A simplified dungeon crawl tabletop RPG
Tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs) are great. My own regular board game night began as an RPG campaign until the twin challenges of group scheduling and prep time for the gamesmaster (GM) caused it to evolve into a board game night instead. Board games have the benefit of generally requiring no planning, and it doesn’t matter if the attendees differ each week.
However, sometimes you just miss creating a character, grabbing equipment and embarking on an adventure into the unknown — which is where Legends Untold comes in. This is a cooperative dungeon crawl in a box; a series of adventures played out on a generated map, with randomly-discovered monsters and loot.
At this point I feel the need to clarify. I’ll refer to the game as Legends Untold throughout, although there are actually two boxed products: Legends Untold: The Great Sewers Novice Set and Legends Untold: The Weeping Caves Novice Set. Gameplay-wise, they are essentially the same and if one is better than the other then I haven’t been able to tell so far. The contents of each differ, but the rules are common between them and they can be combined.
Each adventure in Legends Untold is procedurally generated. The GM’s role is fulfilled with an exploration deck, made up from encounters, enemies, loot, and traps. The cards used will be a subset of a much larger deck so, even when replaying, it’s unlikely you’ll face the same set of encounters. In this way, Legends Untold provides the great unpredictability of a good rogue-like game.
Your character has a starting background, of which there are four in each box. These provide basic characters stats and feature optional male/female art on either side of the card. Group members specialise their role in the choice of, first, a weapon, and then three talent cards. These talent cards provide themed skills and also track health, and are flipped face down when damage is taken, reducing your performance until healing can be used. Three doesn’t seem huge, but there is such a variety of different talent cards that each character build feels quite distinct.
The core of the game is exploring the gradually unfolding dungeon. From each location card there is a choice of exits, each giving off a certain amount of light. Darker tunnels provide the chance to surprise foes but make you more likely to blunder into traps, and it’s often harder to solve some puzzles. Brighter tunnels give better awareness, but a much lower chance to get the drop on your enemies.
It’s the location cards where the brilliance of the game emerges. As you enter, the randomly-drawn map card indicates how to orient it against your chosen entrance, then shows a variety of features, such as obstacles that must be overcome to fully enter, a monster or challenge encounter, or both; and icons to represent natural resources, locked doors, or barrels to search for loot.
Most GM-less dungeon crawlers focus on the tactical combat, loot, and character upgrading aspects. What I enjoy about Legends Untold is the pure dungeoneering. Taking a gamble on how to enter the next room, flavourful encounter cards, strange non-player characters (NPCs), mystical barriers, and odd events all make it a mysterious and compelling experience.
Legends Untold is not a story-rich adventure and there aren’t any miniatures. While each encounter card provides great flavour, there is little plot beyond the initial set-up and target requirements for each dungeon. And, ultimately, it’s a game of rolling dice. Every obstacle, locked door, magic barrier, NPC, or monster is managed using a combination of card skills and a check against a skill value. This is a survival and resource-management crawl rather than a plotted adventure, although if you lend it your imagination the emergent story arising from the events can be compelling. Monsters may be a single motionless card, but the tension when your target escapes combat and disappears back into the encounter deck is palpable.
I have to mention the art by Scott Nicely (Arkham Horror LCG, Runebound). Each character, enemy and encounter card is unique and exceptional. Though small, they feature a glut of character and detail.
Ultimately, Legends Untold punches well above its weight. It comes in a box the size of a fat hardback book which costs under £25, and that box is packed full of content. Each ‘half’ of the set provides 20 pre-designed adventures, 10 of which are strung together into a challenging campaign, and all of which feature the wonderful randomness which drives replay. There are enough item cards and additional skills to drive distinct character builds, levelling-up opportunities, and — most importantly — variety. There are a mass of tokens to cover character buffs/debuffs and little icons to mark the changing state of points of interest on the game map, such as the barrel tokens which have a ‘closed’ and ‘pillaged’ side.
It’s easy to drop players in and out between adventures and each mission takes about an hour to play. So for those evenings when you just want to ‘party up’, grab some weapons and head into the unknown in search of adventure, Legends Untold is ingenious, lightweight, fast, and — above all — easy to bring out on game night.