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Now that's more like it! Catacombs review
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TOPIC: Now that's more like it! Catacombs review
#52438
Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
I couldn't wait. I don't know when DF is going to have the Catacombs set back in stock -- "summer" seems to be the consensus, but I haven't heard official confirmation from Stefan or Jeff, and even then, "summer" could mean anything from "next week" to "four months from now." I couldn't wait. Since I was broke when the set was in stock, I had to pass it up. But I saw a listing on eBay recently and jumped at the chance to have it now. And I'm so glad I did.

The Catacombs set is one of DF's best sets ever. This is a somewhat empty proposition, since I also think that about the three Wicked Additions sets, the various Medieval Building sets, and all the Cavern sets (especially the ones with water). It's a long list. Still, the Catacombs set is on it!

See, the reason I was a little harsh on the Woodland set is, well -- the Woodland set is like a good meal. It's fine. It's enjoyable, really. There's a lot to praise. But when DF really nails it, it's like Thanksgiving. It's an EVENT. The Woodland set is neat. The Catacombs set is fall-the-floor-weeping, pull-your-hair-out-in-joy kind of awesome. It's shaking-as-you-open-it-coz-you're-so-happy kinda joy.

Do I overpraise? Nah.

The Catacombs set is a perfect combination of stunning sculpting, excellent diversity of pieces, and exciting dramatic flourishes. It also helps that it's a classic fantasy setting, and one that the DF modular design is particularly well-suited for.

See, I'm a sucker for the regular dungeon setting, and the medieval building sets, because I like building dungeons. I like making rooms and passageways, and I like indicating the function of each room. This is the study, this is the bedroom, this is a torture chamber, this is an armory, this is a mess hall. That means, of course, that when you finish assembling a setup for these, you then have to "furnish" the rooms with some kinds of accessories to indicate what's what. I admit to being a little less sure how to use things like the Den of Evil sets or even Hellscape because it doesn't make sense to me to put tables or bookshelves or what-have-you in these settings, and there is no real differentiation between locations -- they're all just "a slightly differently shaped version of the last place you just were." I happen to think that the "wall piece/ floor piece/ corner piece" design of Master Maze lends itself best to areas that are basically dungeon-like: rooms and passages. So something like the Catacombs set is awesome because catacombs can be comprised of rooms and passages. Now, do catacomb rooms really have different funtions? Well, maybe not. Though you can differentiate between, like, the fancy crypts of royalty which might be larger and have treasure in them, from the basic mass-grave-of-the-peasants which would be a narrow labyrinth of stacked bodies with nothing else. There are a lot of ways to exploit these basic pieces to make an interesting environment.

In this way, the Catacombs set is kinda like a hybrid between the basic "dungeon/MBS" sets and the cavern sets. Like the former, it has elements you combine to make rooms and passages. But like the latter, you won't really be "furnishing" the rooms to distinguish their purpose. Instead, the different parts of the environment will feel "different" enough just in the way the basic DF pieces have been used, to create a sense of place all on its own. It's an intriguing, new approach. A dungeon made of rooms and passages, like the traditional dungeon sets, but the rooms themselves don't require accessories to set them apart, in fact most accessories would probably feel out of place. ("What? We're sitting at tables eating turkey surrounded by rotting corpses. So?")

So I already like the basic setting. But I also think that this set does a stellar job of giving us everything we need to really CREATE this world.

