How to Make Your Delve Into Dragonfire Dungeon Less Painful

DungeonQuest has quickly become one of my favorite games, but I can’t help but find a few flaws. This is one of the rare games that I’ve house ruled, but it is very open to those changes. The back of the rules book even includes several variants. I’d like to share some of the rules I’ve come up with, as well as a few other things that can make the game more fun.

For those unfamiliar with DungeonQuest, it is the latest reimagining of a game that has seen several incarnations since its debut in the 80’s. This is the first time I’ve played the game, but it feels like something I’d play as a kid. The basic mechanics show it’s age, but no more than a good wine.

One to four adventurers (yes, you can play solo, but good luck), enter Dragonfire Dungeon for fame and glory, stealing treasure right from under the nose of the dragon Kalladra. Every step you take in the dungeon could be your doom. I mean that sincerely. It’s possible to step into a bottomless put on your first turn and lose. The game is unforgiving, which brings me to my first tip.

Expect to die. Embrace it. Once you’ve accepted the fact that you probably won’t win any game of DungeonQuest in a hundred tries, you can begin to have a lot more fun. In fact, the death will be fun. You can’t tell me that walking into the Chamber of Darkness, stumbling into the bridge room, falling over the edge into the crypt, and being skewered by arrows in a single turn wouldn’t be hilarious. In fact, you should keep one high score list for epic deaths to go alongside the list for recovered loot.

Now that I’ve prepared you for what terrors lie in wait, I have advice for making the game even more frightening. Place the dragon deck on the treasure room. The game recommends that you keep the deck on the side of the board, but the tension ramps up when the dragon’s visage is sitting right in the middle of the board. The deck is the perfect size to cover that room, so doing this doesn’t make a mess of the board either. But it might make a mess of your drawers.

So far, my “rules” have been limited to the atmosphere around the table, but I’ll finally share my actual house rule with you. Ditch the monster combat, at least in its published form. Without getting into the specifics of the combat rules right now, I think the system is unnecessary. It drags the entire game down for several minutes, which seems like forever considering how quickly turns usually pass.

When you encounter a monster, like a Skeleton or Troll, draw the top card of the combat deck. You’ll draw a red, yellow, or blue card. Now roll your matching attribute as if it were any other attribute test. If you succeed, the monster is defeated. If you fail, roll a d6 and take that many wounds. This results in about the same resolution as if you had actually used the official combat rules, but it only takes an instant. Your characters skills also come into effect more this way, but playing this way means you’ll need to ignore the characters special abilities, even if they are used for the dungeon encounters. It makes the game more fair when using these house rules, but I will warn that the balance of the stats might be off a teensy bit because of it.

Some of you might really like the idea of the card battle mini game, so I’ll talk about variant I’ve thought of for that style of play. Normally, you and the monster (controlled by the player on your left) draw five cards from the same combat deck. You then add one of your character’s power cards at random into your hand. Since most of your hand is completely random, there is no way to predict what type of card your opponent might play (either melee, ranged, or magic). This means that playing a weak card to use the games interesting counter attack system is a huge risk compared to just playing the highest card in your hand. It also leads you into the high risk of drawing cards entirely of one type with an low attack values, ruining any hope of victory.

The method I’ve come up with instead borrows a page from the Battlestar Galactica board game. Split the combat cards into the three colors. Now when you fight, draw three cards from the color matching your character’s highest stat, and then one from each of the remaining piles.  Be sure the values are hidden (you probably want to draw from the bottom so you can easily tell which deck is which), and then you can add your power card as normal. Now you and your opponent have a reasonable idea of what you’ll be up against. This will also make escaping a more exciting option, since you may know ahead of time that your character stands little chance against that Sorcerer.

I should clarify here that the stats and combat cards are not an equal match thematically. Red is strength and melee, blue is armor and ranged, and yellow is luck and magic, but they still work well together and keep the house rules simple enough to follow. I also haven’t playtested this card variant since I prefer not to use them at all, so I’d love to hear how it worked out for other people.

DungeonQuest is an varied and flexible game, with many ways to play. If you like the standard rules, great. If you don’t, I hope you have fun with these suggestions. You should also feel welcome to leave a comment with your own house rules.

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