Into the Fray

Previewing the Gameplay of Descent: Legends of the Dark


You stand in the rain, battered and bloodied, gripping your weapon with aching fingers. Before you writhes a snarling mass of Uthuk berserkers and their sinister commanders; behind you, your companions nurse their wounds as they barely cling to consciousness. You might be able to cut a path through the enemy and get your friends to safety, but you might just as well put yourself in the path of a berserker’s blade. It all comes down to a roll of the dice—the question is, will you take the risk?

The release of Descent: Legends of the Dark is fast approaching, and with it comes epic tales, great battles, and intriguing exploration. Between the savage hordes of Uthuk Y’llan and the undead legions of Waiqar the Undying, our ragtag group of heroes certainly have their work cut out for them. As they explore forbidden dungeons, thwart evil schemes, and gather power and experience, our heroes’ path is plagued with difficult choices that, by the end of their tale, may transform the fate of Terrinoth itself.

To help prepare you for this grand adventure, let’s take a condensed look at the gameplay of Descent, in particular at how a typical player’s turn unfolds and how the app enhances the classic, dungeon-crawling tabletop gameplay fans of the franchise know and love.

The Hero Phase

Each scenario in Descent is played over a series of rounds, and each round begins with the hero phase. Players choose the order in which they take their turns, and this can change from round to round.

During their turn, each player’s hero may perform up to three actions in any order: one maneuver action and two additional actions of their choice. A hero can even perform the same action multiple times; for example, Brynn could perform a fight action twice and then maneuver out of harm’s way (or into it).

So what are these actions that a hero can perform? The simplest and most common is maneuver, which is what allows a hero to move around the map. The distance they can move is based on their speed, represented by the green icon above their health on their character card.

Brynn’s speed is 3, so she can move up to 3 spaces with one maneuver action.

The fight action allows a hero to attack an enemy and attempt to defeat it. There is a wide-ranging rogues gallery in Descent: Legends of the Dark, which means you can expect to be performing this action quite a lot over the course of your campaign! We’ll go over an example of an attack later in this article, so stay tuned.

That said, fighting is not all that you do in a dungeon-crawler; you’ll also frequently use the explore action. This action allows a hero to search the environment and interact with the tokens and three-dimensional terrain pieces on the map. Doing this can progress and/or alter a quest’s narrative, provide heroes with unique choices and experiences, and even earn you new items or crafting materials!

We briefly covered the ready action in the announcement article for Descent, but we’ll go over it again here. Simply put, the ready action allows you to flip one of the cards in your play area to its other side. This lets you change your weapon to something more useful for the current circumstances or switch your hero’s ability.

However, there is another aspect to the ready action that adds a whole extra layer of strategy to the gameplay: as you progress through a scenario—triggering abilities and fending off enemy attacks along the way—your hero, weapon, and skill cards will amass fatigue tokens. Fatigue is like your hero’s stamina, and it represents them exerting additional effort during their quest. While that effort can help your hero succeed in a crucial moment, accumulating too much fatigue can hinder them if you do not manage it carefully. That’s where the ready action comes in. Whenever you flip one of your hero, weapon, or skill cards (for any reason), you discard all tokens on that card. This includes both fatigue tokens and tokens representing harmful conditions, which means that readying is a great way to refresh yourself for the next round of combat. However, flipping also discards tokens representing beneficial conditions, so knowing when to use the ready action and when to hold out is crucial to an effective strategy!

Brynn uses the ready action to flip her Taunt skill card to its Field Medicine side, discarding the two fatigue from it in the process.

And finally, the last type of action you can perform is a unique action. Many cards in the game have abilities prefaced with an action icon (see the example image below). These actions have a wide range of effects, and some of them may even cost more than one action. You will get to know these as you play through the adventure as your chosen hero.

This ability uses two of the hero’s actions.

The Darkness Phase

Once each player has taken their turn, the darkness phase begins. This phase represents the passage of time, during which foes and other elements of the quest attempt to thwart the heroes’ goals. The steps of the darkness phase are briefly described below:

First, time passes. Any heroes suffering from the “infected” or “terrified” conditions take damage or fatigue respectively, and then each player can discard one fatigue from one of their cards.

Then, enemy activation occurs. In Descent: Journeys in the Dark, this step would have been performed by the overlord player. Since there is no overlord in Legends of the Dark, this step is handled by the app. Enemies move and attack in this step, and some of them hit hard, making this a tense part of every round. Many enemies have additional abilities tied to their attacks, such as inflicting harmful conditions, which means you can never let your guard down against them.

In the quest step, new events may occur, new enemies may spawn, or the heroes’ objectives may change. All sorts of things can happen in this step depending on the quest being played and at what point during that quest this step occurs. The app helps with this step by providing players with updated information and informing them where to place any new enemies.

