Darkest Dungeon – Mad Marathon Difficulty: A Proposed Self-Imposed Ruleset

This is a proposition for a self-enforced ruleset that for now I’ll just call Mad Marathon Difficulty.

Introduction

This is a proposition for a self-enforced ruleset that for now I’ll just call Mad Marathon Difficulty. You could compare it to the famous Nuzlocke difficulty of Pokemon, but the game’s structure just doesn’t fit that specific ruleset very well. So I came up with my own rules. And yes, I always play Darkest Dungeon under these rules. Note I have not completed the game myself, my current record is 116 weeks, with a roster of 55 heroes, with enough class mods that I only use one Hero of each class. Anyways, enough unearned bragging, On to the Rules!

  1. Minimum Roster Size of 50 Heroes

You’ll need a barracks/wagon mod for this, of whatever suitable size you prefer. But you absolutely must have at least 50 Heroes in active employ by the time you attempt the final boss.

  1. At Least One of Every Class

You cannot skip or avoid hiring any class in your game. If they’re loaded in the game, vanilla or mod, there is at least one in your roster before the finish.

  1. New Guy Is Always Hired

If a new class shows up on the wagon, you must hire them immediately. This also applies to anyone arriving to town via Event. You may not avoid hiring by ‘not checking the wagon’. You may not avoid hiring by letting your barracks capacity lag. If you don’t have capacity, you must expand it by any means necessary. If you still cannot hire the new class that week, even after all trading and barracks expansion is attempted, the run is forfeit.

  1. No Doppelgangers in the Party

It is allowed to have more than one hero of the same class in your roster. It is not allowed to have more than one hero of the same class in your active party that week.

  1. Nobody Left Behind

If any hero in your roster is two or more levels below your highest level hero, they must be in the active party this week. The only exemption is when you plan to face a minor boss that week, but you may only bring heroes two levels, at most, higher than your lowest level.

  1. All Enemy Captains Die First

Before the final boss is attempted, all other minor bosses must be killed. If you have Crimson Court and/or Color of Madness in play, their bosses must also be dead before the final Darkest Dungeon boss.

  1. Only The Best Face The End

Before you attempt the final boss, over 75% of your roster must be level 6. The rest may be no lower than level 5.

  1. Darkest Difficulty Only

Radiant is too easy for this. Bloodmoon is impossible with the other rules. Darkest Dungeon Config (in the Gameplay > Options menu) stays turned on.

  1. We Are All Surviving

If any single hero dies, for any reason, BS or not, the run is forfeit. It doesn’t matter that ‘they can rez later’, if anyone dies, the run is immediately over. The only exception is if the death is scripted by the game outside of gameplay.

Discussing The Reasoning

Difficulty

Between rules 1, 5, 7, and 8, it’s easy to explain why Bloodmoon is impossible. Part of Bloodmoon difficulty is a hard 52 week time limit, and it is simply not possible to get 38 heroes up to level 6 (and the other 12 to level 5) in under 52 weeks, there’s just not enough xp available to do that. Well, unless you cheat it. Don’t.

As for why this ruleset is difficult, it is simply a numbers game. You must have at least 50 Heroes in the roster, and most of those 50 have to get through the most dangerous part of the game: being level 0. At level 0 your Heroes are inaccurate, weak, squishy, and cowardly. And because of the steady influx of heroes, because rules 1 and 3, you won’t be able to send all of the level 0s with a safe escort of 2s. Those 2s will end up level 3 soon enough, and you don’t want to bring a level 0 into a mid-level dungeon, not with rule 9 in play.

The game is also especially dangerous for the first two weeks of a run, when you don’t even have the Guild available, and have to just use whatever skills show up on the wagon this week.

Another part of the danger is the sheer length of the game this ruleset produces. The game calender is going to tick over multiple years by the time your roster is ready to take on the final boss. And anyone who plays RNG-heavy games will tell you, sooner or later the dice are going to turn on you. You’ll get sloppy, or overconfident, or slip up with a misclick. A team going in with a less-than-great composition and an F-tier Hero or two will suddenly be facing a powerful miniboss that won’t let you go no matter how hard you try to flee. And at that point, you either have to find a way to survive, neck-deep in terrible circumstances, or someone will die and your run will be over.

Skill isn’t about having a perfect hand to play. Skill is about having a terrible hand… and still winning.

Retreat

Retreating from a battle or a map is fine, if the game lets you (part of rule 8 means you don’t get guaranteed retreats from a fight). But, obviously, it comes with pretty serious downsides, so reserve it for when you know you can’t win and just want to get out alive. Success is preferable, but survival is paramount.

Be Honest With Your Mods

If you run heavily modded, that’s fine. Trinket mods are fine. Class mods are also fine. Mods that re-balance vanilla classes are fine. Some backpack mods are okay, infinite backpack is not. But be honest about what mods you use, and expect people to judge them in terms of what is OP and what is not. Do not run a blatantly overpowered, broken class that obliterates enemy parties single-handed and expect people not to call you out on it. Don’t insta-level your entire roster to level 6 and expect it to slide. Don’t do a green dungeon run with a level 6, or worse a whole team of level 6s, and laugh it off. Don’t give yourself infinite resources or a fully-built town and think it’s okay. Use some common sense, trust people are at least as smart as you, and don’t cheat yourself out of the experience. This is meant to be difficult.

