Dungeon Degenerates

We finally got around to playing Sean Äaberg’s gonzo punk low fantasy masterpiece last month. I was a little worried it wouldn’t play as well as it looks, but designer Eric Radey has come up with a system that is straightforward and evocative of old school RPGs, while also being fun to play with and compelling.

I’m a sucker for games which allow you to alter the world you’re playing in, so DD’s core mechanic of fluctuating danger levels in different locations, with the option to make a dangerous wilderness into a safer one, or even flip a haunted ruin into a thriving town and set up your home base there, combined with a CYOA-style tree of missions to play through had me hooked from the outset.

The Angel of Death and the Alley Cat, released from the dungeons of the Wurstreich on an errand for the jailer, go shopping at the Hunt Lodge and discover it’s less of a Hunt Lodge than a Crack House.

(Spoilers for Dungeon Degenerates: The Hand of Doom.)

Having blown off the jailer’s errand, the pair slay the Bandit King and take his Watchtower hideout as their own. Sadly, they fell foul of the Witches of Witch Hill shortly thereafter.

The tower then fell into the hands of the unlikely alliance of the Banished Sorcerer and the Witch-Smeller, who ventured into the north and met their end at the hands of the vile Lord Scrott.

A new team assembled, the Void-Witch and the Rat-Catcher following the dubious leadership of the Dishonoured Knight. A prison riot gave them the opportunity to escape the jailer’s clutches.

Flat broke from their stint in the dungeons of the Bruttelburg, the trio went in search of a legendary treasure, which they pried from the fingers of this group of chicken-legged freaks.

Investing their new wealth in a merchant caravan, they set out to clear a way for it from Gutfish Ford to Pigskin Port, pacifying the Brute Lord of the Goblin City along the way.

As they approached the Bandit Camp, the next leg of their journey, the Hand of Doom fell upon it, and the land for miles around became a twisted place divorced from reality.

The “metaphysical” rule is one of my favourite rules. Places with the star-and-eye symbol are “metaphysical” – trippy, psychedelic places existing on the borders of reality. You can’t stop here – this is bat country.

How is this represented mechanically? In the simplest way imaginable: You have to be under a status effect to move there. Any status effect. You might be tired, and visit them in dreams; you might be poisoned or sick and delirious and hallucinate them; you might be in magic trance, depressed, or high on magic mushrooms.

Having pacified the bandit camp, they made their way to pigskin port, where their mission would have been over – but the Hand of Doom fell again, and the Temple of Madness itself rose up on legs and pursued them.

This was the final straw; our intrepid antiheroes decided to put a stop to the Hand once and for all. It was last seen holed up with two of its lieutenants in the Catacombs, so the trio made their way down to Bruttelburg and waited at the stagecoach station for the next sighting.

When the Hand moved to spread its baleful influence over Last Chance, the party were ready – but it moved on just as they arrived to confront it. 

So they pressed on to the Hell Pit, defeated the Brute Lord once again and took from him the means to summon the Hand, which they did upon the Blasted Heath nearby, and were able to banish it once and for all.

Thus ended the campaign, but fighting the Hand itself isn’t the only ending, and I’m looking forward to playing again and exploring the other paths and characters.

Playing this game was a poignant experience; as I mentioned in my post on the miniatures for the game, Sean has suffered a stroke and has a long road ahead of him in terms of rehabilitation.

There are so many cards in the box that you feel very immersed in this hilarious and grotesque world; the sheer quantity of art he did for this project is staggering, and it’s heartbreaking to think that he can’t draw like that anymore – though he’s practicing as well as undergoing intensive physiotherapy.

If you want to help support him and his family during this difficult time, you can donate to their GoFundMe, or just buy the game (and its forthcoming expansion) over at Goblinko.