(The following review is jointly written for Roleplayers Chronicle and Adventures & Shopping)
Alosar' ticks many boxes for what should make a really good solo adventure but I found myself very reluctant to replay the adventure to see where else the situations led. Technically it has a high replayability factor, in practice I found it a bit of a drag. The solo games I grew up with were the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, Sorcery! GrailQuest and Lone Wolf, which all used RPG styled systems. Most of the CYOA books which I saw at the time didn't have dice systems, and had objectives like "Find all 25 different endings" which seemed less of a victory somehow. Alosar is third in a series of separately published texts which (I believe) started as an article-mini-game in Kobold Quarterly. That article partly inferred or revisited the solo adventure from 1983 "Red Box" D&D. The solo game in the red box may have seemed very innovative to CYOA players, but to Fighting Fantasy readers it was lacking in description, story and the epic-ness found in a proper "quest". It was a dungeon with a few rooms, a few monsters, a handful of acquisitions. As an introduction to the D&D xp slow-climb of low level play it was perfect. D&D and Pathfinder are balanced towards group play, so perhaps introductory solos are in fact rigged so that group-play will always appear to be more exciting. I mention all this because when I buy or am leant a solitaire adventure I like to know its exact context in relation to other products. In typing this I have yet to fully explore the Pathfinder Beginner Box and perhaps there's a solo game in there too, much like in the D&D Basic game of my youth. In some ways solo texts are brave move for publishers whose meat and potatoes is often scenarios, new monsters, power lists and new classes.
Although not implicitly stated, Alosar is almost certainly a game for new players who wish to learn the core rules. The inclusion of the character sheets is for group campaign play, and not as a record sheet for the text itself (which I at first assumed it was). Alosar, as with the two titles prior to this is absolutely perfect for a Dungeon Master to give to a new player before a game, as a taster and familiariser with both a character and basic rules. In fact, I'm pretty sure that their aren't many Pathfinder Druid solos out there. I feel I have to say this in case you're a Pathfinder player wanting a new challenge on a rainy afternoon when friends are away - unless of course you enjoy the nostalgia of being led through the rules with someone else's character (which many of us do). I don't mind introductory solos, it's just that I feel that the solo medium needs championing for experienced play. Just for a moment I thought Open Design were going to challenge this concept. No, it's definitely a low level introductory solo. But hey, at least we know that the Party of One products can be played by anyone from newbie players to the jaded long-beards.
The reason why I mention gamebooks, is that for myself, the more exciting games were the ones where the reader was able to relate to the character as a detailed persona, like in the Lone Wolf. By contrast, in Fighting Fantasy and Tunnels & Trolls solos, the protagonist is an invisible persona where the reader fills in the gaps and stats. In the latter, descriptions of the hero's weapons are absent because the character might be of any class and armed accordingly. Naturally with games where different types of characters have a different skillset, it's very important to tailor the limited number of choices to that character. Party of One BB3 totally succeeds in placing the reader firmly in the shoes of forest-alert trainee-druid Alosar, whose sickle and select spells smack down the foes which have entered into his locale. Alosar is not yet a wandering adventurer, stumbling into random unknown caves (no doubt that will be his future). He is defending his territory, the living woods, from (literal) alien invaders. Therefore, the writing style flows very well - the reader is both "you" and "Alonsar", and is kept immersed in the situation in hand. I like this a lot. Unfortunately, the notion that (before getting involved in real danger) Alonsar the Druid has to perform a set of tasks or trials for his teacher feels a little hackneyed. In a larger text this would be appropriate, but we only have a handful of sections (65) with which to complete the game. Which brings me to a minor problem I have with the ending ...
"You have completed this adventure. If you would like to try for a different outcome, return to 1 and begin again."
There is a reason for this, because although the adventure is fairly linear, there are a couple of "minor reveals" which mean that as a reader you are rewarded with a somehow richer experience of the adventure. I'm just a fan of survival really, and that statement smacks of the CYOA books where the meta-game of beating the book by seeking out all of the routes is actually a goal. If this text is an introductory text to campaign play then a "one-time through" experience is all that should be allowed unless the character is a time travelling quantum physics specialist. This might be up to the DM of the campaign to decide. Again, I have to stress that I believe this product is ideal for a DM to give to a learning player before a game, and that it is not ideal as a one-off game for a player without a group.
I would like to see more of the Party of One texts produced and then bundled together as a reduced pack for group players to collectively build a party with a back story prior to their noble alliance as a party of adventurers (starting at 2nd or 3rd level – which is perfect!).
I printed the text out. When mentioning this to the editor of RC, the response was "Why the heck are you printing that?" I guess his foresight was better than mine...
Open Design produce some lush easy-on-the-eye products - Kobold Quarterly excels in this way. The Party of One products wouldn't look out of place in a glossy full colour rulebook or a coffee table magazine for that matter. There's a marbled background image and the choices of fonts are aesthetically balanced, the text is well ordered, in easy to read double columns. Easy to read, that is - if it was a magazine...
Experience has taught me that paper copies are the best way to play solos with dice and a pencil, either at a table or in bed. If I want a solo-fantasy RPG experience on a PC I'd probably play an actual PC game. There are practical reasons for printing some PDFs out. One is that when combat occurs in a solo, a separate sheet of paper is useful for scribbling HPs on, equipment found etc -if you don't have a character sheet. I mistook the two sheets at the back of the text as being working character sheets, but they are not up to the task and are intended for the character's life beyond the game text. So I printed the PDF and my partner's inkjet really struggled. The marbled background does the document no favours when in comes to low budget printing - it certainly gets worse when any of the colours are running low. An alternative printer-friendly copy of the text, or information about how to turn off the background would have been very handy in this case.
Viewing the PDF on a tablet is a fair compromise and my old school ways are slowly accepting that an iPads are less invasive at the gaming table than a laptop or tower. Playing the text on an iPad had it's own problems as the two column text made navigating through the different numbered sections even more chaotic - zoom in, out - flip forward and back a few pages - scan up, down ... what was the passage number again?
A message to all publishers: If you're selling a solo game PDF or ebook with numbered sections - please include hotlinks.
It's bad enough that some publishers don't connect a Table of Contents to the actual contents in purchasable documents. We are living in what could be a glorious new age for interactive texts. Hyperlinking is what the web and simplest of PDFs do best.
In summary, the PDF is beautiful to look at - but unprintable and unreadable on paper, but it is also lacking in the basics in terms of on screen navigation.
On the positive side, if you're collecting the Party of One publications then this product is a genuine must have. If you're DM teaching players, or a player wishing to learn some basics, this will be nice investment. If you play a lot of solo games you may find Alosar' disappointing.
It's refreshing to play a druid and some of the encounters are quite original, but overall I see this text as a pre-game tool and not standing up well on it's own as a gaming experience in it's own right.
Overall: 3-4 stars out of 5