Embracing Resurrection

One of the things that never scares me as a Dungeon Master is whether or not I’ll be able to challenge my players.

A lot of people worry about this. As a DM you don’t want the game to be too easy and of no consequence. You also don’t want it to be an adversarial and impossible grind that punishes player characters just for existing. You need to find just the right balance of challenge.

I’ve got lots of little tricks that I’ve learned along the way, but the one that has been the most freeing for me has been this little rule: “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.”

I unabashedly embrace resurrection in my games. I always provide a way back from the dead, and one that doesn’t take up too much table time, though it might provide an opportunity for other characters to make a sacrifice for their fallen ally. In a current campaign one player made a deal with an evil NPC to raise their comrade from the dead, while another had an opportunity to offer up one of their own bones for the sake of a resurrection.

Embracing resurrection in your TTRPG also teaches an important faith lesson: Death is not the end of our story. God overcame death, so that we could do the same. Death need not be feared.

Without being afraid of killing the PCs at my table, I embrace things like putting monsters in front of players that hit like a dump truck and knock them out, rolling dice in the open and letting them fall where they lie, putting giant mobs of monsters in front of them, making them figure out how to actually overcome difficult challenges or even come back from the dead.

I’ve knocked out and killed plenty of characters in my games, but there’s always that rule “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.” This rule has created deep and meaningful story moments as the players get the opportunity to role play with grief and loss, emotions that we often shun. It’s beneficial for us to experience these grittier emotions, especially if we can do so in a relatively safe way. A bit of grit is a good thing. The grit gives our stories and our lives definition.

Character death also has a game mechanics benefit. It gives players an opportunity to respec their PCs, or say goodbye and build a whole new character if they like. I find that a lot of times they’re ready for some kind of change. It’s an opportunity for the player to consider their character and if their story is complete just yet.

And if you TPK the party of heroes? Well it’s the same rule. They stay dead only if the players want them to. Mostly a TPK is just an opportunity to up the stakes a bit. Fail forward and raise them up in a hairy situation with an opportunity to overcome defeat.

You can’t learn to rise if you never get the chance to fall.

Diamonds & Dragons

In the last few months I’ve started playing a great little game with my wife that we call Diamonds & Dragons. It’s a roguelike solitaire card game where you try to escape a dungeon full of monsters. Along the way you find weapons, drink potions, and kill monsters. The best part of all is that it’s played with a standard 54-card deck of playing cards, Jokers included.

I was looking for a game like this after I heard Sersa Victory talking on the podcast Tabletop Babble about a minigame they developed for escaping megadungeons after the party has delved deeply. Sure, the GM could handwave the whole thing and you’re out, but where’s the fun or the challenge in that? Wouldn’t monsters fill in behind the party? The other option would be to slog back through all the rooms you just went through, but that’s a long slog. What Victory developed was a simple minigame using a deck of cards, where the cards represented the rooms in the dungeon between wherever the players were and the exit.

The only problem? Those rules aren’t written down anywhere. I asked.

So I went on a bit of a wild unicorn chase to see if I couldn’t find something that would approximate this megadungeon minigame that I had imagined in my mind. It would need to be simple, straightforward, quick, and challenging but rewarding for skilled players.

After a bit of looking I found Battle of Cards on the Android app store. By Alexander Petcoglo, Battle of Cards plays just how I imagined this minigame should. Petcoglo developed it as an altered version of the games Scoundrel, designed by Zach Gabe and Kurt Bieg, and Donsol, designed by John Eternal and developed by Hundred Rabbits. My wife and I tweaked it to play with a physical deck of cards rather than an app, and Diamonds & Dragons was born.

Diamonds & Dragons is our new favorite game to play together. I play the Dealer for her while she breastfeeds our newborn son. We’ve been playing non-stop for three months now and the game is still just as good.

I’ve compiled our rules for Diamonds & Dragons, along with a sample game to teach you how to play. There’s also rules for turning it into that sought after megadungeon minigame that I went looking for months ago.

Check it out and let me know what you think. It might just be your new favorite game.

Additional Rules for the DUNGEON! Fantasy Board Game

And now for something completely different…

Not long ago I picked up the most recent iteration of the DUNGEON! board game. My wife and I played together and it was pretty fun. The rules are simple and straightforward. Roll the dice. Beat the monster. Take the stuff.

dungeon

But it has some rough edges. The four classes are imbalanced, or rather they’re balanced by moving the goal post. Rogues and Clerics need to gather 10,000 gp, Fighters need 20,000 gp, and Wizards 30,000 gp. It works, but it’s inelegant, and not as fun as the alternative. I mean, who wants to only face off against kobolds, dire rats, and giant bats when there are dragons and liches in the dungeon?

So I homebrewed some simple rules to equalize the classes. Now you can play a Rogue, Cleric, or Fighter and still have just as much of a chance of surviving those beastly sixth level baddies as the Wizard.

The DM Pastor’s DUNGEON! House Rules

All classes require the same amount of treasure to win the game: 30,000 gp. Alternatively, you can mutually agree upon a lower total for a shorter game.

Dungeon! Board Game

FIGHTER

  • You have three Action Points. (represented by three stones, chits, jewels, or whatever.)
    • You can use one action point per turn to make one additional attack against a monster. Make this attack before the Monster fights back.
    • You regain one spent Action Point whenever you roll doubles, but you can never have more than the three Action Points you started with.

ROGUE

  • You gain the ability to Sneak.
    • When entering a room or chamber, roll 1 die. If you roll a 3 to 6, you are Sneaking and the Monster does not see you.
    • Draw a Monster card (and a Treasure card if you are in a room). Do not show the Monster or Treasure card to other players. Put the card(s) in the first open number slot, but keep them face down. Put the matching Number token in the room or chamber.
    • If you fail your Sneak roll, the Monster sees you and attacks as normal.
  • While you are Sneaking, you gain three additional options in the encounter.
    • Steal – You can swap the room’s Treasure card or one of the dropped Treasures in the room (if there are any) with one of the Treasure cards from your stash. Your turn ends.
    • Sneak Attack – Attack the Monster with Advantage. Roll 2 dice twice and take the higher result.
    • Pass Through – If you have not moved your full 5 spaces, you can complete your movement by passing through the room without engaging.

CLERIC

  • Protection – Your proficiency in defense and the graces of your god protect you in battle. The results of a Monster’s attack are one step less severe than they would normally be.
    • Crushed! becomes Seriously Hurt.
    • Seriously Hurt becomes Hurt.
    • Hurt becomes Stunned.
    • Stunned becomes Miss!
  • Spellcasting – Your devotion grants you divine magical power. You prepare spells before the game begins. Roll 1 die and add 6 to the result. This is the number of Spells you have prepared. Use the same Spell cards as the Wizard. If there are multiple spell casters, take turns selecting 1 Spell card at a time. You can regain Spells following the same steps as the Wizard. Clerics can know two spells: Hold Monster and Lance of Faith.
    • Hold Monster (use the Teleport Spell card)
      • If you have enough movement left to enter a room or chamber, you may use this spell on a Monster inside. First, stop at the door of the room or in the space next to the chamber. Say that you’re casting Hold Monster. If the Monster is not already revealed, you must decide to cast the Spell before drawing a Monster card.
      • When cast, the Monster is paralyzed for 1 turn. Move into the room and make an attack, adding an additional +2 to your result. If you miss, the Monster cannot counterattack you this turn.
    • Lance of Faith (use the Lightning Bolt Spell card)
      • You attack with radiant energy! Use the same mechanics as the Wizard’s Lightning Bolt Spell to resolve the attack.