Massive Darkness boardgame base set from CoolMiniOrNot - Boardgame base set reviewimage © CoolMiniOrNot

After a few games of Massive Darkness boardgame from Guillotine Games & CoolMiniOrNot we have introduced some house rules that fit our gaming style better. I prefer a simulationist / immersive approach instead of the gamist/narrativist one the Massive Darkness rules use.

House rules

Optional rules

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House rules

Equipment cards from bosses stay in the area they were killed: Instead of giving it instantly to the killer, the equipment is placed on the board. You have to get to the area and spend an action to pick it up.

Transmuting costs one action: It's strange for me that you can just exchange equipment to get an other item, but it's more strange that you can do that for free, any time. I require players to spend an action to transmute.

Reorganize/trade and transmute can be done only in enemy-free zones: You are not allowed to do these when there is an enemy in your zone.

Possible setting changes

XP from creatures: I could imagine there is a spark of Darkness in the creatures. By slaughtering them, the players can gather these sparks. When you accumulate enough, you can receive magical abilities, temporarily enhancing your character. This way it's more justified why do they keep on killing the creatures, and how do they advance so quickly - by embracing the Darkness. (Although it would be great if that would have some negative effect on them.)


Optional rules

These are experimental rules we sometimes use in our games.

Forcing doors open: It's strange that in Zombicide you had to force doors open, but in Massive Darkness, where you invade the homes of the creatures of darkness, you just open the doors. It might be that the characters have some kind of magic item that opens every lock for them, but there's no mention it in the book. The rules also state you can't close a door once it's open, so I suppose it means the door gets destroyed in the process.

It could be more realistic to require a successful melee attack against a door to be able to open it. If you'd like to make it harder, you can even give defense dice for the doors. I wouldn't allow ranged or magic attack opening the doors as it would change the dynamic of the game.

Bosses use consumable equipment: The boss uses the consumables just like they were any other equipment. If the boss gets hurt, it will drink the healing potion to get back health points.

No magical items in chests: Beware, as this is a great change from the original game. However, according to the setting, the magical items were given to the creatures to guard them. Why would they just leave them around in chests? The characters can only take magical items from the bosses. The chest contain gold they can use between scenarios to buy equipment. The players can take the chest tokens to represent gold, or use some kind of other counter.

Scaling treasure for number of players: In Massive Darkness, everything is scaled to the number of players, except the treasure. To change the treasure rules, choose a number that corresponds to the number of players you feel optimal. When you draw a card, if there is less players, you get -1 treasure at every location. If there are more players, you get +1 treasure for every location. If you'd get into negative numbers, you either leave it at 0, or start to take away treasure from the first available room.
For example: You choose 3 players as optimal. If you draw a 2/1/3 card, at 3 players it will generate 2, 1, 3 treasure. At 4 players, it will generate 3, 2, 4 treasure. At 2 players, it will generate 1, 0, 2 treasure. At 1 player you'd get 0, -1, 1, but then you reduce the available 1 treasure, so it will become 0, 0, 0.


Bam and Diamond boosts cost 1 XP: Many effects automatically jump through a step of success if you roll a Bam or Diamond. This way, if you roll a special success, you can decide whether the rolled amount is enough for you, or you'd like the additional effect, for the price of 1 XP. (Or some other resource, but at the moment XP is the easiest to spend.)

Limited time: To make the game more urgent, set a timer. For example, after 6 turns, the Darkness starts to suffocate the characters, and they lose 1 HP at the end of every turn. They can spend 1 XP to cancel this effect.

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Setting difficulty level - Shadow Mode options:

-5: No Shadow Mode ability: Although it's a good addition to the game dynamic, for beginners it seems hard to constantly check whether they are in the shadows, and if they are, what kind of advantage they can get out of it. It makes the game more tedious. I feel that Shadow abilities should belong to the monsters anyway.

