Unnatural D20: Playing ‘Dungeon Bastards’ with Ghoul
Photo by Jehn Mikalacki-Sublett
When bands take the time to build a mythology around their music, the results can be fun. Take Ghoul and their fictional world Creepsylvania. They’re a monstrously fun band to watch, and a genuinely banging act to listen to as well. Soon, however, they’re expanding their band mythology into gaming.
When I heard Ghoul was including an original board game with their first full-length in five years, Dungeon Bastards, I knew I had to play a round as soon as I could. The premise for the game, also called Dungeon Bastards, sounded simple on paper: Players take turns advancing through a Creepsylvanian map via six-sided dice rolls, and the first one to get to end of the map and jump the Wall of Death wins.
I contacted guitarist/vocalist Digestor to see if we could get together to play a round and he not only obliged my request, he even put me in touch with the game’s co-designer Doktor Ross Sewage (Impaled, Exhumed). Digestor and the good Doktor were kind enough to chat about the game and the current state of Creepsylvania, and where the underground cannibals in Ghoul seem to fit in it all.
Digestor, where did the idea to have a board game included with the new album come from?
Digestor: I think we wanted to have something connected to the album that would make people pay less attention to the music. So you open the album, put in on your record player or whatever and there’s a board game there for you to distract from the mistakes and shittiness.
So how did you come to hire Doktor Sewage for the game design?
D: We found him wandering around in a graveyard, looking at a map. He looked like he was lost. He was wearing a backpack, a goofy jacket and looked like a tourist. We just grabbed him and pulled him down to the catacombs. He had a backpack full of art supplies, a French curve and a compass.
Ross, when you start off with absolutely nothing as you did here, what is the first step in designing a board game?
Ross: Well, I had to first clean my shorts after being kidnapped by Ghoul and being dragged down into their dungeon lair. After cleaning my shorts, they sat me down on a rudimentary desk made of bones and plywood. It’s one of those situations in art where you get down to the deadline but unlike normal deadlines, this time I’d actually be dead if I didn’t finish.
D: Definitely would be dead.
R: So I had to kind of piece together what I knew, and I figured Candyland would be a good start. “Hey, I know that game works for three- to four-year-olds and these guys have the mental capacity of three- to four year-olds,” so it seemed like a good place to go.
In what ways did you try to incorporate Ghoul’s real-life adventures into the game?
R: They had a bunch of Creepsylvanian newspapers that they threw in front of me, so there was a bit of studying. They said, “Look, Creepsylvania’s pretty fucked up, we’re pretty fucked up, so just read about this shit.” They spun some wild tales I could hardly believe about killer robots, proto-human monkey men, voodoo priests and I thought it was a load of bullshit until a voodoo priest came in and walked through the room naked after getting out of a shower. His huge dong was hanging out, that was the most frightening thing I saw while I was down there.
D: A huge, rotten dong.
R: It was enormous. He flopped it down on the table. So he actually laid out the path of the board game with his dick.
D: Some of that is just because the internal structure of his dong has rotted away so much that it’s just hanging. It’s all skinny and stretched out, but it’s really big. Like halfway down to his knees.
R: I just threw the French curve away and I traced the dong.
D: Who needs a French curve at that point?
Well, for a game based on Candyland, there seem to be quite a few more rules than I’d expect.
R: We had to come up with some rules because these guys would keep jumping to the end. “Guys, you have to actually roll dice for this to be a game,” and it would be, “No, I win,” and they’d punch me in the face. “Okay, you won the fight but if you want this to be fun for a bunch of heavy metal kids, we’re going to have to put some rules in place.” Heavy metal kids love to follow rules like, only wear band logos of bands that aren’t playing that night and you have to wear camo shorts cut off, not hemmed. I figured they’d love having more rules like that!
D: In Creepsylvania we have a game like this called “Ivan Must Evade the Pederast,” you definitely want to get to the end of that one. You don’t want to deal with all that mess, you just want to get it over with.
How many revisions did it take for you to get to the final game?
R: Other than just revising on my own just thinking about things, we had some members of Ghoul play it, I played it along with some numbskulls that were hanging around the catacombs…There were probably three or four major revisions, everything else were just small changes for things like wording. There were probably four major revisions to the rules. These guys are cannibals that have lived underground their whole lives, it was really hard to communicate to them in a clear manner. I still don’t even understand the basic rudiments of Creepsylvanian.
D: None of us do.
R: It seems like it’s just English with a really thick accent you can’t understand.
Digestor, where did we leave off with Ghoul’s adventures at the end of Hang Ten?
D: At the end of Hang Ten, the Cannibals MC have been defeated and banished from Creepsylvania by Commandant Dobronkum, who has taken over the city. He is about to institute martial law and turn it into a police state. He’s built a giant wall around the city, the Wall of Death if you will, and he treats everyone like garbage. You know I voted for him actually, he seems like a pretty good ruler. He gets shit done.
R: He speaks his mind.
Wait, so is Creepsylvania a democratic nation then? Are there elections?
D: No, there was no real voting.
R: From what I understand, there was only a single check box.
D: I wrote his name on a piece of paper, put an “X” next to it and flushed it down the toilet.
