Brainstorming a Delvers Board Game

Awhile back I made a different sheet for Dungeons & Delvers, along with some Wound Point, Vitality Point, equipment and loot cards to make the game easier for my daughter (just discard cards when you get damaged, add them back when healed, etc), and more enjoyable overall because you get cards instead of just writing shit down.

Here's some of what I cooked up:

There are also some sheets with basic tile graphics, but they aren't nearly as neat as these. Also, I should point out that this was also about when I'd also started braintorming Ashes After Ragnarok, because my brain likes to jump around between about a couple dozen projects at a time. So if you noticed the kinda-Norse style and terms, that's why.

Something we realized after using the loot cards a few times was that, rather than have you grab giant stone chests, there could just be several "treasure" decks that you draw from, ranked as pouches, coffers, and chests. So the graphics would go on the back side, and the front would just mention whatever loot you got.

Now the other not-so-ulterior motive behind this was because, surprise surprise, I wanted to make a board game because, surprise surprise, I also had some issues with the D&D board games, and I'm not one of those people that thinks what I like is perfect and immune from negative criticism, and can still more-or-less enjoy it despite problems (up to a point).

But like how we created Dungeons & Delvers to be the version of D&D that did everything we wanted it to, this would be a dungeon-crawly board game that does what we want, fixing/addressing various issues we had with the D&D board games. Now it's been awhile, so there might be others, but here's what I can remember, in no particular order:
  • You cannot retreat and try to recuperate. You just have to slog forward and hope for the best, even if shit hits the fan early on due to bad rolls, and really punishing Encounter and/or Monster draws. It would be nice, if the mission/quest/adventure wasn't time sensitive, that you could fall back in case you get hammered early on, maybe reset or even remove some really nasty monsters or effects. At some cost, of course.
  • You are incentivized to keep running, even in random directions, possibly splitting the party because every time you don't "explore" an edge you have to draw an Encounter card (though drawing tiles with black arrows still forces a draw, anyway), and some can be so brutal that you might feel that going in different directions (due to not having enough Speed to race across a newly placed tile) is the oddly safer gamble. Which is behavior you would never do in a D&D game, unless you were running from something else of course. Just imagine running an adventure and half the party just flakes and starts booking it down a random passage.
  • Somewhat related to the previous point, you might feel compelled to abandon a party member in order to double-move to hit a tile edge and explore, instead of doing what you'd normally do, which would be to stick around and help them out. It's only if you think the monster is going to absolutely destroy them that you'll suck up the Encounter draw.
  • There's no way to reliably attempt to gather information about what is coming up, in order to make an informed decision: you just go in random directions, whichever is closest really, until you reach the tile draw that has the quest's final encounter on it. This was only kind of mixed up in later releases where there were trap tiles and locked doors: sometimes you wouldn't want to risk disabling a trap or checking a door, and just go somewhere else. Depends on if you can avoid the Encounter draw.
  • You burn monster XP to avoid Encounters, which doesn't make any sense, puts the monsters back into the deck, and can bone you over if you get a nat 20 (in the D&D board games you can spend 5 XP on a nat 20 to level up, but there's only lever 1 or 2). I get from a purely game-design perspective that it can force you to make a difficult choice, but I like to think there's a better way of going about it.
  • You can get utterly meaningless cash drops as treasure (which I feel like happened way more often in the later versions). Well, it's not always meaningless: if you're doing campaign mode (which we only ever did with the Elemental Evil game because if we're going to do a campaign thing playing an actual RPG is more enjoyable) you can use it to buy stuff I think, but if you're just doing a one-shot...meh.
  • Every character has a bunch of cards to juggle, and you get more if you level up or start nabbing treasure cards. You can't ever play a simple character that can just hit things, or has one or two special abilities. You also can't double up on classes unless you mix and match other versions of the game.
So now that you know where I'm coming from, the biggest thing to tackle is the whole constantly scrambling to keep moving to maybe avoid Encounter draws.

In the D&D board games I don't think there's really a need to constantly keep moving, because often there's no real benefit to standing around and doing nothing: you don't heal or recharge power cards that have a single use, and unlike, say, the Zombicide games you can't loot a room over and over to gather up gear.

Really the only time you'd slow down is to deal with a monster or trap, or in the later games keep trying to open a locked door. Maybe. Depends on if you can just go around: the duergar were pretty easy since if you got too far away they really wouldn't do much, and often you could just hit another tile edge instead of dealing with doors.

But in a typical dungeon-crawl there is something that you usually have to worry about, something that prevents you from just standing around doing fuckall for however long you please: light.

This I think would give players a sense of urgency. You have x number of torches, and each torch is only good for six turns. That's turns as in the 10-minute unit of time that you had in earlier editions of D&D. To reflect that normally your turn won't do anything: you only tick a torch down by taking a special action that would consume a noteworthy amount of time.

