Descent Co-op: Redjak’s Automated Monster Variant – Part 2
Posted By: Dillon
Setting up the Shadow Rune Campaign, and the first quest against the RAMV
In our first segment, we took a look at RedJak’s Variant that allows Descent Co-op by automating the monsters in the game. It also allows traditional persistent campaign play, as well through scaling difficulty by the use of event cards that are made increasingly nasty as the campaign progresses. If you missed the first segment, check it out to the right:
Now we’re going to walk through the process of setting everything up and working our way through the first campaign mission to see just how functional the RAMV is. Will it be an absolute cakewalk for the heroes, or a complete nightmare of clumsy rules and poor AI?
After getting all of your cards printed and cut, you’ll be setting up Descent 2e pretty similarly to a normal campaign. The one major change initially is that there will not be an Overlord deck used at all. The rest of the tokens and cards will likely come into play, and it seems perfectly acceptable to mix in any expansion content as well – so all of the other heroes, monsters and items that you have can all be used in the campaign, where appropriate.
Some of the cards that are included are shown here, such as the event cards that are drawn at the beginning of the round (skipping the first round) – these can act as instant effects or can be “Global” which means they will stay on the table until they are removed or another Global replaces them. In Act II, however, up to two Global cards can be in place at once, removing the older one if a third one is drawn.
The Dark Intervention and Dark Influence decks are how the Automated Overlord/Environment upgrades along the way. Every time the Overlord loses, a Dark Intervention card is added to the Events deck. If this card is drawn in the game you THEN draw a Dark Influence card which stays on the table! So you could have multiple DI cards out at once while still having global events. Some of these look to have VERY nasty effects and DI cards can stack up (one doesn’t bump another off)
The Encounter Objective cards are shown above as well, these specify certain AI behaviors for individual monster groups in a given encounter. Great design idea by Redjak on this, as it combines with the regular monster AI cards that are included for practically every monster type in Descent 2e.
I don’t have the monster AI cards pictured here, but they spell out quite clearly the sequence of behaviors that every monster will attempt to complete based on their current position and distance to heroes. They are unique for each monster type taking their abilities and strengths into account, and some of them are NASTY! They focus on a hero in range who has the lowest health, so protecting your weaker party members is crucial – and in a big group activation they can really go to town on a hero!
We chose Syndrael as a Knight for our first hero, and Roganna as a Stalker for the second. Syndrael seems to have a snooty air about her, but we are hoping that Roganna’s forest-motif fashion sense can bring the average pretentiousness of the group down a notch or two.
Avric was our go-to 3rd spot for a healer character and chose the Spiritspeaker class. Avric loves interior decorating and spends most of his idle time on quests staring at the fall leaf decoration up around the lights just north of every map they fight on. Meanwhile Leoric went with the Necromancer class. He swears up and down to the rest of the group that he likes the company of live folks as well, but the jury is still out on this guy. Luckily, his reanimated zombie’s name is Meatball and he is an absolute riot. Dude pulls his arm off and uses it to scratch the lower part of his own back. Big hit at parties.
Here is the picture taken after the board was laid out and most everything organized. Descent takes up a bit of space on it’s own but the RAMV footprint is incredibly low, not adding very much at all. Many of the cards on the right are not necessary for the individual encounters as well if you are hurting for table space – really just the search deck.
The first quest in Shadow Rune is really just an introduction, with the same results win or lose for the heroes – although with RAMV, the Overlord actually gets stronger by losing (adding a DI card). Our heroes are out for glory and putting this variant through its paces though.
It’s called First Blood, and despite not having Sylvester Stallone mentioned even remotely, does a good job of showing everyone the general flow of the gameplay. This holds true with the RAMV in the quest as well.
The objective for the heroes is to defeat the big red Ettin (who gets 2 more health for every hero in the game – bringing him to 16!) while the monsters are trying to get 5 goblin archers off the board through the exit to the West.
My confidence level was pretty low when I noticed all four of them facing the camera instead of the two groups of monsters just a short few paces away.
Right away, our initial impressions of Avric as a mild-mannered design-focused feng shui guy go RIGHT out the window as he dashes ahead to scoop up the search token!! Lots of scoffing and groans followed. Afterwards, Roganna dashed off to be as emo as she possibly could. She just had to be away from everybody and think about her thoughts or whatever.
