TD2e clocks in at a smidge over 200 digest-sized pages. Like other GKG products, the black and white interior is cleanly laid out and easy on the eyes. Billing itself as a rules light, fast playing, fast running fantasy RPG, I immediately started comparing it to White Box and my own Untold Adventures. Let me say this right off the bat: Tiny Dungeon is an entirely different beast. It's rules light, certainly. It is absolutely a fantasy RPG. But I'm reluctant to call it OSR simply because it blends classic and modern trends in gaming to create a unique beast that I think has a certain level of universal appeal.
This is a game that runs at lightning speed, yet somehow manages not to sacrifice much in the way of character depth and breadth of concept availability. Character creation is simple. You choose a Heritage, three Traits, a Weapon Group, a Family Trade, and a Belief. It works like this:
- Heritage: In other games this would be your "race," but by choosing a different terminology, TD2e allows you to design things like multiple kinds of subraces while still having them all be different species. The core book has a surprisingly diverse list of races. From your standard things like Humans and elves (which TD2e accurately calls Fey), to Treefolk and Goblins, there's implications of a rich fantasy setting right at your finger tips.
- Traits: These are the bread and butter of your character that really define what they do. These would be considered classes or professions in other games. Things like Alchemist, Berserker, and Shield Bearer. All PCs get to select three of them, allowing you to blend several elements into a truly unique character. Each Trait provides a brief example of the benefits it provides -- often this is Advantage on a specific task, but we'll get to Advantage and Disadvantage later (and no, it's not like 5e).
- Family Trade: This is both a kind of profession and a hint at your character's past. There is no defined list, but you could have a trade like "Blacksmith" or "Street Beggar," or "Orphaned Noble." Basically in a situation where your Trade comes into play you again gain Advantage.
- Belief: Belief is not, as an OSR grog like me is used to, akin to alignment. It's a core tenant your character lives by. Something that rings true to them deep down in their soul. It might be "I'll always find a diplomatic solution" or "I'll avenge the death of my brother, no matter the cost." It is primarily a roleplaying tool, but can have game impact in certain circumstances.
Playing the game is very simple. The core game runs on the concept of making "Tests." A Test is simply rolling 2d6. If you score a 5 or 6 on either die, you succeed. When you have Advantage you roll 3d6. Disadvantage reduces the dice rolled to 1d6. Again, get a 5 or 6 and you succeeded. That is, literally, 90% of the game's rules. It's clean, clear, and easy to learn. Combat? Just another Test. Climbing a rock wall? That's a Test. Not bleeding out all over the floor after a grievous wound? Yeah, that's a Test.
That's not to say that combat in TD2e is boring or simply a roll off. The author has added simple rules for evasion, focusing your attack, movement, and other staples that flow perfectly with game's core design. It's as robust as any OSR game I've read. For simplicity's sake, unless otherwise stated, all attacks do a single point of damage. But, given that most characters have between 4 and 8 hit points that makes this a lot deadlier than one would think at first glance.
Magic is not handled with a large chart of spells. Instead, Traits (as noted above) determine your character's magical capacity, if any. This keeps the game from being bogged down in lists and charts and allows players to have a spellcaster that's thematically appropriate. There are some example magical disciplines in the book, but they are optional. It's all left to be very narrative and I think that's a good thing.
Gear and Equipment is pretty simply defined. You start with an Adventurer's Kit and a few other items. Anything else you want? Talk with the GM. There are rules for tracking encumbrance and ammo and the like, but these are both abstracted and even as an abstracted concept they're very streamlined and designed not to hinder quick play.
While TD2e includes enough monsters to run a full campaign in the core book, what's more important is that it rightfully recognizes the concept of a monster as simple window dressing for something that's a threat to the players. As such, instead of bloating it's page count with a hundred beasties and baddies, it lists monster categories in a measurement of how likely they are to threaten the player characters and how much of a risk it is to face them in combat. This is pretty damned genius to me, because it lets you describe a monster as you, the GM, see feet and secretly allow a large and nasty hobgoblin to effectively have the same stats as a hatchling dragon -- all without the suspension of disbelief ever being broken.
I never got the impression that TD2e was designed specifically for one-shot gaming, though it certainly could do that with all the speed and ease of greased lightning. That being said, experience and advancement is an optional rule. Because characters begin play at a heroic level of skill and proficiency off the bat, this made sense to me. Even with the advancement rules, progression is slow -- as it should be, given how highly skilled starting characters can be.
All of this is packed into less than 90 digest-sized pages.
The biggest compliment I can give Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition is this: I'm glad I didn't read it until after I published Untold Adventures. If I had read Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition before writing my own minimalist game I probably would have never done it. TD2e is cleaner, faster, and easier to present than my own creation and my hat is off to its creator. I honestly believe it's a better game. I'll definitely be picking a physical in the very near future.
I'll be doing a part two of this review. As I noted earlier, this is a 200 page book, but the rules stop at around 90 pages. The enter second half of the book is mircosettings for use with TD2e and I want to be able to give them the attention they deserve. So, if you'll excuse me I'll be in the corner marveling at this masterwork blend of old school style and modern gaming simplicity as I explore the second half of Tiny Dungeon, Second Edition.