Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Dungeon23 Roundup #4: Comics Extravaganza!

So, Dungeon23 is rolling along. I haven't posted a second batch myself for reasons I'll mention at the end. But that doesn't mean I haven't been eagerly reading along! There are some really wonderful things, including some real surprises. One of the real joys here is discovering new people and new blogs. 

First up, I think needs to be the fact that Amanda Lee (@annabelle_lee), author of Garbage Barge and Vampire Cruise, made this glorious thing. (This covers the first two weeks.) It makes me kind of dizzy to look at it but I love so much.

Michael at Sheep and Wizardry is off to a rollicking good start with The Sunset Palace of the Starry Sultan, built and rebuilt by each successive monarch, creating an "ever-expanding labyrinth of tangled opulence and pointless pomp." I love the idea that you would start a delve into this megadungeon by sneaking through the tiny occupied portion of the palace. His first post has some neat character backgrounds that deftly build a playable 1001 Nights pastiche. His second post has really great faction play right from the get go including a treasure guarding mummy and his goose, agents of the Gutter Kings (in service of the Crown of Buttons!), a cult of star seekers, and more. This looks like it will be a fun and meaty dungeon. 

Arnold at Goblin Punch did it again. This post details The Flying Birdcage, a whole house inside a flying birdcage located in the complex form week 1. The Flying Birdcage is probably the most interesting and clever form of quick transportation (a staple) around a megadungeon I've ever seen. I would be SO EXCITED to have unlocked the secrets of the birdcage if I were a player. (Since publishing that he's gone on a bender of rapid-fire posts about dwarves, puzzles, and other setting elements like it was 2015. I think we can say now that Goblin Punch is back baby!)

Speaking of ways into and around the dungeon, in his inaugural post, Rowan at Dodecahedron details 100 flavorful dungeon entrances. Many of them are secret entrances or have some kind of gimmick that makes them enjoyable. "A bronze statue of a massive fish, mouth agape, emerges from a river. Ladder rungs within the statue lead down through the stonework cylinder that supports it." It's a real treasure trove of ideas that may be of use.  

Nick at Underworld Adventurer has produced some real gems in their second meaty post about their megadungeon. Probably my favorite bit comes in the very first room of the post, which is a hall of portraits of past head wizards of the Transcendental Congress. Each has an illustration, and a personality, and is ready to bargain their secrets for something from the dungeon! A lot of lore baked into immediately engaging weird NPCs that also manage to point deeper into the dungeon. 

Speaking of Dungeon23 with a comics-vibe, I've been enjoying Tobias Redesäter's (@radesater@dice.camp) stuff on Mastodon. It's a megadungeon where you slip in through a crack in a bear cave and soon find yourself in a room where a blue goddess has been chained up! It's full of neat illustrations and little cool tidbits. 

If you're on Mastodon definitely give him a follow and check it out. If you do, keep an eye out for the Nest Eagle. He seems like someone groovy to meet in a dungeon.

I know I've been highlighting Zedeck's Dungeon23 stuff a lot, but you really have to check this one out in particular. You can see it with an explanation here. If you get bitten by an eel in the previous dungeon, you get transported to the eel's dream here, a kind of dungeon perhaps built out of the traumatic memories of the eel. This one really hits home for me, because I once did a hexcrawl through an area that was contaminated by the "undermind" of the Parapraxis, a Phantamorian vessel that was spilling an NPC's unconscious into a valley. But, of course, it wasn't the mind of a freaking eel! 

A brief roundup of other delightful things. OBVIOUSLY, OBVIOUSLY you need to be following Jonathan Newell's Apocalypse Archive posts, the second set of 6 rooms dropped here. If you want a more classic AD&D vibe location with a map that looks straight out of a TSR module, check out the debased Monastery of St. Amruss at Foot of the Mountain Games Adventure here

You might wonder what's happening with the Catacombs of the North Wind, my Dungeon23 project. (The intro post is here, and the first 7 locations are here.) Because of the way I design locations I needed to do some research for inspiration, and also decide on some bigger picture questions, like what the different regions of level 1 of the dungeon will be. Slowly things have been taking shape in mind, but I'm not quite ready to start mapping and keying the next bit yet. I'll share some of the weird research I've slowly been doing for inspiration another time.  

