Lessons Learned from #Dungeon23

It’s 126 days into #Dungeon23, and I’ve stuck with it so far. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely had some gaps in there where I missed days or worked to fill in those gaps from before. Nevertheless, I’ve stuck with it so far, and it’s been quite a rewarding challenge.

A main thing that I’ve really picked up from it is to be less precious with what I produce. I’ve always implicitly wanted to produce something that I felt proud of. Years back, I had a print hanging of an image I’ve long since lost—it spoke of how people who produce art tend to be disappointed by what they produce and suggested that happens because we have a clear vision of what we want and what looks good but often just lack the physical skills to produce that. It suggested to focus on the good taste rather than the outcome as a means of overcoming that. That’s something I’ve started to understand better now with #dungeon23: I just don’t have the time to make everything look solid or to write excellent prompt for every room—there’s just no time for that! As a side-effect, I’ve become more accepting of all the ink smudges, bad lines, and little cover-ups that have come with this quick drafting challenge. It feels great.

As a corollary to the previous, I’ve also noticed that creativity is definitely something that can be trained. Now, having done about four months of (mostly) daily drawing, I notice that I can more quickly make decisions about my drawings. This morning, I just glanced at the last room of this week and immediately decided it was a storeroom that had basic materials and supplies, that there’d be barrels and crates, and a table for sorting. Being less precious with what I want to achieve meant I doubted less and just put pen to paper and worked as I went. As a result, there’s something on paper rather than a lot of notes.

Lastly, I’ve found how to spark my creativity. As I knew before starting #dungeon23, I’m terrible at a blank page. I’ve tried various methods know of setting up a week’s dungeon: doing nothing and just drawing day-to-day; using ChatGPT as a prompt for writing; and using various prompting tools from blogs, books, and RPG systems. I’ve found that the latter works well for me. The Tome of Adventure Design has been particularly helpful by offering as many or as few prompts as I may need to get going. Once I have those first couple of ideas going, my mind starts going.

The biggest benefit from this is that I’ve seen these tendencies now translate to other parts of my life as well. With 3D printing, I more quickly move to printing a prototype now. In organizing my desk, I just do something that works for now (I can always adjust later). In my note-taking, I’m less precious as well: I stopped caring if I use multiple pens on a page or smudge my writing, as long as the note is down.

All-in-all, I can really recommend taking part in a challenge like this: it’s been tough but that has come with some valuable lessons.

3D Printing

My wife and I recently bought a Fokoos Odin-5 F3 3D printer as a first foray into the world of 3D printing. What a wonderful decision that’s been! I’m pleasantly surprised by the sheer quality that this printer can deliver with only minimal setup.

So far, we’ve been practicing with the printer by making small, useful things, such as cable clips and holders. Currently, I’m printing a 90 and 45-degree angle drilling guide to help me hang up our smoke detectors that we’ve been just lying around so far. It’s been a really great way of quickly making a simple tool or accessory to help with things, and that’s not even tapping into the real potential here.

It was surprisingly easy as well to learn a little bit about FreeCAD and how to model for 3D printing using that. Tracy and I have had a little annoyance in never being too sure whether the dishes have been run yet or not, so this weekend I’ve designed a little pendant on a hook with “Dirty” on one side and “Clean” on the other, made to fit exactly on our dishwasher handle. It took just under an hour to actually print it, and now we have a simple solution at hand! On top of that, with 3D printing, these things feel a little less precious in and of themselves—I feel more comfortable with this quick-and-dirty prototype, because we’ll try it out and if it needs improving, I can just make a new version.

Overall, I’m really excited to seeing where we can take this!

#Dungeon23 – Week 2 Wrap-up

The second week of #Dungeon23 is over already! I’m pleasantly surprised by how easy it’s been to keep up with it so far. This week I’ve experimented more with different shading, now that I know that that Promarker that I use bleeds through the paper so much. On top of that, I tried making a very tight and closed space, to see how that works out. It felt very cramped to make a map like this, and I’m not too sure how it would work out in play; my hope is that it will create a sense of oppression and would also serve to isolate players a bit on this level.

