Review: Dungeon Raiders

Normally I leave game reviews to others:  there are plenty of people who do them, and they’re better at it.  However, I felt the need for a (perhaps unique) exception.

Anyone who frequents this blog has probably figured out that I fancy myself something of a (very) amateur wannabe game designer.  And for the past year or so I’ve been working, off and on, on my own version of a rules-lite D&D-ish rpg, which I was going to call Dungeon Raiders.  Perfect name, I thought, and I was surprised no one else had taken it yet.

So imagine my shock when I get an e-mail from DriveThruRPG advertising a new retroclone called, you guessed it, Dungeon Raiders.  “NOOOOOOOOoooooooo!” exclaimed I.

The game is free (available here), so naturally I downloaded it to check it out, what with it stealing my cool name.  Okay, that’s not fair.  The guy just beat me to the punch is all.  That’ll teach me to muck about for  a year.

Dungeon Raiders is written by Brent P. Newhall and bills itself as a retroclone.  Personally, I don’t feel that is quite accurate, though you can definitely tell the game is inspired by ‘old school’ D&D.  You’ve got your standard six ability scores and four base classes (fighter, thief, wizard and cleric).  Character race is not covered at all.  And you’ve got hit points.  After that, Dungeon Raiders starts to diverge from its source inspiration, though not in a bad way, imo.

You see, Dungeon Raiders takes a game that was already simple (if poorly organized) and abstract, and makes it simpler and more abstract.  To hit in combat, you roll a die and need to score a 4 or better.  Fighters roll a d8, clerics and thieves roll a d6 and wizards roll a d4.  Monsters get various dice as well, depending on how strong they are and how many attacks they get; Young Dragons, for example, roll a d10, d6, d6 (bite/claw/claw) for their attacks.  All attacks do 1d6 damage, plus modifiers for magic weapons and level.  Armor reduces damage taken.  That’s it.

Sure, it’s not particularly deep gameplay, but the simplicity of the system has its advanteges.  For one, it seems perfect for teaching young children the basics of playing a fantasy rpg.  It’s also great for a quick pick-up game where you don’t have a lot of time to prep characters or a dungeon.  And such a simple system lends itself well to all kinds of tinkering and houseruling (which is something I love to do).

The game also uses a type of unified saving throw, with an option to reflect the 5 original saving throws of D&D if desired, and a simple d20 roll-under-ability check system that covers anything not related to combat or saving throws (such as thief skills).  It throws in some sample spells, magic items and monsters and wraps up with a page of dungeon-building advice.

That last page on dungeon building is a nice touch, but I’m not entirely sure it’s needed.  It’s not really detailed enough to help novice GMs all that much and old hands probably don’t really need the advice.  The space probably could have been better spent on something else, like a one-page sample dungeon, more monsters, info on hiring retainers or some such.  It does encourage using a flow-chart style for dungeon design though, which I like.

Dungeon Raiders only covers up to level 3, but you could stretch the system up to level 5 or 6.  The system would probably start to break down much past that though, but that’s not bad for an beer-and-pretzels E5/6 style campaign, when you want to kick in doors and kill monsters and not spend hours-upon-hours building characters or a detailed campaign world.

So, if you like to houserule and tinker with rule-lite rpgs, you may want to give Dungeon Raiders a look-see.  And now I’m off to think up another cool name for my game.  Cheers.

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3 Responses to “Review: Dungeon Raiders”

  1. S'mon Says:

    Looks very promising to play with my young son – thanks! All it needs is some random dungeon tables – Moldvay’s might work. I think I’ll be reducing monster hp a lot, though!

  2. S'mon Says:

    Basically, I think the die type to-hit-roll as measure of Badassness is a great idea, I’ve only otherwise seen it in Savage Worlds, a very fiddly system by comparison. We can use this with my 4-yr-old son’s Schleich figurines to great effect!

    • edowar Says:

      I kind of like that to-hit roll system too. My first thought was that characters would never get better, but on reflection I realized that monsters generally get tougher as you level, so your overall average to-hit chance doesn’t really change anyways. Also, weak monsters, like goblins, still remain somewhat threatening as the PCs level.

      There are a lot of one-line dungeon generators, some of which generate monsters and treasure (see the sidebar on the front page of this blog). It ought to be easy enough to convert those monsters to Dungeon Raiders format.

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