Here's the current list I've got so far:
  • Rest: Regain Vitality cards/tokens. Maybe use healer's kit to regain a bit of WP, too.
  • Search: You search the room for loot, secret doors, traps, and hidden monsters. Means there needs to be at least a Search Deck with this sort of stuff on it. Maybe even a hidden room deck so it's not just, "Okay, now you go that way."
  • Meditate: Wizards regain Mana cards or tokens.
  • Sacrifice: Clerics can sacrifice treasure or certain items to regain Favor cards or tokens.
  • Repair: You use up repair-kit cards or tokens and regain a number of armor cards or tokens (here armor would work like it does in the kids version of Delvers, where armor is like a another HP pool).
  • Scout: You draw a tile, make a Stealth check to avoid being seen, and make a Perception check to detect hiding enemies. This differs from simply dropping a tile and moving: you're trying to be sneaky about it, giving you and the rest of the party a chance to decide whether to keep going or try another route.
  • Ritual: Some rituals require a full turn to cast. Might also need resources.
Obviously there would need to be playtesting to determine how many torches you should start with, and really whether this mechanic even does what I hope it does. But that's where actual play comes into, well, play.

Something you could do besides guaranteed encounters is to go with random encounters: each time you use up a 10-minute turn (need to think of another term for that) there's a 1 in 6 chance you draw a random encounter. It'd be kind of like Zombicide, where after everyone goes you draw from the zombie deck: sometimes you get a shit-ton of zombies, but sometimes you only get a walker or two, and sometimes nothing happens at all.

This of course would be in addition to automatic things that spawn when you go into certain areas. Or, like Zombicide, could still just be a chance: sometimes you kick in the door and get a few lucky draws where there aren't any zombies in a zone.

Wondering if random dungeon generation is necessary: could have preset (or mostly preset) dungeons with rooms that have somewhat randomized contents to keep things a bit unpredictable, a bit different each time you play. Maybe you open the door and there's some goblins, next time it's some skeletons or an otyugh. Stuff that's reasonable for the party to deal with, though not always the same overall difficulty.

Room might end up being a library, and if you Search you go through the gear deck until you find a scroll or tome card. Or an alchemist's lab so you look for the first potion. Or its a forge, and you can make repairs without spending resources, or even draw a weapon or armor card. I think this method would also make it easier to incorporate stuff like secret passages and teleportation circles. Also relatively-safe-havens.

This would also avoid some really bizarre dungeon layouts, where doors could just open up into walls. But I could see it going both ways, or having pure random dungeon generation as an option for some added challenge.

For monsters, I'd prefer them to be automated so that the game can be fully co-op, but they'd need to be fleshed out a bit more with Perception and sometimes Stealth DCs, to determine whether they notice sneaking characters or avoid being noticed when scouting or just barging onto a fresh tile or room.

Killing monsters wouldn't necessarily always drop treasure. I think it would be trivial to put an icon or code on a monster card, telling you which treasure deck to draw from, if any. Tiles could also have codes or symbols to determine if there's something else to be found (like a chest or trap).

Treasure wouldn't have to be immediately or obviously useful (or even optimally useful based on the party), but it should have a pretty decent chance. So, no coins or gems unless there's something they can be used for. Some mechanic or ability beyond campaign play. And, if they're only good for campaign play? You'd just pull them out of the deck before playing.

Dungeons could have more-or-less safe zones where you can long rest. Probably only once per adventure, but this would be a chance for the party to get a refresher and spend XP from monsters to level up. Or killing monsters gives everyone XP, but you have to long rest to spend it and level up. This way you could do it mid-adventure, within reason, instead of just whenever in the middle of combat.

Characters wouldn't all have the same number of cards (or talent/skill cards at all). If you just want to play a fighter and hit things, you can do that. If you want to play a wizard and just blast stuff, you can do that. Would be nice to have some support options to shake things up, like an illusion to distract or sneak past monsters, or an enchantment to temporarily charm a monster. Something where it's not all pure combat options if possible.

Thinking numbers are less randomized and lower overall. Weapons would do 1-3 damage (based on size, maybe a class bonus), and a fighter would only have like 4 WP and 2 VP (down from the base 6 and 4 respectively). Wizards wouldn't do random Drain since there would be less points.

I recall the D&D board games have a variety of objectives, though as I recall some could be so damned complicated that we typically stuck with the "draw x tiles and then kill the boss". So, variety of objectives, even a random roll, but make them simpler to do and try to avoid gimmick rules.

For components I want to keep things pretty flexible. There would be a rulebook of course, plus a bunch of adventures ready to go, but for stuff like minis and tiles I'm thinking you could physically print out the tiles and cards, or just the cards and draw the dungeon on a wet-erase mat as you go. Or, if you want to really go out, even use 3d terrain. Basically let you kind of control how elaborate a setup you want to use.

In a similar vein, standees for characters and monsters would be an option, but I think it would also be neat if you could use whatever minis you already have. That way the game would be cheaper to buy, and you could recycle materials you probably already have. We would of course provide suggestions for certain minis lines, like the Reaper and Nolzur lines, as well as the prepainted minis.

Big post, lot to think about and try, but I think all of that would go a long way to alleviate my problems with the D&D board games. Of course we'll need to actually play the damn thing to make sure.

You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want (the PDF is also on sale on DriveThru)! We've also released the first big supplement for it, Appendix D, so pick that up if you want more of everything.

The first issue of The Delver, a magazine featuring fungal-themed content for both players and GMs (including an adventure in which myconids find religion), is available!

Our latest Dungeon World class, The Ranger, is now available.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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