Monday, January 9, 2023

Below the Wall of Cusp

This is the first of my dungeon23 entries about the Catacombs of the North Wind. For an introduction to the dungeon, see this post. I start with the journal where I am physically recording the dungeon, and then present a cleaned up, digitized version below. The lovely map was donated by Gus L, bless his heart. As usual, his illustration pushed me to imagine the area much more fully. His cartography has been a huge stimulus to my work in general. 

I began using this journal during the early days of the pandemic. Those were hard days. I had to launch all of my classes remotely with only 1 weeks notice, constantly record lecture videos, and both my children were out of school. My wife was even more jammed with work than I was, since she is a union organizer who works with health care workers. Although I was working around the clock and providing full time childcare, I found that I had to do something creative by myself for 30 minutes every day or I found myself spinning out of control. 

So I began this journal, where I recorded my thoughts, wrote down quotations from books I was reading, transcribed some blog posts and podcast snippets that caught my fancy. I had never done journalling before. I used collage, stapling or gluing wondrous things to the pages. 

When life got easier, and I felt I no longer needed the journal, I stopped journalling. The large double graph paper pages make a perfect home for Dungeon23. I also love the idea of returning to this journal now, and filling the remaining pages with my dungeon materials. Here's the space for the introduction to the dungeon, which I haven't written yet. I decorated it with a very relevant clipping from Huargo's glorious White Jungle poster. 

I have been working on it every night with my son, who is also pursuing a dungeon23 project (more on that another time). It tickles me that this is now a family activity. Here are pictures of the pages describing the first seven locations. I've been doing them in pencil for now (I may go over them with ink), so they're a little hard to read in the current photos. 

Here is a clean, digitized version for your reading pleasure. 

Below the Walls of Cusp

In the neighborhood of Cusp, the city begins to spill down a great incline to the north that eventually becomes too steep for homes. There is set the Wall of Cusp, a mad press of tall buildings, fused into a single retaining wall. Within this labyrinth, one finds the arcades of Cusp, the most famous of which is Kaleidoscope Alley, lit by colored pools of stained glass, channeled through lenses and mirrors. 

In the Wall of Cusp is set the Gate of Remembrance, a wooden door carved with a single flapping sail. Its hinges are rusted shut, but a side door is sometimes used by old women who, stepping with sure feet, pick sea grass from amongst the rocks to deftly weave into rugs. Beyond the Gate of Remembrance a rocky scree begins, loose stones tumbling down to the Endless Azure Sea, punctuated by occasional ledges and escarpments from which sprout thickets of sea grass and desperately clinging scrawny trees.

Areas 1-7

Sights, Sounds, and Scents: Scouring winds; the cry of nervous birds; faint smell of the sea.

1. The Headlong Stair

Beginning at the Gate of Remembrance in the Wall of Cusp, precipitous, it spills amidst a rocky scree. White marble veined sea-green, crumbling, submerged now and again by tumbled stone. Midway, a path of broken tiles, worn to faintest impression, winds on past a grove (2), towards a domed building (3). The stairs continue on to the seashore below (5). 

2. Windblown Grove

Gnarled trees, silver leaved, windblown and bent. Six plots of sandy soil with flat stone slabs at their feet. From five of the six, worn monuments rise.

  • A bow sprit, weather beaten to driftwood.
  • A port hole of rusted purple metal, glass long gone.
  • A peeling wooden nook made by an upright prow.
  • A trio of corroded carillon bells hanging from a ruined frame.
  • A statue of a maiden, its wooden features worn away by time.
Only desiccated traces of offerings remain on the slabs, excepting the empty plot, where a wilting bouquet and painted goose ceramic figurine are neatly placed. 

3. The Doors of Euryphras

Atop a scarp, a square marble building, domed with tall double doors, all copper stained with verdigris. The dome is mottled white with droppings, the doors embossed with an elfin face, cheeks puffed, blowing a gust that billows down across both doors.

Two of the Knights Orchidium stand at guard, clad in white plate with a surcoat adorned with an eye weeping an indigo tear. Near stands their portglave, a youth bent under an arsenal of swords, morningstars, and crossbows. The knights remind those approaching that the king forbids trespass in the Catacombs of the North Wind and that entry hazards mischief from spirits of the air. For those who nonetheless insist, stepping back, they allow them to approach the doors.

When closed, the doors are under the elemental dominion of Euryphras, Scion Designate of the House of Squalls. Those stepping within 10’ are blasted by gale winds, tumbling like rag dolls towards the edge of the scarp (save vs. breath weapon or fall to area 4, taking 3d6 damage). Only those who have recently taken the Orchid Eucharist may approach safely and open the doors. The knights wear around their necks a vial filled with this mystical substance, a pearly liquid, sweet and refreshing.

