Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Go To
The Second Edition box art

Descent: Journeys in the Dark is an American-style Adventure Board Game that pits a team of Dungeon Crawling heroes, each played by a different player, against the Overlord—a single player who controls all the monsters and traps on the map. It consists of multiple "scenarios" that define the battle map (built together from differently shaped tiles), the monsters, and the session goals for the heroes and the Overlord, and is often viewed as a Spiritual Successor to HeroQuest.

Originally published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2005, Descent received a number of Expansion Packs that added new scenarios, heroes, and monsters. The original included basic rules for carrying over experience gained in earlier scenarios. The 2008 expansion, The Road to Legend, introduced the rules for campaign play that had to take several sessions to complete and added plot elements for the Overlord, bringing the experience even closer to a Tabletop RPG. The second edition, released in 2012, revamped the entire game with campaign mode as a core feature in mind, and has since phased out the first edition completely and received a number of expansions of its own.

The rule books for the Second Edition and its expansions can be found at the publisher's website. In June 2016, Fantasy Flight has also released a free companion app on Steam, Descent: Road to Legend, which takes over the role of the Overlord, allowing human players to play in full co-op mode against the computer.

The game contains examples of following tropes:

  • Action Initiative: Averted. The players decide in which order to act on their turn, while the Overlord decides when to activate each monster group on his, with a twist that once a hero or a monster group starts to act, they must carry out all of their actions for the turn.
  • Armor and Magic Don't Mix: It is usually impossible to equip heavy armor and Rune weapons (the main weapon type for mages) simultaneously.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Some weapons and magical attacks have the special property "Pierce", which allows them to ignore some of the defenses the target has rolled.
  • Attack Failure Chance: Attack rolls are made with a dice pool that always includes a blue die with one side featuring a big "X". If the "X" is rolled, the attack fails, regardless of other factors (such as the amount of actual damage and, in case of ranged attacks, distance rolled on other dice in the pool).
  • Attack Reflector: The Shield of Zorek's Favor lets a Lieutenant wielding it reflect some of the damage they take at the attacker.
  • Bag of Spilling: In the first edition, the heroes do not retain their gear between adventures. The starting text for each quest suggests they spent it all on whores and drinking.
  • The Beastmaster: The Necromancer class has the ability to summon an undead minion to fight for them and many of its abilities revolve around buffing the minion.
  • Behind the Black: The Overlord is able to use spawn cards to generate monsters in any part of the board that the heroes can't currently see, even if it's in a dead-end passage that they just checked out last turn.
  • Body Armor as Hit Points: Some armors, like the Leather Armor, give the heroes extra hit points in addition to an extra defense die.
  • Character Class System: Each available hero has one of four archetypes (Warrior, Mage, Scout, and Healer) that determines which classes he or she can belong to (two per archetype in the base Second Edition, more with expansions), which, in turn, determines their abilities and starting gear.
  • Combat Medic: The Healer archetype, although its Disciple sub-class is more suited for dishing out pain than the Spiritspeaker, who is more of a Support Party Member focusing on Status Buffs.
  • Competitive Balance: Each available hero has stats and unique abilities that make them useful in certain situations and weak in others.
  • Covers Always Lie: The Second Edition box art depicts three heroes, none of whom is actually in the base game or any of the expansions. They're more like the types of characters that do appear: The guy with the mace resembles Avric, the elven sword lady is similar to Syndrael without actually looking like her, and the bestubbled archer could be a male counterpart to Jain.
  • Critical Failure: Rolling an X on the blue attack die means you fail to deal any damage to the enemy, regardless of how well you may have rolled with the other dice.
  • Damage Reduction: Armor/defense works by reducing the amount of damage taken from an attack by the result of a defense dice roll.
  • Damager, Healer, Tank: Encoded in the hero archetypes: Warriors are Tanks with the best defenses and most hit points, Mages and Scouts are Damagers (Mages specialize in Area of Effect attacks, while Scouts lay directed damage), and Healers are just that. That said, Warriors and Healers can also dish out some pain, they're just not as geared towards it as the other two.
  • Debut Queue: Act I of The Shadow Rune campaign sequentially introduces all of the Lieutenants in the base Second Edition, one per quest, culminating in the reveal of the overarching nemesis, Baron Zachareth, in the Intermezzo.
  • Diagonal Speed Boost: Moving diagonally costs a single movement point, same as moving horizontally or vertically.
  • Dungeon Crawling: The hero players move their minis about the map, killing monsters, looting treasure, and hopefully stopping the Overlord's plans.
