A few years ago, fuelled by passionate creators on Kickstarter, I backed a number of cheap, rules-light tabletop RPGs in the hope of finally convincing family and friends to play. I’d never been able to talk them into it, as they were often intimidated by the size of rulebooks and even the relative complexity of character creation.
I mean, they weren’t alone. Given that the responsibility of learning rules and running games always sat with me, I was often unable to ‘get’ even those RPGs that described themselves as simple to play. It was too much to take on alone, frankly, as well as then trying to remain enthusiastic enough to get others interested too.
That all changed in recent years. There’s been a recognition, I think, throughout the various different facets of gaming – video games, board games, RPGs and even miniature gaming – that reducing the amount of complexity and clutter will help to widen the audience and the appeal of each type of game. Despite pushback from hardcore players already firmly entrenched in their gaming circles, the paring back of rules even in games such as Warhammer – which had become notorious for being unfriendly to newcomers for many, many years – has ensured that new blood has been able to join in the fun.
This lack of complexity and rules-light nature is what is at the heart of Tiny Dungeon. It’s an incredibly simple game, taking just minutes to get to grips with. I only have the first edition, though I know a second has been published.
Character generation is boiled down to a few simple steps; you choose a race, a name, a few traits, a family trade and some weapon specialisation and you’re pretty much done, aside from noting the equipment you start with.
The GM can create adventures in minutes, I’ve found – once you have characters it’s very straightforward to drop them into any adventure you have in mind, given how minimal the rules are – the majority of tests are resolved via two six-sided dice. If you roll a 5 or 6 on either die, you succeed at whatever it is you’re attempting. If the acting character is particularly proficient at whatever task they’re attempting, they get an extra die. Are they weak or is the challenge particularly tough? Just remove a die.
Combat is similarly simple. With mastery in the weapon being used, players get an extra die. Proficient? Just use two. No proficiency or mastery in the weapon being used? Then the player only gets one die to attempt to roll a 5 or 6 with. All weapons do a single hit point of damage, so there are no other modifiers to take into consideration.
When combat starts, all characters roll for initiative and act in order of highest initiative roll to lowest. Characters get two actions per turn during combat (evade and attack, for example). That’s all there is to it.
Though it can feel a little too sparse in terms of what you’re given – which seems to have been rectified in the second edition, from what I understand – what is here is an RPG that really is simple enough to be played by anyone, including very young players. Everything is pared back to such an extent that it seems to me to be the perfect introduction to fantasy roleplaying and is suitable to be used as a gateway to more complex RPGs; even if you aren’t looking to go that much more complex with your choice of game, it’s still a great way of learning the basics before tackling something meatier.
The best part is that the whole bundle of first edition Tiny Dungeon RPG materials can be purchased digitally, direct from the publisher’s website, for just $2.99. With free character sheets also available from the same page, I honestly can’t recommend Tiny Dungeon enough for those gamers who have always wanted to try out a tabletop RPG but have always found them a little too daunting to progress with.
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