Bribery attempts elicit a reaction roll. 10+ they are corrupt and will trade the eucharist for ½ the treasure on exit. 4- they attack. The knights will also attack in self-defense or to protect the doors and the structure from harm. In a fight, they will call the Kestreller in area 4 for help, who arrives with the giant kestrels in 1 round.

2 Knights Orchidium HD4 (24) AC3 Sword 1d8+2, Morningstar 1d8+2, Polearm 1d10+2, or Crossbow 1d8. Treasure: fine jewelry (200 gp) and 1 dose of the Orchid Eucharist each.

1 Portglave HD1 (4) AC8 Dam: Sword 1d8 or Crossbow 1d8.

4. Kestrel Roost

Improbably loud bird cries pierce the air. At an escarpment below area 3, two giant birds are tethered to wooden roosts. Their heads are grey, backs rust hued, with a creamy underbelly speckled black. They wear barding and double saddles.

The Kestreller wears a white lion mask. She will warn people away, for the birds become nervous at their approach, fluttering up on their tethers and crying out. She will allow people to proceed to area 5 or up to area 4 unmolested. The birds are among the last of their kind, and she is devoted to their care. 

2 Giant Kestrels HD7 (35) AC4 Dam: Bite 1d10 + Claws 1d8 MV360/60 MR7 Special: On a hit with claws the Kestrel can, in lieu of dealing damage, grab someone, and on the subsequent round drop them from heights dealing 4d6 damage.

Kestreller HD5 (20) AC7 Dam: Bow 1d8 or Lance 1d10 Special: She can sing magical songs each 1 x per day. A calming lullaby: counters the first failed morale check of the birds. A protective canticle: shatters arrows targeting the bird she rides (as protection from normal missiles). The canticle remains in effect as long as she continues the song unbroken.

5. The Seashore

The stairs travel past a ruined tower with a shattered onion dome, its lower entrances now choked with rock and sand (7). At bottom, the scree levels off at a long and wide rocky ledge.

Wind crashes and hisses in the rocks. In the recesses amongst silver-barnacled stones, blue crabs scuttle past sable velvet sea stars, and tiny flying fish dart. Beyond the cliffs, the Endless Azure Sea, magisterial and dizzying, dotted by clouds like foam or soft woolen isles. A ways off the shore, out to sea a tiny archipelago floats.

Beneath the stairs, darkened recesses provide shelter from the winds of the beach. The remains of an old encampment are there: tattered blankets, a tarp the color of the rocky beach, and an old fire pit built from rock. In a rotting picnic basket, there are coils of rope, climbing spikes, and a rusted file and crowbar. A careful search reveals a phylactery hidden under a buckled tile: an antique silver lobster claw set in a leather circlet.* 

At the back of the space, an old door, wood paneled with traces of golden paint, is warped shut. If forced it leads to an atrium with a spiral staircase leading up to an impassible door to the Ruined Pleasure Dome, the space beyond choked with rock and dirt.

*This item detects as magical. It was a ritual artifact used by the Nephroditic Children, a cult or secret society of the Sky Singers.  However, it can be sold to any uncomprehending curio dealer for 200 gp. 

6. The Cliff Face

Leaning over the edge, the heavens below appear as dappled fields of color glimpsed in murky depths. The red cliff face is scoured by a hissing wind. It is riddled with tiny holes, some large enough to serve as handholds, and is broken up by a few ledges where tufts of seaweed dance in the rough currents. Four gated apertures can be glimpsed spread across the cliff face below. Further down, the cliff angles inward and is lost to view.

Without a firmly anchored rope, climbing down requires a climb check (failure plummets one into the heavens below). Unless an arrangement has been reached, obvious attempts at climbing attract the Kestreller and Knights Orchidium astride the two giant kestrels (see 3 & 4) in 1 turn. They drive climbers away from the area, engaging those who refuse in combat, dropping foes into the heavens below without mercy.

Three of the gated apertures are roughly 60’ apart on the same level (50’ below the seashore). The apertures are 3’ wide and 4’ tall. They are blocked by thick metal bars, except for one which has been filed through and bent sufficiently for a child to pass through. The wind blows through them fiercely, whistling hauntingly in the hallways within. The lower half of the hallways is covered in blue glazed tile stamped with seashell patterns, the upper half and ceiling is of rough-hewn rock. Deeper, where the light becomes dim and shadowy, nooks sporting monstrous marble statuary is just visible, figures with leering elfin faces, bodies half human and half sea creature.

