House Rules: DUNGEON SOLITAIRE: LABYRINTH OF SOULS

dungeon-customLast week I gave a very thorough review of Matthew Lowe’s magnificent little game, Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls. In short, this is a very creative and captivating game, which really grabs you by the imagination and pulls you in. My biggest gripe about the game was that it is heavily deterministic and chance-based, and that a good portion of the game is devoted to simply seeing rather than choosing what happens next.

However, I also allowed that with a few easily-imagined house rules and little or no additional components, the game’s chief drawbacks could be eradicated, allowing the rest of the game’s genius to shine. It is really saying something about the game that it kept drawing me back so many times that I wanted to find the right house rules, and that I wanted to put some much work into accessorizing. This is the kind of just-for-me labor-intensity I used to put into Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager. It’s been great fun re-living those glory days on my bedroom floor.

In this post, I’d like to share one primary accessory I made, as well as the set of house rules I’ve been playing with for about a week now, all of which have combined to make this game a near-perfect solo RPG in my mind.

First, the accessory, which I call a “map.” All it really is is a checklist of the major cards that can come up, organized into clusters according to their function in the game. As they come up, I check off the boxes, giving me a clearer picture of what remains in the deck still. (I call it a “map” because it helps me “navigate” the dungeon and make semi-informed decisions.) Some players might not prefer this tool, as it is quite literally counting cards, but I am not personally or ideologically opposed to counting cards, and in fact feel that this is one of the first and most important ingredients for making meaningful decisions in card games. As to whether or not the process should be documented or done entirely in the mind, I’ll leave that to your preference. For myself, perhaps it is telling that I used to subscribe to Nintendo Power for their wonderful maps of games like Metroid and Legend of Zelda.

If you want it, just below is a PDF version of my “map”; it is doubled simply to create multiple copies in one print and because it fit well on standard letter size to lay it out that way. As you can surmise from my cover photo for this article, I printed one on parchment paper and later laminated it, so I have a dry-erase version I use over and over. You may also notice that it offers some income/expense information at the bottom for when you visit the town in between delves in the Campaign Mode. I find that things in town are rather expensive, and sometimes it isn’t even worth your while to retreat from the dungeon, since you haven’t made enough loot to cover your basic expenses. The tables help you gauge risk vs. reward.

Dungeon Solitaire “Map” Checklist

And now for the rules. The two essential “breaks” in the original rules that I was trying to address in these were (1) not enough player-choice in the early turns, needing mitigation by some sort of starting inventory, and (2) the common occurrence of auto-kills (by corruption, the lich, and/or the dragon), needing mitigation by allowing that at least one choice has resulted in the threat, and that there is at least a slim chance of escaping, even if at great cost. The goal, of course, was to make sure the dungeon was still challenging and dangerous, and not to give the player a kind of “Monty Haul” campaign. I’ve play-tested these now across several games, and I’m happy with them, at least for my own preferences. I invite you to test them out in your own sessions, and even if my calibration isn’t quite where you like yours, I think you’ll find these rules are easily tweaked to adjust difficulty, especially when it comes to how many queens you pull out of the deck. Here they are:


Labyrinth of Souls
Optional Rules for More Decision-Based Play

All normal rules apply, except for the following:
  1. Begin the game with the knights (jacks) of swords (spades), coins (diamonds), and wands (clubs) already in your hand. These are your “natural skills.” When deciding whether or not to use a “natural skill,” When you play any of these three “natural skills cards,” you must commit to playing it (or not) as soon as the encounter type is established. Once you draw an additional card for any reason, and regardless of the result, you have committed to dealing with the encounter through normal action cards. If you do decide to use a “natural skill” card to resolve an encounter, turn it face down in front of you, and obey the following parameters:
    1. Knight (jack) of swords (spades): You must still draw through to the next action card and suffer any hit point damage you happen to incur, but you will automatically win the encounter, as long as you survive.
    2. Knight (jack) of wands (clubs): You must discard the next 3 cards from the draw deck, playing to the doom track any corresponding cards that may appear. You will automatically win the encounter if you are not defeated by doom track cards.
    3. Knight (jack) of coins (diamonds): Choose either of the above effects (a) or (b) when playing this skill.
  2. When you play a “natural skill” card, it does not get added to the face-down cards marking the encounter/turn. There is a possibility for it to be restored later. (Standard skills are still lost to the face-down pile when played, per standard rules.) The knight (jack) of cups (hearts) is not considered one of the three “natural skills” and still functions as described in the rules.
  3. During setup, remove three of the four queens from the deck and start with these also in your hand. These are still considered “divine favors,” but you play them at will, according to the following parameters:
    1. As with natural skills, you must commit to playing a divine favor (or not) as soon as the encounter type is established. Once you draw an additional card for any reason, you have renounced the divine favor for the turn, and you do not receive another opportunity to play the divine favor until the next encounter. When you play a divine favor, it remains face down in the stack marking the turn.
    2. Divine favors grant automatic victories, per the standard rules, for all normal encounters (guardian monsters , treasure traps, sealed doors, and mazes). Against the lich or the dragon, a divine favor only grants you an escape. You pass the encounter, but you may not collect any skills, treasure, items, or companions that may have appeared on the turn, and the lich or dragon card is placed at the bottom of the deck.
    3. When you play a divine favor, you may move one corruption card from the doom track to the bottom of the deck, as you would for a blessing.
  1. When you imbibe a potion of healing (Temperance (XIV)), in addition to restoring your hit-points, it also restores any/all of your face down natural skills to their face up side, making them eligible for play once more.
  2. When the Tower (XVI) card appears, re-shuffle the entire deck, including any discards, into a new draw pile. As per the standard rules, your leftmost companion is automatically killed, the page card being added to the stack of cards marking the turn.
  3. When facing the lich, if you have a cleric (page of cups) in your party, you can sacrifice the cleric to turn the lich and any minions away. Before doing so, you must draw at least one action card, suffering any normal damage that might result. Thereafter, if you choose to sacrifice the cleric, you pass the encounter, but you may not collect any skills, treasure, items, or other companions that may have appeared on the turn, and the lich card is placed at the bottom of the deck.
  4. When facing the dragon, if you have a magician (I) in your party, you can sacrifice the magician to lure the dragon into the deepest pits of the dungeon. Before doing so, you must draw at least one action card, suffering any normal damage that might result. Thereafter, if you choose to sacrifice the cleric, you pass the encounter, but you may not collect any skills, treasure, items, or other companions that may have appeared on the turn, and the lich card is placed at the bottom of the deck.

That’s all for this week, my friends. Hope you enjoy the game and find these modifications useful. Come back for a visit next week, when I plan to review the “mini” card game Avignon: A Clash of Popes.


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