Thursday, December 2, 2010

Review: Bits of Darkness: Dungeons

By Tabletop Adventures

This was one of the Gamers Helping Haiti bundle items, and it’s a fairly impressive and useful little pdf.  It’s written with d20 in mind, so it references certain crunch like Fortitude saving throws.   

The cover isn’t anything to write home about, and I wouldn’t bother to print.  The first 2 pages are the copyright and table of contents, and these are followed by a 2 page introduction and “how to use this product”. 

Page 6 is a lovely splash page showing a rope bridge over a mountainous gorge with dungeon/cavern entrances on either side of the bridge, and a castle off in the background.  I actually like this piece much better than the cover. 

Page 7 – 9 is titles “Dungeon Shards” and provides 6 dungeon area descriptions running from 1-3+ paragraphs long with some accompanying mechanical info.  This section gives a little more to work with than the following section, and seems to serve as an example of what you can turn the shorter ideas into.

Pages 10-17 contain Dungeon Bits - 100 shorter descriptions that are broken down into Sights (1-50), Sounds (51-74), Scents (75-83), and Stuff (84-100).  Here are 3 examples pulled at random:

The floor here is slick with water and moss.  You must walk carefully. You see a 2-foot circle of wetness on the ceiling and from its center water drips, ever so slowly.

Dripping sounds come from somewhere in front of you. They are faint at first, but grow stronger as you move along. Something seems to be dripping incessantly and plopping into an unseen pool.

There is a dark opening measuring about 2 feet by 2 feet, roughly six feet above the floor.  When you first look at it there are two red eyes peering out at you from the inky blackness. The eyes are set about 5 inches apart, and disappear as soon as someone makes a move in that direction. [If the explorers examine the opening:] You find a tunnel that narrows quickly to about one foot by one foot and turns to the left after five feet.

Pages 18+19 contain 8 longer descriptions for Catacombs modeled on the Dungeon Shards above. 

Page 20 is labeled Bits of Trouble, and contains 6 descriptions of potential trouble for anyone exploring.  Granted 4 of the descriptions are exactly the same, but the effect they each cause is different. 

Page 21 is an index of the different bits, as sorted by Sights, Sounds, Scents, Stuff, Hallways, Rooms, Stairs, Indications of abandonment, Evidence of previous adventurers, Possibility of intelligent inhabitants, Inspiring dread, and Mood setters.  Probably the most useful index I’ve ever seen on such a short product!

Page 22 is the OGL.

Pages 23-40 are each divided into 6 blocks, and each contains one of the 100 bits from pages 10-17.They’re designed to be cut out and turned into a deck of random descriptions.  Now, if you’re quick at math you’ll realize that 6*17=102.  Those extra 2 are for you to make up your own descriptions to add to your deck. 

The Art
I’ve already talked about the cover and the splash page, but there are also 4 black and white quarter page illustrations, all of which I think are better than the cover.  Page 7 has a creepy dungeon corridor with lots of little spiders.  Page 12 shows a dilapidated room.  Page 16 gives a great dungeon water feature and page 20 a battle that didn’t go so well for anyone involved.

Overall this is a pretty good product, and easily convertible for any fantasy RPG, though a bit on the expensive side at $5.25 for a PDF. I think this product would have been better off skipping the back half with the cards, and just suggesting that a DM roll d100.  Especially when you consider how many DMs will want to lug yet another thing to game.  If they'd have skipped the cards and dropped the price by at least half, it would be worth it.


  1. I picked up "Bits of Darkness:Dungeons" and a few of the other similar pdfs from Tabeltop adventures a while back.
    They are useful books for pepping up my descriptions.

  2. I bought this bundled with a number of other products from the same company. It was the best of the lot, as it contained a lot of research into actual cavern systems and geology, which allowed some realistic and interesting situations to pop-up. My one carp with it is that more than one of the encounters has the kind of invasive writing style I find hard to take ("Your knees tremble as you approach ..."), at one point actually requiring a saving throw vs. purely psychological fear for something that should scare the player just through the description. "Show, don't tell."