The fourth, lower (75’ below the seashore) aperture opens high into an opulent circular chamber, illuminated by the aquamarine light of a frosted glass globe, in which glowing forms like jellies swim. The walls are of molded plaster, chipped and flaking. At the bottom marble benches are arrayed around a tiled pool. At the back of the room, indistinct in shadow, there seems to be a large statue and an archway leading deeper.

Where the cliff declines, it descends 100’, before opening into a large cave that runs from 250-350’ below the seashore above. The cavern within is sheltered by the overhang, and the wind breaks against the shore rhythmically with a gentle crashing roar. The floor is covered in pink sand, smooth pebbles, and congeries of fantastical seashells. This is the Beach of Pink Sands in level 3 of the Catacombs.

7. Ruined Pleasure Dome

This gaudy tower rises crookedly from the rocky scree, its lower levels choked with stone and tumbled earth. A network of cracks run through every inch of its stone structure like an eggshell rapped against the sharp edge of a pot. The upper levels look basically intact, apart from the shattered glass onion dome at the very top. A colonnaded area is visible, as well as the space in the now open domed portion.

The upper levels are accessible by climbing from the base of the Headlong Stairs. The colonnaded portion is an open air overlook with a breathtaking view of the cloud spotted Azure Sea and the crescent-shaped floating archipelago offshore, with their wind bent trees, icy crystal ponds, and fantastical roosting birds. One also has a clear view from here of the Knights Orchidium before the Doors of Euryphras (3) and the Kestreller and her enormous birds (4).

The interior of the tower has been long stripped bare. It seems to have contained lodgings, and common areas, arrayed around a central stair. The upper dome is a roost of seagull now, covered in white guano over shattered glass and a ruined parquet floor. A careful looting in 6 turns reveals a few pieces of silverware (20 gp), a half-ruined carpet (10 gp), and a decorative mosaic that can be removed intact with care (35 gp).

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Dungeon23 Roundup #3: What Riches!

 We've reached the end of the first week of #dungeon23! I will be posting the results of my first week on here, on Monday! So stay tuned for that.  This has been an intense work week for me (I also had COVID over the holidays, which didn't help. I'm fully recovered now, thankfully.)  So I'm fearful that dungeon23 activity may have slipped by me that I otherwise would have loved. But even in my rattled state, I saw a whole bunch of things that tickled my fancy. I'm also delighted that the blog sidebar is working how I wanted it to work: as a veritable treasure hoard of Dungeon23 blog material. Remember if you have a blog and are doing Dungeon23 on the regular, shoot me an email at throughultansdoor AT gmail. Let's dive in!

The awesome blog Goblin Punch by Arnold K., another staple of the mid to late OSR, had more less gone dark last year. Arnold announced that he's bringing it back for dungeon23! Not only is he back, but his inaugural post for dungeon23, The Mushroom Garden, is a masterclass in designing dungeons. I myself learned from it. What's really wonderful is that Arnold talks you through what he did in the post, so you can see how he builds in mysteries, faction play, puzzles, hidden areas, all over the span of a tightly connected 7 rooms. Whatever else you read, you really should read this. It does raise the question whether perhaps people might want to do their dungeon design in groups of 7 rather single rooms serially. (That's how I'm doing it.) 

Another blog that the sirens call of dungeon23 has coaxed back to life is Roles, Rules, & Roles, a staple of an even earlier geological period of the OSR that I used to read a fair bit. Roger G-S is doing a bronze age hexcrawl that I've been digging. Check out how much is going on in this single hex, including the "damnation tomb" of Narshish. He's doing one of those a day! 

I was completely BLOWN AWAY by Jonathan Newell's dungeon on Bearded Devil. He has two entries so far. The first is his introduction to the Apocalypse Archives a terrifying science fantasy dungeon that lies beneath his fabulous city of Hex. The Apocalypse Archive is a repository for spells and artifacts the impossibly ancient and powerful Librarians considered reality-endangering. It is also a place where space and time are coming unravelled in maddening ways. He introduces the Apocalypse Archive with a series of tables about the different afflictions--Anacrhonosis, Dreams of the Dead City, and the Melchior Effect--that affect delvers into this perilous dungeon. The tables are a lovely spin on the idea of the dungeon as a hostile space that one finds in the "mythic underworld" conception of early D&D. They're also a nice example of how, for example, you can introduce setting, lore, and atmosphere through random tables. The second entry discusses the first six rooms. The whole thing is suffused with a bleak alien grandeur. It also includes some wonderful terrible lore about the Final Star, a sentient solar deity consuming reality that the librarians opposed. I'll definitely be following this project closely! 

