Jump Box



My Thoughts

Written by Don Ewald (dpe@mindless.com)

I've devised a differing rating outline from the one originally presented by David Ainsworth and Donald Boyd from UANL #14. This isn't to replace the one that they've presented, nor is it intentionally designed for other reviewers to use; but instead, it has been created to allow readers to understand my ratings. You won't see any visible changes until the next UANL is released. At that point I'll take advantage of the new format.

There isn't a grand change from their format, but significant enough for me to make mention of it and emphasize the points I think important. Should you have any questions, comments or elaborations, feel free to contact me and make your thoughts known. I've quoted several sources during my explanation, should you feel the need to read their entire article, refer to the index at the end of this document.


...but if your main story is flawed, it really shows.1

The all encompassing story of the design. Tell me about the interaction of the heroes and villains. Is there a driving force behind the evil actions of the chaotic necromancer? I prefer a great story to great combat. Each design should provide me with a sense of fulfillment and entertainment.

A college English teacher once taught me a little secret about story writing...The very first thing to write is the ending...2

How true! A module should be cohesive. There should be rising action, a climax and then celebration--unless your campaign is more serialized. The design that starts with grandiose plans but dies with fizzlement is destined to mediocrity.

What's the conflict? What is the world like? Are there inconsistences in setting? What is the history of the area? Are the characters symbolic or personal? Is this entertaining? Does the story contradict itself? Is the scope large or small? Is this a character-driven design or plot-driven? Is it possible to create prose from the experiences of the design? Do you know the ending? Do the characters feel a purpose in their quests? How intricate is the complex plot?

Scope is important. Most author's try to create an epic plot that covers a vast continent and many towns and dungeons. How about a design that focussed on the events of a single night? A small scope maybe, but with inherent intricacies. A large scope should have virtually no random encounters as this would deter from the goal of something far more grand. Everything should be planned with a purpose in mind.


Somehow, though, UA manages to attract people from all walks of life and all ages. We all share a common bond in the dream to create. That is not so with other gamer's. We are the intellectuals of the game world. We are not content to stay with what another person has created; we constantly say to ourselves: I could've done that better...

...Never let the dream of creation die - it is something special and original granted to you, and you only. No one else will ever create that mod. that you are working on; so if you give up on it, the world will as well.3

Your genius has a chance to shine forth. You can be a great artist, but the story needs to tie your art together. This category takes into consideration the writing of the design. It doesn't consider errors, but does walk in hand with the Plot and Finesse categories. To traipse around a large town or lengthy dungeon is quite boring unless entertained with descriptive narration and events.

Do not worry about the characters. The PC is the one running them, not you. Yes, you can include their actions (and even their thoughts) but text describing the tension a PC feels is wasted text. It is the gamer's decision as to how his characters should feel, not your own.4

Does the design simulate use of all senses? Is the default text used? Does the design read as a good book? Is there useless description? Does the text keep the plot moving? Does the text immerse me into the events transpiring? Do I feel pain and triumph? Are the speech patterns of NPC's and such consistent? Is there enthusiasm in the writing? Are the NPC's realistic? Is there a ripple effect from the parties actions? Do I need to take notes?

The characters need a chance to develop. A familiarity with the NPC's should be developed and interaction with the villains carefully cultivated. What motivates the villain to his devious actions? Is he a villain of circumstance or character? Each character should have strengths and weaknesses, no person should be entirely good. Even a paladin has a chance to lose that honor.


If you talk to some experienced warriors, they'll tell you that the secret to fighting successful battles is preparation, strategy, and tactics. They're only partly right. The biggest secret to winning combats consistently is knowing all of the cheap and dirty tricks you can use in combat. Trust to a wizard to bring them up.5

This category examines events and their productiveness. Combat events are the most visible, but other events also fit within this category. Random combats shouldn't be the prevalent force within a design. In my opinion, combat shouldn't be either. Remember to use quest events, keys, and special items to restrict characters from certain areas.

Do you provide humorous side quests to your serious design? Are there secret areas or short cuts? Have you used all one-hundred events and all one-hundred percent of the allotted text space? Do the stores charge appropriate prices? Is each module unique? Do text events trigger twice when they shouldn't? Are zones used? Is area view allowed? Do you allow problem solving activities?

I hate the switch No Spells Allowed, aargh I hate it. Level draining creatures shouldn't be introduced until later levels. Even Pool of Radiance allowed an avenue of recovery to the level drainers within the graveyard. To replace vast battles, try designing hidden quests, extensive puzzles, characters to meet, and political plots to disarm.

