The Dwarves Has A Good Opening

In the RPG The Dwarves, the dwarven people are defenders of a legendary fortress against forces of darkness: Orcs, ogres, dark elves (here called “alfar”), and so on. The fortress guards the entrance to a land unironically called “Girdlegard,” so that’s about the level of writing we’re dealing with here.

But despite the stilted dialogue, the Dwarves has a mechanically sound opening. The premise of the game is that you are Tungdil, a dwarf raised by humans, which means you have a stereotyped idea of what dwarves are, which you nevertheless try to embody. As a result of some orcs causing a ruckus, you venture out on a quest in which you meet more dwarves. Perfectly solid character idea, don’t know if they’ll stick the landing but there’s definitely good ideas in here. Just one problem: The opening conceit necessitates you do a lot of wandering around a human settlement trading barbs with bullies, talking to old mentor figures, and musing on how weird it is that someone you’ve known since she was a baby is now the human equivalent to about your age, and will die before you’re even middle aged. Then you spend a lot of time trekking across the countryside, confronting bigotry against dwarves and finding signs that orcs have begun invading the lands and watching from a hidden spot nearby as armies of them marshal. Then, finally, you get attacked by an orc patrol, bailed out by two dwarven warriors, and the regular RPG stuff of gallivanting around the countryside fighitng monsters and completing quests can begin.

That slow build up is good for the story, but it has the Yes, Your Grace problem that I want to play your damn video game. Now, the Dwarves has the advantage of being an RPG, so wandering around a settlement talking to people actually is one of the primary gameplay loops, but also there’s combat, and we won’t be getting to that for like thirty minutes.

So the Dwarves starts you off with a prologue where you’re playing as a pair of legendary dwarves defending Girdlegard (snicker) against orcs and stuff. They’re overpowered, so you can tear through dozens of the suckers even without having any idea what you’re doing, and at the end they both get stabbed to death by a dark elf who reveals that he can use their reanimated corpses to open up the gates and seize the fortress. The line-by-line problems with the writing aside, this is a really good opening: It gives us control of people who’re already good at what the game is about and lets us go to town for a while, while also establishing the threat that our protagonist doesn’t yet know about, thus giving the plot immediate stakes even though our hero is being sent on what looks like a long distance milk run.

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