Old school.

  17. Cutman says:

    Soooo good.

  18. cbux says:

    Oblivion with dice.

  19. postmanX3 says:

    @cbux:

    Ahahahahahahaha… no.

  20. Cutman says:

    I enjoy 4.0 Postman. Then again, I didn’t play 3.0/.5 long enough to become a zealot about it I suppose.

  21. the affront says:

    Looks tempting, but holy shit, that is some illegible font.

    Also nice that you can resize the windowed mode to something above needing a microscope, as I find games with resolutions as low as this one to be too butt-ugly to bear fullscreen and too small windowed. That’s a feature one sees way too seldom with these low res 2D indie titles in my experience.

    Some spongy/swimming mouse movement going on there, though… feels icky. That just me?

  22. Cutman says:

    The lack of races and classes is the only thing preventing me from buying.

  23. DK says:

    I really like the combat – the devs implemented the stuff others usually shy away from. Even Temple of Elemental Evil didn’t have player character grappling – I just wish they’d put the button for resting somewhere in the F1-help. I still don’t know how to rest so I’m slogging through the dungeon on 1 hp.

  24. Cutman says:

    You can only rest in a camp DK. There’s one in the dungeon. Just open all the doors save for the one next to the guard, and you’ll find it.

    Be nice to that elemental.

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    You get to a fireplace and you get the option to rest there.

    KG

  26. protobob says:

    DK: Resting is done at campsites, which look like a lit campfire. You can’t just rest anywhere you want.

  27. Mort says:

    “Clovus says:
    […]There has to be a better way to create an electronic combat system than having my processors roll dice at 2.3ghz.

    Amen to that. I wish RPGs would evolve into something much richer and dynamic than D&D or the perennial core of the JRPG format.

    But this gameĀ“s intention seems to be to improve on that formula, and for what has been said here it has done well. Aware of that, will give the demo a shot.

  28. Funky Badger says:

    Postman: 4.0 is the pen and paper version of WoW.

    Also, I HEART Champions of Krynn.

  29. Sunjammer says:

    “Heroic Fantasy games are the sort who like showing through their thinking of What Makes An Interesting RPG in their Design notes” is one of the most unpleasant sentences i’ve ever had to read. Shame on you Kieron. Shame on you.

  30. Vinraith says:

    Ouch. I’ve reached a point where it’s very hard for me to become involved in a game with graphics like these, no matter how intriguing the gameplay. I’m embarrassed to admit that, and frustrated by it, but it’s true nevertheless. The mechanics here sound absolutely fantastic, though, and I’ve always been a sucker for anything that recreates the pen-n-paper experience. I suppose I’ll give it a shot and see if it’s an exception to the rule.

  31. Dominic White says:

    I still think the best adaptation of D&D 3.0 rules is The Temple of Elemental Evil, albeit after the massive fan-patches. It’s a pity that it got so rushed out and crippled by the publisher – apparently near the end of development, the publisher decided that they wanted to go for a ‘teen’ rating rather than ‘mature’, and forced Troika (poor bastards) to cut out most of the evil options and some areas like a brothel.

    If the ToEE engine got released into the wild, you’d see people making some absolutely amazing things with it.

  32. Funky Badger says:

    ToEE was utterly awful though. Stultifying to play and without any atmosphere. A bad adventure badly implemented.

  33. Dominic White says:

    Depends what you were looking for in it. As a story-driven roleplaying game, it was rather naff, yeah, but as a proper full-rules D&D dungeon crawler, nothing comes close.

  34. postmanX3 says:

    @Funky Badger:

    Yes, that’s what a lot of people say. In my oh-so-humble opinion, however, I find that it moves a lot faster than 3.5, and classes are more fun to play due to the wide variety of powers. Warriors aren’t always using a basic attack every round for the first few levels anymore!

    I’m not saying I don’t enjoy 3.5, though. I love it quite a bit, too. To each his own, I suppose.

    In relation to the article, though, I’m pretty sure the game is 15 pounds, not 15 dollars. Either way, this is probably going to go on my to-buy list. And that is a very long list, unfortunately.

  35. Dominic White says:

    @postmanX3 – I actually agree with you. D&D 4.0 is a bit more ‘game-like’, but given that the majority of time in any D&D campaign is spent in extended combat scenarios which take AGES to play out, having interesting play mechanics that mean everyone has a fun role in a fight is a pretty major improvement.

    And if anyone doesn’t like the setting/details, it’s a pen-and-paper game. You either buy sourcebooks for stuff you DO like, or make your own as the DM’s guide tells you to pretty much up-front.

  36. Pipes says:

    To those worried about the font – the developer has stated intentions to have the font redone in higher resolution.

    here

  37. Pipes says:

    Ignore my faulty attempt at a link. It’s in the forums, under the sticky thread about the 1.04 patch.

  38. Funky Badger says:

    Dominic: it didn’t get dual-wielding right, did it? I just remembered the hell of scouting off with a rogue, getting into combat, then stepping every other party-member up to the front one round at a time. Un-fun. (I’d go back a version or 3 for my faves and pick Eye of the Beholder II and Champions of Krynn)

    postman: you’re right, of course. I’ve mainly played in house-ruled campaigns which gave fighters a bit more they could do… mages at levels 1-4 on the other hand… the most negative thing I’ve heard about 4.0 actually, is the lack of quality of the published scenarios, and that they really tend to excelude the RP elements…

  39. Dominic White says:

    @Funky – Is that before or after the Circle of Eight fan-patch? http://www.co8.org/

    ToEE was pushed out unfinished, untested, with major chunks of content cut out at the last moment and buggy as fuck to boot, no denying that. The fans have long since fixed up almost all the combat problems, although can’t do much about the story/setting.

