Review: Universal Adventures Dungeon Deck and Custom Encounters

As regular readers will know, I’m a sucker for random dungeon generators – which is bizarre since I almost never use them. Still, there we are, and the next one under the magnifying glass for your edification and delight is Universal Adventures.

No doubt there will be more products in the line, but so far I have the Dungeon Deck and the Custom Encounters. The intent is essentially to provide a GM emulator, creating a dungeon on the fly during play by drawing cards. It isn’t aimed at any particular RPG, although it’s definitely in the dungeon-crawling fantasy genre.

DUNGEON DECK

An 18 page PDF, the Dungeon Deck consists of 54 cards and 5 pages of rules. Each card has four sections; a title, a short paragraph describing the area, a map and some special rules.

The maps are drawn at the usual 5′ per square, and range from 10′ x 30′ corridor sections to 30′ x 40′ rooms. Layouts are basic, which helps with drawing them on graph paper or whatever you use for a battlemat. Playing solo, I would just lay the cards down on the table.

The special rules normally include one number for encounters and another for events. You roll 1d6 for each, and if you match or exceed the printed number, you get an encounter or an event, as appropriate. Some areas also offer bonuses on particular skill rolls (say, +1 Tracking if there is a muddy floor). Finally, some have the annotation "one additional Search per character"; by default, each character in the party can search an area once, but this allows additional checks.

To use the deck for a game, you must first have some way to generate encounters, events and treasure, and a mission objective – perhaps a hostage to rescue, or a magic portal to locate. The Dungeon Deck suggests six basic objectives, and more are easily created at need.

You then select one map card as the place where the objective is and set it aside. You shuffle the rest of the cards and deal six, face down. Then you put the objective card face down on that pile, and deal seven more cards face down on top of it. This is the deck for the adventure; other cards are set aside.

You now draw the top card, which represents the entrance to the dungeon, and start moving the party around it. The turn sequence is: Check for events, conduct a combat round using the game of your choice, check for encounters, and then add new areas if the party has opened a door or turned a corner. Note that events happen every time you enter a card, but encounters only the first time you do so.

If the party finds an intersection, T junction, or room with several doors, the deck is split evenly between the exits.

Dungeon size is adjusted by using more or fewer cards in the deck. You can have multiple objectives; perhaps the first yields a clue to later ones.

CUSTOM ENCOUNTERS

This is another card deck, a separate 14-page product, which provides 54 encounter cards. If you’re only using the Dungeon Deck, you need to prepare your own encounters, maybe a random table such as some games use for monsters, maybe a list of what happens in which room.

Using the custom encounter deck, you have a small deck of 9 cards for each of six named rooms, and when the party enters that area, you draw a card from the relevant deck to see what they find there.

Each card has a potential encounter. These are things like treasure, traps, or monsters – as this is a generic product, the monster stats and effects are described in general terms, like "2-4 giant beetles, five feet long" or "those affected by the spores must make a save or move at 1/3 rate due to coughing and choking". You’re probably best off reading through these before using them and making sure you have suitable stats for the monsters and treasure.

CONCLUSIONS

This all reminds me strongly of the rules in Warhammer Quest, which is not a criticism as those are solid rules. Essentially, this product has reused some of WHQ’s concepts but with the assumption that you already have an RPG you’d like to use for dungeon crawls.

There’s an implicit assumption that no GM intervention is needed when you meet monsters, so my inference is that they run at you screaming and fight to the death in the hack-and-slash tradition.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Cheap, efficient, gets the job done.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Universal Adventures Dungeon Deck and Custom Encounters

  1. Mmh, I wanna try to mix Universal Adventures with Compact Heroes card game: the first for the adventure’ structure (random dungeon, encounters, monsters), the latter for the rules system by card (characters and monster stats above all). I’m curious to see the result.

  2. Hey, Guys. Hi, Andy, thanks for the review. Always happy to hear people are enjoying our products. Just wanted to let you guys know that we’ve just released our 22nd release in the Universal Adventures product line, Custom Encounters II. As part of the celebration, for the remainder of June,we’ll be doing Two for $2 Tuesdays Bundles. And our first bundle in the sale includes the same 2 products that Andy reviewed here. Now through June 11th, you can get the original Dungeon Deck and Custom Encounters Deck for $2. There’s other sales going on and we’ll be releasing other bundles next Tuesday. For more information you can visit our Specials page at http://www.rpgnow.com/browse.php?cPath=1326_19726

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