A scan of my notebook page containing the upper floor maps of the Castle of the Hollow Apparition.

Scanning this map was actually a little tricky to do. I use a B5-sized composition notebook to do this in, and the scanner I have does not hold that comfortably. So, both scans have ended up with this little drop-off to the left and right, respectively, as that is where the notebook was outside the scanner. A secondary result was that the original scans seemed somewhat overexposed, so I had to try a bit of fiddling in Gimp to see if I could adjust the levels and brightness of the images.

Something I tried in map creation was to keep the references in red, so that they would stand out. Any flavor texts/prompts I kept in blue, whereas more referee-facing descriptions I’ve kept in black ink. Since the Promarker bleeds through so much, I tried shading with a regular pencil. In the end, it works out reasonable well in the scan, though on the paper itself it comes out as quite glossy if the light hits it just so, which I’m not a big fan of. Another thing that’s particularly visible in the storage attic is that shading most large objects makes the room look a little “floaty”—shading the objects seems to lift them from the page. I think in future shadings I’ll keep that to the walls and so in, to help the rooms themselves “sink into” the paper a little more.

Moreover, this time I tried adding a little bit more flavor and explanation to the right side of the page but, retrospectively, I think that takes away a little from the actual keys itself. On top of that, it also spreads out information about singular objects to multiple visual spaces, which I’m not that big a fan of. I think in the future, it’s better to use open space like that for random tables, as I did in the first week. That also helps provide more interesting context on its own.

Overall, after working on such a cramped space this week, I’m looking forward to using the next week to make a much larger, roomier space in the crypts. Thematically, I think that will serve an interesting contrast as well.

A scan with the notebook page containing the key for this week’s map.

I’m still struggling a bit with keying maps well enough. I’ve read through The Alexandrian’s Art of the Key series of blog posts, and in particular the second part was very helpful. I’ve also taken a hint from Question Beast’s review of Winter’s Daughter. Overall, both their advice essentially boils down to keeping keys very brief but, most of all, to-the-point and with a clear hierarchy of information. I tried writing this week’s prompts imagining the perspective of somebody walking into the space and where their attention would go as they enter it.

I’m fairly pleased by how these are going, as I think they serve to tell something of a story via the environment. However, I do think, as I mentioned above, that these would have to be combined with some manner of encounter tables to make it more actionable. Something that inspired me the past week, and that I want to experiment with, is Playful Void’s blog post Minimalist Lore. The idea of creating lore incrementally by throwing ideas out there and having them gel together at a later time sounds like a wonderfully efficient and also improvisational way of doing it. I think it also helps to reduce prep time for things that won’t be engaged with during play by only giving attention to those things that are.

Overall, in these upper floors, I’ve tried to incrementally add arcane references to the map, as well as several possibilities for players to interact with the environment in a non-sequential manner. I chose to add a lot of large windows so that players would have multiple opportunities to scale the house from the outside and enter rooms or bypass locks where needed. As an afterthought, I tried to make sure to have the flue of the fireplaces connect throughout the levels so that players could also use that to traverse between levels. The secret steeple, however, I thought nice to just have their as a secret fun addition. Clever players should realize they could reach it by observing the manor from the outside; if they don’t find it, however, nothing is amiss either.

A thing I’m particularly proud of is making the bathtub an incredibly weighty but exquisite treasure. I feel that just having piles of coins or gems around encourages people to just behave like thieves: open a cabinet, grab what’s inside, move to the next room. Making a treasure something odd, unwieldy, or unique results in the whole ordeal becoming more like a heist: the treasure is just right there in view but the real problem is how to get it and where to move it.

I look forward to building on these ideas as I go forward!

