Early thoughts for #Dungeon23

If you’ve read 2400 (or are wondering when I’ll ever finish or revise my various other long games), you know I find it easiest to make RPGs in bite-sized chunks. No wonder that I was immediately excited by Sean McCoy’s #Dungeon23 idea — building a 12-level, 365-room megadungeon, one day at a time for a year.

In addition to using it as an excuse to buy a fancy notebook (it’s a business expense!), I intend to use this to get me to finish a project that has long seemed too daunting to even start: a soulslike campaign adventure across several maps.

My ideas are still sketchy, but here’s what I’m thinking so far.

My own take on “soulslike adventure.” By “soulslike,” I do NOT mean a faithful or official adaptation of the Dark Souls video games, but something clearly inspired by many of its tropes, as I describe in another post here.

I’ve made a few micro-RPGs — Grave, Searchers of Lost Souls, and Exhumed — largely focused on how to adapt D&D-ish rules for some of my personal favorite soulslike tropes, including repeated deaths and souls as both currency and XP. But running these rules isn’t enough for a game to feel “soulslike,” in my opinion. And only one of those micro-RPGs has an actual adventure — a very short one, in the style of a tutorial dungeon.

The most fun I had with soulslike campaigns have paired those rules tropes with environmental storytelling in a lonely, crumblung world. It should be sprinkled with creepy little weirdos — most who want to kill you, and some who want to sell you moss — and the occasional gargantuan monstrosity. There should be secret areas, encouraging you to explore every corner and enlist aid from strangers. It should feel part of something bigger and unknowable, but logical in its own way, with truths to uncover if you look closely enough.

So that’s what I aim to make this year.

Twelve(ish) areas. Smaller than the worlds of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls (around 20 locations each with names appearing on-screen as you enter), but enough for my purposes, I think. Each week, a space in that area — a wing of a castle, a floor of a tower, etc. (If one month were something like the Tower of Latria, for instance, week 1 might be the Prison of Hope, week 2 Upper Latria, etc.)

Each area should connect directly to the others, as in Dark Souls and Elden Ring. I envision a vertical map akin to (if rougher than) Judson Cowan’s rendition of the Dark Souls map, reproduced below.

Vertical map of locations in Dark Souls video game
Laudate Solis by Judson Cowan – prints available from artist

I’m starting by redoing the tunnels and undercroft from Exhumed, and moving onto the area hinted at in that adventure (a “sculpture garden” of statues petrified by a giant basilisk). I have a provisional list of other locations, some adapted from running Exhumed and Grave in the past, culminating in a descent into the underworld to bar the gates of the dead (or claim the Demon Prince’s throne, if you prefer).

I will practice restraint and limit myself to only one poison swamp.

Piecemeal lore. As I go, I’ll sprinkle in bits of dialog, documents, and item descriptions offering clues about why the world is in ruins, why demons and the dead walk the earth, and why people seem to think the PCs are personally destined to do something about it.

Someday I’d like to make a deck of item cards, each with flavor text, to make inventory management easier to track, and to make those bits of lore in item descriptions easier to refer back to. But for now, I’ll just focus on doing a wee bit of writing each day, gradually getting the ideas out of my head and onto the page.

Rules agnostic, for now. I’m not thinking about the system right now. I’d change my mind a dozen times over the course of the year, and have weirdly mismatched stats for creatures throughout my notebook.

For now I’ll just use phrases that would be easy enough to interpret for different D&Dish systems, like “bonus,” “penalty,” and maybe “HP” or “level.” Maybe something like…

  • Hit: successful attack in Knave, damaging beyond HP in Into the Odd
  • Strong hit: as above, but on a high damage roll (over half of max)
  • Crititical hit: crit definition as specific to Knave or Into the Odd

I want to keep creature descriptions focused on what they’re like and what they do. A gargoyle damages as usual on hit, and its stony skin damages one of your items on a strong hit. That kind of thing.

Keep each entry brief. Getting a bit done every day is the goal, but I must be kind to myself when I am sick. Catching up on a few days should be no great chore.

If all else fails, I can throw something in from pre-written lists of generic gear, garbage, and set dressing. You need some empty vases to smash to pieces so it’s a nice surprise when one actually has something useful inside.

Try not to get too obsessed with stationary. I bought the same brand of planner that Sean McCoy mentioned using. I figured the goal was to not think too much about the details of this process.

Hand holding a 2023 planner with illustrations of a record player, metal bird, boots, letters
I thought the cover was charmingly odd

But oh, man, this sent me down a rabbit hole (with no help escaping from my stationary-loving spouse). There are a lot of cool notebooks out there. Maybe I’ll buy one with a dotted grid instead for another project someday. If this process actually works for me, I could see using it to tackle a space station for 2400, or even a fully fleshed out campaign for Data Loss.

Get started. I’m not sure how much to prep in advance, but I’ve taken some notes, and I have years of ideas kicking around in my head. I think I’ll just hit the ground running this week and figure it out as I go. Seems like a better plan than just thinking “wouldn’t it be cool if someday…” indefinitely, right?

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