Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Retreading DUNGEON!

Last night I was tired and feeling a little mopey and “blah” about my 5AK game. Maybe that’s not what came across in my post, but that’s what I was feeling.

F that noise.

I mean, listen: everyone involved in a creative endeavor (writing books, writing music, producing a film, whatever) has moments when they say, “what the heck am I doing?!” You really can’t control these feelings (I mean, they ARE feelings after all)…but intellectually you have to know that’s going to happen and just push on through. Because birthing your art is tough (even when your art IS crappy or hack work as is sometimes the case), and it is very easy to get stopped in your tracks by second-thought anxieties and ridiculous worries. If you let those feelings control your actions (as opposed to your mind) you can end up with a lot of projects sitting on shelves gathering dust…possibly depriving others of the enjoyment of your creative ideas.

It’s happened to me more than a few times.

[just by the way, some people will wail at the sky and ask Why O Why were humans created with feelings then, if they’re just going to get in the way at times like this? What purpose do they serve? Well, first off they are incredibly important in other aspects of our lives…such as relating to our fellow human beings…but ALSO they are an important part of the creative process itself. Without an injection of feeling your art runs the risk of “lacking humanity,” i.e. being so cold as to turn folks off or (at least) not “firing them up” in any way that they care to continue to experience your works. Hmm…that’s probably a little too esoteric for this discussion; the POINT is, they’re GOOD THINGS that need to be harnessed, not given free rein]

Anyway, here’s the intellectual truth: 5AK is a vanity project, which is to say it is a product of MY vanity. Some people will dig it and some people will not regardless of its quality (i.e. regardless of whether it’s a masterpiece or a piece of shit). It’s the same with everyone. I can recognize the time, work, and effort that goes into the gorgeous coffee table books WotC passes off as RPGs…but I don’t need another gorgeous coffee table book (I have too many gathering dust in my house as it is, mostly ones having to do with Egypt or swords…that’s just my thang), so I’m not going to buy ‘em. Some people will refuse to buy my books strictly because they are NOT gorgeous coffee table books. And a lot of people won’t get ‘em because…well, because they don’t need them and/or they’re not interested in the subject matter.

I can’t control that kind of thing, anymore than WotC can control my purchase of their merchandise. The price point thing IS an issue, but it’s a doable one. The fact of the matter is this: I have the money to finance my vanity project and finance it I shall. Hustling…um…"marketing it successfully" is on me, and I hope to do much more of it then I did with my last book (*ahem*). I don’t have to worry about “making my money back” because the money I’m fronting isn’t coming out of my family’s savings account (not that we have any money in our savings account…). My main worry is making ENOUGH money to finance the next book…but you know what? I can always release future books as eBooks, or print-on-demand, so even that is a moot worry. Having books on the shelves of my local game shop is simply another mark of my vanity…makes me feel like a real life game company or something.

I need to stop being so vain.
; )

So that’s that…now, back to Dungeon! There’s a part of me that was wondering last night, if my whole interest in D&D (and RPGs in general) is indeed a “nostalgia thing;” some sort of subconscious longing for my childhood. And I don’t just mean “back when I was a kid playing D&D with my buddies;” I’m talking about being a LITTLE kid, playing games with my parents.

The Dungeon! board game (my “gateway drug” to D&D) has been on my mind the last few days, especially considering its similarities to CHAINMAIL (the original “system” used in Arneson’s Blackmoor, which was the basis for the Dungeon! board game), and my own use of the CHAINMAIL system as the basis for 5AK.

I can still remember sitting around the dining room table, rolling plastic green dice with my brother and mother, long before I ever opened my first magenta box of Basic Dungeons & Dragons.

And we played the hell out of Dungeon! back in the day…my brother and I, anyway. So much so that we memorized the rules (including the combat tables, which I can still recite from memory). I’ve hung onto my Dungeon! game…now more than 30 years old…and have managed to keep it mostly together, having played it as recently as last year with some of the guys down at the Baranof (I won, of course, ‘cause I’m, like, awesome).

Well, I should say I managed to keep it together until RECENTLY…the last time I looked at it, the only thing I was only missing three treasure cards and the rule sheets (the latter of which were unnecessary due to the aforementioned memorization). However, I opened the box a couple days ago (I wanted to do some comparisons between the target attack numbers and CHAINMAIL…yes, I am a total nerd) and found a huge swaths of cards missing…like HALF the fifth and sixth level treasure cards! WTF?!