#Dungeon 23 – Week 1 Wrap-up

Today marks the first full week of #Dungeon23, with the product to show for it. It was quite an experimental week, as I had no real idea of what I was doing but I figured just power through and doing a room a day will work out for the best. I am so surprised by the final output, actually! I did not particularly set up to create a spooky manor house but that’s certainly what I ended up with as I kept going! Have a look at the map below:

The full week 1 map

And, of course, there’s a matching key to the map:

The key for week 1

Taking these pictures with my phone is a little messy; I may want to do the next one using the scanner to get a more even result.

I’ve been trying out a few different things right from the get-go, which is why the key, handwriting, and pens vary a bit as I go along. I find something charming about capital lettering in places but sometimes it doesn’t quite work out. On top of that, I’ve tried doing some shading with a Promarker but as will be visible in next week’s products, it actually bleeds through the paper significantly! Not to mention that yesterday, the marker really bled through some ink and left a big, ugly stain on the paper. Well, all adds to the charm, I guess!

My biggest challenge right now is writing an actionable key. Specifically, figuring out what makes a make really useful. Right now, it’s more of a scene with some prompts rather than something directly workable. At the same time, I haven’t tried running this, so—who knows? For all I know this gives enough to work with, really. The approach I’ve taken so far is that I want something on paper, and that’s what I’ve achieved. The way I see it is that at some point if I want to run this, I’ll have good groundwork to build on top off.

I’m really surprised by how well a more carefree attitude opens up creativity. I’ve always said that I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person—give me a sheet of blank paper and I will struggle tremendously to put something on there. However, give me a basic prompt and I can riff off of that. Having a much more carefree attitude where I don’t particularly have to put something interesting or good on paper has really opened the door to just get something down, which in turn has so far allowed me to just go with it.

On top of that, while I’ve made dungeon maps with Dungeondraft and have played around a little to draw some things on grid paper, I’ve never approached mapping on paper itself as seriously as I’ve tried right now and that’s quite interesting to see. I wonder how much daily practice will end up helping in learning how to draw. Either way, I’ve already learned some lessons in general:

Lessons Learned

BE MESSY—As soon as I’d made my first mistake on what I was working on this week, the pressure was off. I felt more free to test things out, be sloppy, and just create things.

DRAW TEXTURED WALLS—I made the walls be just a thick line (using a Pigma Micron size 08) but that starts looking monotonous rather quickly. I want to try out making textured brick-like walls and outlining them starkly.

QUICK PROMPTS IN THE MARGIN ARE COOL—It was just a spur of the moment thing but once I added the first note in the margin, I was hooked. It makes the map look as though somebody annotated it based on experience, and adds a sense of mystery without prescribing something.

GO LIGHT WITH SHADING—I got a Promarker Ice Grey 4 to shade my walls, and boy is it a dark and dominating shade! I used the regular highlighting end first, which created a really deep shadow that felt a little too big. For the next rooms I used the finer tip on the other end to create more gentle accents. Also, it bleeds through the paper of my notebook!

SKETCH THINGS OUT IN PENCIL FIRST—In retrospect this seems quite obvious but I only sketched out a single room in pencil before putting ink to paper. However, once I added the table of random draughts, I realized I wasn’t thinking about the composition as a whole. I realize that I’ll at least need a rough sketch of the map before making individual rooms.

Booklet Printing on Linux

What with the excitement going on around #Dungeon23 online, I’ve been referencing various source materials more, such as Filling in the Blanks, the Tome of Adventure Design, and the Hex Flower Cookbook, among many others. Some of these, I want on-hand as a physical product while I’m working; so, I figured to print some out and make little booklets of them to have on-hand. Surprisingly, however, printing in booklet form appears to be a little tricky in Linux!

Now, LibreOffice has a way to print brochures, as they call it, but that involves using LibreOffice Draw to edit a PDF file and not all of my PDFs can be opened with Draw. I’ve found a solution using Adobe Reader but Reader is discontinued on Linux. Reddit offers several solutions, including manually setting the print order, using Boomaga as an intermediate step, and so on. All in all, a little trickier than I figured it would have to be to just print something in booklet form!