Just look at how pretty this map is so far!

 Here are a few more things that have brought me joy in no particular order. I enjoyed the first 7 rooms of this creative funhouse dungeon at The Viridian Scroll. The truth is that if you want to hew closely to Sean's original vision for  #dungeon23, then a funhouse dungeon like this is probably the way to go. The concept of this Soviet space dungeon for Mothership built to preserve the consciousness of Soviet leaders by Emmy Verte at Spooky Action at a Distance is SO GOOD; I can't wait to see more. The writeup of the first areas above Andrew Devenney's The Great Cuttle, a dungeon inside a giant alien cuttlefish for his Rainy City setting was fantastic: as dungeon entrances go, this one is a great little environment. I also really liked this partially submerged level by Skullboy at Better Legends. I think that dungeon is going to be delightful. 

Stay tuned for my first week of my very own dungeon23, covering the first 7 areas of the Catacombs of the North Wind! I'll be posting it very soon, maybe even tomorrow. [Edit: Here it is! Check out Below the Wall of Cusp detailing areas 1-7 of The Catacomb of the North Wind.]

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Dungeon23 Roundup #2: Go!

So here we are on the first day of #dungeon23! 

The energy in the lead up to #dungeon23 is really exciting, but so much is happening so quickly that I don't think I can claim to sum it up here. Take this as one readers report of the things which caught my attention before whirring by as we approached the starting line of #dungeon23. 

One thing I love about dungeon23 is the way it feels like the kind of collective undertaking that was going on during the heady heyday of OSR blogging. So one thing that's brought me special delight is seeing some bloggers who were active in that earlier period throw their hats in the ring for dungeon23. 

James Maliswieski of Grognardia fame announces he'll be doing dungeon23 in this post. He will be documenting the Vaults of sha-Arthan, "deep, ancient labyrinths" that hold "the secrets of the deific Makers" in his developing science fantasy RPG, The Secrets of sha-Arthan. James has long experience running and designing megadungeons. I used to read his Dwimmermount play reports avidly. I've also always loved the way science fantasy lies beneath a swords and sorcery surface in his games, and I expect we'll see that here too.

Another exciting development, James Garrison of the amazing Hereticwerks blog is back in action and doing dungeon23. Hereticwerks was one of my absolute favorite blogs during the mid-OSR, a big source of inspiration for me when I was starting up this blog. The city of Wermspittle was like a labyrinth of glorious posts, each one a rabbit hole of hyperlinks in which one could lose oneself for an afternoon. (I think the first rabbit hole to pull me in was the series of posts about roofcrawling in Wermspittle--table II is my favorite.) Well, James announces that not only that Hereticwerks is back, but that he'll be doing dungeon23 here!

If you can't tell that I'm already vibrating with excitement here, things really kicked into overdrive when Nick K. the DM of the megadungeon campaign I'm currently playing in that's blowing my mind, The Twilight Age,  announced that they will be doing dungeon23 on their blog Underworld Adventurer. Nick is a comic artist and they casually dropped photos of a treasure trove of illustrations and "doodled" megadungeon maps they were sitting on that might get pulled into action here.   

Meanwhile, Zedeck Siew continues to drop whole adventure locations on his tumblr blog Zedeck Siew's Writing Hours with first a city, Queen's Rest, and then the city's lighthouse, home of a clockwork sorcerer, and now the prison of the Moon Maiden! For me the biggest surprise of this isn't the rich imagination in this, and the sense of place that pervades each location, which I've come to expect from everything Zedeck does, but rather that it turns out that Zedeck is, in addition to everything else, a really great cartographer! What a little book of treasures this will be when he's done. 

 Since I enjoyed The Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City and its follow-up, I was delighted to see that Andrew Devenney announces that his dungeon23 megadungeon, The Great Cuttle, will be inside of a giant cuttlefish. Of course it will be. 

I was tickled to see Dyson of Dyson Logos mapping fame announce on Facebook that he would be doing a Tekumel dungeon for dungeon23. He teased this lovely illustration.