-1: Shadow Mode abilities cost 1 XP: To get the benefit of Darkness magic, the character has to spend 1 XP, gained from killing sources of Darkness.

-3: Shadow Mode abilities cost 1 Hit point: It will make the players use Shadow Mode abilities only if it's important.

Setting difficulty level - Magic item options:

-10: No magic item use: Instead of being the artifacts for the champions of Light, these items were created for the servants of Darkness. Player characters can't use any magical items.

-3: Magic item use costs 1 XP: To get the benefit of magic, the character has to spend 1 XP.

-5: Magic item use costs 1 Hit point: It will make the players use magic items only if it's important.

-3: Magic items have Level x N Hit points: If you use a magic item, it will lose a Hit point. When it reaches 0, it gets discarded. Consumables have 1 Hit point, regardless of Level. This will make the players constantly needing to replenish their inventory.

-1: Testing for Hit point loss: When you use a magic item, roll a yellow dice. If it's blank, you lose a Hit point. Or if it's a critical hit, if you want to make them last longer.

+3: No magic item use for enemies: As the magical items are artifacts for the Lightbringers, the Guardians just carry them around to keep them from the characters, but can't use them.

-3: Guardians don't have any loot, just magical powers: When you draw an item for the Guardian, that doesn't mean a physical item, just a magical ability, granted by the Darkness. If the Guardian is defeated, the card is discarded.

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Setting difficulty level - Transmute options:

Who can transmute during the game?

0: Everyone: The normal rules. Everyone can transmute during the game, any time.

-1: Restricted to magic user classes: Only magic users can transmute - Battle Mage, Holy Warrior, Sorcerer, etc.

-1: You can only transmute in the Experience phase: You can't transmute during normal activation, but in the Experience phase you can. This way it doesn't require an extra action, but you can't create items during the turn.

-3: None: Nobody can transmute during the game.

Who can transmute between the games?

You might allow transmute to players even if transmute is restricted during games.

Where can a character use transmute?

0: Anywhere: The normal rules. You can use transmute everwhere.

-3: Stick transmute to magical nodes: Transmute can be done only on level tokens, as they are focus of magical powers.

How can a character transmute?

-1: Transmute is a Signature ability: You might make it a Signature ability that requires the use of 1 XP.

-1: One transmute per activation: You can't use it more than once.

-1: You need empty hands to transmute: Before transmuting, you need to reorganize your inventory. After transmute, the item you've created is in your hand.

-1: The transmuted item arrives in the same area the player is in: You need to pick it up.

-3: Magic success to transmute: You sacrifice the items. Then you need to roll a Magic test. You get an item with the maximum level of successes, with the other restrictions by the rules. If you don't roll any successes, you lose the sacrificed items.

-3: Transmute costs 1 XP: To get the benefit of Darkness magic, the character has to spend 1 XP, gained from killing sources of Darkness.

-5: Transmute costs 1 Hit point: It will make the players use transmute only if it's important.

Transmute test:

0: No test: Transmute is automatically successful.

-: Simple test: You discards your cards and roll a yellow dice. If you score a success, you receive a card.

-: Less simple test: You put the cards on the table, and roll a yellow dice. If you score a success, you don't discard your cards. If you score 2 successes, you discard your cards to receive a card.

-: Extra requirements: Instead of rolling one dice, you can receive further yellow dice (or red dice) if you:

  • spend an action: yellow dice
  • discard further cards: yellow dice
  • spend 1 XP: yellow dice
  • spend 1 HP: red dice

How many cards does it cost to transmute?

0: 3 level X cards to get 1 level X+1 card: Normal rules. You sacrifice 3 cards of the same level to get 1 card that is one level higher.

0: You have to discard cards with N times the a sum of the Level you want to create: The basic difficulty is 3x(Level-1) you want to achieve. For example, if you want a Level 3 card, you have to sacrifice cards that have the total of 3x(3-1)=6 Levels, for example 2x Level 1, 2x Level 2, or 3x Level 2.

