Publisher: Dirt Cheap Dungeons
Year Published: Various Years
I am here today to talk about the product lines from Dirt Cheap Dungeons. They are currently running a fantastic-looking Kickstarter for outdoor terrain, most notably a modular cavern system!
Now unfortunately, they did not have access to the cavern terrain prototype material for me to try out (bummer!), but they did offer a host of other dungeon and castle related sets for me to try out and gauge the quality thereof, to thereby allow for me to make a reasonable forecast as to what can be expected from the upcoming Kickstarter.
And it is my extreme pleasure to say that I think that the future bodes very well for their upcoming modular Cavern system. In fact, my experience was pretty much all positive, with only a minor quirk that I can only call nitpicking in the end.
During my review period, they sent me a number of sets and expansions to try. Among these are :
The Dungeon—Rogue Set
The Castle—Regent Set
Numerous mini-expansions (Diagonal Adapters, Long Wall, Castle Decor, Magic Ruins, Circular Staircases, Stone Bridge, Palisades, Jail Cells).
However, there are many other expansions and sets to explore within their systems, too.
Prices range from about $12-25 dollars for the expansions sets, and larger sets range from about $50 to 250 USD. They even come with individual storage boxes!
Now before you balk at the cost of some of the larger sets, let me first state that I would normally wince at larger price tags, too. In fact, that can be one of the biggest deterrents for me when purchasing scenic materials for DnD and RPGs.
One of my first goals when testing out Dirt Cheap Dungeons was to see if there was any possible way to make a good looking and highly functional dungeon setup using a bare minimum of materials.
The answer may surprise you. It did with me, for sure.
I made it a point early on in the review process to see how much I could construct using just a few of the smaller expansions. For my first effort, I used materials from the Jail Cells, Palisades, Long Wall and Castle Decor sets. The suggested MSRP for all of these particular products amounts to a modest $82.00 or so, nothing that breaks the bank at under a hundred dollars, but enough to still perhaps make you count your change in the wallet afterwards. But I chose these particulars to see just what could be done for what I imagine might be the “average” consumer.
Needless to say, I was quite stunned by what I was able to accomplish even with this limited selection of pieces. Within about 15-20 minutes, I already had a dungeon that looked to be extremely engaging. That is quite something, because in my experience, not all of the tile sets I have used are user-friendly. In fact I would say that some that I own and have reviewed can be quite “fiddly” for lack of a better term.
And by this I mean that other (some more expensive) sets that I have reviewed have a tendency to wobble and/or fall down. Or require an overabundance of setup time, getting interlocking parts just right…
Not so with the Dirt Cheap dungeons.
I was quite shocked by what I was able to construct in just those 15 minutes. Wall segment adapters easily keep your walls locked in with each other, and this lends to stability that keeps things nice and straight, and hinders accidental falls quite notably. Yes, things were overall rudimentary and basic from a certain standpoint — it was not a multi-tiered dungeon, but this was light years beyond some of the tools I normally use.
Best of all, even though I was quite pleased with my results, I was still quite surprised that I had quite a few walls and additional pieces remaining to be used if my heart had so desired to make something larger, which should please the more budget-conscious gamers out there.
Another strong selling point for me is that it is supremely easy to relocate entire buildings without them falling apart. The connecting adapters work very well at keeping things together, I could even pick up entire sections to transplant somewhere else on my gridded map and nothing came apart. Not every terrain set can do this!
Now the more elaborate sets and expansions allow you to perform building tasks that these particular expansions did not allow me to do. I quickly found myself digging into the larger sets to find more varied stairways to use, and amazingly some “circular” designed walls, that , when adjoined to similar shaped walls, allow for the construction of towers. Transparent gridded tiles allow you to easily make multi-leveled bastions and fortresses and even though I was now combining materials from the Dungeon and Regent sets, a good bulk of what I was using was still from the “smaller” expansion sets. I shudder to think just how large of an edification I could have made had I chosen to make something more grand in scale.
Needless to say there were plenty of nifty things to behold. Doors require a mild amount of assembly (just snapping on some hinges and placing the doors in), but fully move once inserted, never again required in future setups.