    Seriously, check out this changelist:
    http://files.co8.org/docs/Circle%20of%20Eight%20Modpack%205.5.0%20-%20Release%20Notes.txt

  40. Lobotomist says:

    Hey guys , if you think Temple of Elemental Evil is the pinnacle of 3.5 D&D strategy , and Knights of Chalice is its little brother…

    Well than you are missing on the real deal ;)

    Incursion, the 3.5 OGL (D&D) roguelike.
    Which is better than both of above games put together, and its free.

    http://www.incursion-roguelike.net/

  41. Dominic White says:

    Incursion is also a single-character game (which means it loses most of the tactics/depth of the combat system), and it loves to kill you off in the first minute of play. It’s also jam-packed with hilarious/insane things like zombie dolphins leaping out of trees at you.

  42. Funky Badger says:

    Dominic – almost certainly before. I got ToEE at launch, played though it which probably took a month or so – although felt like decades – and haven’t touched it since. Although, in its defense, it wasn’t nearly as abominable as Ruins of Myth Drannor.

    Lobotomist: consider that bookmarked.

  43. Stromko says:

    Postman: True, it makes fighter-type classes more interesting because they have a small selection of powers that they use instead of attacks, but it makes caster classes less interesting because all they have is a small selection of powers instead of you know, spells. In other words, all the classes are the same, just designated for different party roles, bit like an MMO. I still play in a 4th ed. campaign every week, but only because the DM is brilliant. It’s growing on me, but I see it more as a cash-in than a critical improvement in any regard.

    The only offense I really take with 4th edition anymore is that from what I’ve heard D20 / 3.5 has been discontinued and the OGL is no more and the publisher is no longer supporting it in any way. Even my local hobby store isn’t carrying the core D20 or 3.5 books anymore.

    So I didn’t ever expect to see another PC game based on the license, and here’s Knights of the Chalice. Three races and three classes? Tiefling, please (no not really, I’d rather play a Dwarf or a Gnome, but they’re not in either).

    It finds itself, graphically and price-wise, in a place that I don’t care that much about. I have the wonderful ASCII Rogue-like ‘Incursion’ ( http://www.incursion-roguelike.net/ ) based on the SRD I could play, which has 9 races, 12 classes, a massive selection of feats and a decent number of skills that actually matter, as well as a great number of actions you can do in-game that no other CRPG can or does allow, like crawling on the ceiling to get over gaps and gain the drop on foes. It has the limitations of a Rogue-like too, being that the maps are randomized you can’t have a complex story (it’s just ‘go to the bottom level of the dungeon and do X, then escape’), but since I don’t have to wade through a story it’s been worth multiple playthroughs even after I’ve beaten it. Of course, I savescummed like crazy because eventually I got sick of dying on level 1 or 2 and wanted to see the end.

    Then on the other hand, if I want to boot up a more graphically intensive game, and one that costs money, I’ve never bothered to finish NWN2’s campaigns so there’s that. I just don’t see why I’d give Knights of the Chalice a chance.

  44. Stromko says:

    Wow, I need to not be so long-winded, because yeah, beat me to the post. ;)

  45. Dominic White says:

    The problem with D&D until 4.0 is that Wizards were brilliant at everything except for hitting things with swords, and even then, they could summon creatures to handle that part for them. After about level 5, they became the alpha and omega of the game.

    Knocking them down to roughly the same level as the rest of the players is a goddamn fantastic move, and anyone who says otherwise was a wizard player lording their borderline-omnipotence over everyone else.

  46. Lobotomist says:

    Well. Yes Incursion is single-character. That is the only downside. But that is the nature of roguelike games.

    And dont worry about dying. In settings you can disable permanent death.

  47. Funky Badger says:

    After about level 5, they became the alpha and omega of the game.

    That really depends on your GM/players – as with all things…

  48. Funky Badger says:

    Dominic: if anything clerics were stronger in 3.5…

  49. Dominic White says:

    The GM’s role should be telling the story that ties everything together, and coming up with rules if required. They shouldn’t have to rework the entire game due to the core rules being horribly unbalanced.

    The 4.0 combat system is actually workable ‘out of the box’, which means the DM has less rule-wrangling to worry about, and can instead focus on the important part.

    I’ve honestly seen people upset that they actually balanced the combat system, rather than having each class on a wildly different power curve.

  50. Vinraith says:

    As a general rule of gaming, I find that if balance requires homogeneity, I’d rather have things unbalanced. I’ve never noticed any overwhelming balance problems in 3rd Edition (and I’ve played a lot of it). If anything, I always found it irritating that “sorceror” basically renders “wizard” obsolete. I’m not sure what kind of wizard players Dominic is playing with, but in my experience it’s one of the weaker classes in the system. I pretty much gave up on spellcasters in general under 3rd and 3.5 and went to playing rogues.