Finally, the tactics step closes out the phase (so long as there are enemies on the map). Some enemies may plan to execute a powerful attack or perform a cunning scheme for the next round. If they do, the app will provide players with a warning message that hints at the enemy’s intent. It won’t give much away, though, so it’s up to you and your companions to figure out what the enemy is plotting and, more importantly, how to stop it!

Rules of Engagement

Combat is a frequent occurrence in a dungeon-crawler, and Descent is no different. In this section, we’ll go over a quick look at combat in this game, both from the players’ perspective and the enemies’.

When a player performs a fight action with their hero, they attack an enemy. To determine what enemies they can attack from their current position, the player must first check their equipped weapon’s range.

Syrus’s Glimmering Wand has a range of 4.

Some weapons, such as Syrus’s Glimmering Wand , have a range icon with a number indicating how many spaces away the hero can attack an enemy from. Other weapons, such as Brynn’s Warden's Blade , have no range icon, which means they can only target enemies in a space adjacent to the hero.

Once range has been determined, the player must then see what enemies are within line of sight. To do this, simply trace an imaginary line from the center of your hero’s space to the center of the enemy’s space. If the line passes through anything that blocks line of sight, such as the edge of the map or a big tree, then the enemy is not within line of sight. Note: If you’re having a tough time determining line of sight, the app comes with a handy tool that can help determine it for you!

Enemy 3 is not within four spaces of Syrus, so he can’t attack it. Enemy 1 and 2 are both within range, but line of sight to enemy 1 is blocked by the map edge, so Syrus can only attack enemy 2.

When performing an attack, a player rolls the die next to the attack symbol on their hero’s character card. Continuing the example above, Syrus  rolls an orange die for his attacks. For each success (star) that a player rolls, they deal their weapon’s damage (in the case of Syrus’s Glimmering Wand, this would be 2 damage). You can also do things like converting advantages (plus signs) into further successes by gaining fatigue or spending any surges (lightning bolts) that you rolled to trigger special abilities on your cards, and gaining fatigue to activate skills tied to your attacks. Every attack you make becomes a series of choices on how hard you want to swing, and you could end up doing triple or even quadruple your weapon’s damage value on a lucky roll!

However, the enemy can also hit you hard back. During their activation, an enemy will move to a position where it can attack one hero or another while following the same rules for range and line of sight as the heroes. Each enemy also has a damage value, which is determined by the enemy’s type and level (in the example from earlier in this article, the zealot had a damage value of 3). Most heroes have less than ten health, which means a single enemy attack could easily reduce your hero by a third or even half their maximum. Each time your hero’s health drops to zero, they gain progressively worse injuries until eventually they are defeated (which causes the players to fail the quest), so you’ll want to mitigate incoming damage as much as possible. Fortunately, when an enemy attacks, you have a chance to defend using your character’s defense die.

On Galaden’s hero sheet, we see that he rolls one black die when defending.

Every success you roll can reduce the incoming damage, and advantages can be converted to successes (at the cost of gaining fatigue) just like when you’re attacking. That said, you may not want to fill up on fatigue before an important next turn, leaving you with a critical choice: are you willing to take more damage now, if it means you can perform stronger actions on your next turn? Or will you play it safe and hope that you do not miss an important opportunity later?

An Epic Tale

The sixteen quests of Descent: Legends of the Dark are strung together in one full-length campaign. Early on in this campaign, you and your fellow heroes will gain access to several features of the companion app that can immerse you in the depths of Terrinoth and show you just how much the heroes grow over the course of their journey.

For example, each hero begins the tale with only two weapons to their name and no other pieces of equipment. However, by collecting treasure and gold during quests, you can find or purchase all sorts of armors, trinkets, and consumable items to bring with you later on your adventure. You can even gather materials during quests that let you craft new gear or upgrade that which you already have! The app does a fantastic job of keeping track of all the materials your party finds, which means you never have to manage more than the cards that represent your equipment and abilities.

It is not just the heroes’ inventories that develop as the campaign unfolds. Their personal character growth will also shape the course of the story, and the choices you make while playing as each hero will in turn alter what choices become available later. This is referred to as the virtue system, and the amount you decide to invest in a particular virtue for any given hero is entirely up to you. This means that each playthrough of the Legends of the Dark campaign will result in a different focus for each hero. How will you like your hero to grow?

You and your companions can do other things while in between quests as well. You can shop, take on side quests, modify your weapons, pursue barony events that expand the narrative, and more. The app helps keep track of the numbers and your inventory, but what you all decide to do is entirely up to you. With a mountain of content and an evolving story, this full-length adventure is one you won’t want to miss!

Into the Dark

What will you do in your quest against the enemies of Terrinoth? What choices will you make to shape the story and your own personal growth? All this and more will be discovered when Descent: Legends of the Dark releases on August 6th!

You can pre-order your own copy of Descent: Legends of the Dark (DLE01) at your local retailer or online through our webstore today!

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