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Death in the Dungeon

You know I have a fancy for all light-ish dungeon crawler and Fantasy adventure games, especially when they ease me through the work of identifying them as such and conveniently put "Dungeon" or "Quest" in their title. So, it is actually truly a wonder why it took me so long to finally play DungeonQuest.

These days I have been a bit febrile about the idea of playing a dungeon crawler game. A fast one, a fun one, with easy rules and a simple set-up, but with some meat on it, some actual dungeon crawler feel, with minis and tiles and loot. I actually purchased a few others, but these I keep for another time.

DungeonQuest is the ideal candidate. It is all about dungeon crawling. Emphasis on both dungeon and crawling. You are not going to walk in there proudly and haughtily. A dungeon is a dangerous place, full of traps, full of monsters. You are not going there for glory, fame, or to save the world. No, in that game, you are just a lowlife, and your only aim is to scrap a few pieces of the dragon's treasure and hope you can get out with that. Usually, you fail. DungeonQuest has been deemed a random dungeon death generator, and this is exactly what it is. One may actually question whether it is a game at all.

Just to give you a flavor of what may happen. I took Tattiana, the Archer who desperately needs some coins for her dwindling clan, and ventured into the dungeon. It was actually not my first play, but my demise was quick: I got lost in the dreaded catacombs, faced several swarms of rabid rats, two poisonous spiders, skeletons, a demon, fell into a few traps, and even got abused by a Greedy Deep Elf. The game knows how to pile up merciless threat upon merciless threat, I grant it that. Did I get some loot? No. Did I explore much of the underground passageways? No. I just dove in, and went through a fate of ceaseless suffering.

As you see, the game is nice in that it features the usual component bits of a dungeon crawler: about twelve different decks to draw from, tokens, tiles. But despite this wealth, it sticks to a very simple recipe. On your turn, you either move or search a room. If you move to an unexplored pathway, you draw a tile. Each time you move onto a tile, you draw a card to see what happens - usually something bad. Some encounters are solved with a quick dice roll or two. It's as simple as that. As such, the game exactly fulfills my requirements: you get the whole package, but the ruleset is dead simple and the playtime is an affair of minutes.

But what is really nice about that game is that it tells stories. Probably not very interesting ones, but stories nonetheless. Let me guide you through another game session of mine to see by yourself. So, again: Tattiana the Archer enters the dungeon. In the first room, Razorwing Attack! Roll 1 die and suffer a number of wounds equal to the result. Just the little kickstart I needed.

In the next room, I had to cross a bridge. This should have been easy enough since Tattiana is a very agile character. Alas! I fell off the bridge, into the dreaded catacombs. The catacombs are a terrible place where you are basically trapped until you find an exit and go through a series of cards every turn that seldom bring you solace and comfort. If you remember the previous time, it was full of nasty bits.

This time wasn't so bad. I got the typical swarm of rats and the rogue skeleton but could exit shortly after. And it was actually a great shortcut to get nearer the core of the dungeon, where the coveted treasure lies.

Moving towards the riches, I had to stop short one step away from it - there was just no way in and the passway was just a cruel dead-end. That feels so frustratingly unfair. From where I was, I could even smell that money.

Going back to where I had exited the catacombs, there was a sudden collapse of the dungeon walls (I guess hosting a dragon is not the best to ensure the stability of the architecture), blocking the way back, but revealing a new path heading in the direction of that alluring treasure!

Hmm. That path actually led to a wrathful troll, utterly pissed off that his nap had just been interrupted by the rumble. Fortunately, a nimble and competent archer could dispose of him pretty quickly (the fight is just the most dumb-down system I have ever seen, by the way, just roll a d6 repeatedly, with a result outcome that just comes down to deal/receive hits, no matter the enemy).

Alas! Despite my bravery, all this was soon to end! The next room was a dead-end again. Frustrated, I searched it thoroughly and found a crypt entrance. What a promising find! I explored the crypt, triggered a trap, poisonous snakes fell in, and bit me to death. The end.

This is your typical DungeonQuest adventure. You have little to no control over it, you just don't know what to expect except a bunch of ill-intended things, and in all likelihood, you will die - often before getting the smallest piece of loot. On top of this, there is a harsh timer, and if you did not escape by the end of it, guess what? You got it: you die.

Is it fun? Will the dragon be pissed off if I actually manage to steal a small handful of their hoard? Is there more to it than just drawing random narrative prompts that most often result in losing HP? I am actually not sure of the answer to any of these questions. But there is a dungeon. There is a quest. And I'm keeping it.

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