-1: You have to sacrifice more than 3 cards: You can exchange 4 or 5 cards to get one.

-3: You have to sacrifice Item Level+X cards: The number of cards you have to discard depends on level. For example Level+2 cards mean you discard 3 cards to get a Level 1 card, 4 cards to get a Level 2 card, etc.

-3: You can transmute cards to get a card of the lowest level included: This way you can get something that is useful but not more powerful than your current equipment.

-1: You can only transmute up to the current level+X: You need to advance before you can create high level items. If X is 0 or 1, it's quite restrictive.

+1: It costs N / has a limit of M, but if you spend x, it costs less / has a higher limit: The base cost is counted as the normal difficulty. For example, it costs 3 Level A cards to get another Level A card as a free action, but if you spend an action to transmute, you can get a Level A+1 card.

-3: No matter what level of cards you discard, you get the draw a card from the lowest available deck: You can't decide the level of the item, but you still get something new.

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Setting difficulty level: Most players find the game too easy. Possible options:

-: Less treasure in rooms: There could be one less treasure than indicated on the card in every room. For a less restricting option, make it one less in the first room, or in the room with the highest number of chests.

-: Limit in equipment carried: 5 would sound just fine. If the character has more unequipped item, he must drop something.

-: Less health point for the players: They could start with 3 points to make them less super-heroic.

-: More cards for guardians: If you draw two of the same type, drawn again until you get a different one. I think that keeping in mind more than one card is too much, so I don' like this rule very much.

-: Useable cards for guardians: If you draw a card the guardian can't use, draw another one until you draw one that it can use.

-: Higher level items for guardians: They draw their equipment from a higher level deck. Even if you don't use this for bosses, I think it makes the agents more menacing.

-: Higher dice cap for high level enemies: Normally everyone is limited to use max. 3 dice. High level enemies could get a higher limit - for example "max 3 or their own level".

-: Less cards in the Enemy piles: When you arrange the enemy cards by level, you discard the first X cards from the Level 1 cards. If you wish to make the game harder, you can do the same to Level 2-4 cards too. It will make higher level enemies spawn sooner.

-: Slow advancement: You get minus (level-1) XP for everything. When you are at level 1, you get XP normally. At level 2 you get -1 XP, so you won't get XP for killing minions.

-: Roaming Monsters block line of sight: They are Huge, you can't see what's behind them.


-: Stun causes the stunned figure or mob to lose their weakest dice: You might allow several Stun effects to stack.

-: Stun only stops the counterattack: The Stun effect ends before the activation of the next hero, so they can act in the Enemy phase normally.

-: Stunned mobs lose the movement: During the activation, the Stunned members of the mob can't activate, and to prevent the splitting of the mob, the others stay with them. This means the mob loses the ability to move, but the non-stunned members get to attack normally if there is a hero in range.


-: When spawning minions, add X to the number heroes in your group: This will spawn a higher number of minions.

-: When spawning minions, add the current Level to the number of heroes in your group: This will make the game harder on higher levels.

-: Spawned enemies get an activation: When they appear on the board (by opening the door, event or ambush), they get an action.


-: Agents try to get to the highest level marker: When an Agent activates, it tries to reach the place with the most protection - the highest level marker in the game. Use the rules of the Giant Spider from Quest 2. Agents are more dangerous if they remain on board, and this option will make them last longer.

-: Agents get Slippery: This way they can get more dangerous.


-: No mobs: When a mob card is drawn, you put the boss on the board, and draw a megic item card for it. Then you put a number of corresponding minions on the board, but they will act individually. The boss might add item bonuses to the minions that belong to him if they are in the same zone. You can only hurt the boss if there is no minion standing in his zone that could interfere.

-: Every X minion adds 1 Sword to the attack: I'd base it on the number of players, but you could use a fix number.


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Buying the product

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What do you think of these optional rules for Massive Darkness? Did you try them? Tell your opinion in the comments!


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