Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Feel the subtle and delicate touch of Dark Dungeon by Jaap de Goede

Note: Link below is currently dead. I am in the process of getting the game onto 1KM1KT to save it. I'll update the link when that is done. Enjoy the review! Jaap, if you're reading this, I would love to get hold of the setting document too, if you could email that to me, it would be superb.

Dark Dungeon is a free fantasy RPG sitting neatly in the old school while offering a different perspective. Upon meeting your first Dutchman, you will soon realise that his grasp of English is superior to yours. The written language is exemplary. Dark Dungeon has everything you need from your fantasy RPG but its European author gives it an individuality that I find fascinating. I think you will too.

Character creation

A character is defined by Abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Willpower and Appearance. A score of 0 is average, 3 is high and 5 is exceptional. You can increase each up to 10 (with the agreement of the GM), which is a super human level. Specialisation comes in the familiar form of skills, some with Ability minima. There is a brief list of suggested skills (with some short descriptions), all quite typical fantasy fayre. Finally, appearance, history and personality are added. Not content to simply mention this as an item you really must do, Jaap suggests, prompts and gives and example. Excellent. Jaap offers some templates (Classes) to act as examples rather than to constrict. To give values to all this, you assign 50 points.

Mechanics

Skill and Ability checks are made by adding a D10 to the skill level to meet a target number. There is a list of things that each Ability covers and examples aplenty! Critical passes and fails on a 10 and 1 respectively. Critical passes mean you succeed even at the ridiculous. If you critically fail, you roll again. 5 or more and the task is a touch more difficult than before. If you roll less than 5, everything's gone very, very wrong indeed. Combat is split into rounds (like sandwiches) and you have one action per round (of sandwiches). Gaining in the initiative means that you get to act first (take the first sandwich), you do that by a Dexterity check. Everyone takes it in turns to do blood letting or taking to their legs (with their sandwiches). Foe ventilation is performed with an appropriate skill (for example Short Sword). To strike, you need to get at least 9. The higher the value, the more lethal your thrusting blade. Parrying, blocking with clashing shields and evasion (buggering off) are all dealt with. Crunch is sprinkled on in the form of damage and wounds. Compared to the rest of the system, it is quite involved, with rules for different types of critical damage and affects on your character. A profusion of examples solidifies all this.

Luck

Two luck points are apportioned on every player at the start of each session. You can only have three at a time, which avoids the player-driven re-roll-o-pocalypses. Luck can be employed to save the character's life or increase your chances of in a skill. Luck systems are not everyone's cup of tea (or sandwich) but it is not so integral that it would ruin the system if you chose to ignore it.

Magic

Magic is dealt with as an art form in Dark Dungeon. Blessed with simple but delightful touches. For example, to do magic, you need to be able to have Latin as a language. Finally, someone has found a use for my wife's education! I think that means I owe someone five quid. One needs a connection with the supernatural world (amulet, bracelet, ring or some other form of bling - perhaps a tiara?) and something to connect you with the target (their half-eaten sandwich). This avoids the out of visual range barrage. Casting it requires some kind of yabbering at the game table. Or hand waving. Or both. By those definitions, the babbling, gesticulating, frothing, malcontents around my game table spend every session casting magic in a game without any. Misfires cause side affects, scarring or causing all sorts of feintly humorous filth. You might think twice before making magic your bitch.

Religeon

Woven with a fine thread, Religeon is a well considered of faith and ceremony. It takes more tangible form in Dark Dungeon, where miracles can occur. Praying builds up your divine intervention momentum as long as you retain your virtue. Sinning can turn your faith against you.

That's not quite it

Experience is gained by a mix of time elapsed; how well the game is played and how dangerous/heroic the adventure is. There is a substantial Game Master section, with some generic advice and some simple tips to get started. And although there is no setting included (I'll come back to that), there is an example adventure that reads very well. It will certainly get you going. The examples throughout are splendid - perhaps a touch too numerous but welcome nonetheless. Although there is no setting included, there is a setting right there on the website. It looks like a well considered medieval fantasy. More on that another time.

And now for the moan

Jaap's front page art gives a weathered homebrew feel to the game but the rest of the book is bereft. I rather like Jaap's art and would like to see more throughout. Jaap suggests that there is a more bristling purchasable version (this one is only Lite) but as strong as my Google Fu is, I can't find it. The quiet forum suggests that work has ceased. The site's last update is 2005, I wonder if any more is to be done on the game. I'm going to give Jaap a prod and see if the next version can see the light of day. If you have ever released a free RPG, please do join me on his forum to give him some support.

Wrapping up

Dark Dungeon is a tapestry of fine threads, sewn together with a steady hand. For all its talk of Lite, Dark Dungeon is finished. Jaap has produced a complete game. Although it is another fantasy game, its not yet another fantasy game. It offers a fine mix of the familiar with spice of something new. It has charm.

6 comments:

Ben Overmyer said...

A link to the RPG would be great. A link to the forums would be even better. ;)

Dryn said...

http://www.darkdungeon.ws/drupal/

Rob Lang said...

@Ben, of all the mistakes I've made, this has to be the classic! :-)

@Dryn Many thanks. ;-)

Maeglin the Black said...

That link appears to be broken...

Rob Lang said...

@Maeglin, thank you for the hint. The link was live when I linked it. It's gone dead since.

I have uploaded the core rules to 1km1kt and will update the link when they appear there.

Rob Lang said...

And the site is back! :)