Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Introducing Square Dungeon

When my oldest son was just toddler,  I developed an interest in roguelike video games. I didn't have the time to put in for a sprawling epic A-RPG game like Fallout 4 anymore. I needed something I could take in small doses. When Humble Bundle offered a bundle with nearly a dozen rogue like games for an Android tablet, I jumped on it.. most of them I only played for a few hours, but the one that had real staying power for me is a game called Sproggiwood.

Promotional banner: Sproggiwood; ©2015 Freehold Games 

This game is elegantly simple. Each round you can make one move, be it step one square on their game board like environment, make one attack, or use one special ability. Then every monster moves or takes one action  in response.  Different monsters move and act in different ways. The game has a hit point economy rather like an OSR D&D game: a character can't take too many hits. You have to choose your place and timing very carefully, or you will end up dead. It's a game about stacking advantages and using your abilities strategically to defeat enemies who can kill you in one or two shots.

Warrior from Sproggiwood 
©2015 Freehold Games
As your character survives and counters, they open up new abilities that don't just let you handle weaker enemies more efficiently, but are absolutely necessary to survive the boss monsters of the dungeon. I suspect anyone who enjoys both playing chess and playing old school Dungeons & Dragons based games will find sproggy would appealing.

I have put dozens of hours into this game, and have yet to get tired of it after 3 years of periodic play.

When my son began watching me play it over my shoulder a little over a year ago, he instantly became obsessed with it. I let him try it a few times, but it is a little too difficult for him, despite its cutesy visual design and deceptive simplicity.

Eventually, he started asking me to instead tell him "Sproggiwood stories like my D&D stories." Meaning, in translation, he wanted me to take its setting and something akin to its gameplay and translate them into a role-playing scenario for him so that he could vicariously enjoy the story.

Screenshot of Sproggiwood 

At the time that we were doing this, we were also on the road, and adapting it to a tabletop role playing game that I already had would be tricky for lack of time. And, difficult to do when we were in the car, as would be dice rolling .

So, instead of doing that, I created a new, ultralight, diceless game that I could play with him. I called it "Square Dungeon." 

Square Dungeon is too simple for my usual style of play, but for entertaining my kid when we have no dice to play with? It is perfect. In fact it has become part of a daily ritual for me. When we aren't locked down, I have a 40 minute walk to get my son to school. During that time, if we aren't talking about some important historical event, answering some wonder he has about the wildlife we occasionally see, or I'm not repeating a favorite fable or fairy tale to him, we will play a short TTRPG scenario.

The simplicity of the system has allowed him to quickly create his own TTRPG scenarios that range from deep sea exploration, to search and rescue missions, to classic fantasy.

When I created it, I didn't expect a campaign to come out of it but, we played through the entire plot of Sproggiwood reduced to a series of five room dungeons.

Cover: "Islands of the Purple-
Haunted Putrescence" ;
©2014 Kort'thalis Publishing
And when that was done, he was still hungry for more. And so I wrote a sequel plot. And then, when that wasn't enough, I created a story of interdimensional invasion inspired by Venger Satanis' Islands of the Purple-Haunted Putrescence, which I had just finished reviewing.

By the time he completed that scenario, he was still asking for more, and so I used elements from Cha'alt sanitized for kids gaming. Then finally, as we were heavily mixing fantasy and science fiction anyway, I stole the plot for Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, and tied it back into both a wizard character I had introduced in some of the sequel adventures, and the time God Raako from the original Sproggiwood plot.

And even did a redux early this spring involving an alien invasion where I based the villains on the fix-it-force from the cartoon Chico Bon-Bon: Monkey with a Toolbelt but they had driven me nuts with by watching 20 times through.

I suspect, all told, I have put something to the tune of 200 hours of play into this system.

I have decided to share it with you, as a part of my series on playing with children. Here it is, finally on paper as a pamphlet game inspired by some of my friends in the Brazilian OSR scene:

Grab it on DrivethruRPG

Cover page, Square Dungeon;
©2021 Brian C. Rideout;
Released under a CC-BY 3.0 License 

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