Go into the ruins, the long mouth in the short sands. This world has been touched by apocalypses, many, and now you and your home are in need. Why else would you enter the giant mouth? Why else would you drink the blood within its organs, except to find something of use… You are not alone in these though, as the fountain of blood pours from the ceiling, in the shadows fleshy beings lurk and crawl about.
That is how I felt playing Last Oath. Well, not exactly, if we were to insert a laugh track during the serious reading of blood and blood and fleshy then we would have a more accurate description of my experience.
In a similar vein to old school inspired fantasy games, Last Oath feels both comedic and dire. Just as how being slapped across the pavement during a fight in Dark Souls can feel. It is a serious thing, but once your character becomes paste on the dirt it feels like a sitcom laugh track is playing in the side of my brain that isn’t taking things too seriously.
What is Last Oath though? Last Oath is a single-player gamebook written and illustrated by Lucas Rolim. It comes with a custom rule set for playing through the ruins that are detailed through the books entries, which strung together make up the ruins that will be explored.
The total package sits at 64 pages of 5.16 x 7.17 inch pages with black and white graphics/layout.
Art Direction / Layout
The game opens with its cover, a shambling mound of nobs and robotic appearing parts, and a sword-carrying character stands outside it. The art is spindly, like a sketchbook drawing made without lifting the pen. A field sketch almost.
The title is flat and made of large characters that stand in deep contrast ‘Last Oath’. The ‘L’ drops and wraps partially around the ‘O’.
This cover represents a lot of what will be seen within. Headings with big first letters and words that fit into their lines as section titles. The art is of a similar quality throughout, heavy black lines drawn to represent different creations and locations experienced throughout the game. The white space of the cover and large text is consistent throughout. With this large text comes short paragraphs, nothing lasting too long without a rest or break.
This works for the text aesthetically given the way it is meant to be used. A gamebook like this is an interactive adventure that is meant to be read, if it was crammed into two columns with no breaks it would become too difficult for me to read potentially, or too intimidating as it becomes easy to stumble into being cluttered. This game though, luckily, is not cluttered.
Which can be said also for the art. It is useful, and enhances gameplay. At times it is evocative (as it should be!), but throughout the text entirely it is representative.
By representative, I mean that the art illustrates something that is expressed in the game’s text. This allows for words to be skipped entirely in text entries and descriptions in order to make an entry short, to take up less space and not draw on and on (as some gamebooks do).
The art adds a vibe, and is descriptive, filling in the blanks that are left by the brevity of the games text. That vibe is that this place is big, strange, and in some way living.
Last Oath as a gamebook is a book that can be ‘played’. Where a reader creates a character, then reads the book. Following the directions for play from one entry to the next (with the next being decided by the reader).
In Last Oath, a player will create a character by rolling three dice, then extrapolating from those rolls their characters stat, hit points (HP), damage, background, omen, and starting item. With the item, background, and omen, each coming with a table based on the player’s character class selection.
Using this character, you fight the monsters you come across as obstacles during your explorations. Using a simple stat+d20 dice roll, versus a target number of 10+enemy’s stat. The rules for battling are easy to wrap your brain around, with multiple optional rules for adding complexity and choice into resolving battles.
This complexity can be nice, as it allows for more ways to survive what is essentially a weird fantasy dungeon. I played with all of the optional rules that I could, and it was needed for me. The game book tells the reader how difficult it is, but in experience this is a difficult dungeon to get through. Both because of the encounters involved, but also how easy it is to take a wrong turn, or do a wrong move and perish.
Lucas Rolim, the game’s designer, seems to be interested in classic fantasy role-playing games (given other titles they have worked on, including their game Mini B/X, a distillation artfully presented of the Basic Expert ruleset of Dungeons & Dragons, but made into their own). The deadliness fits based on this knowledge, but also the quickness of play and strange decisions presented. There will be strange decisions, as there is limited space in the book, and too many decisions would become overwhelming, increasing the length of each entry, but also ballooning the game out in size.