R: It’s a weird place Creepsylvania, it was so easy to get in but I just couldn’t find an exit. I was just stuck there.
D: No one ever escapes this place, it’s great!
After a short briefing on the rules, we decided to play the game. I was in luck; we had the opportunity of playing an expanded-size version of the game—the production edition is the size of an LP gatefold. Since the game was designed for two-to-four players, the participants ended up being myself, Digestor, Doktor Sewage, and a poor hostage. We chose avatar miniatures for ourselves, and we kicked off the first rule of the game: least attractive player goes first. After a heated argument between the Doktor and myself on who was more ugly, the former capitulated and opted to roll first.
The four of us took turns advancing through the map, and frequently found ourselves in situations where we could fight monsters, bikers, and even black metal musicians for shortcuts. Should one lose a fight, the punishment would result in injury or even a temporary death, after which the player would be revived at the start of the map. Many spaces were emblazoned with images of beer or shot glasses, and some spaces even offered the opportunity to knock other players backward through the map or lose turns entirely. In addition players could rapidly hop all over the map by landing on spaces representing catacombs, where dice rolls would decide the final destination. Certain rolls on catacomb spaces could advance players from one end of the map to the other, which could potentially end the game early or conversely, prolong it for much longer.
Though our round of the game was fairly short, about 20 minutes or so, the number of possibilities for both choice and luck-based shenanigans was impressive. I spent most of the game in last place, being knocked backward on the map on at least one occasion and losing the occasional fight along the way. However, I eventually won the game thanks to a lucky dice roll when I finally reached the Wall of Death. Digestor was not amused.
Now that we’ve played a round, let’s talk a little bit about the story being told here in Dungeon Bastards.
D: Commandant Dobronkum has an ultimate weapon, the Omicron Bomb, that he’s threatening the entire place with, including us. Baron Samedi beckoned us so he could use the weapon to destroy himself and everyone else because he wants everyone to go back into oblivion, so the game is the story of us trying to get to the weapon in Svatoplunk Square.
R: From what I could gather, Dobronkum wants to kill everybody, Samedi wants to kill everybody and himself, and Ghoul kind of don’t care as long as people die. From what Digestor has told me, this game is about killing people and eating people.
D: And drinking. Copious drinking.
I was going to mention, I noticed many shot glasses and beer mugs littered about the game map.
D: I told this guy to throw in some lines of coke in there too, but he would not do it.
R: The agreement was that I had to get lines of coke but they just kept me awake with loud music.
D: Well that’s just bad communication.
We have an issue, however. Many young Ghoul fans are well under the drinking age. Don’t you think you’re endorsing underage drinking from the way you designed this game?
R: There is nothing in the rules stating that people must drink. There’s simply some pictures of beer, and that’s legally protected as art.
There was an awful lot of choice involved in this game: Choices to get into fights, choices to screw over other players, etc. The game seems to be far nicer to the players than I’d expect you guys to be.
D: Life is all about choices Avinash. If nothing else, this game represents life accurately.
R: No, you’re thinking of the game of Life. That’s a good game. If people had babies in this game, they’d probably get eaten.
We got into fights with dog soldiers, swamp hags, and even black metal bands…
D: Well, we [in Ghoul] don’t have to fight them. We just kill them. They don’t put up much of a fight.
R: Have you seen black metal dudes? They’re barely fit. The American ones, they’re all vegan!
D: They’re pale, weak, and easy to kill.
R: Many founding, visionary members have been killed in Creepsylvania.
In this game, everyone dies at the end.
R: Well, this game fudges with reality a bit for the sake of fun. I mean, everyone dying is fun to Ghoul.
D: So it’s realistic.
This Omicron Bomb, does it blow up the entire world or just Creepsylvania?
R: What happens in the record and in real life is very different. You’d probably have to buy the record and read the lyrics to find out.
D: The board game represents a dumbed-down version of our reality. Reality is on the record, in the lyrics.
R: Ghoul is like NWA, they’re just telling stories from their lives.
D: We’re just throwing reality back in your face, seeing if you can handle it.
R: That’s what I really respect about Ghoul after working with them. They keep it real.
Sure, but is Creepsylvania even around after this bomb goes off?
D: You’ll have to buy the album and find out.
R: It’s under a lot of duress, but that’s kind of the normal state of being for Creepsylvania.
So what does this game indicate for Ghoul’s future in the entertainment industry?
D: Apps. Oh and we’re actually going to have miniatures that you can buy for this game, so you can be your favorite Ghoul character while you play. That’s something that will be available soon before the album’s out.
R: They’re miniature figures, but the penises are full-size.
D: Yes, they weigh about 14 pounds each. They’re really hard to move.
R: My skills have been tapped out and fortunately they let me live, but I think those guys might have some other games in mind.
D: Yeah, the only reason Doktor Sewage is alive is because we have some other games we might want him to work on. He did a great job on this thing, but there might be something more complicated coming his way. Maybe a full RPG with a 50-page rulebook that’s incomprehensible.
R: What they told me is that they’re just trying to angle for a tour with Bolt Thrower.
D: And Gygax. Bolt Thrower, Gygax, and Ghoul. The table-top game tour.