This is the one hundred eighty-seventh entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

Our one hundred eighty-seventh random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality tried to surprise us, but critically failed in hilarious fashion. It’s For The Dungeon! by Jordan Palmer (with art by Jared Teo), and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Play the minions, not the heroes. An improv comedy RPG about the misfort…

It’s time for some slapstick.

For the Dungeon! is a tabletop role-playing game unapologetically set in a cliched fantasy world, of Dungeons & Dragons ilk. It assumes players are familiar with the tropes of such a setting, which is likely a safe assumption these days, but an assumption nonetheless. The twist is that players do not control heroes, but villains. Not the big villain. No, players control the minions that serve the Big Bad, and are encouraged to sow chaos and wreak havoc at every opportunity. Ideally with humorous results.

As usual, I lack the time and motivation to organize a group to actually play this, so I’m just going off my impression from the book. It’s a nicely presented book, with fancy typefacing and full-color illustrations adorning its 46 pages. There are a bunch of extras too, including character sheets, a set of card prompts, a lovingly drawn map, and a printout of the possible moves. For the Dungeon! takes inspiration from Powered by the Apocalypse (which has been the basis of many entries in this series so far) by borrowing its concept of “moves” as actions that players can attempt. The moves available to players in For the Dungeon! are thematically appropriate for dungeon-dwelling minions serving an evil master, covering violence, stealth, risky gambits, and cunning plans. But the dice-rolling system for resolving moves is simplified, and adds critical failures to the usual full or partial success results from Powered by the Apocalypse. These are designed to be as humorous as possible.

Throughout its book, For the Dungeon! is keen to emphasize that the improvised story is the highest priority. It takes precedence over the rules. Players are told not to think of which move they want to perform, but rather think of what they want to do in whatever scene is playing out, and then the GM will determine which move applies to the situation. Each character can call upon several Traits, from special talents they have, equipment they carry, or their personal motivations. These can add dice when appropriate for certain moves, which increases the chance of success. But, upon a failure, the extra dice actually increase the chance of a critical failure. When this happens, the affected player must give the GM a single word prompt (there are cards with prompts on them for those who prefer to choose randomly, or who simply need inspiration). The GM then describes exactly how things went horribly, horribly wrong based on that prompt.

This is meant to be funny, and it’s meant to happen fairly often. After a critical failure, players learn a lesson from it and can call upon that to support future moves when appropriate. Critical failures are how characters grow, and (if they survive) become more powerful. But I get the sense that minions aren’t meant to last that long. Each has a limited amount of Zeal that can be spent to cheat death or force successful outcomes, but once their Zeal is depleted, that’s it. There’s no way to get any more. The lifespan of a minion may be short, but it’s full of spectacular chaos and mayhem.

As I read through the book, I could have used a few more specific examples for certain aspects of the game. For example, items are only described in abstract terms, as things that might have a single, immediate use or more expensive ones that might grant a permanent trait. A few examples would have helped me understand what kind of items fall into each category. Traits are similarly vague, with advice indicating they should be useful for more than one move but not for all of them, but no specific examples of “good” or “bad Traits. The GM is encouraged to give each scene its own Trait that players can call upon, but the only example of this is in the short sample play session at the end of the book, in which a garden contains a hedge maze that players can call upon when, say, trying to escape pursuit. Not every scene is going to have space for a hedge maze, of course, so I would have liked to see some more examples for different kinds of locations.

Having said that, the book does contain a lot of guidance for the GM and for players about how to approach scenes and lean into the story and roleplaying, which shows an eagerness to welcome players who haven’t done much roleplaying before. They’ll need sufficient imagination, however, as there’s little in the way of worldbuildling here beyond the standard fantasy tropes of dungeons, heroes and magic. The map is a nice starting point, with some intriguing locations on it, but players will have to flesh all that out themselves. For the Dungeon! is designed for campaign play, with a set of Dungeon Actions that are performed between the main game sessions to prompt new world events, like pesky adventurers going after our malevolent minions. That can help embellish the world a bit, but players will still have to do a lot of that up front.

I suspect this is best run with an experienced GM, but could easily feature novice players as the minions. Anyone who likes the concept of playing as a hapless evil minion and is ready to jump right in to improvisational scenes should be fine, as the actual mechanics are pretty simple. Does that sound like you? If so, For the Dungeon! is worth a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $19, but there are some Community Copies available for free for those who cannot afford the standard price. Sales generate more Community Copies, so if you can purchase you might be helping out someone else who can’t.

That’s 187 down, and only 1554 to go!