In the end, I figured I could just make something myself. Using the advice on manual ordering from Reddit, I ended up making a quick Python script that reorders a PDf file and sends it to the printer with the right settings immediately. It was nice to see I still have enough knowledge to quickly bash together a script to do what I need without much issue. I added a few command-line argument options and made sure that I could expand the script if I ever run into missing options.

For now, it’s time to bind the copy of Filling in the Blanks!

Initial reactions to two days of #Dungeon23

It’s day 2 of 365, so my experiences are as fresh as can be. On top of that, I’m in the last week of my two-week Christmas break, so this can also give something of a distorted image. However, so far, it’s been interesting and doable.

Firstly, I’ve noticed that having my secretary desk setup is helping me stay focused and controlled. When I’m sitting at the desk, I know I sit down to write something related to RPGs, so I feel more focused than compared to, say, my desktop PC area. Secondly, having all my tools at my fingertips is stimulating to work with, as I can just reach out, open a drawer, and grab what I need.

Aside from this, my tablet has really come to its own as well as a blog-reading device. There’s so much being tweeted, tooted, blogged, and put on itch.io lately that it’s been really inspiring to see how everybody is approaching this. My tablet has really allowed me to dive into these posts in various places much better than reading on my phone allows me to do.

Drawing a map and adding quick connotations has been surprisingly quick these two days. While sitting down to make a dungeon seems like a daunting task to me, I’m tickled by how low the barrier is to just jotting down a single room. Moreover, doing this OSR style (having just a few keywords to set a theme and mood for a room) enables me to set something to paper without trying to meet a criteria I cannot reach (statting up an encounter, writing out box text, and so on).

Funnily enough, sticking to just a room per day has also sparked my imagination more than I figured. Having just drawn a quick entryway yesterday, at various times later I would have a quick bout of inspiration as to what it should lead into. I just made a quick note and moved on but this morning I could browse those notes and take the next step, which already led to more creative sparks.

Hopefully, five days from now, I’ll be able to put up the first two pages to see what the final result is.

First Experience with Tome of Adventure Design

In my preparations for #Dungeon23, I ran across a YouTube Stream by Hexed Press, where Todd makes the argument that solely making 365 separate rooms and putting them together into one larger map runs the significant risk of creating an inconsistent experience. Aside from not wanting to create a little hexcrawl with separate dungeons rather than one megadungeon, I also see the same risk in just creating separate rooms.

So, yesterday, I did a first test of using the Tome of Adventure Design to set a theme and central idea for a dungeon. I used chapter one to come up with a major location for the dungeon (“The Ancient Castle of the Hollow Apparition”—how evocative!), and then used chapter three to start fleshing out the idea a little more by generating a single-sentence backstory along with clue, rumor, and note prompts. In just a short while, with a few dice rolls, I had a skeleton of an adventure in my hands. Not only does this give me good handholds to work with, it also made the idea travel in a direction I normally never think of: the dungeon is not just a place under a cool-sounding castle but the prompts also tie in a legal dispute, receipts, ownership issues, and so on. So now it’s not just a castle but also tied into a smaller world around it.

This has been so tremendously helpful to me. I’ve found that I struggle coming up with something just from a blank sheet of paper; I tend to need something to work off of. These prompts are broad enough yet evocative enough to help give the necessary impetus for me to start working with it. I’m interested in using the rest of chapter three to see what their actual map generation prompts are like.

Lastly, two days ago I bought a lovely second-hand secretary desk that I just love work on:

The secretary desk midway through generating some prompts

It has been so enjoyable having a wonderful workspace dedicated to working with pen and paper. Also, my tablet is really starting to shine in that workspace for its form factor and ease of use—it’s a wonderful reference device while I’m working on things there.

Hex Crawl Design

While reading up on hex crawl design procedures, I ran into this lovely blog post from The Welsh Piper about hex-based campaign design. I like the design procedure they’ve written up there and I may try this out to make a hex map. On top of that, the images there, made with Worldographer, look quite appealing to me.