This is a short game, the rules show this, and the length of the adventure shows this. But, as we are limited in our decisions, that’s what makes the strange choices stand out!
For instance, I may never think to chew on the rocks on the wall. But, if there is an entry for choosing that decision at a fork in the road… You can bet I will try it! If for no other reason to see what happens. Some of the fun of this type of game is just wanting to see what is written for these choices.
This is part of the replay-ability of the game though! Just as a good horror game is scarier when after you perish. You stop playing, set it aside, and play again when the mood strikes you. When you are able to be immersed again, and aren’t rushing through the motions to get back to progressing. That bit is more of a piece of advice from myself, as it is what I will be doing in order to get the best possible play experience from Last Oath.
It is not the only way to go though, as the book does encourage players to play character after character to get through the adventure. Keeping the knowledge and experiences in their head of what has come before, in order to ensure success. Which is good and allows for a player to get to new entries as fast as possible. Which are the meat of this project, the stuff that fills up your gamer belly.
This game has within it 76 entries. Each is short in length, about a medium paragraph at most and rarely more than 1.5 paragraphs long. Keeping things short and sweet, in a large readable font, ensuring that reading entries over and over again is not a taxing or draining affair. Focusing on quick punches of flavor, followed by gameplay and choices. Given the rules for the game being short, going for brief entries of text, Lucas Rolim makes the game breezy to pick up and play getting into something new and strange each time without strain.
And the entries are strange. They are full of blood, but also collapsed halls. It feels old and living at times, like a corpse is living when it has bugs in it. Like how as a corpse ages, it falls into itself.
I played through two characters during my time with the game and it felt fun to play. Deadly, but fun. My characters were given space to shout out their thoughts right before they get crushed or chewed apart. That way the end of a character isn’t just a game over screen, but a moment for role-playing.
I would have my Conjurer and his fiendish companion crawl around, searching for hints and clues of where to go in order to survive and come out with anything of value. My exploration into what seemed like more dangerous spaces was rewarded and I was genuinely surprised when I came upon a sword (the entry came with an illustration of the blade, showing me its strangeness).
Drawing my own map as I played definitely helped me feel more like I was exploring a space for the first time. There are maps in the gamebook a player can use, but I think I would recommend drawing it yourself as you play. The text of the entries supports this play though, it defines where entrances and exits are, and gives lengths for hallways to allow the new territory to be envisioned properly.
I appreciate this! That even with brief entry texts that the text does not require the player to use a map, using the map as a tool as an abbreviation for dimensions is a choice that could have been made in order to save space by the designer. But for me, requiring me to use a map in order to play would have lessened the feeling of exploration. It would have fundamentally affected my options for roleplaying, and this game keeps that in mind I think.
Last Oath is a small gamebook that provides a weird fantasy ruin to explore underground as a single-player game. It does not rely on journaling for gameplay, but instead acts as a gameable book.
It would likely only take a few hours to play through all of the descriptions and paths that can be taken. Using a fist full of characters, each created after the last has perished. The likelihood of going through this adventure with your first character without dying is low. So, to play in one sitting to a successful ending will require rolling up character after character and retreading past trails.
I however, will be spreading out my multiple hours playing over the course of the next month, so that I can savor the experience without rushing. I will still have character after character die, but I will be able to enjoy the flavorful and brisk world that Lucas Rolim has created to the best of my ability.
Last Oath can be purchased on itch.io for $15.00 USD here (https://lucasrolim.itch.io/last-oath). If this game sounds interesting to you, and you are looking for a fun solo game check out Last Oath.
Lucas Rolim can be found on Twitter here: https://mobile.twitter.com/lucasttrpg
Mini BX can be found here: https://lucasrolim.itch.io/minibx
This has been Thomas Novosel reviewing a good game. Goodnight!