Friday, February 3, 2023

Entering the dungeon for real. Honest. Yeah, I mean it.


anuary is now in the rearview mirror, and I survived the first month of #Dungeon23 is over. Truth be told, I did not accomplish as much as I hoped I would. I immediately blew up what I had done within the first week of January, so much of the work went to waste. However, this did have an upside. It allowed me to rethink what I wanted, leading to a shift in focus for my first level. So what did I accomplish? Here is the rundown.

  • A new plot sets the overall theme of the project.
  • The creation of a keep that serves a few roles.
    • The base for a group of bandits plaguing the area.
    • A mystery that links to what lies below.
    • A piece of plot that will have ramifications for the plot.
    • An entry point into the dungeon.
  • Creating the village Elias' Spring which serves a few roles.
    • Homebase for the player's characters.
    • A location for the various groups to have agents hidden in.
  • Developing four major factions that will play essential roles in the plot.
  • A rough idea, at least for me, of the area outside Elias' Spring and the dungeon.

Looking at the list, I realize I have accomplished a lot. Although, at the time, it did not seem that way.

Now that I am three days into February, I have entered the dungeon. As shown in the picture, I have mapped out the first 10 rooms. Yes, I know, there are a lot of empty ones. Why? One of the stumbling blocks in creating a dungeon is trying to fill every room with something. This leads to a menagerie. Every room has something that does not fit the dungeon's theme. That is why when I design a dungeon--ok, it has been ages since I have done this--I always leave rooms empty. I do this so I have spots I can fill on the fly. Numbered spaces, for me, become set encounters, and these encounters trigger when the characters enter them. My empty rooms come into play when the players need a jolt or if I get struck with inspiration. I will create a table allowing the empty rooms to be randomly filled with something fitting that level's theme.

What happens when I reach February 12? The round room to the left of Room 10 has a set of stairs that takes you down a few feet into the rest of level 2. Yes, level 2 drops down a few feet and then continues. Why? I do not know yet; the idea came to me. When I get to 2/12 and 2/13, I will figure it out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

My imagination runs wild and as such Richardtopia is born


o matter what, there is one thing in life you can count on, designers love to design. This designer is no different, and despite my current #Dungeon23 project, I am working on a few new releases for Rogue Games. I am also working on Project Phoniex

As I wrote about last week, I take a different approach to the first level of a dungeon. The surrounding area is just as important because it offers more challenges for players. It also provides a place to set action outside the dungeon that affects inside the prison. Additonky, the world outside the dungeon is vital due to needing a village or settlement that the players can use as a resting spot for their characters.

Welcome to lovely Richardtopia

For my dungeon, that location is the village of Elias' Spring. I described some of the business on January 20 (week three of the project). I will write about that on Friday; I am using it as a prologue to this post. With the noting out of Elias' Spring, I started thinking about where the village is located worldwide. I did a few rough sketches and then began fleshing things outward. I was only going to keep the area small. Still, my imagination got the better of me, and the region got larger...much more extensive. How large? Look to the right.

So I got carried away. Why? I let my imagination run and thought about the plot I was setting up. The story, though small at first, will have much more significant ramifications for the region, or world, as a whole. One of the critical things about this rough region is that it has the three things I love most: extensive forests, mountains, and many lakes. How they play into the main plot, I have yet to learn. All of these features give me spots that can inspire adventures.

And no, I am still determining what I will name this place. But, for now, it is dubbed Richardtopia.

Friday, January 20, 2023

A new direction leads to a better dungeon


 ast week, I wrote about how I blew up my progress and restarted my work. It was a decision I did not take lightly. Honestly, it was something I did not want to do. However, the more I worked on the dungeon, the more I truly hated what I was creating. So I pulled the trigger and blew the whole thing up.

picture of this week's journal pages

While standing in the ruins, I rethought the whole thing and worked out the project's overall theme. Then, with the theme in mind, the background came into focus. To be honest, I had a rough idea of what the background is. After all, the title of this project is The Temple of the Lost Flameso it gives you an idea of what we are in for.

Once all of the rethinking was over, everything clicked, and the work was fun and on track. The first thing I created was a small keep that served as a base for a group of bandits. These bandits have no clue what lies below them. In addition, one of the rooms in the keep is only accessed via a room in the lower levels of the dungeons. This has been part of my plans since the start, and I have now made it better.

Over the next few days, my next task will be fleshing out the small village of Elias' Spring. This village is going to serve two purposes. The first is the most obvious. It will be a home base for the players while they explore and deal with the threat the dungeon is. The second purpose is how it ties into my overall plot. 

Sure, a home base is essential, but equally important is having locations outside of the dungeon that serves the plot. For example, the village will have people spying on things for those working on their nefarious plot. In addition, there are bandits in the area, and a town is a crucial tie-in.

The last thing on my list is a rough map of the general area. This will help me figure out critical locations outside the dungeon that serves as other ways in and out. Also, I need a general idea of the surrounding area for the bandits to work.

So why is there no dungeon level this month? There is.

I have always considered the area outside of the dungeon as being Level 1. It is here that the players get the feel of things. Think of it as their warmup for the main event. Once the 1st level is "done," the players are ready to descend into the danger below.

Looking at where things stand now, everything above ground will be finished by the end of the month. Then I can deal with the fun stuff.

That is where we are this week. Next week might have a few posts dealing with other topics.

Friday, January 13, 2023

From the ruins


 mentioned last week how I hated what I had created and how it affected my not being happy with my work. Instead of giving up, I changed course and rethought the first level. By doing this, I created something I like better. 