Making a tower and keep was especially fun and best of all easy. I derived a probably too-geeky pleasure making a stairway into the second level of this particular tower. For a second round of geekiness, I had to pull out a bundle of my miniatures to wage war within the complex.
I spoke a good many times with Cameron at DCD (Dirt Cheap Dungeons), and between conversing with him and reading their printed catalog, there are a number of other compelling reasons to buy their products. I asked to quote their catalog introduction in this review, as I found it very impressive.
“We at Dirt Cheap Dungeons are gamers in the truest sense of the word. We don’t simply work in the gaming industry…we live a gaming lifestyle, with entire rooms of our homes dedicated to tabletop boardgames and TTRPS. It is for this reason that when we looked across the landscape of tabletop gaming terrain accessories, we felt something was missing. There were so many terrain types and pieces, but none of them seemed to check all the boxes we were looking for. We wanted something affordable, portable, durable, usable right out of the box (or requiring very little initial work), simple to assemble in a myriad of ways, not to mention good looking without dedicating hours of time or massive amounts of money in painting (but can still be painted or modified if you need special ‘style’). Since we couldn’t find anything that fit our needs, we took it upon ourselves to make it. That is how Dirt Cheap Dungeons came to be.”
Their passion clearly shows in the quality of their work.
First and foremost, these are all made in the USA, with zero outsourcing.
“We are our own manufacturer, situated in central Oregon”. Not too far from where I once used to live, so that was neat.
In addition, they make almost everything in their sets sourcing their power from renewable energy sources (97% hydroelectric , 3% wind for those interested). While much of the materials “seem” to be plastic there is quite a bit of “organic” material that isn’t always obvious at a glance. The exception to this would be the Palisades materials, which had a very herbal/tea-like smell when first opening. Which I did like. But it did fade with time and exposure to the air, so to those who would not enjoy this aroma, there is no need to fear.
All in all the quality of all the products I tinkered with is top-notch and exceptional. The one quirk that I can think of has to do with scale, and just about everything seems to fit in with traditional mini sizes.
The exception here would be the Palisades barriers, which “seem” to be about half the height of standard minis, which does not seem like they would make much of an obstacle given I would expect fencing to be taller than the characters if truly trying to impede them from entry, but they nevertheless serve as a more than functional 3D visual representation of such a man-made hinderance, and can easily be overlooked by simply managing to look gorgeous and highly thematic.
It is no big dark secret that one of the biggest barriers to being a DM for Dungeons and Dragons and other RPG’s is the Time Constraint.
Indeed, in my experience to single most limiting factor for me getting groups up and running is time. One realistically asked : “With all of the work that needs to be undertaken for each DnD session, why would anyone want to further add to that burden by adding yet another setup with dungeon tiles and terrain?”.
And I will be honest, there are times when a time crunch makes me want to take a more theater-of-the-mind type of approach. But then again, once you put me in a room with a good dungeon terrain that is already set up, it is a joy to play and experience. Once things are in place, it is always very cool to see your sessions take a more visceral form for an epic battle, storming of a castle, or dungeon raid. Add minis and monsters into the mix, and you have some mighty good arguments in favor of dungeon tiles and terrain.
Dirt Cheap Dungeons have my highest recommendation for both quality and price as well as ease of setup and storage. The cost to benefit ratio is really good for what you get, as I know from experience that I’ve owned more expensive sets (per piece) that offer much less for the buck for the sheer (lack of) things I could build for the price. I can tell you of certain other things that amounted to 75 dollars that just barely let me construct a medium size room. In comparison , remember that I was able to build a decent size dungeon with just expansion sets from Dirt Cheap Dungeons!
As much as I love interior castle and dungeon settings, I am much more looking forward to see how their new Cavern modular terrain turns out on Kickstarter, because I absolutely love the look of it so far, and my own personal preference for many types of settings are the grungier, less-than-symmetrical settings that have far more randomness in terms of shapes and contours. Check out the link for their latest Kickstarter here, because it certainly stands out in my eye!
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Jazz Paladin- Reviewer