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Darkest Dungeon: A Beginner's Survival Guide

"The old road will take you to hell, but in that gaping abyss we will find our redemption."
"The old road will take you to hell, but in that gaping abyss we will find our redemption."

"You Will Arrive Along the old Road." - The Narrator

Darkest Dungeon is a very intimidating game that offers a multitude of challenges that are mostly RNG based, and to write out a complete walkthrough that someone could follow word for word would be impossible. However, this guide does not seek to be a walkthrough. Instead, it'll go over some mechanics in deeper detail as well as a few characters, and also offer some general tips along the way. So with that, let's get started.

"Death Waits for the Slightest Lapse in Concentration."

The Darkest Dungeon has multiple mechanics and it can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, it all can be boiled down to managing not one, but two health bars. If you focus on those two health bars the game becomes drastically easier.

The first health bar is, well, just that... a regular health bar, but with a slight twist. If the character's health falls to 0 they won't die straight away, but will instead end up at what's called "Death's Door". While at Death's Door if the character takes further damage he must make a Death Blow resist save to avoid that damage being fatal.

There are a number of ways to heal damage taken over the course of battle. The Vestal fills the role of cleric nicely since she has arguably the best healing move in Divine Grace that can target anyone in the party with no negative side effects. She also has a group heal with Divine Comfort as well as a way to deal damage and heal herself in the same move with Judgement.

The Occultist has the highest healing out of all characters with the skill Wyrd Reconstruction. However, this skill doesn't come without any side effects. Wyrd Reconstruction not only heals one of your characters, but will also inflict bleed damage on them that lasts for three turns. In a game where you're already combating RNG, using a skill that can put you in a worst situation than you were originally in is not advised.

Other characters have skills that heal themselves. Here's a few for example: the Houndmaster has the skill Lick Wounds, the Leper has Solemnity which also gives several buffs, and the Hellion has Adrenaline Rush which heals 1 point of damage, cures blight and bleeding, and gives a couple buffs.

It's worth noting that the health of all party members is healed completely upon returning to the Hamlet.

"The Human Mind - Fragile like a Robin's Egg."

The second heath bar is what's known as the stress bar and it works similar to that of a regular health bar. While adventuring, your characters will face numerous situations that will increase their stress levels. This can be anything from reading a disturbing passage in a book to simply walking from room to room.

The stress bar is actually two bars; one from 0-100, and one from 101-200. When the stress bar reaches 100 your character will either become afflicted or virtuous, which basically means you'll either get a debuff that must be cured in the Hamlet, or a buff that lasts until the end of the dungeon. When your character's stress bar reaches 200 they will have a heart attack and be brought to Death's Door instantly.

Just like the health bar, the stress bar can be managed just not as easily. The Jester is the prime candidate to help with this. The skill Inspiring Tune heals one party member of some of their stress, as well as reduces incoming stress damage. The next best character to heal stress damage is the Crusader with his Inspiring Cry skill which has multiple effects. Along with reducing stress on a character it also slightly heals that character, and increases the torch light. The Houndmaster has Cry Havoc which has a chance to heal stress from all members of the party. Other characters have self stress heals, like the Leper's Withstand which also gives a protection buff.

When you've finished your trek through the dungeons, and you make your way back to the Hamlet, you'll be able to use different facilities to help reduce stress in some of your party members... for a price. The Abbey and the Tavern have three different options to choose from to put characters in until you return to the Hamlet. The first option in both places costs 1,000 gold, the second option costs 1,250 gold, and the third option costs 1,500 gold. You can have up to five members in these stress healing facilities at a time (an NPC is always in a random one when you come back to town), however you are very unlikely to have enough gold to do that.

While using these facilities won't relieve your characters completely from stress, they do reduce a large portion of it. If you choose not to use a character on your next adventure, and you don't want to put them in one of the facilities, they will heal 5 points of stress until you return to the Hamlet again.

