a brief note before starting, this was inspired by the 32 bit cafe community code jam, link here

Dungeon Crawls

There exists a class of games. A throw back to Dungeon and Dragons. I don't mean the D&D of today, I mean the Red Box Dungeons and Dragons of yesteryear, the simple game that spawned a million young kids imaginations and spawned entire weird shards of human recreation. This is an older concept, you weren't an Elf Warrior... you were a Warrior. Or an Elf. And being an Elf meant more than just your race, it was your class. This probably isn't super mindblowing to you but to my Jr. High ass that got started on AD&D 2.0 it was wild that games were ever like this, what do you mean I couldn't be a Dwarf Warrior, I had to choose? Bullshit!

Now though? Now I appreciate that simplicity. Still though Elves suck. Worthless knife-ears.

I just wanted to talk a bit and wax poetical about a couple of these games and how I love relaxing with them now, especially now that my job involves staring at a computer screen all day. The analog nature of it appeals to Elder Goat much more than it did Goat the Younger.

Four Against Darkness

Four Against Darkness, henceforth 4AD, is probably the most well known of the games I'll talk about here today and probably also the most in keeping with that OSR (Old School Renaissance) OG D8D vibe. The concept is simple:

  1. Roll up four characters, I'm personally a fan of Wizard, Barbarian, Cleric, Dwarf.
  2. Roll on a simple chart for what the dungeon entrance looks like, draw it on graph paper.
  3. Pick a direction to go down (most entrances have more than one path)
  4. Roll to see if it's a hallway or room, what it's shape is and draw it in.
  5. Roll to see what's in it. See a theme here? Lots of rolling. You get used to it.
  6. Monster? Fight 'em. Feature like a healing fountain? Mark it down and or use it. Then move on till you fight the boss.

and that's the cliff notes, the game isn't complex. It does have like ninety billion splat books to get and add new characters, dungeons, monsters, spells, etc. You level up as you kill things, if you die it's permanent. Except there is a module (Four Against the Abyss) for playing your dead characters which is SO COOL.

Amyways I digress, the point here is it's kind of like a cozy game but for old school RPG nerds. And I get to hit things with my axe as a Barbarian, this is an important thing for me to have in my life. A brief description of a dungeon crawl follows.

So I roll into the dungeon ready to take on anything our heroes as follows:

These poor saps have no idea what they're in for. This doesn't end well.

After trudging my way through countless vampire frogs and vampire bats which are dungeon vermin that give you basically nothing, a few minions but not enough to level up, a Minotaur, an Orc Brute and a Chaos Lord that netted me a level up for Aelfgar and Khellen, I ended up at a Medusa. Now here's an important part of the game, you can let a monster react to you instead of attacking first, they may want to still fight but especially with boss monsters there are other outcomes. I did not do this with the Medusa, which means she attempted to turn my party to stone. And succeeded on three out of four party members. Stonin the Dwarf escaped petrification and over the course of several combat rounds turned the Medusa into a fine paste. But the thing is... the cleric who's now stone? Is the person that could depetrify everyone. Not ideal. So to rescue these characters I'll have to return later with a hired cleric and spend tons of gold to unpetrify them ooooooor I can leave them there and roll new party members. Which is probably what I'll do. Adventuring ain't an easy life fam.

Have I mentioned I love this game? If you're interested in buying it I recommend getting the PDFs from either pnparcade.com or drivethrurpg. I have a printed book which is fine but a heavily linked PDF file would be quicker to use. I also generally use a custom tiddlywiki I set up for this game to track my party and skills etc.

There are even spin offs, Four Against Mars is a raygun 1950s sci fi variant and Four Against Rangarok is a viking fantasy inspired take on it. This is a deep well to plumb and it's SUPER fun.

Disciples of Bone & Shadow

Disciples of Bone & Shadow is set on a tidally locked planet where life clings to existence in the terminator zone, a realm of constant twilight known as the Fractured Dominion. To one side is a frozen hell, to the other a sun blasted nightmare. The realm is ruled over by Tyrants from their massive Fortresses and woe unto you if you draw their baleful gaze.

Mechanically what this has going for it is unlike Four Against Darkness you have a large overworld hex map which offers interesting opportunities for travel and exploration. The dungeon creation is relatively the same as 4AD, but it's different enough to remain interesting. There is a neat mission generator that gives you a reason for existing which is better than 4AD's "But... who else will delve into the dungeon?". Tonally this game is MUCH more grimdark: you're in a crapsack world and everyone knows it. I like that, I dig the grimdark but it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Marching Order

Where as Disciples of Bone and Shadow is tonally much darker than 4AD, Marching Order is... differently darker. Your party barely tolerates each other. Friendly fire isn't just a bad mishap, it's a chance to turn a 4 way split of treasure into a 3 way split of treasure. If you're playing truly solo that can be a little bit of a weird mindset to get into but I love it. One thing about this game versus the previous to is that it's not nerely as steeped in the OSR heritage as they are. It is instead much more inspired by a video game: Darkest Dungeon.

Mechanically Marching Order is much more like a gamebook, so it's inherently less replayable, but it's a more consistently fun time for the hours you're playing it instead. I think that's a fair trade off and I love the snarky attitude it has.

Non Gratus Rodentum

I'll have the least to say about this one but it's such a neat idea I couldn't help but include it: What if Four Against Darkness but you were US troops clearing out Viet Cong Tunnels in Vietnam? I have a couple problems with this in terms of what it's portraying. The Vietnam war and depictions of it are ethically kind of a quagmire and I don't want to make light of the trauma the people involved on all sides went through. That being said if you thought the tunnel clearing part of the movie Platoon was awesome, this is your chance to play it and it does a good job of creating this truly tense atmosphere and creating a fair amount of paranoia in you, the player.