I didn’t realize how emotionally attached to the damn thing I was until I saw that it was now missing enough pieces to make it fairly unplayable. I’m still not sure what happened. My suspicion is that my son got into the box (he likes to open boxes…especially board game boxes…and play with the components), and then the nanny packed it up and put it in the closet where I found it (which is not where I remember putting it). I was fairly upset at the time…I even went so far as to create an eBay account so I could bid on a new (used) copy of the board game.

Sheer ridiculousness and overblown reaction on my part. Now, a few days later, I am much more cooler in the head (I was eventually outbid on eBay, thank goodness…I need that money for printing costs!), and I realize that while Dungeon! may be my favorite parlor game of all time (and may be the subconscious psychological foundation of my gaming hobby…I am a great dungeon designer, IMO, if a fairly terrible hand with the maps), it’s still unsatisfactory in some ways. Not terribly so…it’s replay quality is high (as my decades-long love affair can attest) as is its “fun factor” its inherent competitiveness and its setting (I think the board design is my favorite thing about the game). But even so, I’ve now turned my critical “designer’s eye” on the game and I see some “adjustments” that I’d like to make.

I’m thinking of redesigning Dungeon!

Well, “redesigning” isn’t the right word. “Retreading” would be more accurate. Basically, I’m thinking I’d like to create my own cards for the thing. Yes, I’m sure that missing 20-30+ cards might have something to do with my inspiration…but there it is. And, yes, I realize there are new editions of Dungeon! that already have owl bears (and include new character types, etc.)…but I don’t need a new Dungeon! board game. I have the board. I have the pieces. I have the plastic green dice. And I told you I’ve still got the rules memorized. All I need to play is a complete set of cards…and rather than buy a whole new set (off eBay or not), why not take the opportunity to use my “design sensibilities” to create my own?

That’s what I’m thinking about today. I know it’s not role-playing. I know it doesn’t have to do with anything “important” going on in my gaming world right now. But sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants…that whole “feelings” thing again. And while I wait for my art to come in on CDF, and my dice to get manufactured for 5AK, and my proof-readers to get there edits back to me…well, I think it’s okay for me to take a break and a breather for a moment to “follow my joy.”

Specifics to follow.
: )


  1. A home-brewed expansion to Dungeon sounds like an amazing idea. Hmmm... now you have me thinking.

  2. I've been playing Dungeon alot lately, so I'll be interested in seeing what you come up with.

    A few links that might interest you:
    The Dungeons of Pasha Cada (prototype of Dungeon with more monsters from Chainmail)

    Dungeon with Chainmail (analysis of monsters of Dungeon vs Chainmail, author ended up creating a Dungeon-like game based on Chainmail called Delver's Quest)

    Prototype of DIY monster card for Dungeon

  3. "I know it doesn’t have to do with anything “important” going on in my gaming world right now."

    I dunno. Over this side of the sea it was Heroquest that filled the Dungeon! role, and someone making new material for that would be bigger news (to me) than more Classic D&D material.
    That's not to say anyone should stop making material for the retro-clones and derivatives, as there is some great stuff out there, just that new adventures, expansions, and cards for a Heroquest clone would be pretty novel - as I guess will be your Dungeon retread.

  4. I bought a copy for a buck at a garage sale. It was complete, played it a couple of times with my kids and now it's sitting on a shelf. If you are ever in KC, I'll give it to you.


  5. Dungeon! I fondly remember. No idea where our copy went, haven't seen it since maybe '85. I saw a new version but it looked too slick. I would love a game that recaptures the spirit and fun.

  6. @ Zenopus:

    Thanks for the links...they're fantastic! I wish I had some sort of program for doing layout besides MS Word, 'cause that guy's cards look great, and *I* want to do something like that.

    @ Andy:

    HQ is a whole 'nother game post...but I'm glad there are people interested in a little fantasy boardgame action.
    : )

    @ Eric:

    Next time I'm in KC I WILL look you up...though I've never been there. I hear the BBQ is pretty good, though. Good luck with Alex Smith this year.
    ; )

    @ Matt:

    The old version still has the magic, as far as I'm concerned. But anything I do on Dungeon! will be available as "freebies" to my readers.