However, the facilities don't come without risks. It is possible that after a character uses either the Tavern or the Abbey they will come away with a negative effect that can either be permanent or temporary. For instance, if a character uses the Cloister at the Abbey that character could be overcome with emotion and donate away 1,000 gold. Or if they were gambling at the Tavern they may lose a trinket. With that being said, there are positive events that may occur. After using the Brothel, a character may receive a boost to their speed which increases the frequency they can attack during battle.

The risk of a negative event occurring after a character uses one of these facilities should not deter you from using them. The benefit of having a large portion of stress relieved vastly outweighs the risk you run of a character returning with a negative side effect.

The Hellion receiving an affliction.
The Hellion receiving an affliction.

"One can Sometimes find Clarity in Madness, but Only Rarely..."

As briefly mentioned, afflictions occur when a character's stress reaches 100. When a character reaches their sanity's breaking point they will either become afflicted or virtuous. When a character becomes afflicted they suffer stat penalties as well as engage in negative behaviors such as passing turns, refusing to be healed, stealing loot, moving within formation, and stressing the other members of the party. The behaviors the character will exhibit are dependent on what affliction they get. For example, if the character receives the Abusive affliction then they will become emotionally abusive to his or her teammates and increase the stress of the party. The affliction status can be cured back at the Hamlet, otherwise it will stay with the character.

The Man-at-Arms becoming virtuous.
The Man-at-Arms becoming virtuous.

Should a character be fortunate enough to become virtuous they will receive an increase to their stats, and be capable of several positive behaviors on their own. These behaviors include randomly healing themselves, reducing stress of teammates, and as well as buffing them. Just like with afflictions, these behaviors depend on what virtue the character receives. For example, the Courageous virtue gives the character a 25% chance to relieve the party of stress at the beginning of each turn. When a character becomes virtuous it will reduce the stress of the entire party by a small amount, and also prevent that character from having a heart attack. It should be noted that while the afflicted status can stay with a character even after leaving the dungeon, the virtuous status ends when you return to the Hamlet.

It should also be noted that the base chance for a character to become virtuous is 25%. This can be decreased to as low as 1% by being a lower level than the dungeon, or increased to 60% by using certain trinkets. It is possible to devise a strategy that centers around purposefully increasing the party's stress levels to their breaking points in hopes that they become virtuous and receive buffs. Since the max percentage that you can raise a character's virtue chance is 60% you will still run the risk of them becoming afflicted.

"Circled in the Dark, the Battle may yet be Won."

A group of heroes huddled together near a camp fire.
A group of heroes huddled together near a camp fire.

On longer missions you'll be able to make camp once or twice (once during medium missions, and twice during long missions) and use special skills only available when you camp. All characters have three shared skills; Encourage, Wound Care, and Pep Talk. Encourage reduces stress by 15, Wound Care heals 15% of a characters health and heals bleeding and blight, and Pep Talk gives a character 15% stress resistance.

Each character has an additional four skills unique to them. For example, the Plague Doctor has the Experimental Vapours skill which heals 50% of a target teammate's total health as well as giving that teammate a buff that increases healing on that character by 33%. Another example is the Jester with his skill called Every Rose Has Its Thorn which heals all party member's stress by 15 and reduces stress damage on other party members by 15% for four combat instances.

When you recruit characters from the Stage Coach they will come with four random camping skills unlocked. If a character you recruit doesn't have a skill you want unlocked then you can unlock it by paying for it at the Survivalist.

Of course, you're limited in the number of skills you can use each time you camp. You have a total of 12 hours to use skills, and each skill costs a different amount of time. For example, the Encourage skill uses 2 hours, leaving you with 10 hours should you choose to use it.

Characters, while having access to a total of seven different camping skills each, are only allowed to take four with them. So keep in mind which ones each party member has so that you are never in a position where you could really use a certain skill. You never want to be in a situation where one of your characters is near death, either by stress or by damage, and you're unable to heal it off of them.

These skills are not upgradable and can only be used when you camp. It's easy to forget about them since you won't be using them during the early parts of the game. It's important to use your camping skills smartly, especially with stress reduction skills, because you're still going to accumulate damage and stress even with healing during battles.