  • Dual Wielding: It is possible to wield two one-handed weapons at once, and while it doesn't give you additional attacks, you can use both weapons' special properties at the same time.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: The number of heroes on the map determines the sizes of monster groups and the Lieutenants' stats.
  • Elite Mook: Each monster comes in two different varieties: the basic "minion monsters" and the more powerful "master monster", of which only one can be present on the map at any time. Some abilities that affect minions are flat-out ignored by master monsters, and the latter's presence may even boost the former's combat effectiveness.
  • Everyone Has a Special Move: Each hero has a unique special ability usable at any time and a Heroic Feat that can be used once per encounter.
  • Expansion Pack: Just for the first edition: The Well of Darkness (2006), The Altar of Despair (2007), The Road to Legend (2008), The Tomb of Ice (2008), The Sea of Blood (2009), as well as a number of minis-only packs. The second one has had Lair of the Wyrm (2012, mini-campaign), Labyrinth of Ruin (2013, epic campaign), The Trollfens (2013, mini), Shadow of Nerekhall (2014, epic), Manor of Ravens (2014, mini), Heirs of Blood (2015, standalone campaign book to be played with just the base game), and Mists of Bilehall (2015, mini). A conversion kit for the first edition, as well as a large number of Lieutenant packs and Hero & Monster collections have also been released.
  • Experience Points: In the campaign mode, both the heroes and the Overlord gain XP for completing scenarios (more so if they win) and can spend them to purchase new class abilities.
  • Extra Turn: Downplayed, as the heroes (and Lieutenants) can move one square for every Stamina point they expend on top of their two regular actions per turn (which can but must not be regular move actions). Some heroes also have special abilities that let them take extra actions on their turn.
  • Familiar: Some classes can summon these as companions, giving them extra powers or just serving as an extra figure on the field. The Necromancer class, for instance, gets a walking skeleton dubbed Reanimate.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: The four heroic archetypes are this plus the Healer, while the Overlord can multi-class in Warlord, Magus, and Saboteur—also an example of this trope.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The base Second Edition includes a male and a female hero for each of the four archetypes, and the expansions generally add equal numbers of male and female heroes to the mix. Since only four heroes can participate in a quest, however, this needs not be true of a given Player Party.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Dragon Wars, mentioned in the lore, which wiped out all dragons except the Shadow ones.
  • Healing Potion: The Health Potion is a search card that can be randomly found during encounters and instantly heals all hit points when used.
  • Heroes Act, Villains Hinder: In gameplay terms, the heroes always get the first turn in every scenario. While the game is supposed to feel a lot like Dungeons & Dragons, only more Hack and Slash oriented, one big difference is the Overlord's role. As a review of the game so nicely put it:
    "Unlike in other games, the Overlord's job isn't to provide challenges for the heroes to conquer, obstacles to overcome, or an exciting adventure. Oh no. The Overlord's job is to kill the f*** out of the heroes by any means necessary!"
  • Heroic Fantasy: It's as archetypal as it gets: A Ragtag Bunch of plucky but upstanding heroes fights off an Evil Overlord threatening the kingdom of Terrinoth.
  • Hit Points: When hit, each hero and monster receives damage markers—when their total equals or exceeds the unit's maximum hit points, it's removed from the game (permanently for monsters, temporarily for heroes).
  • Knock Back: Hitting an enemy with a Crossbow or with the Trueshot Relic bow lets you spend a surge to move them one square.
  • Loads and Loads of Rules:
    • The base Second Edition contains a booklet detailing the rules for basic, Epic, and Campaign play, plus a quest book with over twenty quests, each with its own special rules. Then there are the event cards and the heroes' special abilities that have their own rules printed on them...
    • First Edition was notably less rule-heavy, which could be one reason why many fans of epic Dungeon Crawl adventures prefer it to the Second. Most of the booklet only explains how to read the different character sheets and cards, and what various words and symbols mean, with little explanation on how to actually play the game beyond this. The developers later released an "errata"-booklet for First Edition, which only contains the rules, although by the time it came out, YouTubers had already made tutorials on how to play the game, making the rules-booklet mostly useless.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: In the first edition, the "Aim" and "Dodge" abilities allowed players to re-roll dice used in an attack (Aim) or to force the player attacking them to re-roll (Dodge). Hero players could set either one as an order, while the Overlord had cards that allow him to use these abilities. These mechanics were removed from the Second Edition, where the Power Potion search cards are used by heroes to reroll attack dice instead; also, swords generally have a property that lets you reroll one power die per attack. Lastly, the Fortuna's Dice Relic lets your reroll any one die per turn.
  • Non-Player Companion: The Allies introduced in the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion (and, thus far, only used in it) join the core party of heroes temporarily for certain quests under certain conditions and obey mechanics similar to those of the Lieutenants, except they are activated on the heroes' turn.