In comments to the post, he wrote a little more explaining the idea: "Tumissa is a city dedicated to Vimhula (dark god of fire) in the Empire of the Petal Throne / Tekumel setting. Tekumel cities often have massive underground areas because they are supposed to renovate the whole city every 500 years - adjusting to how the city has changed in that time (tearing down old temples to build new temples, fixing infrastructure, moving clans / temples / etc that have fallen out of favour away from the core of the city to be replaced by those who are currently more powerful, etc)."

Zedeck drew my attention to this little gem by Victor J. Merino. Give him a follow on Twitter or Mastodon. It's a parking garage themed dungeon, with a sacred library of demonic texts in the treads of tires. 

I found this post by Josh McCrowell over at Rise Up Comus both useful and inspiring. It announced two amazing dungeon23 projects, one a 78 room tarot-themed dungeon, maybe a supplement for the megadungeon ruleset His Majesty the Worm that Josh has been working on a for a long time now. The second was a 100 depthcrawl exploring your eccentric halfling uncle's mansion! But, as if that announcement wasn't enough, he gives us 23 dungeon features you can employ when your imagination idles, along with flavorful examples. A great resource for megadungeon stocking. Here's just one to give you a taste:

In more personal news, my son, 13, told me he would be doing dungeon23 with me. So I gave him a journal for Hannukah to do it in. He tells me his megadungeon is going to be called Mons Formicdean: a megadungeon in an anthill of giant ants. It's an idea he had a long time ago, when my wife showed us the images of sculptures created by artists pouring molten lead into ant colonies, which is amazing if the ants are gone, but when they're not an act of horrific destruction. Somehow the artistry of nature bent to cruel purposes seems like fertile ground from thinking about a megadungeon. I'm excited to see where he takes it!

My frequent collaborator Gus threw me a lovely illustration of the approach to the Catacombs of the North Wind that I'll be using for the first week of entries. So I'm excited about that. As usual his illustration pushed me to imagine the place more fully. I'll be sittting down today to work on it along with my son.

One last observation. Something Zedeck wrote struck a chord in me. He points out that since a lot of authors who publish are doing #dungeon23 (like Zedeck or me) it can seem not a DIY communal outpouring, but a grindy race to publication that only the most productive will win. To hold this specter at bay, here's what Zedeck is doing: "I’m keeping my #dungeon23 with no plan and no outline. I’m keeping it in my notebook. I am not digitising the text. It must remain uneditable. It must remain as sketches and notes.This way it doesn’t trigger my brain to go: “Okay, you are writing (ie: working) now." For now, it remains un-instrumentalisable. Unseen and unable to serve the market. Once I’m done with it, who knows? But while I do it it remains play, a way for me to serve myself."

I probably will put mine in cleaner form up on my blog, but I have similar thoughts. I know that a "daily challenge" is not everyone's cup of tea. Speaking for myself, it's actually not my cup of tea either! I've literally never done a daily challenge. What is my cup of tea is doing something with his hobby I love in solidarity with many others. Seeing the collective brilliance, feeling the comaradie of it all. So I'm going to focus on that, rather than "hitting challenges". For folks who aren't interested in "doing" the challenge, but would like to contribute, I would recommend dipping in and out of it when the fancy strikes. Just share some dungeon keys or maps, or other ephemera that fits - anytime. That's probably, speaking realistically, is what I'll be doing when all is said and done. 

I'm taking the opportunity to put the material I create up on my blog to share, for free with everyone, rather than locking it away in published zines as I have for a while now. Publishing stuff about Zyan has been a double-edged sword for me, because it's felt at times like it's made it so that I share less on my blog. Well, dungeon23 for me is an opportunity to break that cycle. Whatever I end up making, and I imagine I'll veer between a couple of dungeons before all is said and done, it'll be a bit of Zyan from me to you without the mediary of the market.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Dungeon23 Roundup #1

We're still in December 2022, but dungeon23 is already popping! If you've been under a rock and somehow missed dungeon23, then read about Sean's challenge here. Basically, it's a journalling challenge where everyone is working on a megadungeon, one room a day, for a year. I posted here about the Catacombs of the North Wind, the dreamlands dungeon I'll be doing. Here's the roundup of stuff that's caught my attention so far. 


First folks have been putting together some significant resources. A lot of people are using this as an excuse to buy a fancy planner (*guilty*). But @sivads_sanctum pointed out that a likely more effective technology may already exist for almost $0. To wit, 

Truth bomb

People have also been pulling together digital assets, which could be printed out and put into a binder like that or printed and bound in some more fancy way. Or even left digital. First up is Gus L's contribution, The Dungeon23 Workbook. Which you can find FREE on All Dead Generations here. It's a google doc, so it's easily customizable. Just duplicate it and you can alter the text as you see fit. It's got a groovy cover, which Gus says is a reworked WPA poster with an adventuring party snuck in. 

