Tavern Crawler

by Josh Labelle profile

Screwball noir fantasy

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Number of Ratings: 23
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- nf, November 8, 2021

- Tita Baby, September 14, 2021

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), May 23, 2021

- Austin Auclair, March 1, 2021

- Minidoc, December 28, 2020

- Xavid, December 24, 2020

- tekket (Česká Lípa, Czech Republic), December 20, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Way more heartfelt than it looks, December 12, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

I have a theory that the best genre stories are ones that take themselves seriously (I guess other stories too, but one generally doesn’t need to tell authors of literary fiction to be more self-important). Not, I hasten to add, in the sense that everything needs to be a grimdark reboot where every heroic pilot or mystic sorcerer needs a rapey backstory – gods no! But even the silliest premise is enlivened, and can actually become impressively affecting, with sufficient attention and craft for worldbuilding and characterization. I’m counting Tavern Crawler as a point in favor of this theory, because while it starts with a jokey setup - the bar-hopping aftermath of a fantasy quest as the heroes try to track down their patron and get paid - it accomplishes far more than I’d expected from the blurb, entirely because of the care the author took with every facet of the game.

It’s superficial to start with aesthetics, but they do make a first impression, and it’s quite a good one. I lack the vocabulary to really talk about issues of visual design, but some combination of the font, color scheme, and layout made the game look really attractive to me, while still being entirely functional. There are sidebar menus that ensure all the information you could possibly want about the game is available in a click, without needing to duck out of the main story or cluttering up the windows too much. The white borders around text you can click avoid the contrast issues that sometimes plague games that use hypertext, while the simple use of color to denote dialogue from different characters helps the player cleanly parse some of the more involved passages.

This ease of play extends to the plot and setting, which snuggle around one’s shoulders like a warm blanket from the off. You’re in a tavern, some bloke wants to hire you to see off a dragon, there’s a possible tavern brawl to avoid or lean into… and mechanically, the opening also provides an in-game character generation sequence where you can pick a backstory, as well as a mini-tutorial in the simple stat system used by the game. While this is all completely straight-ahead, the attention to detail is apparent from the get-go, especially when it comes to your two companions. They’re stereotypes, certainly – one’s a veteran warrior, the other an otherworldly magician – but they stand out as their own people. Ford, the warrior, has a flirty charm and some not-very-well-hidden softness of heart, while the sorceress Aurora is wise and responsible, but struggles with her sense of her own responsibilities. None of these characterizations are hugely novel when you type them out, and I doubt they’d hold up in a 50+ hour BioWare style game, but they’re perfect for this game, and sketched with a pleasing fleetness that makes sure you notice what’s up with your companions, but doesn’t wear out their welcome.

The positive early impressions bear out as the game goes on. There are lots of choices when confronting any challenge, and Tavern Crawler rewards exploration while still trying to be nonjudgmental about what you do. For example, while the game clearly communicates that dragons are not evil creatures, and simply deciding to kill one is morally dubious at best, TC doesn’t set this up just as a dilemma between the altruism of a nonviolent resolution vs. greedily wanting the huge reward: there are reasons given for why that money might make a difference for the characters’ families, and indications that letting the dragon live might let an independent town, weakened by its depredations, fall under the sway of an evil empire. Still, I felt like the game clearly wanted to be played a certain way – while you have the choice to be a dashing rogue or a bit of a prig, as the spirit takes you, the world is generally set up to reward kindness (this extends to the generous content warnings, which offer the opportunity to click for spoilers on how to avoid anything that might be upsetting).

This isn’t to say the game is uptight – you can get proper sloshed, hop on stage with burlesque dancers, creep through dank and horrible alleys, and romance one or both of your companions, with copious make-outs. It’s just that it’s got an overall gentleness to it that I really liked – especially so, coming after A Calling of Dogs! This gentleness extends to the game’s systems, too. There’s a single save slot that you can use as much as you like, and while there are a fair number of gated stat-checks, most problems can be solved as long as you’re sufficiently good at one of the three, and in most circumstances it’s pretty easy to come back later after having leveled up or gotten more gold from resolving side-quests. And while your companions typically pull you in different directions whenever there’s a significant choice, it’s pretty easy to max out your relationship with both of them. The ending can be bittersweet – at least the one I got was – but I think that’s a nice touch too, as it prevents TC from getting too cloying.

I feel like this review is unbalanced since I haven’t included any real criticism. OK, three things: on my screen at least I wanted a bit more of a margin on the left side of the menu sidebar, the way you sometimes get money out of thin air after completing a quest is weird, and the first joke would have been funnier if there’d been one more level after “very drunk.” There, you see, I’m an unbiased reviewer who can see both sides of things, so trust me when I say Tavern Crawler is excellent!

- nosferatu, December 11, 2020

- autumnc, December 9, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
D&D for IF, December 7, 2020
by DoctorFury (Ohio)

Much enjoyment to be had with this low fantasy RPG-lite Twine adventure. Well written, campy, and while no characters had serious depth, the pleasure was in the pacing and the CYOA progression with easy consequences and easy save/load options. This is a perfect new-generation IF game for older kids, much as Wishbringer and Zork were our introduction. I look forward to playing it again and again. I do wish the STAT vs. DM random roll was a little bit more obviously fleshed out. Why a luck roll for those animals?

Loved the dragon puzzle.

- meadowmower, December 6, 2020

- E.K., December 5, 2020

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), December 4, 2020

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A really fun story, December 2, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

Quite humorous and really well polished, Tavern Crawler is a choice based role playing story that works remarkably well. The author has managed to craft a work that is equally parts story and game, and where the RPG elements play to the strengths of choice IF and vice versa. The storylines are intricately and reasonably structured, and your early character choices allow for different methods of overcoming your obstacles. Especially good were the variety of choices. There is never really any choice that feels wrong or right in terms of story progression, and everything brings you forward, at least somewhere. To experience a fun story with Tavern Crawler, you can’t go wrong whatever you do.

