Thursday, November 11, 2021

Darkest Dungeon Gear Packages, and some thoughts on creativity

 Link at the end of the post if you're feeling anxious, I'm gonna ramble for a bit first.

Carrying the Flame by ADePietro

Darkest Dungeon is a really great game. I bought all of it's DLCs, sunk a couple hundred hours in it, the whole idea. For those unfamiliar with it, it's a roguelite dungeon crawler with cosmic horror elements set in a medieval fantasy world. The player is the heir of a distant property that was abandoned a while ago, and in hopes of cleansing the horrible creatures that dwell in the ruins, you hire all kinds of people that are despaired and broken enough to accept the job.

The gameplay loop is divided in two parts: First you form a band of heroes and delve into the dungeons to clear it of monsters and recover treasures. Then on the outside you manage your resources and your rooster of heroes, buying upgrades and gear.

Great, ain't? Also quite familiar. 

Naturally, after playing for a short while I was already considering that it was a great concept to be used for a TTRPG (Red Hook Games seems to agree). After playing the game more, I concluded there were two main ways to use the setting as an RPG:

  • First option is to focus on the human aspect of the characters, what goes on their minds while going on this hellish task, what brought them here. It's very story game-y, both Torchbearer and Heart: The City Beneath have a similar premise.
  • Second, and more interesting to me and the average reader of this blog, is to do some good old-school dungeon crawling, and just sprinkle some (more?) horror aspects in it. Best Left Buried comes awfully close to it, but it's not a game I'm particular fond of.

Choosing the second option, I ventured into the idea of writing a hack. I had a pletora of good systems to use as a base: Knave, Maze Rats, The Black Hack, and many others could execute the premise really well. Eventually I choose Into the Odd, because it maps some of the mechanics perfectly, and as you already know, it's my favorite RPG. I started tinkering with how I would execute the classes, how the stress mechanic would look like, if I was gonna incorporate the quirk subsystem... and then it died. 

In this amazing article by Skerples, while analyzing his failed project Space 1977, he claims that he could have finished the project and managed to sell it, but it would be a lie because it's flawed. When I first read that, I didn't understand the feeling at all. Why not publish something if it's interesting enough for people to buy it? Sure, it might not be perfect, but not everything needs to be a masterpiece, it's fine to be "good enough". Hell, most of the stuff we consume is just that.

Well, a year later and after reflecting for a couple weeks on why I left "Into the Darkest" to gather dust, I can say that I understand what Skerples was saying.

Official Red Hook Games art

The Lies You Tell Yourself

Well, I could write that hack, playtest  and refine it until it was good enough to see the light and publish it. I would even have made a series of funny blogposts about the whole process. People would clap me in the back and say "Good job Xenio! This is good, you translated the DD experience well" and will feel good about myself. Maybe it would draw enough attention that I could actually sell it, get art and a decent layout, make it my first actually published RPG work. I would then cry and hug my loved ones, telling then that I made a dream come true.

Well, that was what I told to my daydreaming self, but it's not necessarily true.

The hack would have been decent, and for sure will earn me some compliments. But being honest about it, it wouldn't really add anything of value to its inspirations. You would be better off playing your dungeon crawler of choice with just some light homebrew to fit the setting. I mentioned early that I don't like Best Left Buried, and while my own hack would fit my own tastes better, it would be mediocre at best, just like BLB. Is that what I wanted to make? A game that I didn't like?

Of course, that line didn't cross my head. But some part of me understood the truth, and pushed the idea away to some dusty corner of my mind. Only recently the release of Darkest Dungeon II made me revisit those notes, and then I came to the conclusion I write here now.

"Suffer not the lame horse, nor the broken man."

And then, what's left? 

Cairn came around and become my favorite interpretation of the ItO engine. It also inspired some great gear packages, demonstrating how much you can convey setting and tone with equipment. If had concluded that the best way to do DD was to simply use your favorite dungeon crawler game, so I grabbed my old ideas and made a gear loadouts of then. 

There's only two new things here: First, along with the itens each class has a single special ability, it's just something simple that cannot be destroyed or taken away, and helps convey things you can't do with an item.
Secondly, I added a simple house rule to handle stress, since it's paramount to the game. It's was downright copied from Meteor, AwkwardTurtle's mashup of Cairn and Mothership (that you should definitely check out, it's awesome).

AND FINALLY, the link: Into the Darkest

I'll probably run some games with it, I already have a friend interested. If you want monsters someone converted the whole games's bestiary to 5e, which you can easily convert with the advice found here and here.

Anyway, I hope you make some use of this whole thing. Thanks for reading, see you next time.

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