If you (the gamer) would look at any TSR module, they have random encounter checks every Turn. In UA terms, this is about every 10 steps. The checks are 1 in 10 or 1 in 12 chance. This would mean be a 10% or 8% chance every 10 steps. This is done by making all step encounters use the random chance Event control. I use this with all may random encounters and have a 8 to 10% chance every 10 steps balances quit well. This might help those individual with combat every 5 to 10 step which always happen.6

Does the city seem to be overrun with monsters? Are the random combats truly random? Are the monsters various and new? Have you provided new sprites with your combats? Are the battles fair and balanced? Do you allow extra NPC's to join in the battles? Are the quests balanced between puzzles and battles? Is the fatality rate high, or too low? Do you allow sufficient recuperation time?


Remember, we don't know art, we just know what we like...7

The artwork category takes several ideas in mind. Both music and art is considered. It is possible to only include art that FRUA came with; but it is more plausible to locate specific art from the internet and import it. Ego's Art List is a excellent resource for this found at http://www.wp.com/~Ego/artlist.htm and has categorized thousands of available art.

The picture should set the mood of the text, not the other way around. To give the picture life, the figure should be given emotions and be shown performing actions. It is a visual snapshot of the text, and should be dealt with in that matter. A static pic devoid of life and energy grows tiring quickly. The fantasy is lost. This is bad, very bad.8

Do all the wall sets match? Are the marble windows overlooking water and you see marble flooring instead? Are there hanging walls? Are there rough edges to imported art? Is the art useful? Is the art of the design uniform?

First off, the effective use of music is an artform, just as writing it is. This is why many movies have both musical score credits and musical direction credits. Someone has to decide what goes where for proper effect. This artform is a relatively simple one, though, and anyone with a good ear for music can pick up this skill in no time. You simply have to know what works where.9

Are the imported sounds clean? Does the new music pertain to the setting? Is the music detracting from the story?


You don't have to include these. If you're in doubt, don't. Including a hack just so you've got a hack makes no sense, and can cause all sorts of problems. On the other hand, if you've just got to have a few new magical items, go for it!10

This category is rated if the designer incorporates hacks into his design. I like to see new hacks if they prove to assist the general entertainment of the design and immerse me deeper into the fantasy. The hack had better be easy to use as well.

Is your hack explained? Is it UAShell compatible? Is it needed? Are they complete? Did you clean-up your extraneous files? Did you include detailed documentation on how to apply your design? Are there any new hacks? Is your hack harmonious with the FRUA engine?


This category takes into account all errors. I expect the design to be free of most spelling and grammar mistakes--unless it is part of the dialect. I also expect stairs, transfer events, password entries, and walls to be exact. To a lesser extent, I expect quests, keys and chains to be properly set up to result in no editing of the design on my part.

Do stairs take me where they should? Do I transfer to the overland maps correctly? No hanging walls? Are doors locked from one side only? Do all text events have a Must press return toggled? Do I only toggle an inn event when facing the wrong direction? Have I been given password entries? Are all events there? Do guided tours work?


Be proud of your work, it's a part of you, a part of your imagination. If you put a half-baked mod. on the board, you're not showing us the real you, so to speak...11

This category lumps many things together. It delves deeper into the feeling and ambience of a design then into concrete specifics. It has its' own share of tangibles, but devotes itself to something more abstract.

Are the towns believable? Are the modules consistent within the design? If part of a series, are the designs consistent? Is the design faithful to the environment and genre? Does the modules flow together? Are plot strings tied up completely? Are extraneous text files neat, orderly, and useful? Is there textual background? Are the characters tinted with gray instead of pure black or white? Is the complete design too simple or overly complex? Is the design logical? If you created a sequel, would I play it as well?


Total Rating is the compiled result of the design. I take the numbers from examining each category, crunch the numbers and am presented with a nice rating.

I figure that most of the Gold Box games would be rated within the five to seven marks and I compare to that. For the UANL, I convert the rating to a percentage and suddenly we have a finished review. If you're interested in the formula devised to compute the reviews:

Total Rating = (Plot * 2 + Text * 2 + Events * 2 + Artwork + Hacks + Errors + Finesse) / 10

Should you be thoroughly confused, don't worry. I simply wanted to explain my odd ways to the general public so others could understand my rating scale. The formulas aren't a set standard; they actually slide up and down as fancy demands. I can't rate a design that showcases new art real low in the plot department--that isn't the purpose of the design. I'm open to suggestions and comments. Should you see anything that I've neglected or if you've something to rant, drop me a line.


Index of the quoted materials' sources


Evan Malsbury, from Designer's Guides of UANL 10


Dan Autery, from Beginner's Corner of UANL 16


Bryan Smith, from Editorials of UANL 3


Bryan Smith, from Editorials of UANL 6


David Ainsworth, from Beginner's Corner of UANL 13


RWBarfoot, quoted in Editorials by Bryan Smith of UANL 4


David Ainsworth, from Reviews and Previews of UANL 14


Dennis Constantino, from Dika Wolf's Art of UANL 7


John Rudy, from Designer's Guides of UANL 12


David Ainsworth, from Beginner's Corner of UANL 14


Bryan Smith, from Editorials of UANL 3