Our Family’s Descent (Part 1): It Begins

The following is part of an ongoing chronicle of a family’s role-playing gaming experience. Follow along on this epic journey of family intrigue, learning, sharing, and dungeon plunging as they work together to get loot and slay monsters.

For many months, our family has tossed around the idea of playing a family role-playing game (RPG). However, playing a typical pen and paper RPG takes a lot of preparation because characters need to be generated, a back story created, scenarios written, and maps developed. So we’ve looked at alternatives such as Wizard’s story-based Dungeons & Dragons dungeon crawlers (ie. Castle Ravenloft). While the game did provide each of us a character to use and a story to play through, our characters didn’t develop over time. At the start of each scenario, our characters went back to level 1. It just didn’t provide that development we were looking for.

Enter Fantasy Flight Games (FFG).

Last year at Gen Con, FFG announced they were going to release a 2nd edition of their popular board game, Descent: Journey’s in the Dark. Like Castle Ravenloft, Descent is a dungeon explorer with a long campaign that is played out through several quests. The big difference in the characters, between Descent and Castle Ravenloft, is that at the end of each quest each character earns experience points (XP) and gold which can be used to purchase new abilities and equipment. These new skills and equipment are carried over from one quest to the next. Another difference, Castle Ravenloft’s non-player characters (NPCs), like monsters and assorted villains, are controlled by the game itself. There are rules that dictate how the NPCs interact with the players like a video game’s artificial intelligence (AI). In Descent, one player is the Overlord, a player responsible for controlling the NPCs and making decisions for them. This brings in a human element which will make the game a little more fun and a lot less predictable.

After talking over the similar and different aspects of Descent and Castle Ravenloft with the family, they were all in agreement that we needed to play Descent. So we got the game, prepped the game pieces, and read the rules. It was now time discuss what roles each of us were going to take.

The process of picking roles took us several days because someone was going to have to agree to play as the Overlord for the entire campaign. I had asked the question on Board Game Geek if it was possible to rotate the Overlord role over the course of the campaign, but the consensus was the game was meant to pick one role and stay with it so that you could develop that role over time. With that in mind, we decided for our first campaign that it would be best if I took on the role of the Overlord. That left my wife and three sons to pick their heroes.

In Descent, there are four archetypes: Mage, Warrior, Scout, or Healer. Within each archetype are classes, providing distinct play experiences even between multiple players sharing the same archetype. As a warrior, you can take the role of the valiant Knight, providing protection to your physically weaker companions. Or you can play as the mighty Berserker, which is about dealing massive amounts of damage. My family decided to pick one from each of the archetypes to make sure the team was well diversified. My wife selected Ashrian, the elven Healer Spiritspeaker, who looks to keep her teammates healed while placing nasty conditions on her enemies. My oldest son selected Leoric of the Book, the human Mage Necromancer, that conjures familiars under his control to face his foes. My middle son selected Grisban the Thirsty, the dwarf Warrior Knight, who takes the frontline of a fight and buffs his nearby allies. And lastly, my youngest son selected Tomble Burrowell, the spry Scout Wildlander, who wields a mighty bow and provides range support.

With roles selected, it was now time to play. Our goal is to have an epic adventure using one quest per week. This means it will take us roughly around 20 weeks to complete the campaign, “The Shadow Rune”. During this time, I’m going to chronicle our family’s journey as they travel through the kingdom of Arhynn. After a few gaming sessions, I’ll write a full review of the game to post on this site.

How will our heroes fare? Can they stop the evil forces of the land or will the Overlord prevail? Let the adventure begin!