The Crusader's Great Sword upgrades.
The Crusader's Great Sword upgrades. | Source

"A Sharper Sword, a Stronger Shield."

There are three types of character upgrades in Darkest Dungeon; skill upgrades, armour upgrades, and weapon upgrades.

By upgrading a character's skills it increases their effectiveness. For example, at level one the Vestal's Divine Grace heals 3-5 points of damage, and at level two it heals 4-6 points of damage. Another example is with the Crusader's Smite skill which, at level one, has 85% accuracy and does 15% more damage against Unholy enemies. When upgraded to level two it has an accuracy of 90, and does 20% more damage to Unholy enemies. Skills are, arguably, more important to upgrade than a character's armour and weapon.

When you upgrade a character's weapon it increases that character's damage, speed, and critical chance. At level one the Crusader's Great Sword deals 6-12 damage, has a 5.0% critical chance, and has a base speed of 1. When upgraded to level two it deals 7-14 damage, has a base critical chance of 5.5%, and still has a base speed of one. The base speed won't be increased until level three.

When you upgrade a character's armour it increases that character's dodge chance as well as their base hit points. At level one the Vestal's Silk and Plate armour has a 0 base dodge chance and 24 hit points. Upon upgrading it to level two the Vestal's base dodge chance increases to 5, and her base hit points increase to 29.

Not all characters are built the same and have different priorities when it comes to upgrading. For example, the Vestal is a healer and benefits more from her healing skills being upgrading than her Mace. The Leper, whose skills have low accuracy, benefits more from his skills, and by extension his accuracy, being upgrade than his weapon and armour. So keep in mind what each character is going to value more. That way you save from spending more gold than you need to.

It should also be noted that in order to further upgrade your equipment and skills you must upgrade the Blacksmith (for armour and weapon upgrades) and the Guild (for skill upgrades). The materials for the building upgrades are found within the dungeons, and also as rewards for completing tasks within the dungeons. So keep an eye out for which dungeons are offering the material you need to further upgrade your buildings.

There are also upgrades available for both the Blacksmith and Guild that will decrease the cost of upgrading a character's armour, weapons, and skills by 10%. If you can manage to grab a couple of these upgrades early on, it'll save you a lot of gold in the long run that can be put towards more upgrades and/or provisions.

"Success Depends on Survival."

Before you embark on each adventure you'll be able to shop for items to aid you while you're in the dungeons. The most important of these items is the torch. Without torches your adventurers are left in the dark and they suffer more and more stress the darker it gets and the longer they stay in the dark. The darker it gets also leaves your party prone to being ambushed which not only increases each party members' stress level, but also allows your enemies to get one free attack each. So making sure it's as bright as possible at all times is vital to your survival.

Food is just as important as torches. Periodically you'll receive a message saying that the party is hungry, and there's no way to know for certain when you'll get one of these messages. On average, each party member consumes one unit of food. There are some quirks, diseases, and trinkets that affect this such as the Tapeworm Infection which increases food consumption by 100%, or the Fasting Seal which decreases food consumption by 100%. When your party becomes hungry you'll have the option to either "Eat" or "Starve". If you do not have enough food for all party members to eat you're forced to choose the "Starve" option. When choosing the "Starve" option it results in each party member taking 20% damage to their health and suffering 20 points of stress damage, but choosing the "Eat" option heals your party 5% each.

"The requirements of survival cannot be met on an empty stomach."
"The requirements of survival cannot be met on an empty stomach."

Since this message can happen at random points throughout the dungeon, it's recommended to carry enough food to feed each party member at least twice.

On longer missions, when the option to make camp is available to you, bringing a surplus of food is necessary. There are two phases to camping; the food phase and the skill phase. Unlike when you receive the message in between rooms, when camping you do not need to have enough food for all members. Instead, you'll be given the choice between using zero, two, four, or eight units of food. If you choose the "zero" option each member of the party will take 20% damage and suffer 15 points of stress. However, should you choose the "eight" option each member will gain 25% of their health back and have their stress reduced by 10. So not only do you need to be prepared for random instances of your party being hungry, but you also need to have enough food to, ideally, choose the "eight" option during the food phase of camping.

