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Knights and Legends: Dark Ink.

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What is Dark Ink?

Buckle in, dear readers, what follows isn't a short and scrappy piece of text.

I was gifted a copy of Dark Ink recently and dove into it.  Since I wasn't the purchaser on Drive-Thru, I cannot review it there, but this forum gives me a chance to do so.  I've also posted 26 questions about the game on Reddit for the author to see and answer, but the author has refused to engage on that particular thread.  For the curious:

I've read the description on Drive Thru several times, and I can't pinpoint where the author actually explains WHAT this product IS.  We're told it breathes new life into its fictional world, so we're told what it does.  We're told we'll find bliss and be endowed with infinite knowledge (a rather bold claim).  This tells us how the product will change our identity or concept of self?  We're told to read it like it's Shakespeare.  This instructs us on how we should approach and regard the product.  This instruction to the buyer feels heavy-handed.  Also, what IS IT?

The publisher has released a few previous editions and billed them as "TTRPG"s, and we'll circle back to that later.

We're told we have classes, races, and stats.  Great, but what is Dark Ink?  We're told about buying equipment, selecting skills, and wizardry.  We can watch a YouTube video with dramatic music, an animated inkblot, and an animated knight.  Okay, but WHAT IS Dark Ink?  We learn Dark Ink is available as of 2 September, has something to do with a Knight swinging a sword, and is named "Dark Ink".

So... what IS it?  It SOUNDS like an RPG.  The publishing Studio is "Knights & Legends Tabletop RPG" - so we might be tempted to think it is a tabletop RPG.  The author never actually tells us what the product REALLY is. 

Okay, I take that back, in one location we get the following quote from the sales page:  "Whether you prefer short adventures or large and complex quests, the game got your back!"  So it's some sort of game.

I'm going to be blunt.  Dark Ink is a video game combat screen simulator.  You are free to construct a narrative around these battles, but no rules exist aside from combat - or buying gear.

Have you played Final Fantasy 2 or 3 on the SNES?  You know how the battle screen shows enemies on one side of the TV and your characters on the other side?  With that setup, you know how you can cast your spells, choose what to attack, and/or what special move to activate?  THIS is what Dark Ink actually is. 

Granted, you CAN insert this battle system into a story to create an experience that superficially resembles an RPG.

We have 5 classes and 3 races.  Characters can select from 14 different "special things" they can do in addition to the normal "attack an enemy with my weapon" move.  We're given the mana cost and cooldown timers for these things when applicable.

The equipment list is a table with 9 lines to describe items to purchase.  Swords get one line on this chart, but we're told that a sword might be iron, steel, or Damascus.  No rules describe how to handle these differences, and we are merely given a wide price range.  Each potion type gets its own line on the chart.  The potions perform healing, magic recovery, or reviving a fallen comrade.  If you're reminded of "Phoenix Down" and "ether", so am I. 

Characters have 8 inventory slots total, again like a console RPG.  Arguably the "8 slots for items" fills in the role of encumbrance rules, but only in a primitive way.

A bestiary includes 14 enemy types with elemental weaknesses on page 47.  Hopefully, you remembered that page 44 explained how a common enemy "should not be more powerful than the best equipped" player's character.  It is left to the GM to customize all monster stats for every encounter - there is no starting or standard template.

A 5-page section illustrates character creation.  The character sheet is partially filled out as an example on the first page.  The next page replicates the previous work but adds more information and that continues for each page's iteration.  It is not easy to visually tell where the focus shifts between pages unless you are hand-filling out a paper copy to match the examples.  Shading would help focus the reader's eyes here.

Behold the character sheet:  The information sections are not given contrast, so the presentation is visually difficult for me to parse.  I feel like clear division of information blocks would help.  Borders, boxes, shading, things of that nature could all help.

We get a world map with no scale, leaving the GM free to decide how large the world is.  To some this is an advantage, to me this feels empty and lazy, the author actively wants to avoid defining the size of the world.

The 52 page PDF contains a lore novella in 3-6 line stanzas.  There's a reason why RPGs avoid using a novella for lore.  Only a small niche of people want their RPG lore to be explained in a 29 page, single-chapter, non-indexed, dual-column wall of quatrains.  (Okay, some of the stanzas are 3, 5, or 6 lines, but from a distance, this cosmetically resembles a book of Nostradamus's predictions).  The narrative would benefit from a devoted and skilled editor.  For example, page 4 gives us the following:

"As the five-headed giant serpents did fairly well seeking refuge at the basal of rivers and the then flooded swamps.  'Til no more hunting prey was of avail." 