I’m not a big fan of the 5-mile sub-hexes combining to a 25-mile atlas hex; I prefer a 6-mile hex ever since reading a good worked-out example of them over on the Hydra’s Grotto that made the maths work out nice and simply. Dyson’s attempt at drawing out a six-mile hex confirms that 6 miles has the right amount of area to contain interesting things.

The only thing up for debate is what the abstraction layer should be: 6-mile hexes combining into a 36-mile atlas hex? 6-mile hexes breaking down into 1-mile subhexes? Both? I guess the best way to find out is to make all of it and see how it works out.

Building up resources for #Dungeon23

I’ve been looking around to help prepare for #Dungeon23 and give myself the best chance of success going forward. Having ideas and structures in place ahead of time will help lower the threshold daily, particularly since I know there’ll be days where I’m tired or pressed.

The first handy resource that I’ve found is a collection of resources (why do repeat work if others have already researched things?). Andrew Duvall has created a wonderful page of prompts, blog posts, work sheets, and more, which itself contains links to other gatherings of resources.

I’ve gotten a few resources, such as the 1e DMG to help generate random dungeons, Filling in the Blanks to help ease the creation of a hexcrawl, and the Tome of Adventure Design to help with generating randomized prompts overall.

If I end up with material that I want to digitize, I already had the wonderful Hex Kit from a previous itch.io bundle, as well as both Wonderdraft and Dungeondraft to help with map creation.

And what good luck that just yesterday I finally found a nice second-hand secretary desk of the style that I’ve been trying to find for quite a while now. They’ll be bringing it over on Wednesday, and once we actually managed to get it up the stairs, I’ll have a nice, dedicated writing space as well.


I recently came across an interesting concept posted on Twitter by the name of #Dungeon23. Sean McCoy suggested a challenge for 2023 to make a single room of a dungeon for every single day of the year. It seems immensely daunting on first glance—a dungeon room every single day?!—but something about it seemed alluring to me. In particular, the following bit of advice from that post bolstered me:

The greatest creative advice I ever got was “have something to show for your time.” I’ve found a lot of success on always shipping projects every year. This is one of those projects, once you realize you can create a dungeon of this magnitude, your whole world opens up with what you can do. And it’s insanely fun too!

Sean McCoy, about #Dungeon23

The bugbear that tends to prevent me from starting projects is the undermining thought that somehow I have to produce something that’s “good”. Consistently, I’ve found that to be a fundamental untruth; whenever your aim is to produce something, it has to be just and only that: something. So, that’s what appeals me about this idea as well. The idea is just to make a little thing each day and see the compound interest on that repeated action. Sean points out a little earlier than the previous quote:

If you can’t think of what to write that day just write “Empty Room,” see how easy that is?

365 rooms written like “3 orcs, 25 gold pieces.” is better than 5 rooms written like “In this beautiful hand carved obsidian room sit 3 orcs arguing over a dice game. 25gp sit on the table, each of them…” See what I’m getting at? The goal is the finish line. Just get to the finish line. Trust me.

Sean McCoy, about #Dungeon23

I’ve gone ahead and gotten a Leuchtturm1917 B5 Composition softcover notebook to work in, both because I like having a dedicated item for a specific job as well as that working manually helps focus me better than digital work. It’s the first time I’ve worked in a B5-sized notebook, and I have to say I’m loving the sizing and paper quality of this thing. I specifically went for the dotted paper version so that it can be a good fit for both writing as well as drawing.

Today, I see that people have been expanding the concept, branching off into hashtags like #City23 or #Hex23, though I agree with the voices suggesting to bundle it all under #Dungeon23. Nevertheless, I enjoy the idea of using this impetus to not make a single megadungeon but rather to make it a hexcrawl adventure with multiple dungeons. The only thing I haven’t worked out yet is what the consequence ends up being for the “thing per day” mindset (i.e. how many of those are dungeon rooms and how many hexes?).