This looks amazing

The pages of the workbook are neat. There are periodic pages for maps of whole levels and encounter tables. But then you get one page for each room, so less cramped and more organized than Sean's teeny tiny planner. The rooms have the dungeon name, your name, the level, a room map, info on the lighting (crucial for dungeon crawling), a description, and then a spot for a couple of features to be listed OSE style. Monsters and treasure too. This is a perfect system for digitally sharing, i.e. tweeting rooms, if that's your thing btw. It's a neat little package:

 In a similar spirit Pandion Games has put together a Dungeon Year Design Journal on itch for PWW here. It's pretty groovy. You can download it in a bunch of different formats, including landscape and portrait and different sized paper. It's got big double-page dot map spreads, and single pages for rooms like Gus's but with less structure: encounters, notes, connections, and maps. There's also an alternative minimalist version that replicates the structure of Sean's planner. 

Lone Archivist has a really groovy dungeon23 asset pack with some very nice looking logos that you can download here and slap onto thing. It looks like Lone Archivist is going to have stickers soon too, STICKERS. I mean look at how good this looks:

This is just one of several gorgeous variations

In general, it looks like a great place to go for the accumulating resources on itch.io will be Andrew Duvall's page, which you can go to here. Poke around there to find some more stuff. But now, into the dungeon itself.


People have begun doing some good posts about advice. Of course, the OSR in the heyday of the blogosphere produced tons of relevant stuff. The best collection of links by far that I know of is this one by Ava Islam at Permanent Cranial Damage. If you want a reading list, Ava's got you covered. 

My favorite blogpost with advice so far is Kyana's post at the always wonderful Noise San Signal blog. You should read the whole thing for her process and thoughts. Kyana is approaching dungeon23 as an opportunity to work up a bunch of small, 7-room locations, rather than a megadungeon. She's got a lovely scrap-booking approach, which people should really think about doing. There's no reason we can't integrate collage, stapled maps, even painted swatches in Kyana's case.  

I also enjoyed the first in a series on megadungeon design by Dave McGrogan. He helpfully distinguishes 3 themes to think about in designing your megadungeon: historical, structural, and aesthetic that can guide your creation. 


To find lots of stuff on either Mastodon or Twitter, just search the #dungeon23. So far, my favorite specimen by far is Zedeck Siew's  Last Voyage of the Sea-Queen Lessa, which you can see here. It's a funky vertical shrine housing a ghost ship. Thematically, it vibes with the dungeon I'm working on. Zedeck's adventure is a lovely tidbit that you could run pretty much as is. Go to his Tumblr blog now and check it out.  

I'm also enjoying watching Gus' early efforts take shape, which you can follow @RatkingRpgs on twitter and probably eventually on his blog All Dead Generations. But I mean, just look at this thing:

Finally, I've been enjoying the posts by Chris Bissette on Mastodon (@loottheroom@dice.camp) who has been posting about the first rooms of his new megadungeon, and @goblin_archives on twitter. Goblin Archive's project looks fun:

The Feed

My offer still stands to include your #dungeon23 stuff in my occasional roundups, especially if you have a blog. If you send me a blog (throughultansdoor AT gmail) that's doing #dungeon23 stuff on the semi-regular, I'll probably drop it into #dungeon23 bloglist on the right here. But whether or not I do that, I'll certainly put it into my own RSS feed and draw attention here to anything I find that's neat on here. Also tag me on Twitter or Mastodon if you see something neat. 


Sunday, December 11, 2022

The Catacombs of the North Wind

This post introduces the Catacombs of the North Wind, the subject of my Dungeon23 endeavor for the next year. My plan is to work on this dungeon and post about it maybe every other week for the entirety of 2023. We'll see how that goes! 

The Treaty of the Farthest Shore

The creation of the Catacombs of the North Wind is one with the founding of Zyan. The Sky Singers were the settlers of Zyan. For centuries they were explorer merchants, princely conquerors, nomads of the Endless Azure Sea, famous for sailing the heavens above aboard a fleet of flying galleons. The Marine Wars, about which little is known today, were likely a series of skirmishes flaring occasionally into catastrophic violence between the Sky Singers and the spirits of the air. The Treaty of the Farthest Shore brought an end to the Marine Wars. The Sky Singers received from the spirts of the air a title over Zyan and a new-founded glittering monarchy. In exchange, they agreed to ground forevermore their ships. 

