Matthew Lowes has posted the rules to a dungeon delving game that only uses a standard US deck of playing cards. It is called Dungeon Solitaire, Tomb of the Four Kings and it is brilliant. Go to his site now and get the rules and read through the walk-through.

This game appeals to me because I can play it anywhere and I never really know what the adventure will be. As an OSR guy, I also appreciate the high mortality rate due to a lack of strategy. If you play smart and a bit cautious, you have a good chance of winning, though fate may doom your efforts regardless of how you play.

So you've read the rules and everything, right? Good. Like any good fantasy RPG, I immediately came up with a bunch of house rules. I have shared all the last two of these with Matthew and his response has been one of appreciation that someone is enjoying his game. I hope my ideas do not steal his thunder, so I share these in the spirit of talking about a great game that is flexible enough to change to your liking.

The Monsters Go to 11!

The first house rule I attempted was to use a Rook deck instead of a standard deck. The main difference is that instead of using 2 to 10 to represent monsters, hit points, secret doors, and treasure, I use 2 to 11. Sure I get an extra hit point, but everything else is just a bit tougher as well. Here are the house rules to play the Going to Eleven way:

  • The Red suit is the same as diamonds. The Black suit is the same as spades. The Green suit is the same as diamonds. The Yellow suit is the same as clubs.
  • Set aside the Red cards from 2 to 11 for your hit points.
  • The 12s are played like Jacks (skills). The 13s are played like Queens (divine favors). The 14s are played like Kings. The 1s are played like Aces (torches).
  • The Rook cards is the Scroll of Light.

All other rules remain the same. I will warn you up front that because the cards are all numbers, it can be hard to remember which skill you have. I had to constantly think through the colors and numbers to remember. Otherwise, having an extra hit point didn't make it any easier and I couldn't adventure longer because I did not have extra torches.

Campaign Mode (One Deck)

Campaign Mode with one deck is essentially a variation that let's you revisit the dungeon multiple times as long as you can get out. It encourages quicker sessions, but the more you go in, the more difficult the adventure becomes.

Play by the rules as written. However, if you can make it out successfully, you put all discards, torches, and cards played back in the deck and shuffle. Treasure and unplayed skill cards stay with you. Reset your hit points back to 10 before returning to the adventure.

I discovered that if I dare to make a third trip, it can get extremely difficult. I had to fight the 10 of spades and only made it out because I played the last Queen. I had thought that putting the Queens and Jacks back in the deck would give me an advantage, but that didn't prove to be the case.

Questing Mode (Two decks)

This one hasn't been tested yet, so if you give it a try, let me know. The two decks of cards do not need to have the same back. It is a nice thing to have, but seeing two different backs doesn't really provide that much of an edge as even if you know what the card is, you still have to play it.

Remove the joker from one of the decks. Separate the cards into piles of 2 to 10 by suit. Place all four Jacks in a different pile and repeat for the remaining face cards. The 2 to 10 piles of clubs, diamonds, and spades will be used to "stock" the dungeons you visit. The other cards will be available for purchase as explained later.

Separate the other deck as dictated by the rules. This will be the deck that is used as a base for playing.

Now you need to decide the nature of your quest. Add as many Kings from the Store as you would like. Randomly pick two cards from the 2 to 10 piles of diamonds, spades, and clubs. Shuffle these cards into the playing deck. Nothing will be done with the 2 to 10 of hearts or the face cards yet.

Play the game per the rules with the extra cards. If you get out of the first dungeon alive, put all discards, torches, and cards played back in the deck and shuffle. Treasure and unplayed skill cards stay with you. Reset your hit points back to 10.

You may now use your treasure to buy items to help you in your quest.  Add the number value of your diamonds to determine how much money you have. (You may not spend a King card as collecting the Kings is the goal of your quest.) All items will cost 10 treasure to purchase per item. Making a donation at the Temple of the Goddess will cost 20 treasure.

If you wish to improve your Armor, purchase a card from the 2 to 10 pile of hearts. For each 10 treasure spent, take one heart from the Store's 2 to 10 heart pile and add it to your hit point pile. It doesn't matter which heart you take, but you will need to place it on the heart with a matching rank. For example, if you purchase the 8 of hearts, place it in the hit point deck under the 9 of hearts and above the other 8 of hearts.

If you wish to purchase a torch, take one Ace for each 10 treasure spent and place them in your hand.

To purchase a skill, take one Jack. You may only buy one skill at a time.

To seek the Goddess's favor, you may spend 20 treasure. Take a Queen from the Store and shuffle it into the playing deck.

A note about buying items. The Store does not make change. Any treasure above the cost of purchase is lost. Any treasure spent goes into the 2 to 10 pile of diamonds and that pile is shuffled.

After purchasing items, take two cards from the 2 to 10 piles of spades, clubs, and diamonds to restock the dungeon and play again. The game ends when you fulfill your quest, retire, or lose.

Five Suited Deck of Cards (not the Five Crowns deck)

When you have five suits of cards, play by the normal rules with the following changes:

The fifth suit represents magic. When a card from the fifth suit is drawn, it represents a threat from a spell or spell-like effect. Like other cards, if you draw a card with a higher value, you have overcome the spell with no ill effect. If you draw a card with lower value, one of two things will happen:

  • If the action card is odd, treat it the same as a monster card.
  • If the action card is even, treat it the same as a trap card.

The Jack of the fifth suit represents a magic staff. With this card, you may choose the play it as any of the other Jack cards or use it to automatically defeat a magic action.

At the player's option, the King, Queen, and Ace may be added.

Final Thoughts

Again, I really enjoy this game as well as inventing variants. Please get the rules from Matthew and share your fun with others. I have had so much fun playing it, even when I was killed in the first room. Twice.