To Be Continued…

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About Marty

Father of Three, and Husband of One, Marty has been a video and board gamer since the Atari 2600 and Uno (both from the 70's). As a child, he has fond memories of playing all sorts of games with his family and friends. As a parent, he now wants his three sons to have the same great memories of everyone sitting around the table captivated by cards/tokens/miniatures, feeling great about a win, learning how to deal with losses, but having fun regardless of the outcome. Marty didn't discover the sub-culture of "geek" gaming until 2000 through the Lord of the Rings TCG. From there, a whole new world of card games, board games, RPGs and miniature wargaming was opened up to him and he dived in head first. As his sons started taking interest in his hobby, Marty gladly cultivated their interest and supported whatever games they wanted play. Even his wife, a non-gamer just a few short years ago, now loves the gaming culture and gets "geeked up" as anyone for board game nights and trips to GenCon. Gaming is now a family event. Less time is spent watching TV and more time is spent sitting around the gaming table strategizing, laughing, learning, and building memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. At the same time, Marty is adding new memories of his own. Marty goes by the handle WolfpackEE on Board Game Geek.

10 Responses to Our Family’s Descent (Part 1): It Begins

  1. Kyre says:

    Good luck to you guys! I’ve been playing the new Descent and enjoying it on both sides. As overlord, my suggestion is not to be too harsh with new players–the game gives you a lot of tools to beat the players, and some of them can be very not-fun for the players. I’m sure you’ll do fine, though.

    Regarding length of campaign–it’ll be a small bit shorter than you’d expected. Unless you’re planning to go off the normal campaign rules and do something different on your own, there will be exactly 9 adventures. (Introduction, 3 Act 1, Interlude, 3 Act 2, Finale.) You might split some of these up into two-parters, to get close to the 20 week goal, of course. 😉

  2. Marty says:

    Originally my older son was going to be the Overlord but he would have been relentless. 🙂 I’ve already gone easy but I’ve also told them that it should be a challenge and they may not win every scenario.

    I had come up with the ~20 number in case they want to stop after each encounter in each of the acts. But yes, looking at it again, more than likely it will be less than 20 sessions.

    Glad to hear you like Descent and I hope that FFG will release new campaigns in the future to keep the game going strong.

  3. Kyre says:

    I was just worried you were getting the 20 number by including all quests (Intro, 5 Act 1, 2 Interlude, 10 Act 2, 2 Finale adds up to exactly 20 weeks) and was making sure that if you were doing so, it was by your own choice, and not because of a rules misinterpretation. 🙂

    I have a feeling that they’ll release new quests and such–they supported the old version well, and I don’t see them changing that for this. It’s already going over very well here, and when small game stores like ours have already sold 5 copies…it doesn’t have much to worry about.

  4. Marty says:

    Thanks, I may have originally read it that way. Having the acts split up into two Encounters was throwing me off.

    I’m glad to see the game is doing well. I never played 1st edition just because of the game length. I went to the FFG GenCon press conference last year when the announced the 2nd edition and what the tweaks were going to be and I knew I was going to get it.

  5. My teen has been after us to start up a family D&D game, but our little kids are too little for all that prep and such – just as you described here.

    This sounds almost possible. How old are your kids?

    • Marty says:

      I have three sons, 16, 12 and 10. And to be honest, I’m not sure the 10 year old is going to stay engaged. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the game, I think he’s having a tough time playing a character and not thinking he is the character. He doesn’t want to take any damage and stay out of fights. But I believe that’s more of a personality thing instead of “too young to play”. The rules are straight-forward and way simpler than DnD. Here are the rules if you’d like to look over them http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/ffg_content/descent-second-ed/support/DJ01_Rulebook_ENG.pdf . Note: You made need a Fantasy Flight Games login to get it.

  6. Trent says:

    Looking forward to reading all about it!

  7. Mr Ferret says:


    How is it going? I need an update on your epic dungeon delving! I like the makeup of your heroes, almost like the family is heading underground. To be defeated by evil dad! Mwuhahahah

    • Marty says:

      Sorry I have not not updated sooner. First adventure is done and I’m working on the right up. The problem is with school starting and sports it’s tough to get all of us around the table at the same time. We had all good intentions this past Sunday afternoon…but grocery shopping took precedence. We hope to get it back on the table this weekend…because the Overlord is ticked and looking for blood.

      Such is the life of a father geek, eh?

  8. Pingback: Our Family’s Descent (Part 2): First Blood - Father Geek

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