For example, on a medium length mission with characters with no negative food consumption quirks, it's advised to bring at least sixteen units of food; eight to eat during camp and eight to eat throughout the dungeon.

Other items you can purchase include shovels, antivenom, bandages, medicinal herbs, skeleton keys, and holy water. The usefulness of these items depends mostly on where you are going. Should you choose to go to the Ruins it would be more beneficial to buy a couple of shovels than antivenom. So think carefully when preparing for your next journey into one of the dungeons. It's always better to be over prepared than under prepared

You'll also receive upgrade materials and sometimes trinkets.
You'll also receive upgrade materials and sometimes trinkets.

If you're worried about how much gold you're spending to buy the supplies just take a look at the rewards for clearing a mission. You'll always receive a decent amount of gold as a reward, usually about three thousand, and that's enough to cover the cost of supplies you'll be buying. If you choose to investigate all loot containers you encounter throughout the dungeon then you're most likely going to walk away with an additional couple thousand gold. So you'll almost always be making profit, it just depends on how lucky you are when you loot items, and what you receive at the end of combat encounters.

"A Death by Inches..."

There are two main damage of time (or DOT) statuses; blight and bleeding. One of the key things to keep in mind is that blight and bleeding stack, both individually and combined. The other key thing to keep in mind is that the damage from DOTs takes place at the beginning of the afflicted character's turn. So when an attack says it inflicts a status condition for three rounds it means that condition lasts, and takes effect, the next three times the afflicted character attacks. So let's take a look at a couple of examples.

The Plague Doctor's Plague Grenade, at level one, does four points of blight damage each round for three rounds to both enemies in the third and fourth positions. That means that those two enemies on the third turn will suffer twelve points of blight damage if you use Plague Grenade three times. It will then go down to eight points of blight damage on the fourth turn, unless you use Plague Grenade again and keep it at twelve per round.

The Jester's Harvest skill, at level one, does two points of bleed damage each round for three rounds to both enemies in the second and third positions. If you use this skill three times in a row, those two enemies will suffer six points of bleed damage on the third turn. However, if used in conjunction with the Plague Doctor's Plague Grenade, the enemy in the third position will suffer not only six points of bleed damage but also twelve points of blight damage on turn three for a total of eighteen points of DOT damage.

Keep in mind, that's without those skills being leveled up. If you were to level those skills all the way to level five you could potentially deal thirty points of DOT damage to that enemy in the third position on the third turn, eighteen from blight damage and twelve from bleeding damage.

The utility of DOT attacks allows you to get through dungeons as quickly as possible as well as boss fights, which have the potential to wipe an entire team if you allow those fights to drag on.

"This is no Place for the Weak, or the Foolhardy."

Since there are so many characters to cover I will be going over the different roles that should, ideally, be filled for each team, as well as the best character, in my opinion, that fills that role. However, with that being said, by no means do you absolutely have to have one of each of these roles on a team. You can very well make it through dungeons without one or two of these roles. It ultimately boils down to team synergy which I'll touch on a little later.

[Vestal: Divine Grace, Divine Comfort, Judgement, and Dazzling Light]
[Vestal: Divine Grace, Divine Comfort, Judgement, and Dazzling Light]

Healer

The first role, and most crucial early on, is that of the healer. The Vestal fills this role perfectly. We already touched on the Vestal quite a bit, but we'll go into a little more detail here. The Vestal enjoys being in the fourth position of any team as this allows her to use her main skills and be as far away from danger as possible. The ideal combat skill set up for the Vestal is Divine Grace, Divine Comfort, Judgement, and Dazzling Light. This allows her to heal the party with Divine Grace and Divine Comfort, deal damage and heal herself at the same time with Judgement, and also offer some support in her ability to stun an enemy with Dazzling Light.

As for camping, the two main skills to have are Pray, which reduces stress for the entire party, and Sanctuary, which prevents nighttime ambushes. This maximizes her effectiveness as a healer since she is able to heal both damage and stress. The other two camping skills she should take with her should be ones that compliment the team she is on. You want to make sure you have a diverse group of camping skills among all party members since you never know what you might need once you're adventuring.