Starting with the word "as" indicates a follow-up to the described condition, this is never delivered.  See, we're set up with a situation of "As thing 1 happens, thing 2 occurs elsewhere", but the "thing 2" isn't given to us.  The author uses "basal" as a noun instead of an adjective, and the next sentence should not start with the word "'til". 

An English major could explain why the clauses aren't right, sadly I only have skill sufficient to identify that they are wrong.  I do know the sentence could be repaired thus:  "The five-headed giant serpents did fairly well seeking refuge at various basins, rivers, and the then-flooded swamps up until the fauna were exhausted, at which point their hunts were of no avail".

Page 13:  "Garibal Solicious, was thy name".  The author informs us that OUR ACTUAL NAME is "Garibal Solicious".  I'm positive the author meant to say "Garibal Solicious was his name", but that sounded too much like modern English and not "old-timey" enough.  It also wouldn't have the excess comma.  Developer Pro-Tip:  "Thy" means "your".

The text is liberally sprinkled with these sorts of mistakes, most especially the extra commas.  I can sympathize because I remember getting points marked off frequently in school for the same mistakes.   I used commas as instructions to readers to understand where they should pause if they were reading aloud and it turns out that's not actually what commas are for.  I still make this mistake from time to time, but the extent here is glaring.

As far as the story's quality, I can say for certain it is definitely not worse than "The Legend of Rah and the Muggles".

I love the artwork used in the game.

What the game is Missing:

Actual skills.  In order to qualify as an RPG, you need task resolution mechanics.  Not just combat, although that tends to be pretty important.  Rules for haggling, climbing, diplomacy, horsemanship or other relevant vehicle piloting.  Dark Ink has nothing of the sort, although to be fair, the game makes no claim to having task resolution.

Non-Combat spells.  Fantasy stories are littered with magic users weaving all manner of fantastic and amazing supernatural feats.  Here magic is reduced to nothing more than a combat resource with no use beyond battle, or possibly a healing spell in a medical clinic setting.

Mechanics regarding spells and combat skills.  There's a list, but can you choose them at any time?  The example character picks 2 things, but why only 2?  I think the character sheet limits you to 3 options, but can you change them?  How do you change them? 

The mechanics to accomplish ANYTHING outside of combat.  The only things you can "do" in the rules of this game are "kill things", "heal things" and "buy shit".  Expanding on the utter lack of non-combat skills, there are no movement rules and no environment rules.  Torches don't exist.  No mechanics describe darkness and shadow, traditionally prevalent in any dungeon.  Dungeon maps are possible, but moving through a dungeon is by pure whim, and there's nothing about cover, concealment, trap detection, non-magical healing, or magic/mana recovery rates.

Sample dungeon maps exist, also without scale, and I think we're supposed to approach them the same as a dungeon or cave in Final Fantasy.  Players keep walking until the GM says "Oh, there's a battle here", and we switch to battle mode with the fight music playing in the background.  When we win the battle, we hear the victory music announcing the win.

I've messaged Felix regarding the previous 2nd Edition and he told me "Sounds like you've approached Knights and Legends expecting a full D&D Clone.  It all starts by reading the products description".  Well, I read the description of Dark Ink carefully, and there was nothing useful there.

If I'm judging this product as a tabletop RPG, there are some very basic pieces left out here, and my review on reddit goes into much greater detail with questions - I feel no need to repeat them here.  This fails to be a good RPG by a large number of metrics.  Although you get combat mechanics, the explanation is lacking, and there's simply nothing else to judge the product by.

If I'm judging this product as a '90s Console RPG Battle Screen Simulator, then it's a fine Battle Screen Simulator.

Comparing this to the 2nd Edition of the game - Dark Ink:  Knights and Legends 3rd Edition is a Step Backwards.

Considering what follows, you might think I hold a favorable opinion of 2nd Edition.  I do not.

