A year ago, I set off to create a twelve level megadungeon following the gentle advice of Sean McCoy:

The other day I posted on twitter about a cool little project I’m working on for 2023. Essentially, I’m doing a dungeon room a day, every day, and keeping track of it in a little weekly calendar.

Why?

Well, I love dungeons and megadungeon play, but writing a megadungeon is difficult! It takes a lot of energy and it’s hard to know when to work on it and for how long. This simplifies things.

A dungeon room a day, every day, for 2023. That’s 365 rooms. I’ll do a level a month, so 12 levels. Every week is a little area of 7 rooms, so I can keep my focus small.

I started early, because I wanted to PLAY as much as I wanted to create. I knew that having a running campaign would keep me honest and creating. And, if life happened around me, as it usually does [1], I would have some buffer built in to finish before 31 Dec 2023.

And here we are…

The cover’s a bit battered and the edges worn. The insides though, ah, there are maps and keys and inventions all inside.

This was quite an adventure and through it, I came away with three things.

1. Plan for limitations and what drives me.

I knew that motivation might be difficult at times, or I might get distracted by other things, or life might throw fun curves at me. So what would keep me going?

A campaign. A group of players who would be delving the depths of this dungeon and needing me to keep ahead of them and their explorations. I hate letting my players down, so that was a built in push.

Also, being fierce DIY-hobbyist-punk in nature, I wasn’t going to publish this. The Black Maw, as I came to call my dungeon, was going to be my creation for my campaigns only. Since I had a group going through it, I also was going to keep the maps and keys secret. Maybe after a group has fully explored a level, I’ll reveal it and the key. I don’t know.

This allowed me to keep the details short – more notes to myself than fully fleshed out descriptions. Almost B1-esque in nature. The story of the Maw has evolved over the year, as well as through play. I can riff off of those themes and concepts and let the world evolve even further. A take on my “just – in – time” DM’ing that I like to do.

So, writing brief, having motivation through running a campaign and knowing that I’m not publishing this thing… all those set the stage for me to do this for a year.

2. Randomly generating twelve levels is possible… but potentially BORING

NOT the Black Maw, but lots of diagonal passages… (map is from TSR module G1)

Eleven of the twelve levels of the Black Maw are fully randomly generated as follows:

  • Using the 1st Edition (1970s) AD&D Random Dungeon Generator from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Appendix A.
    That means both layout and contents. I made a few creative interpretations to fit the limits of my notebook – so corridors would run 10 to 30 feet before new rolls. Things like that. But… SO MANY DIAGONAL PASSAGES!!!
  • Using the Monster/Treasure Assortments from 1970 for room contents.
  • Using the Dungeon Architect Cards, for the maps, then populating the rooms using the M/TAs, AD&D tables, and/or OD&D guides/tables.
  • Using Ultima 3 dungeon maps as inspiration and maps within the dungeon level. (“Yo dawg… a dungeon in a dungeon!”) I would randomly dice for which dungeon and level to use.
  • Using settings to inspire “themes” or contents, such as Greyhawk and Blackmoor.

The twelfth level was created directly from a portion of another map, with the contents generated by tools I created for other purposes.

The reason I say that random generation can be potentially boring isn’t from the results, but from the process. Rolling dice for a map can be fun… but after 5 months, it honestly got a little old for me.

Which is why I started using the DAC cards, the Ultima dungeon maps and inspiration from Diablo 2 for some of my levels. Mixing it up helped me to keep it from getting too grindy. I’m not afraid to change things up as long as it works.

3. Roll with the punches, but keep on keeping on.

Over 2023, I:

  • Angie had major surgery in the spring
  • I was part of a huge SAP implementation at my work, which saw many late hours and lots of crazy schedules
  • We helped one of our adult children (finally) move out
  • After 30 years of living in the Chicagoland area, we relocated to the other side of the state
  • I had interruptions for hunting seasons, camping and fishing season, as well as other projects (HexDescribe, my Hommlet Moathouse 3d printed dungeon) and a new RPG/campaign (Battlestar Galactica + 1977 Traveller == GREAT FUN)

Looking back on this …. uhh… maybe I am a bit nuts.

But that little blue notebook was a port in the storms. A place I could go to and just jot some things down, roll some dice, draw a bit of a map.

There were gaps and I’m glad I worked ahead a lot. I would find myself drawing 7 to 8 days worth of map/rooms at a go. It was just too much damn fun. Keying was much the same, I’d get on a roll and would key 10 rooms at a time.

Which came in handy because from July 30th through September 28th, my life consisted “put the crap into a box and move it”. Right after that… deer hunting season.

But… I would jump back in when I could, and here we are, at the finish line. With a twelve level megadungeon.

So… what exactly do I have in the Black Maw?

Dungeon23 stats as of Week 52:

  • Levels: 12 (+ 5 sublevels)
  • Rooms: 682 rooms
  • Town: Created, 7 locations/NPCs keyed.
  • Surrounding Wilderness: Created, locations/NPCs keyed

I’ve used pretty much every type of monster from the original 3 little brown books as published in 1974. I’ve got quite a few magic items. I’ve got a pretty neat little mystery/story tied up in the thing. I’ve got a ton of Easter Eggs to 70s and early 80s fantasy memes and culture.

Best of all, I’ve got an awesome campaign with players that leave me laughing my ass off during each game. They’ve delved a bit of the Black Maw, only briefly descending to level 3, and a quick foray through a few rooms of level 2. They’ve hit quite a large chunk of level 1, to the point where I think they’ve almost seen every room. Some of them have finally collected enough loot to have reached Level 2!

Andy ATOM Taylor : Wandering Monsters

There are a couple of mysteries of level 1 that they’re skirting around a bit:

  1. The column of light with coins floating inside, protected by two giant armored figures.
  2. The giant orb that commands those who touch it to “WORSHIP ME”
  3. Where are the orcs and why are they sacrificing everyone?
  4. WHERE IS THE KOBOLD KING USURPER?!?

Currently, they’re touching on some of the politics and happenings of my “home base/town” called Oily Messe, which has themes and characters based on both spaghetti Westerns and Chicago mobsters of the 1920s. There’s a weird mage (Glide Socko) whom they’ re not quite sure what he’s about either but he has a voice that’s a combination of the G-Man from Half Life and one of my favorite podcast narrators, Steve Shell of Old Gods of Appalachia.

Yea, I use the kitchen sink when I can.

So… what now?

I’ve got 5 campaigns to maintain! A couple of them are getting to the point where I need to generate things to keep them going.

I don’t know if I’ll do anything for 2024. I’ve got other projects and things tugging at my shirt sleeve. That being said, the habit of creating something, always working on something… maybe that’s a lesson to take to my existing campaigns. Always generating SOMETHING for one of them a day.

Hmmm… Campaigns2024. I might just do that.

So how did you do on Dungeon23?

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