First, the basic pieces it includes are perfect. This is a strong mix of basic components -- walls and floors -- together with cool accents, like the arched doorways and the columns and the rubble and the stacks of skulls and, of course, the flaming firepits. I'm getting to those, I promise. But, really, we have just enough of everything we could want, with nothing missing. If we got any more floor or wall pieces, at the cost of the cool doorway pieces or moveable walls, that'd be a shame. And if we got more cool accent pieces at the cost of the basic floor or walls, that would be a waste, too. We even have TWO kinds of moveable walls, so they can be used to fill narrow spaces as well as full spaces. Perfect. Similarly, the moveable curved walls can fit on top of the square corner pieces (the light-up ones) in a very natural way, creating a small shelf, so it looks like they were designed to go that way, with no gaps, no strange overlaps, they work together. The design of the pieces and the choice of what pieces to include and in what quantity - it's all remarkable. Really, all the pieces work well together to maximize the kinds of displays you can make with just one set. I know some people have indicated that maybe we didn't need FOUR of the flaming corners, but I disagree. They may have driven the price up a bit, but they're also basic corner pieces, and those are useful. The fact that they have flames in them is something I'll get to in a second. As basic corner pieces, I consider them essential and I think we have the perfect amount of them. Really, the only thing we could argue is missing would be some curved half-floor pieces to complement the curved corner walls. But it's a minor nit, I didn't even think about it until just now.

Second, the sculpting. It's just fantastic. All these tombs, the design of the floor, the skulls in the wall. They're all works of art. And there are so many awesome little touches. The skulls buried in tiny niches on the cross-section of the large moveable walls. The cobblestone-like floor. The carved figures guarding the archway. The little recesses in the free-standing curved walls. There are so many little details to pick out, and yet the cumulative effect isn't cluttered or overwhelming. It just WORKS.

As to those flaming bits -- they're even cooler in person. Aside from the fact that seeing the actual flickering is super fun, kid-at-Christmas-morning kinda fun, I also really like the role they play. I love the torch-walls in the regular dungeon set, and these serve the same purpose. This is how this area is lit, and from a game-play standpoint (and just as a fan of the diorama aspect), it makes practical sense to show where the light is and what is hidden in shadow. I like the idea that if you buy multiple sets and build a huge catacomb, you'll have enough of these to place them periodically, in regular increments, to show how the area is lit. The whole thing creates just the right atmosphere. When I originally saw these, I thought of them as "special" pieces, unusual terrain that would be the focal point of hte display -- the way the Hell Gate is in Hellscape, for example. But, really, that's not accurate. They are just the corners, and they are just the light source. They're awesome, but it looks appropriate, not odd, to have a bunch of them.

To be honest, this set is so awesome I can't really imagine what could be in Catacombs 2, other than a total game-changer, like a different kind of catacomb or maybe some accent pieces that are very specific and I couldn't have anticipated. But nothing in this set screams out "ooh, what we REALLY need for this is ____." We HAVE what we really need. I suppose I can imagine things like a raised tomb of some kind, or maybe various stair pieces. Stairs like the grand staircase from WA3 would make sense, as the main entrance to the tomb, as well as stairs-in-the-floor leading down to the depths of the catacombs. But other than that -- I don't know. I mean, I really can't think of what this is missing! Other than slight variant sculpts/designs on these same basic components.... I mean, don't get me wrong. I can imagine unique accent pieces for a Catacombs Accessory Set, sure. A massive central tomb, a statue of skulls, whatever. But that stuff, you'd buy one accessory set and you'd be done. In terms of a full expansion of the catacombs setting, something with basic components to add to this world -- yeah, I'm drawing a blank. This is a perfectly realized and complete catacomb in this box. If you want a bigger catacomb, buy more sets.

If they ever come back in stock, that is. And I don't beat you to it this time. ;)
Law
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#52556
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Law!

The Catacombs set is one of DF's best sets ever.
Indeed it is! It truly is among the finest and best sets produced to this date. The fact that the list for "the best sets" is not a short list, since most of the sets are absolutely fantastic and just a few are "only" good to very good, only shows how many great products Dwarven Forge has consistently presented over the last 10+ years.

