OSR Experiments #14: Zen Moments and Dark Dungeon

So were the conversion experiments, from Dark Dungeon to D&D and vice versa, worth it? So far I think yes. I'd never have realized some of the differences without trying to translate between the games. D&D and DD are both fantasy, they're even close cousins in sword & sorcery. But they are also very different when you start playing them.

Does that also mean Dark Dungeon is not Old School? Good question.

Actually I think Dark Dungeon is very much Old school. At least how I understand Old School. Because the OSR doesn't necessarily agree with itself on many occasions, it seems. The OSR rocks, but it is also a collection of individuals. OSR is a rather fuzzy concept.

Dark Dungeon is rules light. In Dark Dungeon you need to use your own imagination, more than just follow the rules. If fuzzy spots in the rules appear, the game master needs to make up their own ruling. The game must flow, and be fun. It must not become an exercise in filling out a game tax form or a legalistic rules battle.s

True, OSR is more a gaming style than a set of rules. But some sets of rules help better in facilitating this style than others. Let's have a quick peek at the Zen moments in Matt Finch his Quick Guide to Old School Gaming, to see how DD holds up.

Zen moment #1: rulings, not rules
Well, how much you rely on rules and rolls is much your own responsibility. If you want you could set difficulties for everything in DD, and just make a roll. But you don't have to. You can also describe what you do. Here DD is neutral.

Zen moment #2: Player skill, not character abilities.
Again, DD is neutral here as a rules set. I must admit. You can shift all responsibility to the dice and roll for everything until you drop. But you can also play like one of my players, who refused to take the
“fast talk”skill. “I already can do that myself” he said. And he was right. Now his hero has the skill and he uses his own sleek blather nonetheless.

Zen moment #3: Heroic, not superhero
Dark Dungeon was written to be fairly gritty. But you do start out at a better power level than in D&D. And actually so do the enemies. If you want to compare, DD aims at something like D&D levels from 3 to 8, where D&D holds up best. And you can stay in this zone quite long.

Zen moment #4: Forget “game balance”
As you don't need to kill lots of monsters or gain lots of treasure to gain experience points in Dark Dungeon, you need less game balance too. The important thing is that a hero can run away and fight another day. Or at least that the hero has this choice. Having luck points to save heroes out of deadly situations helps here. Not needing to seek combat so hard also helps. At least in my opinion.

So, to me Dark Dungeon looks fairly Old School. As far as rules go, because Old School is the way you play more than the rules you use. The main difference with 0e games like D&D or Swords & Wizardry is that these focus a lot on dungeon explorations. Dark Dungeon is designed to play in scenes and free roaming stories – and dungeons are only a minor part of much larger adventures.


  1. Cay, so i can't speak as an OSR'r I only have played a hand full of DD games and same goes for D&D (apart from a small stint with AD&D in 99) I've pretty much had to get my RPG from Baldur's gate (something that gets me punched in the face when i try to use it as non-PC RPG cred ;)
    Anyway, my D&D game was... clunky, now we were all absolute beginners but D&D seems made to just drive a nail in your tire every time your up to speed. The rules are difficult for anyone stepping in and don't feel natural. Best way to describe it is awkward gaming.
    DD was everything i always thought RPing should be. It feels pretty much right, it leaves a lot to you (or your own character behind whom I gladly hide) and most importantly, it doesn't bog you down. And you can even forgo dice apparently, what is not to like. What DD is, or does for me is that it allows *me* to bring my charr to the table, while D&D it felt like i brought my fireball to the table because: goblin!, SLAY IT!.
    So bring on more DD, I'm read, I'm not afraid, there is a pouch of lock pick tools tied to one arm, a metal war glove holding a dagger in the other, and a perky attitude to her comrads.

    Bottom line: It feels like a game while D&D that i played felt like a statistic.

  2. Thanks for the praise. More DD will be coming up.