One of my other favorite aspects of the RAMV is shown here as well – as after Avric’s turn one, the first monster group activated. In this quest that is the Ettins (I might have done this backwards, it goes in order that they are listed in the quest guide)
So instead of all of our heroes going back-to-back and blasting or smacking away at he unsuspecting enemies, they get to go following the turns, until all of the enemy groups have gone. This is a wonderful mechanic change, brought over from Imperial Assault, and adds to the basic difficulty of the monsters being able to act sooner they might otherwise. Luckily for dumbass Avric, the elite goblin got in the way of some later goblins’ shots in his eagerness to get to the exit (which is how the Overlord wins).
Another point I picked up from watching a video was using a d20 to track each hero’s health, and usually one for the big-bad monster in the quest. This is an INCREDIBLE tip I would recommend anyone playing this (or IA) to take advantage of if they have the d20’s available. It makes tracking health so much less fiddly than messing with 8-12+ tokens for every single character, when health is going up and down all the time.
I mean, what is even going on over there? She’s just plopped herself right in the water and is waiting to pick up a search token next turn. She did manage to lay down a trap and seems to be trying to lure… something into it. Everyone had a rough first outing, but Roganna actually appeared to be on some sort of Narcotics.
While Roganna was off doing Roganna-things and Avric was trying to change his name to Avarice (har har) Syndrael was about to turn her nose WAY up at the others and boldly dashed right up to block the advance of the big-boned red Ettin who was stomping his way down to block the road from heroes so the goblins could achieve their objective. Maybe this group wasn’t completely doomed!
Or, maybe they are – Leoric summoned Meatball who proceeded to walk right up to the goblins and throw a big fat X on his blue dice, missing completely. Not getting off on the right foot with us right now, dead guy.
This is a good point to note that the AI for the two monster groups was quite functional – The goblins would each take one action from their EO, which in this case was to run right towards the exit and try to escape. For goblins this means a fast 5 speed movement, and then for their second action they go down their AI card list and attempt the topmost action they can perform. For most of them this meant targeting and attacking a hero within 4 range, and if there was more than one, then target the one with the least health.
For the first two rounds, this meant that the goblins were chucking a LOT of dice, and did pretty considerable damage to Avric who was already up in the line of fire.
The Ettin AI is great as well, although this mission they could probably use an EO specific trait that will attempt their throw action FIRST, in an attempt to block the intersection and LOS for heroes so goblins can just run towards the exit and force the heroes to deal with the Ettins.
A bit further into the battle, we saw the now-famous-in-their-circle goblin-sandwich technique executed perfectly, with Syndrael and Avric smacking the lil guy do death. We also saw the culmination of Roganna’s period of listening to Enya alone in the water, when a single unlucky goblin stumbled on her trap and killed himself trying to escape.
Following rounds had the heroes clearing out zombies and keeping each other alive while under attack from the red Ettin. Syndrael was down to 1 hp once the second Ettin was able to move in, but a lucky miss or two from the goblins kept her alive.
Once the second Ettin had been killed off and the goblins decimated, the last task was trying to bring down big red – and it was not easy. Lots of health and two defense die meant it took our rookie adventurers a few rounds. Thankfully without a threat dial going up and significant reinforcements it was just a matter of time. The Ettin was destroyed and the group was on to collect their gold and some experience to continue their adventure.
Here is one of the nastier events that we saw pop up – letting every monster take a second attack action which they can’t normally do. The amount of damage they put up in that round was staggering and luckily another global wiped it out one round later.
Overall, this is a relatively simple quest, so it’s tough to judge the AI too much based on it – but I liked most of what I saw in terms of balance.
For only having two groups, the design decision to activate a group following each hero activation is a brilliant one and gives the monsters an edge by design which helps a lot. The goblin AI was smart enough allowing them to focus on moving and shooting to keep pressure on the heroes each round. The Ettins were just a bit easy to game, unfortunately, but that is likely due to the layout of the quest not giving them much room to work with.
It very quickly becomes apparent that the event cards and upgraded DI cards are what give the AI teeth, and the randomness of that can be surprising. All it would have taken would have been one more miss for our heroes and one less miss for the AI and this quest could have been turned around.
Next Quest up: A Fat Goblin!