Do I overpraise?
No! ;)

The Catacombs set is fall-the-floor-weeping, pull-your-hair-out-in-joy kind of awesome. It's shaking-as-you-open-it-coz-you're-so-happy kinda joy.
Very true. When the set was released I had just finished a long undead adventure part of my campaign and my players where quite happy not to see hordes of undead for a while. Well, as I said this was when the catacomb set was released...
After getting my hand on my preorder sets I just had to include this beautifully sculpted set in every setup possible. Which meant way more undead enemies than originally planed for the next part of my campaign. Reaction of my players:

On more undead: "Ohhh noooo!"
Seeing them in the Catacombs dungeon: *Silence* *Silence* *Silence* "OK, we're fine with more undead" followed by "OMG this looks so cool...." :)

See, I'm a sucker for the regular dungeon setting, and the medieval building sets, because I like building dungeons. I like making rooms and passageways, and I like indicating the function of each room. This is the study, this is the bedroom, this is a torture chamber, this is an armory, this is a mess hall. That means, of course, that when you finish assembling a setup for these, you then have to "furnish" the rooms with some kinds of accessories to indicate what's what. I admit to being a little less sure how to use things like the Den of Evil sets or even Hellscape because it doesn't make sense to me to put tables or bookshelves or what-have-you in these settings, and there is no real differentiation between locations -- they're all just "a slightly differently shaped version of the last place you just were." I happen to think that the "wall piece/ floor piece/ corner piece" design of Master Maze lends itself best to areas that are basically dungeon-like: rooms and passages. So something like the Catacombs set is awesome because catacombs can be comprised of rooms and passages. Now, do catacomb rooms really have different funtions? Well, maybe not. Though you can differentiate between, like, the fancy crypts of royalty which might be larger and have treasure in them, from the basic mass-grave-of-the-peasants which would be a narrow labyrinth of stacked bodies with nothing else. There are a lot of ways to exploit these basic pieces to make an interesting environment.
I also love to "dress up the dungeon" with cool accessories and I was a little bit worried that the catacombs would not be as great as I hoped because I didn't see as much possibilities for dressing it up like I'm used to with the classic dungeon line (just for the record: there are so many cool accessories out there to enhance the already awesome catacombs dungeons that these worries were totally unnecessary). This got me the idea to experimented with totally "clean" dungeons". Dungeons where I used no other accessories than those produced by Dwarven Forge to pimp up the scenery (these dungeon setups can be seen here, and here. ). And I loved the result. Especially the catacomb set holds it own very well is is just awesome all around. :)
And the Cavern sets as well as the the Den of Evil sets really greatly complement the catacombs set and I can't wait for the catacomb set II as well as Catacomb Wicked Editions (oh, the possibilities....!! :D).

Now, do catacomb rooms really have different funtions? Well, maybe not.
I'm not so sure on the "maybe not". I was greatly inspired by the awesome catacomb level designs in the game Skyrim which just blew my mind for showing me so many awesome elements that can be put in a dungeon designed as a (not so) final resting place for corpses.


To be honest, this set is so awesome I can't really imagine what could be in Catacombs 2, other than a total game-changer, like a different kind of catacomb or maybe some accent pieces that are very specific and I couldn't have anticipated. But nothing in this set screams out "ooh, what we REALLY need for this is ____." We HAVE what we really need. I suppose I can imagine things like a raised tomb of some kind, or maybe various stair pieces. Stairs like the grand staircase from WA3 would make sense, as the main entrance to the tomb, as well as stairs-in-the-floor leading down to the depths of the catacombs. But other than that -- I don't know. I mean, I really can't think of what this is missing! Other than slight variant sculpts/designs on these same basic components.... I mean, don't get me wrong. I can imagine unique accent pieces for a Catacombs Accessory Set, sure. A massive central tomb, a statue of skulls, whatever. But that stuff, you'd buy one accessory set and you'd be done. In terms of a full expansion of the catacombs setting, something with basic components to add to this world -- yeah, I'm drawing a blank. This is a perfectly realized and complete catacomb in this box. If you want a bigger catacomb, buy more sets.
I can't wait to see what will be in the second catacomb set. I just hope there will not be an excessive use of the "real-light" effects. I like them but they are not a WOW factor for me, just a nice element in an absolutely awesome designed set. For me the modular walls were way more exciting. To my opinion these light effects are something that should be used with a "less is more" thought in mind. Too many blinking things in a big setup tend to become rather irritating very fast. But that is nitpicking on a very high level.
One thing I would love to see (not only for the catacombs) is a set that has higher level floor pieces. In general sets that allow it to build multiple levels easier.
And special crypts and bigger pieces (I'm thinking something crypt-like in the size of the Hellgate pieces) would be awesome. I agree that the basic set is really, really great but there is still room for even more greatness. ;)

