Friday, September 10, 2021

Game Review : One Shot in the Dark

Cover for "One Shot in the Dark"
Art by Tale of the Manticore
©2021, Tale of the Manticore
Author: Tale of the Manticore 
Publisher: Self-published 
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG 
Engine: OSR inspired ultra-light

It has been a busy few weeks in the deathtrap. I have had a 3-day journey across country, got my kids back to school, and dealt with the death of a pet. Accordingly, I have a bit of a backlog on reviews. The one I have been most interested in reviewing has been the hardest one to get reviewed. Finding time to sit down at a table with a deck of cards as being stunningly difficult for the last month. That review is for One Shot in the Dark by Tale of the Manticore.

One Shot in the Dark is a solo dungeon crawler in the same vein as Four Against Darkness. You control four simple characters in a theater of the mind dungeon crawl.

The dungeon is generated by drawing cards. A heart is drawn to determine the room, with traps, the presence of monsters, or magical challenges listed. Diamonds are drawn for monsters, and clubs for treasure. Each floor of the dungeon has three tables to consult, giving each floor a unique feel. It would be fairly easy to write additional or alternate tables to create different themed adventures. After three floors, the PCs draw a spade to discover the final monster of the dungeon.

The actual game mechanics are minimalistic, A party of four can easily fit on an index card. Your party automatically consists of the four basic classes of B/X Dungeons & Dragons: Fighter, Thief, cleric, and Magic user. Each character has a level, hit points, and they hit die. They roll for extra hit points up on levelling up and make attack and damage rolls. Clerics and Wizards have one spell each from their respective class list, and gain a new spell up on levelling up. This spell may only be used once and duplicates are not allowed.

Attack and damage rolls are handled using the hit die.

The game is a simple exercise in imagination. It is significantly faster than Four Against Darkness and other solo games that I have played.

I would imagine that it would be very easy to steal either the ultra-light rule set or the dungeon building game and use either separate.

What I Loved


Each floor is made up of three tables. The description is minimalist but, for the simplicity of the table entries, they do a lot of work. The Caves, Dungeons, and Crypt levels all feel very different. I can imagine doing a flooded ruin, darling forest, volcanic cavern, ice fissure, etc. very easily if I wanted some variation. 

Likewise a few different spells and tables could let you create a totally different game. I could see creating Lovecraftian horror, post apocalyptic wastelands, or space exploration with only a few tweaks. 


The choices of encounters and the description of rooms and treasure did a great job of getting me to imagine the scene, and start rooting for my characters. I was genuinely impressed by my plucky mage who kept getting the best attacks in combat and slew the Lich King in one lightning bolt. And exasperated with my thief that could do nothing right. 


Tale of the Manticore suggests the game can be played in an hour. Personally, I did a complete dungeon crawl in 15. Given its lightness, it can actually be tactically complex in places. Choosing when to heal, cast spells and which PCs to risk taking damage is pretty satisfying. 

Growth Points

More, Please

No seriously. I would love to see a bit more. Maybe some expanded dungeon packs, or a version where traps and features are handled by spades. I have a great idea on how to convert this to a Tarot based game. I would love to see this grow! 

My Thief Sucked

The d20+ level based saves make sense as a way to handle a lot in the game, but my poor Thief was completely useless. And nearly got my fighter killed. Twice. I imagined some amusing byplay going on in the party in the end. 

Is there a way to maybe improve the Thief's odds of success slightly so that they feel as if they are as good at what they do as the rest of the party? Or are we going for the true low-level B/X experience here? 


This is a fun, fast, and clever little solo system that can be played in a few minutes if you have an itch for a dungeon crawl. I certainly am more likely to grab it to kill an hour on a rainy afternoon than I might Four Against Darkness or Alone Among the Stars because of the sheer speed of play.

Mind you, this is what Tale of the Manticore rightly calls a "snack-sized game" you will not get sprawling megadungeon experiences out of this game, nor extended campaigns. it is for one-shot play, over a few minutes.

More importantly, this is a system begging to be tinkered with. I could see a GM using the dungeon component to run an impromptu game with Tombpunk or Tiny Dungeon. Or use the rules to entertain a few kids when all you have is a pocketful of dice. Or making new dungeon sets with it. There is so much begging to be tried with the system! 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation! Just picked it up. It's only $1.50 at this time.