Anti-Meta

You may notice a few of these counter meta play. Rule 4, for instance. There’s more than a few classes that benefit exponentially from having more than one in a party at the same time. That meta isn’t allowed in this ruleset. You also can’t avoid using ‘weak’ classes. If they’re in play, you have to use them sooner or later, because rule 5. Better figure out a way to make them work. You also can’t just ‘buy every best trinket’, because you’ve got at least 50 Heroes, and they’re all going to need support. You’re going to have to spread the gold around, or risk being forced to take an undergeared Hero into the dungeon that week.

Add to this the fact that you’re not going to be able to run ‘set parties’ very often. Stress is going to hit some Heroes worse than others, your Jester can’t work non-stop, you’ll have compulsions to get rid of, level 0s that need to go in this week, etc, etc. Things will swing out of alignment. You’re going to have to make a party with the Heroes you’ve got that aren’t too stressed out to be safe. You need to understand each Hero in your roster, what they can do, and how they fit in with other classes. And then build the best party you can, within the rules, out of these mis-matched pieces.

Class Mods

Gets it’s own section because class mods come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t go for the overpowered Isekai Protagonist mods, nobody’s going to be impressed by your pocket psycho that one-shots entire enemy teams before they ever get a chance to act. A good rule of thumb to consider is ‘when the class has a turn in combat, it’s total contribution to the fight should be roughly equal to a vanilla class on their turn’. No, that’s not an excuse to ‘re-balance’ the vanilla classes into Isekai Protagonists. 😛 Generally, avoid any mod class that can, at any time, do three or more actions in one turn. Even two actions in one turn should, combined together, be only as effective as one action from a vanilla (meaning each action is only half as good as one vanilla action). There will no doubt be some ‘fuzziness’ to this judgement, apples and oranges after all, but keep this in mind as you play. And if it ever feels too powerful, do the right thing and cut the class from your mod list, even if that means sacrificing a run in the process.

Some of the best class mods are ones that come with glaring downsides. Classes that benefit from being extremely stressed, for instance. Just scream-laugh-crying their way through the whole dungeon. You get a nice powerboost, right up until their hearts explode. Or classes that build stress easily, or even get mandatory stress each turn, especially if they are explicitly prevented from ever getting Virtue when their stress peaks. A lack of control of some mechanic is also good for keeping balance. A shifter that cannot choose when to change forms, for instance. Someone that bounces randomly in the party positions, as well. There’s also classes that self-harm, granting power from losing HPs or even avoid healing to pass some low HP threshold. Not every class sets out to break the game, a lot want to be a cohesive part of the world, difficulty and all. Just keep rule 9 in mind.

If you decide to not run with class mods and stick to vanilla, that’s fine, but there’s only about 17 vanilla classes in the game (including DLCs). You’ll need to hire at least 50 Heroes, which means about 3-4 copies of each class in your roster. Just remember rule 4. Only one Hero of any specific class in the party. Having a roster that’s half Crusaders is okay, but you still only get one in the dungeon per week. And you’re going to have to keep bringing them because rule 5. Maybe try something a little less boring. Boredom makes a person sloppy…

Recommended Play

Just some suggestions on how to play under this ruleset. First, don’t struggle against the rules. The sooner you learn to work under them, the smoother it’ll go. Expect to lose a run here and there when bad luck drop-kicks you. Second, get some class mods. You need 50 heroes, and while you can go vanilla, keeping things interesting with new classes will help you learn how to be tactically flexible. Third, plan to build up your wagon first. Get the Hero income up to 3 or 4 a week, then keep your barracks ready to handle more. Have backup Deeds and Crests ready to go for expansions, or at least enough Busts and Portraits to trade.

Also, try to stick to using the lowest level Heroes in your roster. As long as you’re not going up against a boss, even a team of level 0s can function well enough in a short green dungeon run. And if you’re regularly using your lowest levels, it’s less likely that you’ll get stuck unable to use a hero if an emergency comes up. Rule 5 is mainly about not abusing green dungeon runs with level 6 heroes. In fact, I would consider using any mod that lets you bring high-level heroes into a low-level run to be cheating. Use your low level heroes, learn where they come from, where their abilities start, that will help you with understanding their use at level 6.

I also recommend using a vanilla hero rebalance mod. There’s a few out there, pick what you like. The point is that some vanilla abilities are straight broken and never got brought back into balance with the rest. So, remove the temptation to abuse the old meta.

Most importantly, have fun. If you find playing under this ruleset makes you hate the game, stop and go do something else. This is here for folks who like a challenge, and nobody should ever make you feel like you have to do anything with your own game time. It’s your time, go enjoy it.

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