Published on July 18th, 2013 | by Vince Shuley1
Knights of Pen and Paper + 1 Edition Review
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Behold Studios
Tabletop Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) were a bit before my time growing up. At the point where I was old enough to understand the complexities of turn based, die-rolling, pencil-calculated combat, I had already been playing video games for years and saw little reason to use my own imagination to visualise adventures in faraway lands. Or maybe I just wasn’t introduced to this rich and – if you put your mind to it – immersive experience early enough. Board games were for kids and families sitting around fireplaces in wool sweaters sipping cocoa. D&D was for grown men with beards playing the roles of their favourite archetype, slinging a 20 sided die (d20) to resolve actions.
Pure D&D was never rendered obsolete by video games, that technology simply provided another medium for players to enjoy. The Dungeon Master’s stand up book was substituted for the programming code and the dice were replaced by the software’s random number generator. The fringe culture of real D&D has persevered and has even maintained its tabletop allure with developments such as Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center’s Surfacescape.
It was my lack of experience playing real D&D that drew me to Knights of Pen and Paper (KOP&P). Not being much of a mobile gamer I didn’t play the iOS version released last year, but after seeing the trailers on Steam (and being a bit of a sucker for well executed 16-bit art) I gave the Windows version a whirl and tried my hand at a D&D role play simulation with the added content of the +1 edition.
The character setup still remains one of the most exciting parts of playing an RPG (whatever the medium) and KOP&P is no exception. Not only do you get to choose your class (Paladin, Rogue, Cleric etc.) but you also pick the archetype of your player playing that character, all of which have their own bonuses. There are some amusing inclusions here from the goateed Rocker (+5 points to health) to Grandma (Extra 100% to threat).
The table has five seats but you can store your other characters in the tavern and level up one (or several) of every class, if you wish. Having the full gamut of classes will definitely help when taking on the larger challenges later in the game. Each character only has four abilities but given that all combat is turn based, there are no cooldowns and the animations are all more or less the same, any more special abilities would over complicate the experience.
Master of Disaster
The weird part about KOP&P is that you play both the people playing the game AND the Dungeon Master (DM), effectively letting you dictate how many monsters you fight for each battle. This was a bit perplexing to me at first – isn’t the point of the game to battle against the DM? I carried on nonplussed, slowly increasing the number of mobs until I had something resembling a fair fight where I would get sufficient experience for my party. You do have the option to chicken out (aptly symbolised by a button with a big hen on it) but most of the time I opted to stay the course and finish the fight, even if a few party members fell.
There is no dice rolling during combat, that would have been taking the tabletop simulation novelty a little too far. You do roll a d20 every time you camp or travel for a chance to be ambushed, though, as well as the chance of failing when you craft items at the blacksmith. The in-game currency of gold coins can be used for armour and weapon upgrades or used to purchase items for the table room itself such as drinks, snacks and furniture, all of which have bonuses effects while your motley crew is pretending to battle monsters. The token microtransaction is included here by letting you add gold to your purse through your Steam account.
Quests are bit of a bore with the regular kill/fetch/escort formula being applied to each town on the map. Moving around the map is relatively quick and painless but you can only pursue one quest at a time, making grinding the point of call for levelling up your squad. Adding new players to the table when others are already at level 10 does make for some cumbersome grinding, but by keeping your low level characters healed and out of the fight, you can catch them up without retreading too much territory – but grinding is grinding. There are the typical throwback references throughout the game, though the jokes never really had me in stitches. The visuals fared a little better in this regard, but nothing on the level of Retro City Rampage.
KOP&P is a fun diversion from the regular games that we play and deserves applause for approaching RPGs in a way that no one has really done before. That said, as a ported mobile game does it belong on your desktop? Not for $9.99 it doesn’t, especially when it is available in the Appstore for $2.99. The developers have stated their case on the Steam forums and say that they are following the strict rules set by Steam, but if you have an iOS or Android device, this pick up and play casual RPG experience is much better tuned to the mobile platform.
Summary: If you have always wanted to try tabletop D&D without the messy process of playing it at someone's house on a physical table, Knights of Pen and Paper +1 Edition gives you plenty of hours of that experience. Grab it for your mobile device at a much lower cost.