Thank you again Law for putting your thoughts in writing and sharing them with us.:)
Kronos
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#52559
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Do catacombs have different functions?

No, and yes.

No, because it's always going to be a place with a bunch of dead bodies. Look around, there they are.

Yes, because in a fantasy (or horror) setting, there can be various reasons for having those bodies. It might just be a mundane burial chamber, but it might also be a ghoul's pantry, or where the enchanted castle's undead guards are kept until the alarm is sounded, or the dimensional nexus where dead bodies are imbued with animating spirits, or a library where great figures from history come back to life (temporarily) to be consulted on weighty matters, or a way to scare superstitious looters from penetrating further into a dungeon, or a cleric training ground, or whatever else you can come up with.

Furthermore, catacombs can be reasonably placed in a variety of settings, and not just as part of a dungeon or beneath a graveyard. Cities used to have catacombs in their foundations and alongside their sewers. Churches, cathedrals, and even wealthy houses often had at least a small catacomb.

So I expect to be able to use this set a lot. Which is great, cos a set that looks this good deserves to be on the table as much as possible.
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#52574
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
I told y'all Casey was a brilliant sculptor...I left it largely to him on how to design this and sculpt it...with a few suggestions maybe...my call on how many of what pieces...I had more working knowledge of that...he has been left alone to create Catacombs 2 and 3....he takes a long time, because he thinks a lot on it...and of course, he has other main stream sculpting projects to work on in the "real" world....but he really, really enjoys this, and you can tell....I have a feeling you guys are going to like what he has done for these next Catacomb pieces....they are supurb...we also have some things from Sandra Garrity to go with it....
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#52587
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Gosh Stefan,

I just picked up a Catacombs set last week on Ebay and am giddy watching for the Post office to do its job of making me wait like a dog that need to go for a walk at the door and you have to throw Catacombs 2 and 3 in my face and make me start Salivating even more and I still don't have the First Catacombs set......YET!

You know I will have to seek Revenge on you by buying the next two sets as fast as they become available preventing you form being able to love and cress their box's.... Ha... Vengeance will be mine!

All joking aside Casey's work is stunning! I look forward to their release.

Law.. that was a long review but I think you hit it dead on perfect and I wouldn't change a word..... OK... maybe 2 or 3 ....but your right on the ball.
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#52597
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
I have a feeling you guys are going to like what he has done for these next Catacomb pieces....they are supurb...we also have some things from Sandra Garrity to go with it...
AWESOME!!! I can't wait to see what Casey and Sandra will come up with. This is very exciting. Any word on when the pre-order phase will begin for the Catacomb 2 and (I assume) the accessories set or whatever awesome stuff Sandra is creating? :)
Kronos
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#52608
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
I agree Law. I have multiples of most DF sets and although a large cavern with water and passages and chasms is hard to beat, I agree that Catacombs is the best "all round" set DF has ever done. It's detailed, imaginative, atmospheric and yet still highly flexible. If I ever had to downsize my collection, this is the set I would always keep till last!

I'll definitely be pre-ordering some of the new catacombs stuff when it is released.

Dave
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#52688
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
I can not wait!

-Shadox
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#52782
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Thank you to everyone for the kind words...Law, your review touched on many things that were important in my design process...I am so happy to hear that these things resonated with you and fellow DF fans-this acknowledgement is quite rewarding and brings me great joy.

