Product Review: Monster Keepers: A Reverse Dungeon

Monster Keepers: A Reverse Dungeon
Author: Rob Adams
Artist: Jim Pinto
Publisher: Dastardly Designed Games
Page Count: 12
Binding:  None
Available Formats: PDF
Cost: $1.99
Company Website: dastardlydesignedgames.blogspot.com/

PREMISE
This games turns traditional dungeon crawling RPGs on its head! Players now take on the role of dungeon managers, by managing a growing, operating dungeon for an unseen Lich Lord. The GM on the other hand now takes on the role of running a small party of heroes to delve and attack the dungeon. The GM’s goal is make the players feel the angst he or she might feel when the their monsters (in traditional player/GM arranged games) are killed under the savage hand of the heroes. The monster players will manage their dungeon as a team with both the day-to-day and week-to-week operations that keep the dungeon open and profitiable.

Taken from the introduction.

This game is not a stand-alone product. You will need any of
the countless varieties of fantasy role-playing game systems out
there. This game does not provide statistics or rules for running
the player characters or monsters. This game provides a foundation
for running the dungeon and random charts for what happens
during the course of managing the dungeon.

That’s right, this is an add-on. Just like almost all computer software
has add ons this is a plug and play type add on that gives
added complexity and layers to the game.

As an added bonus, the game also gives the Game Master a
break and with its tables and chart system it is very easy to play
this game as a solo game over a night or to expand it to be the
backdrop for managing one or even multiple dungeons while
the player’s monster characters go about doing whatever vile
deeds they are doing.

PHYSICAL QUALITY
The game, in its currently production form only exists as a PDF. The font and pitch of the text is easy to read and thematically it fits. The arrangement and layout are nicely don’t, but there are some issues with the art pieces. There are several art pieces in within this Monster Keepers; they are real pictures of real layouts (Dwarven Forge, perhaps), but the background masking gives them an unprofessional appearance. Otherwise the art pieces do a good job at conveying dungeon layout ideas.

MECHANICAL OVERVIEW
The game follows a very rigid turn order sequence, much like a boardgame might. Players, turned dungeon managers, have a variety of options available to each of them on their turn. It is through these actions that they can expand their dungeons, exploit existing monsters that have been attracted to the dungeon and even stock the dungeon with traps to keep heroes out or kill them. Monsters are also micromanaged, much like the dungeon itself is macromanaged. The players must care for their monsters (maybe we should call them pets, yes?), they must ensure their morale remains high enough to be of service with regards to financial output and continued growth of the dungeon.

There are definitive end game situations where the players loss. For example, if the monsters do not continue to grow and evolve the dungeon or fail to provide their Lich Lord a profit, they lose!

Here’s the turn sequence:
Check for Heroes
Perform Player Dungeon Turns
Roll for Mine Profit
Complete Rooms
Check for Monsters
Pay for new monsters
End of Month – Pay Upkeep

The mechanics seem to work in theory, but I do have some reservations about the game as a whole as described below. There are also solo rule elements included in Monster Keepers.

PROS
This game presents a new take on the reverse dungeon concept. The game includes several missions for the which they players can be tasked to complete in order to gain additional benefits during the game.  Solo rule mechanics have been included and I can see these being used as a way for a crafty GM to creatively build out a dungeon for use in a game.

CONS
Feels a miniatures boardgame, with its rigid turn sequence and focus on dungeon management. With lots of gaming happening online these days, Monster Keepers is not overtly friendly to this mode of playing.

PARTING SHOTS
As I mentioned this is an interesting take on the reverse dungeon concept and it’s meant to be a supplemental one-off game designed to give the GM a break without stoping an existing RPG story arc. To that end, this is a viable and interesting game. Be mindful that it’s a one-shot game. This should not be confused with a real RPG experience, nor does it pretend to be! I am all for trying new things and as a GM myself, anything that will allow for me to take break is a good thing! Monster Keepers might be most useful as a solo game or better yet a way to build a dungeon for use in a dungeon delving style game. It seems like a fun way to build and stock a dungeon. Will this be for everyone? Not in the slightest, but I think it has a place at the game table in some gaming circles. And hey, for a $1.99, why not give it a try? You can purchase the PDF at DriveThru RPG.

~ Modoc

A copy of this game was provided for evaluation purposes. This review is based only on a read through of the Monster Keepers.

 

 

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