Sitting down and thinking about what I wanted to do before I did it, I realized that the first level of any dungeon needs to be the hook that sucks you in. Without that first level, you lack a clear idea of where you want things to go. Just randomly starting with a 10x10 square room and putting something in there does not give you an exciting dungeon.

My work on this project has one important rule:

Do not look at the past.

It looks pretty funny coming from the one who created Colonial Gothic. Yet I needed to set this in stone and keep it in mind. There are many, many, many, many, many megadungeons out there. The temptation exists to look at them and study the structure of the whole thing. This is dangerous.


Simple, they influence you when designing. I've played and run The Temple of Elemental Evil a few times. I am going to need help remembering what I know. However, if I went back to reread it, I knew it would subconsciously affect my design.

Where does my project stand with all of that out of the way? Since blowing everything up, the first level begins in a keep held by bandits. Slowly developing, these bandits have tied some way into the plot surrounding the dungeon.

One surprising thing that surprised me is another group that is active in the dungeon appeared that I should have accounted for. I jotted down the notes for the three factions and knew they would be a significant subplot for the jail.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Blowing it up


 follow one important rule when it comes to games I design.  That rule is simple and has  served me to great effect over the years. The origin of this rule dates back to the time I was  freelancing. I was working on a project -- which got killed due to the company going under -- that was sucking the joy out of my soul. Every word was a chore. Every sentence felt like I was pulling teeth. The draft sucked. I rewrote the draft five times, and I hated every word. To say I was miserable is an understatement. 

Cut to a few years later, and I found myself in a job I never thought I would have. I was working with a historic property. One of the founding fathers called me all day to discuss game design. I loved this job, but the job was built on a shaky foundation. No matter how much I loved the property, I did not love working on it. In the aftermath of this, Rogue Games was born. 

In setting up the company, two rules were created. These rules guide everything; no matter what I write, these rules are always there. What are these rules?

1. Our hobby fuels the hobby of others.

2. The setting defines the rules; the rules do not define the setting.

 The first rule is critical. If I am not having fun with what I am working on, those who play the final product will not have fun either. Of course, some laugh at me when I talk about fun, but fun is the key.

I mention all this to tell you I hate what I have created. Yes, hate is a strong word, but as I look over what I have done over the past five days, I genuinely do not like what I see. The dungeon is just a collection of rooms, and nothing is inspiring about them. The map is insipid and has no character. 

Now, I could push on. I might find the plot and have a better dungeon. Yet, I won't. Why I am not having any fun. This really bothered me all day yesterday and made my bad mood worse. But, while reading Multi-Field Inflation from String Theory by Per Berglund and Guoqin Ren, everything cleared.

I found the dungeon. I found the hook. I found the fun.

So as of today, I have started over. A ruined castle. It is from here that everything begins. With this new outlook and starting place, the dungeon is now fun.

So today's entry begins the new outlook. From here on out, my path is clear.

Fun is important. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The third day inside the dungeon

One of the rules I have set for myself is that I will only spend a little time on this project. I have things requiring my full attention, and I do not need a distraction. That does not mean I am not going to do a dungeon room a day -- or something related to it -- it means I am not going to blog about my progress daily.


Mainly, it is tedious. Day after day, sharing a room with the brief notes I have, is dull. I would not want to read something like that, and I assume neither would you.

Another reason for this is I just do not have it in me.

Still, I know people enjoy seeing progress, so I plan to share what happens every few days. That way, you can see that I am working, and it forces me to not go silent while working on this.

With that out of the way, here is what I have so far.

The first thing you notice is simple: I suck at maps.

Only some people are as talented as Dyson, and I will not attempt to mimic that style. Sure I can use one of the few dungeon map generators out there, but that takes the fun out of doing this. The charm of dungeons is taking a pencil and letting your imagination wander. Allowing the computer to generate one randomly for you kills the fun. I loved taking pencil to graph paper as a kid and letting my imagination run wild. So that is what I am doing here.

One last thing; tools. As a follow-up to my previous post, I have assembled the rest of my tools. So, if you want to know what I use, here they are.

Picture one is a To Do list and the first of three notebooks I will use. As you see from the title, this one covers any notes I want to jot down. I am also a nerd, and I indicate the date I started it and number it to keep things organized.

Pictures two and three show you the other two notebooks. They also have the start date and book number indicated on the cover.

Picture four is my writing pouch and my writing tools.

Picture five is everything together. The leather cover is one of my favorite things. It has three elastic strings, which allow for one book each. It has enough room to keep my planner and a pad of sticky notes. The elastic band provides for everything to be secured in one spot.

That is the three-day summary, and three rooms are done so far.

Will I continue creating the dungeon?

Will I continue blogging about it?

Will I go make myself a cup of coffee?

Tune in next time for the answers to this and all questions.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Assembling my thoughts and tools

Well, tomorrow, the journey begins. I am still determining what to expect, and I will have something by this time next year. What? We'll find out together. More than anything I have designed, this will be in real-time. I don't know how I feel about this. 

That got a little deep.

Moving on.

I have assembled the two most essential tools for this journey.

The first is the notebook.

Muji is one of my favorite makers of planners, notebooks, and writing tools. I like the design and the thought put into functionality. Unfortunately, though nothing replaces my love of Moleskine for this project, they did not have what I needed.

The second thing I assembled is my writing tools.

Pretty simple.

Tonight sees the end of 2022, and tomorrow sees the start of this project.

Happy New Year, everyone.