As the catacombs was my first complete set design, it's success means a lot to me personally and on many levels.

To Catacombs 2 and beyond!

PS-The detail and design is getting even better...I can't wait for the "sneak" pics to arrive on the forum!

Happy gaming,

Casey
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#52784
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Awesome!

And -- YOU can't wait?!?

The rest of us are DYING over here! (see what I did there?)
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#52836
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
jackattack wrote:
Do catacombs have different functions?

No, and yes.

No, because it's always going to be a place with a bunch of dead bodies. Look around, there they are.

Yes, because in a fantasy (or horror) setting, there can be various reasons for having those bodies. It might just be a mundane burial chamber, but it might also be a ghoul's pantry, or where the enchanted castle's undead guards are kept until the alarm is sounded, or the dimensional nexus where dead bodies are imbued with animating spirits, or a library where great figures from history come back to life (temporarily) to be consulted on weighty matters, or a way to scare superstitious looters from penetrating further into a dungeon, or a cleric training ground, or whatever else you can come up with.

Furthermore, catacombs can be reasonably placed in a variety of settings, and not just as part of a dungeon or beneath a graveyard. Cities used to have catacombs in their foundations and alongside their sewers. Churches, cathedrals, and even wealthy houses often had at least a small catacomb.

So I expect to be able to use this set a lot. Which is great, cos a set that looks this good deserves to be on the table as much as possible.


I see your point, and I agree -- there are many awesome ways to incorporate a catacomb into a campaign, and it's a classic fantasy setting.

I was just thinking in terms of "function" for the purposes of thinking how one might furnish the catacombs with accessories beyond what's included in the set. Although the various purposes of a catacomb would affect how you actually lay it out -- I like the idea of a barracks of sorts for the undead army of a vampire lord or something like that, which would have a totally different layout from a mundane burial chamber, and yet a different layout might work for a "scarecrow" design to hinder timid adventurers from pressing further into where the REAL treasure lies, etc.

But all of that is about how the rooms are arranged, their size and shape, and so on. It's different from things like the medieval building set or even the regular dungeon set, where having done all that, you then have to put "stuff" in the rooms, to indicate "this is the library, this is the mess hall, this is a bedchamber," etc. The catacombs might have a function, and individual spaces within the catacombs might have a function, but I wonder what kinds of furnishings a catacomb would use as a way of indicating the function of each room.... Hmmm...


A shrine or altar would highlight a center of religious worship within the crypt, and some kind of magical instruments might indicate a room where arcane necromatic arts are practiced here, and there could be a large sarcophagus to indicate a tomb of particular significance. Chains of some kind might be neat, too -- chains in the walls, or tables with chains affixed to them -- places where either victims are restrained for the unholy carnal feast, or where experiments are performed on the undead, or just where particularly nasty undead are kept in place by their masters....


Okay. I've scared myself now. Imma go watch My Little Pony or something. . .
Law
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#52837
Re:Now that's more like it! Catacombs review 1 Year, 7 Months ago  
Kitchen gear -- an oven, a chopping block, a bloody table -- might convey that a catacomb room is being used by ghouls.

Weapon racks go in a barracks, whether the soldiers are living or undead.

Even if the library's knowledge is contained in the spirits of dead bodies, living researchers need a place to sit, and something to write with and on. A couple of stools and scrivener's desks would work well.

Torture gear might be kept (and used) in a catacomb for the dual purpose of breaking prisoners' spirits, and saving the torturers having to schlep heavy, messy bodies across long distances.

The first room in a catacomb might have a couple of tables and some tools and some coffins, as a preparation chamber for a burial ground. (And a chest where the loot from a hundred bodies was "put aside" by unscrupulous embalmers.)

And a still and/or alchemy gear might indicate that someone is experimenting with an unholy brew...

So, yes, you can also dress Catacombs to indicate various functions for individual rooms.
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