- Spike, November 30, 2020

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The most RPG like text adventure I've had the pleasure to play, November 30, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This game has the feel and structure of a parser game, but in an extremely user-friendly choice-based, hyperlink format. A marvelous fusion between the two styles and something I hope to see more of in the future.

In this game you play as a member of a three-person team of mercenaries, given a quest to slay a dragon in exchange for more money than you know what to do with. As the game progresses you have to manage a few different aspects of the game including your personal stats, your loot and your relationship with your companions. Along the way to your ultimate goal, you will have the opportunity to explore the town you find yourself in, talk to many different people and even take on side quests to help boost your stats or acquire some loot.

The interface for this game is incredibly smooth and polished. The game gives you very clear directions, both on the instructions screen and weaved in to the text throughout. If I understand correctly this game was written in Twine and I think it really showcases just what Twine is capable of (and it is capable of a lot more than I thought before playing this game). Even though every choice you make might not have a huge impact on the game they all have a subtle impact that can be seen and appreciated in meaningful ways. You really do feel like you are living the story and that you have much more agency then is actually possible in a choice-based game. It really does feel like an old-school RPG or a D&D session, in the best way possible. There are a plethora of choices, the characters feel well-developed and the atmosphere is great.

My only complaint is that it seemed some of the tasks you can attempt to complete have very high stat thresholds for success. While all the major or necessary tasks seemed to have a reasonable bars to get over, some I felt like I would truly have to grind through the story, finding all the hidden ways that I could increase my stats, to be able to succeed at them. That was slightly disappointing. Also, I think there was at least one time that a certain choice was locked to me because I didn't have a certain relationship status with one of my companions, but looking at my stats page I did have that relationship. It might be a minor bug. Neither of these issues really got in the way of my enjoyment of the piece though.

Finally, I thought the epilogue was great. The author did a great job of making all those little side quests mean something in the end and I really appreciated that.

Well worth your time.

- Wanderlust, November 28, 2020

- Sobol (Russia), November 5, 2020

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A goofy and endearing RPG for beginners, October 23, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

I don't love RPGs as much as I did when I was younger, but can still get roped in if the focus on story outweighs the focus on stats. Tavern Crawler does just that and succeeded in keeping me interested for a couple playthroughs.

You play as a gender neutral hero (with a choice of fighter, mage, or thief) who tags along with a female mage and a male fighter on a quest to slay a dragon and collect a handsome reward. What follows is a charming quest with plenty of plot twists and character development. You can take on many optional quests which can improve your stats but mostly focus on story development and a lot of your time is focused on building or destroying your relationship with your two partners.

Another cool feature is that you can decide to play in a more traditional RPG mode where you can focus on building your stats, but almost every puzzle can also be solved even with poor stats if you make the right choices. Saving and restoring is also easy along the way and there's no way to get stuck. There are multiple endings and every playthrough also has an epilogue that shows you how your actions affected others as well.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A mini tabletop RPG quest in choice-based format, October 21, 2020

Tavern Crawler is a game that's chock full of fantasy tropes, stat progression, and relationship building as the player follows the intrigue of what happens after a dragon is slayed.

The choice points, descriptive links, and dialogue are great, totally in tune with a tabletop RPG campaign and often feeling like an interaction with a DM. The characterization is also solid, with the two companions being nicely fleshed out. I also enjoyed the UI and the sidebar that tracks stats and notes.

I was a touch disappointed that in my play through the game seemed to encourage moral ambiguity at first, yet choices felt like they mapped to “right” and “wrong” when determining the ending. Another note is that, being a short game, there are lots of elements to track (class, skills, gold, side quest status, dating sim progress, etc.) that are individually cool but could perhaps be pared down for a more focused experience.

- Zape, October 19, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A smooth and polished game exploring an odd medieval city, October 5, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 1 hour

Josh Labelle is a fairly well-known professional narrative designer, so I was interested to see how this game turned out. Skills developed working in a team on graphical projects don't always translate to solo text works and vice versa, so I figured it could go either way.

For me, I find this very successful. I have a soft spot for dungeon crawls and western RPGs (I enjoyed the parser game Heroes and the Choicescript series Hero of Kendrickstone better than most reviewers on average), and this game satisfies that.

It's very polished, with slick menus and nice highlighting and color use. I wasn't even sure it was Twine until I opened the file.

You play as one member of a team of three who has been assigned to kill a dragon then return to town. But once you get back, you have trouble finding where to claim your reward.

There are some complicated stats. It does fall a little bit into the Choicescript meme where you pick one of 3-4 skills and just max it out the whole time, and there's no reason not to accept most side quests; both these options make strategy a little less well-developed. On the other hand, the relationships with your partners and your decisions with the enemies (like the dragon and your employer) have more long term consequences (and many side quests have meaningful ending decisions that last even until the end credits).

Writing, setting and story are all high quality, with huge variety between the taverns in the game and several plot twists. Overall, I think this will do pretty good in the comp; if anything limits its appeal, it might be that traditional RPGs have been considered overplayed in IFComp in the past. It'll be interesting to see where this places. I consider it one of the better games I've played so far.

+Polish: Very polished, smooth, well-designed.
+Interactivity: Even lets you pick how much of the game you want to interact with, by making a lot optional.
+Descriptiveness: The variety in the bars was strong.
+Emotional impact: Suspenseful and funny.
+Would I play again? Yes.

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