  • Noob Cave: The quest "First Blood" is suggested by the rule book as a starting adventure for newcomers to the game. It is also the starting quest of The Shadow Rune campaign included with the Second Edition.
  • Non-Lethal K.O.: If a hero unit takes too much damage, they fall to the ground and may either attempt to heal on their own turn or be revived by another player.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Overlord has a number of unique named Lieutenants who have higher stats than regular monsters and can perform special actions like the heroes.
  • Point Build System: Under the Epic Play and Campaign rules, the players buy additional class abilities for their heroes by spending XP.
  • Post-Adventure Adventure: The default campaign "The Shadow Rune" concerns the late consequences of another quest by a group of Precursor Heroes ("the Shadowbinders") to seal away the Shadow Dragon Gryvorn several decades prior. The events of said quest are merely mentioned but never explained throughout the campaign.
  • Plot Coupon That Does Something: The Relics, in addition to being the MacGuffins of their respective scenarios, can be used as gear items (usually weapons) by heroes or Lieutenants (depending on who claimed them) in later scenarios.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The "First Blood" quest contains a subtle hook for the rest of The Shadow Rune campaign: one of Mauler's victims was actually Viceroy Pellin—one of the long-disbanded Shadow Binders, whom the heroes have to rescue throughout Act I.
  • Plunder: The search tokens and cards represent random items the heroes can find in the encounters. These can be used in battle and later sold for gold to acquire permanent equipment.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The heroes are this, emphasis on "misfits": exiles and vagabonds of all sorts, all of them.
  • Random Encounters: In campaign mode, actually getting from the Hub City to the questing location requires drawing from a deck of travel cards that can introduce complications for the heroes before the scenario proper even starts.
  • Respawning Enemies: In scenarios that advise the Overlord to "maintain group size", monsters that the heroes manage to kill respawn at the start of the Overlord's turn.
  • Resting Recovery: Spending one of a hero's two actions per turn to rest restores that hero's entire Stamina pool at the end of their turn.
  • Retool: The second edition is not compatible with the first one and focuses on faster setup and play, as well as the campaign mode.
  • RPG Elements: Especially in the campaign mode, where Experience Points, Skill Scores and Perks, and gear carry over from session to session.
  • Skill Scores and Perks: The Epic and Campaign Play rules allow the players to buy new abilities (active perks) with experience points, while the "Attributes" (Might, Knowledge, Willpower, and Awareness) act as skill scores for Attribute Test rolls to activate certain abilities and to overcome obstacles.
  • Spiritual Successor: To HeroQuest (as well as the Doom board game), thanks to their similar Dungeon Crawling mechanics. Folklore: The Afflicted (Kickstarted by the Second Edition's designers in October 2015) is, in turn, the successor to Descent.
  • Squishy Wizard: Heroes of the Mage archetype tend to have the least hit points compared to the rest.
  • Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition: The game is of the Team vs. Lone Wolf variety, where the heroes are supposed to cooperate closely against the single Overlord, who is usually the most experienced player.
  • Starter Equipment: In the basic and Campaign play mode, each hero starts off with one or two gear items appropriate for their chosen class, such as the Knight's sword and shield or the Necromancer's staff.
  • Story Branching: In The Shadow Rune campaign, which Act II scenarios are played is determined by whether the heroes or the Overlord won the respective prequel scenarios in Act I.
  • The Quest: Each scenario is presented as a quest for the heroes to complete.
  • Turn-Based Combat: A One Side, One Turn variety with action types (technically, action points, except each unit always has two "points" per turn and each action always costs one—effectively, each unit has two actions per turn) and a square grid.
  • Utility Party Member: Classes of the Scout archetype generally have one or two abilities that mainly concern recovering treasures scattered across the encounter map, so that task naturally falls to them while the rest of the party fights monsters. In particular, most of the Treasure Hunter's abilities in the Labyrinth of Ruin expansion are Luck Manipulation Mechanics concerning search cards, while the Thief from the base game can recover them at a distance, Discard and Draw them, and also open doors as a free action.
  • Variable Player Goals: The heroes and the Overlord usually have opposed goals in each scenario, which also vary from encounter to encounter. For instance, in "First Blood", the heroes have to defeat the named ettin Mauler, while the Overlord has to guide at least four of goblins to safety.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Should a Lieutenant be defeated by the heroes, especially if their death is not the heroic goal of the particular scenario, they inevitably find a way to escape with their life in the last moment.
  • Villains Act, Heroes React: In-story, each scenario begins with the heroes chasing after the Overlord's minions to stop their newest scheme.

Alternative Title(s): Descent