It’s no secret that Dungeons & Dragons is having a moment. Once a game derided as the fringe hobby of obsessive nerds and social misfits (raise your hands proudly, folks!), D&D is now the darling of tabletop gaming. In fact, the game has become so mainstream in recent years that Hot Topic even sells a line of Dungeons & Dragons clothing.
This cultural turnaround is due in large part to D&D featuring prominently in the Nextflix series Stranger Things. That cultural collision has proven so popular that Wizards of the Coast (owner of the Dungeons & Dragons brand) released the Stranger Things D&D Starter Set last year.
But the game also owes its rise in popularity to a number of celebrities, such as Joe Manganiello, Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, and many others who endorse the game and cite it as a positive creative force in their lives.
Not only does all this notoriety mean more people are playing D&D, but more people are writing really cool sourcebooks to expand the game. Back in June, the DC Comics Black Label series The Last God received the Dungeons & Dragons treatment with the release of The Last God: Tales from the Book of Ages, a sourcebook for bringing the world of Cain Anuun into a 5th Edition (5E) D&D game. More recently, Mike Mignola’s beloved Hellboy series received its own role-playing game powered by the D&D 5E rules thanks to a successful Kickstarter from Mantic Games.
The sourcebook that has received the most attention, however, is probably The Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, released back in March. Set in the world of the popular actual play podcast/YouTube series Critical Role, the book is written by Matt Mercer, Critical Role’s celebrity and fan-favorite Dungeon Master.
A Darker D&D Sourcebook
Now those are all great titles, and each offers an excellent way to change up the D&D experience a little bit. But when it comes to dungeon delving, my favorite 5E D&D sourcebook is one that hasn’t received much press. However, when it comes to providing fresh content for a D&D scenario, it delivers in a big way. Of course I’m referring to the Darkest Dungeon Apprentice Level Monster Manual, a slim (44 page) PDF that creator Daniel “DM Tuz” L. offers as a free download.
I’m a huge fan of Darkest Dungeon, the 2015 video game from Red Hook Studios. It’s a roguelike side-scrolling dungeon crawler lovingly embraced by Lovecraftian tendrils, lightly infused with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, and elegantly seasoned with a dash of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
In Darkest Dungeon, at the behest of an increasingly deranged individual known as The Caretaker, you recruit a team of four adventurers to delve into the dark passageways beneath a haunted Gothic mansion on the edge of a small village. While in these dimly lit caverns (your torches burn down quickly; bring a few extra), bad things happen. Your characters are confronted with horrors that prove to be more than the fragile human mind can handle. As the the encounters pile up, each character will develop personality quirks (some are positive, but most are detrimental), contract all number of strange diseases, and—should their stress level rise too much—even be driven insane.
One of the obstacles any dungeon master faces when building encounters is figuring out how to surprise the players with creatures they’ve never faced before. Darkest Dungeon is filled with enemies that seem familiar at first but quickly demonstrate they bring some unexpected, debilitating tricks to the fight. The game features a whole bestiary full of unique foes armed with strange weapons and unusual, party-devastating powers. It’s not uncommon to have a whole party die (in Darkest Dungeon, character death is permanent) while exploring a dungeon.
So I’m thrilled that DM Tuz has added D&D 5E stat blocks to many of the denizens of Darkest Dungeon and published them in the Darkest Dungeon Apprentice Level Monster Manual. Here are his interpretations (spot-on, I might add) of a few of the minor, yet troublesome, foes one will find in the game’s dim hallways and warrens.
This sourcebook is filled with more than 60 beasts from the videogame, making it a fabulous tool for finding creatures that will not only offer players a unique encounter but will also bring a bit of that greatest of fears—the unknown—to the table.
The Darkest Dungeon Apprentice Level Monster Manual is available as a free download. And if you like this sort of thing, check out DM Tuz’s Patreon, where you can get previews of his latest project, the Darkest Dungeon Expanded Monster Manual.