#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.

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?).

RPGaDay 2022 #13

How would you change the way you started RPGing?

RPGaDay prompt #13, from The Autocratik Blog

What an interesting question—it assumes that there is a particular thing I would want to change about it. If I had to change something, I think it would have been nice if instead of starting with 3rd edition, I would have had my beginnings earlier in the tabletop space rather than with the cRPG system. I’m now finding more and more interest in the OSR, and find it suits my ideas about how to play relatively well.

Another thing that might have been interesting is making more use of all the time I had as a kid to create more adventures and DM myself. As the saying goes: youth is wasted on the young.

RPGaDay 2022 #12

Why did you start RPGing?

RPGaDay prompt #12, from The Autocratik Blog

I would think that the answer to this should be self-evident: it was fun! I knew from Baldur’s Gate that I enjoyed what was essentially a fantasy novel where you could make choices for the protagonist and see the story play out from there. Where cRPGs offered a directed and restricted gameplay, tabletop RPGs promised full freedom in interaction between players and DMs. Essentially, tabletop RPGs offered much more than cRPGs ever could (and have to this very day).

Secondary benefits of RPGs ended up being a solid reason to meet up with friends on a regular basis, experimenting with different roles and ideas, as well as escaping from everyday stress every now and then.

RPGaDay 2022 #11

If you could live in a game setting, where would it be?

RPGaDay prompt #10, from The Autocratik Blog

Ooh, that’s a tough question! So many different games imply settings and there are so many different types of settings per game. Most of the settings I’m familiar with are also there to facilitate some manner of conflict; after all, many games are based on the premise of overcoming some kind of conflict. While most also provide some manner of hand-waving to abstract or eliminate the pressures of capitalism, it’s still a present force in a lot of game worlds as well.

Some game settings are easy to cross out right away. World of Darkness (including Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage)? No, thank you! I prefer not to be the plaything of supernatural creatures. Call of Cthulhu? Nope! No cyclopean horrors for me, thank you very much. Burning Wheel provides a setting that’s medievalesque in nature but more bleak and oppressive than the actual Middle Ages (despite representation in popular media, life in the medieval period was by and large not that bad at all). Paranoia? Our non-machine rules are insane enough as it is!

Worlds like Pathfinder’s Golarion are appealing to some degree. Golarion seems to have as a premise that almost anybody can become an adventurer and adventurers are powerful free agents in what otherwise tends to be a medievalesque setting. Moreover, the regions in Golarion are also tuned to be so different that you could find almost any type of culture and habitat you’d want in there. On top of that, there’s plenty of magic around to heal illnesses and stave off death. However, it’s still fundamentally capitalist in nature. Sure, after just an adventure or two, the average hero will have more money than most villages but there’s still a whole capitalist system of oppression that will surely someday come grind everything down. Let alone that Golarion has at least a dozen world-ending disasters that need constant battling from heroes on any given day.

So, while I have to admit a naive part of me would want to go to a Pathfinder or D&D world to live in that wonderful blind nostalgia to a Middle Ages that never was, a more realistic part would rather live in a setting as suggested by Ryuutama, which is positive, uplifting, accepting, and so on. Ideally, I’d live in the setting of FreeMarket: a post-capitalist world where people live forever, diseases have been eradicated, and all people’s basic needs are met. A world where your existence is driven by hopes, dreams, and passions. A world where every being gets basic respect and the universe is open for us to experience and learn from.