Posted on February 1, 2007 by Flames
Published by The Other Games Company
Reviewed by John Walsh
Role Playing Game Accessory, Fantasy, Tactical, Turn-Based
The first role-playing game (RPG) was of course Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), which started off as a representation of a group of characters descending into deep and dangerous dungeons, encountering numerous fiendish monsters which they attempted to kill and then steal their possessions. In the three intervening decades, numerous other RPGs have come along allowing players to assume the roles of anything from vampires to immortal disembodied spirits to sanity-challenged students of Miskatonic University to giant combat robots, taking in just about all points in-between. While combat and killing things and taking their stuff is never far away from nearly all of these games, more emphasis has come to be placed on such issues as character development, in-game romance and relationship-building, interactive story-telling and the invention of the ultimate death scene. D&D, on the other hand, remains focused on the going into dark places and killing everything therein theme. Indeed, with the invention of the D20 system and the 3.5 D&D rules, the focus is even more strongly on the tactical combat issues, which is not unrelated to the desire to sell official D&D miniatures for use on battlemats and other merchandise that, thirty years ago, we used bits of gravel and sweets to represent (gravel? Luxury!). The tendency of such a game is, therefore, to abandon all but the merest pretence of a plot and just set up a few creatures ripe for bashing. Dungeon Bash lets you do exactly that.
At heart, Dungeon Bash is a set of charts that allows players (without the need for a DM) spontaneously to create random tactical maps and position monsters and some other features upon them, so that the tactical combat can then be run. There are a number of boardgames that also allow for such an approach, with maps created from templates and random placement of different hazards and boons thereupon. The old favourite Magic Realm was a sophisticated approach to the subject, while Sorceror’s Cave was simpler and occupied more space. The card game Dungeoneer also takes a similar approach and there are several other games of which I am aware but have not played. The inspiration for many of these games was the set of tables in the first edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) which led to many an evening rolling dice, plotting maps on graph paper and, at least in my case, running away from monsters that were intent on eating me – well, in the various iterations the D&D rules have seen since then, one of the most important changes has been to increase the power of low level magic using types, who used to be pretty useless deadweights until they could be nursed up to a high enough level. Now even a first level wizard stands a chance at fighting alongside the brawny but drunken barbarian, self-righteous paladin and character trait-free fighter – just as well if those magician figures are going to be moved out of the shop. For reasons which are not immediately clear, the random tables were dropped from the next edition of the DMG and have not reappeared since. As a result, an opportunity for companies such as The Other Games Company, led by Stefan Pietraszak and with an international cast of supporting players, to fill in the gap.
Dungeon Bash is obtainable via download from RPGNow.com and similar sites. A bundle of PDFs is provided for a cost of US $10, which is far from excessive. Some of the files contain D20 related material which is available elsewhere but is provided here in more user-friendly formats. Dating back to the time of Gary Gygax and Dave Arnesen, the original creators of the game, D&D rules have always combined the sensible and the nonsensical in almost equal balance. This tendency has pretty much continued as the game has grown in complexity and is perhaps inevitable when so many people have been responsible for producing officially sponsored content. Players of course contribute to the problem by gleefully ripping ideas and concepts out of their context in forcing them into their own games, generally in the hope of giving themselves an advantage in the killing-and-looting stakes. Consequently, there exists a market niche for people who can summarize and present pertinent information in a reader-friendly and comprehensive fashion.
The main rules book runs to just 28 pages, with additional files containing the tables on which monsters, items and treasures are rolled and which are, as anyone who has played the game will know, lengthy. The rules specify such issues as how to set up the map, where to position the monsters (known to other people as Non-Player Characters) and how to determine what they will do if attacked or approached peacefully. Other issues concern how to manage time between the dungeon-bashing stints and how players can manage buying new items and paying for their general maintenance. Additional rules are concerned with specifying a main quest for the entire party and side-quests for individual members. Samples of each of these are provided and also available for free download is an entire campaign, based on an infestation of pesky goblins, which serves as both model of what can be achieved and a perfectly playable game in its own right. As a DM emulator, therefore, one or more players can simply set up a game without extensive preparation. Pre-generated characters are also provided at a range of different levels, so players with any familiarity with the system really can put together a game in less than five minutes, which is just the thing when people want to play but nobody has anything prepared. It is also a good way to introduce new players into the game and indeed the hobby. There is little artwork, apart from the floor tiles and creature counters which are provided to cut out and use for map creation. However, a few illustrations here and there do cheer up the character sheets and the rules book.
Additional downloads for Dungeon Bash are available from the company’s website, which is located at: http://www.theothergamecompany.com/index.htm.
Free expansions for city-based and wilderness adventures are promised.
Reviewer: John Walsh