[Jester: Inspiring Tune, Harvest, Battle Ballad, and Slice Off]
[Jester: Inspiring Tune, Harvest, Battle Ballad, and Slice Off]

Stress Reliever

The second role to fill is the stress healer, and the Jester is the perfect candidate. He enjoys being in the third position, and really only uses two skills. The first skill is his most important one and that's Inspiring Tune. This skill allows him to be an effective stress healer as it targets all members in the party. It heals stress for all party members, as well as reducing incoming stress damage. No other character has a skill anywhere close to this. The other skill for him to have is Harvest, which is arguably his best combat skill unless you're playing an extremely aggressive Jester. It allows him to hit the middle two enemies and deal bleed damage. Battle Ballad is a support move that buffs the entire party's speed, accuracy and critical hit chance. This allows him to not only be a stress healer, but also play a support role. Slice Off is a slightly stronger Harvest, just without the benefit of hitting two enemies.

The main skills for the Jester to take with him for camping are Turn Back Time, which heals a large chunk of stress damage on one party member, and Every Rose Has Its Thorn, which heals stress damage on all party members, and reduces stress damage received for four combat instances. These skills definitely come into play on longer adventures when your party's stress levels begin to reach dangerous level.

It is possible for the Jester to play a role more akin to a glass cannon, but it's not advised for new players since this will disrupt your party's positioning. The Jester has a couple of skills that move him forward in the ranks, ultimately setting him up for his Finale skill that does 150% damage and has a critical chance of 15%. However, after using this it moves him all the way to the back and gives him damage, dodge and accuracy debuffs. It is a viable strategy, but it runs a great risk of causing more harm than good.

[Plague Doctor: Plague Grenade, Blinding Gas, Battlefield Medicine, and Emboldening Vapours]
[Plague Doctor: Plague Grenade, Blinding Gas, Battlefield Medicine, and Emboldening Vapours]

Support

The third role to consider is the support role. This can be someone with damage over time effects, someone that can buff your party members, and/or someone who can heal bleed/blight damage on other party members. One such character is the Plague Doctor who also favors the third position. Her Plague Grenade allows her to inflict blight damage on the enemies in both the third and fourth positions. This is great against bosses who are in the back behind minions and are otherwise unreachable. Blinding Gas hits the same two enemies as Plague Grenade, but instead of dealing blight damage it can stun them. Noxious Blast can be used instead of Blinding Gas if you want to increase your attack range. It targets one enemy in either the first or second position and inflicts blight damage. In combination with Plague Grenade you can effectively inflict blight damage on an entire enemy team. Battlefield Medicine targets one party member and cures blight damage and bleeding. Emboldening Vapours is a buff which increases party members' damage and speed. The Plague Doctor is a force to be reckoned with, and you may find that she ends up dealing more damage over the course of a dungeon than your powerhouse characters.

The first skill to take with the Plague Doctor for camping is Leeches, which heals one party member, removes blight, and removes a disease from that companion. The other main skill to take is Experimental Vapours, which not only heals one party member but also increases the amount of health they receive when they are healed.

Offense

The final role, but just as important as all the others, is the main attacker. Your trips through the dungeons become drastically longer when you don't have a heavy hitter on your team. There are a number of characters that fill this role, and some of them are more effective than others depending on what dungeon you choose to adventure in. For example, the Crusader is better off in the Ruins than any other dungeon since his skills do increased damage to Unholy enemies.

[Hellion: Iron Swan, Wicked Hack, If It Bleeds, and Breakthrough]
[Hellion: Iron Swan, Wicked Hack, If It Bleeds, and Breakthrough]

The Hellion prefers to be in the first rank as all of her skills are usable from that position. Her main focus is to just deal damage, no worries about healing off damage or status... just pure offense. Iron Swan is a unique skill that allows her, from the first position, to hit the enemy in the fourth position. This is an important skill since most of the time enemy support is usually in the last two spots. Wicked Hack is her bread and butter... no gimmicks, no status, just attack damage. She can also deal bleed damage to either the second or third enemy with If It Bleeds, and with Breakthrough she can hit all enemies in the first three positions at the same time with reduced damage. She does have the ability to stun the front two enemies with Barbaric YAWP! if you favor your offensive character to have more utility. You could also switch out If It Bleeds for Bleed Out, which still inflicts bleed on the enemy in the first position, but it does more initial damage.

