Nota Bene: This post first appeared in my RetroRoleplaying Blog on May 30, 2022. I’m posting it here as well because it seems to be a great article to start off this new blog as running my first session of Tiny Dungeon 2e is what got me interested in writing blog posts again. BTW, we finished our third session last Sunday.
Several years ago I picked up a number of Tiny D6 games in a couple of game bundles. I was interested because from what I had read about Tiny Dungeon 2e, the system sounded quite similar to a two-page RPG I had written up in the late 1980s called “Generic Quick Simple RPG” (another of my infamously bad names). Tiny Dungeon 2e and GQS-RPG had a nearly identical general resolution system, vaguely similar but weirdly different combat systems, and a similar method of describing characters and monsters. Tiny Dungeons 2e was like a much improved, greatly expanded, and actually play-tested GQS-RPG. I was very impressed with Tiny Dungeon 2e. Impressed enough to put it on my short list of modern games I’d be willing to run. I then put it and the other Tiny D6 pdfs I had purchased in a folder on my hard drive and forgot about them. After all, I had an old school campaign I was running and did not need yet another system.
Fast forward to today. Covid-19 killed the above-mentioned campaign as the players and I discovered we really loathed any type of online play. Because of immunocompromised family members, face-to-face play was out until everyone could get vaccinated and studies were done to be sure the vaccines actually protected our immunocompromised family members. By then (18+ months later), all our schedules had gotten out of sync, so the campaign was essentially dead. My wife and I were discussing the problems I was having getting the Sunday game running again while waiting for her doctor in the doctor’s exam room last month. There was a knock on the semi-open door and one of the nurses apologized for overhearing us, but asked if I would be interested in running a game for her, her husband, and 4 of their friends on Sunday afternoons. I asked what system — fearing it would be 5e which I have no interest in running. I was surprised to hear that they had been playing Tiny Dungeon. I gave her my phone number and email address and said I’d be willing to discuss it with them.
After about a month of email exchanges, phone discussions and a couple of meetings, we had a session on the 21st (and a second session yesterday) and everyone – including myself – seems to be having a good time. After only two sessions of Tiny Dungeon, I’ve concluded that I like the Tiny D6 system. It’s the first system since Microlite20 that actually excites me as much as old school D&D and retroclones. It’s almost old school as written – rules lite, fast to play (including very fast combat – a requirement for me to even touch a system any more), easy and fast to create characters (and monsters/NPCs), and very easy to house rule. Also, while Tiny D6 systems are not a variant of old school D&D systems, after running a couple of sessions I can state that I can convert all my TSR D&D stuff – including my homebrew settings – to Tiny Dungeon on the fly without advance conversion work.
All the house rules I needed to run these sessions “old school” was to change the individual initiative system to group initiative and to warn the group that I was using morale rolls and reaction rolls which I ported directly from B/X. The eyes of those who know me are probably popping out of their heads at this point as I generally have pages of house rules ready to go for any new game I’m going to try before I ever run it.
The basic system for Tiny Dungeon 2e (and Tiny D6 games in general) is simple. To determine if an uncertain action succeeds, roll 2d6. If either die comes up a 5 or 6, it’s a success. If you have disadvantage, you only roll 1d6. If you have advantage you roll 3d6. Advantage and disadvantage do not stack. Disadvantage has priority except when the advantage comes from a magic item. Combat follows the same basic system (with a few minor complications like focus and evading). Hits from weapons generally do 1 point of damage. Characters start with 4 to 8 hit points depending on their heritage (aka race/species). Monsters are on the same hit point scale. For a rough idea of monster hit points in Tiny D6 games add 3 to a monster’s hit dice in 0e or B/X.
Characters are defined by traits which do things like provide advantage or special abilities. Creating characters is relatively easy although more choice (and therefore system knowledge) is required than in TSR D&D. First, the player selects a heritage (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) which provides starting hit points and a trait. For example, the Dwarf heritage provides 8 hit points and the Dark Vision trait which allows seeing in total darkness. Then you select three traits from the trait list. There are only 4 pages of traits, each with a few sentences explaining the trait so this is not as bad as it sounds; although having new players helped by an experienced player will speed this part of character creation up. Next you select one of the three weapon groups to be proficient in and one weapon from that group you have mastered. (Using a weapon from a group you are not proficient with gives disadvantage, while using a weapon you’d mastered gives advantage). Then you come up with a mundane family trade – what you learned about as a child: another source of possible advantage. Finally you decide on a belief: a simple statement of something that drives the character. An example belief: “My home is in my backpack.”
Starting characters are more capable than in old school D&D – probably about the equivalent of a third level B/X character. Characters can grow with time — however, experience is an optional rule. There are two suggested experience systems. The simple system has characters gain a new trait every three sessions up to a total of seven (non-heritage) traits. A more complex system has a few experience points awarded each session when can be used to buy either a new trait, a new weapon proficiency (or a new mastered weapon), or an additional hit point. Tiny Dungeon 2e characters tend to broaden their abilities with experience rather than increase a limited number of abilities to “super-powered” levels.
Magic is handled very differently from old school D&D. There are two “obviously magic” traits: spell reader, and spell-touched. The healer, familiar, beastspeaker, and alchemist traits can also be considered magical if doing so fits what you are trying to do. The spell reader trait gives the ability to read one-use scrolls of fairly powerful spells, releasing their magic. Of course, these scrolls have to be found or purchased. The spell-touched trait gives the character the inherit power to sense magic and subtly affect their surrounding with minor magical effects (very roughly around the power level of first or second level TSR D&D spells).
Optional rules provide traits with more powerful magic, animal companions, and martial disciplines There are also optional rules for critical hits and misses, variable weapon damage, armor (provides damage reduction), and simple ship and mount rules.
The GM section of the rules provide advice from running adventures and a good selection of enemies (aka monsters) ready for use.
The rules section of the 194 page Tiny Dungeon 2e book ends on page 84. The remainder of the book contains an adventure generator and 18 micro-settings: 4 to 6 page campaign ideas each developed enough to give a good feel for the setting. Many of these micro-settings provide new heritages and/or traits developed specifically for the setting.
I would normally complain a bit about the high price of the Tiny Dungeon 2e book (as of late May 2022, its $17.99 in PDF at DrivethruRPG), especially with over half the book being micro-settings only of use to GMs. However, one of my players pointed out that there is a Player’s Guide that’s only $6.99 in PDF. I remembered I actually had a copy of this from one of the Tiny D6 bundles and hunted it up. Calling it a “player’s guide” is a bit of a misnomer as it actually has all the rules needed for players and GMs to run the game – basically all the material from the more expensive Tiny Dungeons 2e book except the micro-settings. This is everything needed to for both players and GMs to run the game if the GM provides the setting. The Tiny Dungeon 2e Player’s Guide turns the system into one of the most affordable good rules light game systems available.
In case you can’t guess from the above, I think Tiny Dungeon 2e and the Tiny D6 system in general are fantastic. I’ll probably be using the Tiny D6 system for most of my games in the future. If you want to run old school style games with a modern rules set that is easy to learn, teach, customize and use at the table, take a look at the various Tiny D6 games. They all use the same basic rules and so are easy to mix and match. Want to run a science fantasy game with “elves and orcs” in space? Combine Tiny Dungeon 2e with Tiny Frontiers. Super-heroes battling an evil empire in a galaxy far-far away? Tiny Supers with Tiny Frontiers. Modern espionage agents against Cthulhu cultists? Tiny Spies and Tiny Cthulhu.