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I've been having a great deal of trouble when it comes to playing campaign mode with our current group. Initially, we were doing well, and I think most of it had to do with a learning curve for the game on both sides of the table (players and overlord). We won two games, lost one, then won our Interlude.

Then the game became impossible. I think it was a combination of the game getting exponentially tougher and our Overlord actively trying to screw us. Granted, the game is modeled with an Overlord vs Players dynamic, but this was an unbalancing amount of difficulty.

To explain: We were trying the Act II quest to search for the Dawnblade. We had to get up to an altar and stand on it and wait for the sunlight to hit it. The Overlord chose spiders as our open group (because moving past them costs fatigue) and then chose Merriods (since they can immobilize you) and zombies (to help clog up holes on the battlefield).

Without getting into too much party composition, our first turn went fine with us removing most of the spiders. But the next turn had him spawning the master spider again, a zombie, and then a Merriod behind us. Two of us go immobilized, and the other two were scrambling to get to the altar before he stopped us. But, as you can imagine, the dice were not nice to us at all, the immobilized people went down, and we lost the encounter.

In hindsight, it wasn't a fair fight at all, since there was no good way of us getting to the altar with the abilities we had or the gear we'd managed to get. He had us beat on every front, and even if we got lucky, he could plug up holes faster than we could kill monsters. Suffice it to say, he was able to win the next encounter in three turns, because he used the same tactic and rolled to finish the encounter on the first turn he got to the objective.

So, in summary, I've found that the game is very heavily weighted against the players in almost every encounter, unless the Overlord is playing to have fun and not playing to win. If the Overlord plays to win, the players really don't stand much of a chance. And some encounters seem to require certain skills and tactics to even make them viable. So, am I missing something that the players should get above monsters? Or is this just how the game is designed and I need to work with it?

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As a side note, I think this question is evidence that we now need a Descent-2nd-ed tag, since this question would be very different and have a different answer in the old edition. Added for now, pending ideas by anyone. – Tynam Oct 22 '12 at 14:34
@Tynam - I've rolled back the retag. See our recent meta discussion for details. – Pat Ludwig Oct 22 '12 at 15:02
@Pat: Good point; I'd forgotten about that discussion. Repeat ten times: I shall not retag before coffee. – Tynam Oct 22 '12 at 15:44
@Tynam - no worries. I haven't played the game, but surfing BGG to determine the extent of the different versions it does seem like the full name of the game is Descent:Journeys in the Dark. Unfortunately, that is more than 25 characters. How would you feel about descent-journeys-in-dark ? I can rename the tag to catch all questions at once – Pat Ludwig Oct 22 '12 at 15:50
@PatLudwig: Hmmm... technically better by our usual conventions, but I'm not sure it's necessary - 'descent' is findable and unambiguous. (The 'Journeys in the Dark' subtitle applies to both editions anyway, so it doesn't hurt; I'm just not sure it helps. And I've never heard someone actually use it in conversation.) – Tynam Oct 22 '12 at 16:00
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, Descent (both First and Second Editions) is weighted against the Heroes.

Descent is a board game designed to play like a Role-Playing Game (RPG), so it includes the classic thematic elements of heroic player-characters striving against an unknown evil entity seeking to do Evil Things with the aid of his endless ranks of minions.

In most RPGs, the monsters will frequently have abilities or stats that the players can only achieve at much later levels, or sometimes never obtain. This is designed to force the players to adapt to overcome the situation, to use teamwork, tactics, and preparation to collectively achieve what no individual could otherwise.

It sounds like what happened to your party was that the Overlord caught you in a standard RPG pitfall: The party became too narrowly focused. Maybe there were no ranged attackers, in favor of heavy-hitting melee? Maybe there was nobody with high Might because everyone focused on Awareness? There's all kinds of ways to leave 'gaps' in your group's abilities, but the important part for you as a heroic player is to learn to overcome them, either by conquering them when they arise or protecting against them ever becoming an issue.

One of the typical ploys in Role Playing is to present the players with a 'teaser' of something evil coming up, just enough so that they can possibly plan and prepare to survive it: a corpse found at the entrance to a dark cave covered in massive spiderwebs (indicating serious spiders inside), or a hallway covered in scorch marks ending in a door burned down to the hinges (indicating a fiery foe awaiting invaders). The problem is, if the players do not respond to this teaser or are unable to adapt to the situation, The Bad Guy is going to beat them. Badly. Defeat happens.

The important thing to take away from a defeat like that (either as a character who somehow survives or at least as a player preparing for their next character) is to look at what happened, look at your available options (skills/feats/abilities, equipment, etc) and try to work out a way to defeat the tactic the next time you see it happening. Perhaps some form of ranged/reach attack so you can still remove threats while immobilized; perhaps a plan to focus-fire on anything that appears behind your team to make sure it can't harass you; or perhaps just changing your plans for who-moves-where to better provide protection for the whole team.

Yes, Descent is weighted against the Heroes. That's the whole difficulty of balancing any RPG or Role-Play-like game: finding the point where the Heroes *can* win, but so can the Overlord, and the difference is teamwork, tactics, and creativity.

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Descent is an unbalanced game in favour of the Overlord. My friends and I made these adjustments that may help you as well:

  1. There is no selling half-price problem - we started selling items 1:1 or with a 25 gold penalty per item sold. Actually buying is much more fun than dreaming about items and never trying them in action.
  2. One relic item per lieutenant and no relic in play when lieutenant is not present on the board - for OL of course (I believe it is mentioned in the rule book but it is not clear as some relics give credit to the lieutenant and some to OL, hence in the beginning we started with treating them as OL extra cards on a side, than moved back to the no lieutenant-no card rule).
  3. It is good to ban dragons most of the time as even one of them gives OL too much credit - I played card: extra fatigue after succesful attack for this turn, double move on dragon, double attack on dragon and had heroes in one line. Adding card that add surge to attack just finished this quest. They were all dead in one move with dragon standing upon them waiting for anyone to reanimate. My suggestion - when there is no Dragon Cave in a quest there are no dragons to be used. It is definitely harder for OL to play with goblins (and have one goblin reanimation per turn) than with two dragons (and one dragon reanimate per turn) in four heroes game.
  4. Using heroic ability cannot be disturbed with a card or game rule. Example - extra movement cannot be stopped with a web (but after heroic is done regular movement can be stopped). Tomble can go through closed doors and portals with his heroic ability.

In my opinion (except using dragons) none of the above suggestions will cause players to feel that they only won (if they had) because the OL allowed them to win. At least, it works for my group.

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