Review: Tiny Dungeon 2E

Full disclosure: I backed Tiny Dungeon 2E during the Kickstarter, so I got my copy of the game plus the unlocked extras at the backer cost.

The Journey to a Minimalist Fantasy RPG

I wanted something with less crunch.  It was that simple.  Now, don’t get me wrong!  I love crunch most of the time.  In fact, I have spend hours and hours simply prepping a character for my next Pathfinder campaign and pouring over the plethora of crunch, but as I continue to look deeper into solo play, all the rules of PF or D&D seemed like too much effort for something I’m only beginning to experiment with.  Enter: Tiny Dungeon.

I somehow found Tiny Dungeon 1E and immediately was enamored with the content.  It was concise yet still represented the basic fantasy RPG genre well.  Shortly after that, I saw the Kickstarter for the 2nd Edition that looked like it would help fix one of my main complaints about the 1st edition which was that all characters felt the same.  Now that 2E is actually out, let me tell you about in more detail.

A Story of Successes

The main mechanic of the game, in fact the only mechanic, is rolling 2d6 and looking for a 5 or 6 on a die.  That’s called a success, and that’s the game in a nutshell.  Want to pick a lock?  Roll 2d6 for success.  Want to attack an orc?  Roll 2d6 for success.  Want to do an acrobatic tumble followed by a dragon-like leap and then swing on the chandelier across the room?  Roll 2d6 for success.

Tiny Dungeon 2E is wonderful at being a quick game to pick up and play.  I would have no qualms with taking this game to my group, explaining the basics, and then getting into a game all in the same night.  The super simple system of rolling for successes and not really needing a bunch of rules for skills opens up the possibility of letting the players role play the exact characters they want, if it’s quirky and doesn’t fall into the normal fantasy character cookie cutter shapes.

While this simplicity is the game’s biggest strength, it is also the game’s biggest weakness.  Any character can try to pick a lock, tumble acrobatically, or track a beast through the swamps, and thus, every character can mechanically end up close to the same, especially in 1E, but 2E addressed this in a couple of ways.  One way to differentiate a bit is that there are abilities or circumstances that give characters Advantage (roll 3d6) or Disadvantage (roll 1d6).

Another is that in such a rules light system, there is a lot of encouragement to just use GM fiat on some issues.  For example, it would make total sense to tell a non-rogue type character that they can only attempt to pick a lock at Disadvantage even if there is no written rule for it.

One of the great things about such an extremely minimal rules set is that it implicitly puts the emphasis on playing the character rather than the stats.  I know that in PF, I tend to think about actions in terms of where my highest bonus is (bluff or diplomacy, melee or range, etc.).  TD2E really opens the door to think about what my character would really do in each situation.  I now can ask myself what response to a given situation would fit their personality instead of their stats?

A System without Class…In a Good Way

Since everything boils down to the success rolls, character differentiate themselves by picking Traits where they excel.  This is kind of a “build-a-class” approach which I enjoy because you can mix and match to your heart’s content.  While the rules as written say that a character can’t have more than seven Traits, I feel that you need about four or five traits to really start to see a distinct character, so I’m already bending the rules there. 🙂

TD1E only had a handful of Traits to choose from, but TD2E added what they call Prestige Traits that more fully expand some the common archetypes.  For example, using magic in 1E was basically completely up to GM fiat, but 2E provides some specific spell-like Traits that a powerful wizard could have.  They do the same thing for martial arts fighting styles and techniques, paladins, and druids by explicitly defining these options.  I think this is one of the best improvements that 2E made because it really allows you to flesh out a bit more of each character.

You also further differentiate your characters by choosing a Heritage (or race), and there are some cool ones!  1E had the standard races and a cool new salamander race that heals by fire or ice, but 2E did a great job expanding that to some not often seen races such as bear people, treefolk, and lizardfolk.

Optional Rules and Micro-Settings

Finally, they further solved the “one-size-fits-all” problem of 1E by adding a bunch of optional rules for people who prefer a bit more crunch.  There are optional rules for variable weapon damage, crits, zoned combat movement (instead of speed, which I really grew to enjoy while playing Red Markets), armor, and more.  There are plenty of provided monsters (even ignoring the fact that over half are dinosaurs for some reason) and many of the monsters have unique traits of their own.  (And don’t forget the awesome art and layout!)  The optional rules for experience and leveling up provide even another avenue for making your characters stand out from each other.  In essence, 2E gets my “problem solved” stamp of approval for the issue of most characters feeling the same.

On top of this, they added a ton of micro-settings that give seeds of worlds that you can play in.  Whether you choose the wuxia inspried martial arts world or the monsters protecting their cave from the evil heroes world, each micro-settings can re-flavor your game to suit your play style.  There are a ton of good choices here plus many of the micro-settings offer new rules and traits to tack on the base game.

Overall Grade: A-

In general, this is a great little game.  The only reason I would drop this game down to a A- from an A is because there are still a unbalanced traits and typos (such as leaving out action types necessary to activate abilities) that make my min-maxing side cringe just a bit.  Mixing those few minor details with the $20 price tag makes me feel it’s necessary to downgrade their score.  (All the rest of their Tiny games that represent other genres sell for $10 I believe, and I got them for $5 when they were on sale.)  The book does clock in at 192 pages, which may justify the $20 PDF price tag.

If you want to save a bit of money, you can buy the Tiny Dungeon 2E Player’s Guide here which is only $10 but is missing the micro-settings.  If you really want those micro-settings (and the awesome cover art), you need the full Tiny Dungeon 2E Rulebook here.

You can also check out their other Tiny products (with more genres on the way!).

Tiny Frontiers is their space version that is getting a nice new revision thanks to the Tiny Dungeon Kickstarter stretch goals and Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters is a Godzilla stomping or mech warrior battle game.  Got to be easier than BattleTech, right?