Friday, August 5, 2016

Lairs, a Kickstarter project that appeals to my imagination

Lairs is a Kickstarter project that checked off enough boxes for me that I ended up backing is on the PnP level. Admittedly, the fact that the PnP level was only a dollar was one of the boxes but there were other reasons it sparked my interest.

At its heart, Lairs is a dungeon crawl, which is a genre which that doesn't lack for games. As someone who spent a couple decades playing Dungeons and Dragons, I like dungeon crawls but I've never found one that I've liked as much as actually playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

Although, now that I don't have time to be in a campaign, there's more appeal. :D 

However, compared to a lot of dungeon crawls, Lairs definitely has a different feel. In fact, it steps away from the traditional, post Tolkien fantasy and explores a narrative that's both more whimsical and melancholy. 

Instead of wizards and warriors, the players take the role of strange beings of power. Between the artwork and the backstories, they look like the cast from a collaboration by Lord Dunsany and Edward Gorey.  

The narrative choices is a big reason why the game interested me. Some of the characters are just very interesting. There is the tragic Stonewrought Senator whose soul is trapped inside an unmoving statue. The Potted Prince takes the idea of a sentient potted plant and gives is pathos and seriousness is actually pretty cool.

I'll admit that the Dame of Catterbury is what pushed me over the edge to pledging. A magical cat locked in war against dogs and who has the most altruistic backstory? Yeah, you got my dollar for that.

They are each building their own dungeon in the same mysterious magic mountain and whoever finishes first gets to be the dungeon master as the others invade their lair. The dungeons are less a serious of rooms full of monsters and more interlocking mini games with a chance of monsters.

Frankly, the mechanics of Lairs reminds me a lot of Betrayal on the House on the Hill, which I played a fair bit of when it came out. The first half of the game is spent building a haunted house. Then someone gets possessed and you play out one of fifty different scenarios with everyone else trying to stop the possessed.

Mechanically, Betrayal had a ton of issues, not the least of which was that that first edition was horribly edited. While the underground lake on the second floor was particularly memorable, it was far from the only error. The errata ended up being something like fifty pages long.

And the random factor was so high that it could nullify any choices a player might make. Any given game could end up being a landslide victory for one side or the other. In particular, I remember the possession going off in one game at the first possible roll, leaving us with a haunted house the size of a one-bedroom apartment full of killer rats. The game ended shortly after that with some very fat rats.

But, as buggy and problem-filled as Betrayal was as a game, it almost succeeded at delivering a story. Heck, the tiny apartment full of rats might have been almost pointless as a competitive game but it did make for a great anecdote. Despite its myriad of flaws, Betrayal did deliver an experience so Lairs reminding me of it is not a knock.

Frankly, I don't know if Lairs will turn out to be a good game. They did a great job with the theme and the mechanics sound promising. But they would have failed Kickstarter 101 if the game didn't sound promising. I'm prepared for the game to be meh or even a tram wreck.

But, getting the art and the backstories will be totally worth a dollar, even if the game is terrible. And I am intrigued enough that I will make that print and play.

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