Image: Wizards of the Coast
A new craze is sweeping across tabletop RPG twitter, and game designers and players are all getting in on planning #Dungeon23–a commitment to create a megadungeon in 2023 by creating a new room every single day. The premise is simple, but a blank page can often be the death of creativity. Here’s how to get started, and how to stay motivated.
What is Dungeon23?
Dungeon23 is a daily writing practice that is built around game design. Every day the participant will design another room in a dungeon, and at the end of the week they will have a complete level. The next week starts the process over until you have 52 dungeon levels. Sean McCoy of Tuesday Knight Games, the press behind the award-winning TTRPG, Mothership created the challenge almost on accident, with a tweet about his newest project and an image of his notebook. But the indie TTRPG scene is nothing if not excitable and easily swayed by a challenge, and McCoy’s personal goal quickly gained traction across Twitter.
However, this isn’t a strict challenge–the ultimate goal of #Dungeon23 isn’t to adhere to rules in order to definitely crank out a megadungeon at the end of 2023. The goal here is to write a little bit every day, to attempt to create something new, and to challenge yourself to be creative. As designer Vidita Voleti (Bloodbeam Badlands) mentioned on twitter, you could skip 100 days, just over 3 months, and still end up with a megadungeon of 250 rooms. The ethos of Dungeon23 isn’t that you must create something every day, it’s that you make space for writing, even if it’s a catch-up hour every Sunday.
There’s another part of Dungeon23 that’s slightly buried under the lede, but should be obvious to anyone who’s ever run (or really even played) a dungeon crawler–it doesn’t have to be a dungeon. You could create a city where each day is a house on the block, so every week you get a couple new streets, and at the end of the month you’ve got a whole neighborhood. Designers Zedeck Siew (A Thousand Thousand Islands) and Richard Ruane (Barrow Keep) are both creating cities with factions built into the design. I really admire Siew’s illustrative map, which has a lot of simple depth, is deliberately contained by the premise and still shows Siew’s own design aesthetic as well as clearly demonstrating hallmarks of Southeast Asian architecture.
This is the real beauty of Dungeon23, and the trick to a lot of daily writing exercises. The trick is to make it fun for you, to create something that you are excited to create. It can be a dungeon, or a city, or a space station, a series of inter-connectedm abandoned transit systems, an everlasting afterlife. Dungeon23 is what you make it.
How do you create your own Dungeon23?
Every day, hopefully. Jokes aside, the premise is pretty simple. Every day (more or less), you create a ‘room’ in a dungeon, with maybe a few hallways and doors. Draw it. Describe what’s in the room, but keep it short and sweet. A sentence or two at most. If you want to add environmental details, baddies, loot, hidden passages, go ahead. Just a few details are all that’s needed.
I recommend thinking beforehand about the kind of vibe you want–are you going for a classic dungeon crawl? Are you trying to make the kind of dungeons that will kill every adventurer (I have truly loved designing Death Dungeons), or are you trying to encourage exploration. Do you want to make a dungeon at all? The possibilities for this kind of design are really up to you, driven entirely but the kinds of worlds and games that you’re interested in creating.
Game designer Rue Dickey, for example, is creating “Carnival23,” writing carnival games, shops, attractions, and NPCs. Each week could be a different theme–one week for games, one week for shops, another for the more traditional map-drawing dungeon. Personally, I’m thinking of creating my own Dungeon23, and I’ve always been really drawn to Appalachian themes and vaguely supernatural vibes (I’ve even written games about it!), so a series of interconnected hollers and trails within the mountains might be the way I go about the challenge. The point here is to have fun with it.
McCoy offers some tips on his substack for Dungeon23, but I think the most important one is “don’t overthink it.” Seriously.
What do you use?
You can use whatever you want! Pandion Games is producing a physical DungeonYear notebook, and has offered all the files digitally for free, but any notebook will do. Other designers are using weekly planning notebooks that have the week on the left for blank/dotted/grid pages on the right hand side for drawing the dungeon rooms. I would recommend finding a notebook that has thick paper (>80 GSM) in order to prevent ink bleeding through the pages, but this is absolutely not necessary.
Definitely start with using a pencil for the actual dungeon rooms until you finalize everything at the end of the week. Otherwise, pick up whatever pens you want and get going! Additionally, there are plenty of people who are doing this on their computers, using a word processor or even an excel spreadsheet. Kandi Jeanne is using World Anvil as a way to record their Dungeon23 project, which takes place in a future post apocalyptic Philadelphia.
I need some inspiration, what do I do?
There is nothing wrong with creating a traditional dungeon, and honestly, if you get three weeks into #Dungeon23 and decide to switch it up, there is literally nothing stopping you from doing so. Maybe you decide to go for a sci-fi Martian terraforming colony, or you have a great idea for a slasher-themed college campus. The point here is to follow the fun, wherever that leads you.
I would recommend thinking about a theme and a location and start building from there. Maybe jot down a few ‘touchstones’ or inspirations. You can use books, movies, shows, pieces of art, music, or even other games that you want to use as a general vibe check for your writing. Touchstones can also be adjectives or feelings–what do you want your players to feel? What do you want this dungeon to evoke?
How about this? Your #Dungeon23 is an armada of ships. Every week is a new level of a ship, but ships can be one level, two, three… however many levels you need it to be. Are you going pirate or working on a military outfit? Spaceship or watercraft? Are you going for a waterworld apocalypse or a Treasure Planet sci-fi sailboat? All it takes are a few questions and you’ve got some key touchstones for your whole year. Or a month, or two, or three, at least until you change your mind and figure out a new set of levels you can work on.
The details can be figured out later, when they come to you. What’s important for Dungeon23 is that you do it. Even if you skip days or you start over or you only get three months in, the goal is to create something, to get one step further along than you used to be, and to develop your writing skills. It’s about practice, not perfection.
To be honest, you do not have to identify a game for your dungeon, but if it helps when developing your ideas, go for it.
Don’t want to make a dungeon? Great! Here are some ideas for a Dungeon23 that are still suited to a room/store/item/place-a-day theme.
Space StationA mega-prison/panopticon (I’m thinking Bitch Planet)A PalaceA CityA forest/desert/ocean/swampA themeparkMegayacht/Cruise shipA massive tree that reaches to the stratosphere
Good luck, game masters, dungeoneers, and writers! I’ll see you all on the other side.
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