It's billed as "OSR Inspired Homebrew 3rd Edition." 
I'll believe it's old-school console-RPG inspired.  I believe it's 3rd Edition. However, the word homebrew needs to go.  This is an official rulebook, so these aren't house rules, they're official game content.  This is the opposite of homebrew.

2nd Edition had regional information charts that explained the game world much better and looked much nicer.  No longer is the author content to have nicely organized and easily indexed regional descriptions which are easy to find.  2nd Edition did this so much better than Dark Ink.

2nd Edition offered 4 races, Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Orc.  Well, I guess everyone teamed up and completed a full genocide of the green-skins, because Orcs have been exterminated.  I guess it's going to be pretty difficult to convert your Orc character from 2nd to 3rd edition.  2nd Edition provides a superior selection of races.

What we do get in the remaining 23 pages is a completely different game.  If you didn't like 2nd Edition rules, then rejoice that very little of the remaining system resembles what you've seen before.

Let's take another quote, shall we?

"To enjoy the adventure ahead, a player must fully
embrace the realm.  The GM (Game Master) plays
a critical role in transferring the dark setting the
game offers, into a vivid and vibrant experience"

"Fully embrace the realm"?  That sounds like a high-school drama teacher trying desperately to get the kids in 5th period to start acting.  Relax, Felix, this is just an RPG.  All you need is a base level of willing suspension of disbelief.  Players don't need to erase the line between dream and reality here.

"'Tis only through true immersion, Ezora can be truly appreciated.  Players, are to listen to the GM."

This line is assembled directly from /rpghorrorstories.  If a GM EVER stated these words, I'd be measuring the distance between myself and the door and prepping to bail fast.  (Not actually leave yet, a GM might have a very valid reason for the statement, but I'd be on high-alert)

Again with the grammar:  There's not supposed to be a comma after the word "players".  After the word "immersion", there should not be a comma, it should be the word "that".

Page 31 starts the Classes, we have Knight, Savage, Ranger, Mage, and Samurai.  2nd Edition wins again.  Assassin, Shaman, Warrior, Ex-Slave, Templar, all these have been removed completely, as well as the optional bonus classes.

Looking at the Knight
Delete the comma after the word Knight.

So Strength is a 9?  I mean, that's what 7+2 means, so why isn't it a 9 if it's a 9?
Defense is 8+2, which I guess isn't the same as 10 for some reason.
None of this is explained yet.  Again, the author fails to grasp that Ability Scores are a foundation-level concept and should be explained prior to this. 

It's dawned on me now that 7+2 is probably including the bonus from Unbending Will, but Felix refuses to explain this.  He's content to believe "It is obvious to me the author, therefore the reader will also find it obvious.  It's impossible the reader will add 7+2, see Unbending Will, and assume it means to add another +2.  I should not explain this, explanations are irrelevant, it is impossible to overlook my intent".

Ability scores do not get explained in the text.  That's right, if you want to know what these mean, too bad, they aren't explained.  This is because a combat screen simulator requires nothing beyond the combat-relevant mechanics.

Page 36 lets us select a race, and ... I can't even really explain what I'm seeing.

Basically you want to be a dwarf?  They get +5 to all stats, +35 HP, and +30 MP for magic.
Next to the word "All Races" is a symbol, like maybe a diagonally down arrow.  I don't know what that symbol means, and it's not explained.

Okay, a friend looked at this and figured out that this is NOT A CHART.  No, it's TWO CHARTS.  The two charts REALLY need to be separated.  Starting with the line labeled "All Races" this changes to a "level up chart".  Character levels are Amateur, Novice, Expert, and Master, so level 4 is as high as we go.

K&L 2nd Edition handled character levels better, one of the character sheet examples mentioned being level 9.

2nd Edition had a much better character sheet.

My final score of Dark Ink
Style: 5/10 (because good artists were hired here.)
Substance:  1/10 (because buyers probably expect a tabletop RPG, and the author never admits the product is a battle screen simulator)

Just a troll… Have a great day!

Wow, the amount of care and detail in that response is amazing.  Every single criticism has been addressed to my satisfaction!

I got it on sale.  Sounds like some interesting reading material even if it is not a full RPG.


--- Quote from: zircher on September 24, 2021, 06:16:06 PM ---I got it on sale.  Sounds like some interesting reading material even if it is not a full RPG.

--- End quote ---

Thank you for your purchase! If you have any questions feel free to ask.


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