As far as her camping skills go they are mostly self targeting. Battle Trance gives the Hellion buffs to accuracy and damage as long as she is in the first position, and debuffs to those same stats if she is not in the first position. The other skill to take is Sharpen Spear which increases her critical chance for four combat instances.

Each character can fill multiple roles, sometimes at the same time, and it's ultimately up to you on how you want to play them. I mentioned earlier that the Jester could take on more of an aggressive role than a support role, and that's just one example. The Man-at-Arms, who can function as an offensive character, a support character, or even both, is another good example. It just comes down to team synergy.

"Gathered Close in Tenuous Firelight, and Uneasy Companionship."

It's important to understand the enemies in each area. For example, in the Ruins area the most common enemies are skeletons that have high bleed resist, so bringing a team that relies on bleeding damage is going to be ineffective. If you think that you'll be able to just go forward with the same four team members and succeed at Darkest Dungeon you're in for a rude awakening. It's advised to have at least 16 different team members you actively level up throughout your adventuring. This will make defeat less impactful, as well as offer you a multitude of different synergies to aid you through each dungeon.

I mentioned earlier that having a healer on any team is crucial early on, and that's because your heroes aren't quite prepared yet to adventure through the dungeons, but adventure they must. As you progress through the game though, an depending on your play style, you may find that the Vestal becomes more of a hindrance than a valuable part of the team.

If you favor being more aggressive, and don't want to waste too many turns not attacking, then the Man-at-Arms is a good character to consider. His skill Bolster increases all party member's dodge by five, and also increases their speed by two. You can effectively cut down on the need to heal if you're lucky with your dodge chances. He also has a skill called Command that increases the entire party's accuracy by 10% , as well as increase their critical chance by 1%. He also has a really good synergy with the Leper who has really low accuracy moves, but is a really heavy hitter.

The Man-at-Arms can easily replace the Jester as well if you're not too concerned with stress. That way you can keep the Vestal, just in case, and still be able to buff your teammates appropriately.

The Arbalest, Bounty Hunter, and Hound Master also all have good synergy together. All three have attacks that mark an enemy, and have attacks that deal increased damage to marked targets. For example, the Arbalest's Sniper's Mark marks a target and significantly reduces their dodge chance. This allows the Bounty Hunter to use Collect Bounty and deal 90% more damage to that marked target. The Hound Master could also use Hound's Rush and deal 60% more damage to that marked target as well as inflicting bleed. Synergies similar to this one allow for more effective uses of turns. Without the Arbalest or the Hound Master, the Bounty Hunter would have to mark a target for himself, wait until he could attack again, and then attack that same target for increased damage.

It's important that you understand team synergy before jumping into a dungeon. This will help you learn what each character wants to do, what they are built for, and how they fit into the teams they are on. A good understanding of each character and how they synergy together will save you in the long run.

"Overconfidence is a Slow and Insidious Killer."

The main thing to keep in mind as you play Darkest Dungeon is that you are going to lose party members and, sometimes, entire parties. This is a guarantee. There is no amount of preparation that will prevent this from happening because ultimately it's all up to chance.

So find a play style that works for you, and make sure to level up multiple parties. This is a game that rewards risks slightly, and punishes them horribly. So make sure any chance you're wanting to take is worth the outcome because it could very well spell the end for one of your heroes.

I hope this makes Darkest Dungeon a little less intimidating to new players, and a little more accessible. There are other mechanics that I either briefly mentioned (like diseases), or failed to mention at all (like hiring new heroes), so if there's anything you'd like me to go into more detail about let me know in the comments.

As always, good luck!

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