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(3 edits) (+1)

The Dark Below is a moody, atmospheric trpg about underdark-crawling. It has a feeling similar to Ultima Underworld,  and the mechanics have just enough crunch to feel grounded, but not so much that it interrupts the close, ominous, suspenseful atmosphere.

Character creation is simple and characters fit on index cards, making this a good portable game (something to play while camping, or if you're not the driver on a road trip.) Characters also have a neat mechanic called matches, which lets them choose to auto-succeed challenges before rolling, if they're willing to spend a very precious currency.

A lot of the mechanics of Dark Below revert back to the GM making a judgement call (such as setting the TN for a roll, deciding the consequences for a failure, adjudicating when certain consequences apply,) so you may want someone who is already comfortable GMing to run this. Still, it's *not* an inaccessible game, and it wouldn't be a bad engine to learn on, either.

 Setting-wise, Dark Below is extremely well-written and evocative. If the mechanics weren't also really simple and good, I'd be tempted to bill the writing as its true strength, but it really just shines all around. There's a sense of half-hidden things to the setting that feels like it belongs in a Thief game, and Dark Below also manages to hit a feeling of being otherworldly that a lot of gothic settings try and fail to accomplish.

One thing the core game could really benefit from is a dungeon-generator. Even some quick rules about making sure you keep at least one unexplored passage on the map so that the players have somewhere to go if their current direction doesn't pan out would be helpful. As is, having something like donjon on hand might be useful if you get stuck.

Alternately, you could download the expansion.

The Dark Below also comes bundled with Shades And Echoes, which fleshes out more of the setting and provides much more of a toolkit to help with modding the game to your liking. It doesn't quite give you rules for auto-generating a map, but it gives you several modes you can set your dungeon to, as well as a number of rooms, room hazards, and even npcs.

Overall, I think Dark Below is both an excellent game in its own right, and potentially one of the best pick-up-and-play options that I've seen for running dungeons from other game systems. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who likes dungeon-crawling, heavy atmosphere, tension, and just enough crunch to feel invested in the setting.

Minor Issues:

-Beginning your Journey, "do you wish to scared" to be scared, also missing caps on "your" 

-I couldn't find anywhere that specifically said you're rolling a d12, but you're rolling a d12, right?


Thank you so much for these very kind words, Kumada! I am so very glad you enjoyed The Dark Below. This is a fantastic review!

Regarding dungeon generation - I do have notes on adding some advice and rules for generating dungeon-challenges that might get added to the core rules in a future release, though I have yet to decide how expansive I want them to be. The rules for the physical layout of the dungeon are kept light on purpose, to allow for adjustments on the fly, and to allow character-players to draw the map as they discover it - and to emphasise the strange, nightmarish quality of the environment. But I realise that there might need to be some more support for dungeon-creation from the GM's side.

And re: your minor issues

- thanks for picking up on that missed word! I'll fix that for the next revision

- In the first paragraph of Traversing the Dark, it is stated that you need a twelve-sided die to play the game! : "To play, you will need index cards or something like them for each Exile, a twelve-sided die to roll, and something on which to draw the map."

I'll have to consider re-phrasing some of the rules to repeat the fact that you're rolling a d12, just for the sake of clarity.

I completely missed the line about the d12. I re-read that section a couple of times, and must have missed it on each pass.

I think bolding the line would help, but unless other people are running into the same issue, it's totally fair to just write this one off as a user error.