The Catacombs of the North Wind were carved into a set of whistling caverns that riddle the cliff beneath the precipitous scree of tumbled stones that lie beyond the Wall of Cusp and extend to the cliff-face at the island's edge. History teaches that the five great flagships of the fleet served as hecatombs sanctifying The Treaty of the Farthest Shore. In the upper levels of the Catacombs, their remains were interred in sepulchers with mystical rites of remembrance. With them were put to rest the old ways of the Sky Singers. The lower level of the catacombs is said to be open to the Endless Azure Sea. Formerly it was a sacred playground of the spirits of the air. These marine environs were repurposed to serve as the Chambers of Audience, the meeting grounds for the ambassadors of the Kings and Queens of Zyan and the Court of the North Wind that rules the fickle spirits of the air. They are said to be replete with the richest of kingly trappings befitting such a meeting ground between monarchs from two realms. 

As Zyan has declined, turning ever inwards, memory of the Catacombs of the North Wind have dimmed, for the last audience was held many centuries ago. The obvious approach is by a ruined grand stairs that once led from the Wall of Cusp down the steep scree to the catacomb entrance. This entrance is patrolled by the King's Guard still, if lackadaisically. There are rumored to be a number of ways into the Catacombs through the eastern edge of the Apartments of the Guildless, the sealed, forsaken undercity populated by various pariahs and criminal enterprises of Zyan, stalked by murderous puppets and other horrors that runs beneath Pentacle and Cusp. 

Stories & Speculations about the Creation of the Catacombs

The first word goes to Learned Paw, legendary jurist of the era pre-dating the Slow War between the cats and the Zyanese. It is drawn from his autobiography, A Cat at the Moonlight Court: Memoir of a Feline Barrister

The creation of the Catacombs of the North Wind exists as a cipher of myth and legend, refracted through the lens of a thousand works of art. As a barrister, with deep training in Zyanese jurisprudence and knowledge of the antique maritime law of the Sky Singers, I see in the depths of this mystery tangled legal questions that point to the Treaty of the Farthest Shore. I am convinced that the enigma of the Catacombs can be deciphered only through the law of that treaty. But as a cat, I cannot help but see in this bizarre founding event the freighted folly of the Zyanese and the capricious, daemonic purposes of the spirits of the air. As my whiskers twitch, I fear I will never understand these people, no matter how often I drink at a saucer with them. 

Next a relevant passage from Medes the Utmost Chronicler, who wrote in the age of the Incandescent Kings. This passage is drawn from her Metaphysical Crown, Illumined by The Light of Reason:

Although his augurs counseled against it, reading mixed and ominous portents in the heavens above and below, Hegalion the Captain, leader of the resplendent fleet of the Sky Singers, saw no other way than to parlay and negotiate a lasting peace. 
    The Treaty of the Farthest Shore is named for the site of the conclave, the most remote of the satellite islands that share an orbit with the Rock of Zyan. The negotiations were conducted between the Priests of Azmora (as the Archon Azmarane was then known) and the Squamous Jurists of Hashivaz, Prince of the North Wind. It is said that Hegalion agreed to ground the Sky Singer’s fleet, ceding the currents of the Endless Azure Sea to the feckless spirits of the air. He also agreed to erect the Catacombs of the North Wind, a complex of whistling, wind-filled shrines in the caves that catacomb the eastern cliffside of the main island, where pleasing worship could be rendered to the marine beings. 
    In exchange Hegalion received three things: a cessation of mischief and violence from the genies of the sea, the service of a number of spirits in fixed roles that were distributed to the aristocratic lines, and the Metaphysical Crown. The Metaphysical Crown was an artifact of tremendous power that would found the monarchy, and make Zyan the flying pearl of all Wishery. That there were further costs he did not yet know, but would learn soon.

Last word for now goes to this passage from Path of the Flenser, a text of religious instruction for apprentices being inducted into the Fleischguild:

The time came at last when the shining vessels, sacred patrimony of the Sky Singers, were to be destroyed. It was then that the butchers of the fleet asserted themselves against the shipwrights, who claimed the rights to dismantle the ships they had built. With their farseeing wisdom and honied tongues, gift from crafty Malprion, the Butchers argued thus:
    "Who could say that these glorious ships are mere conveyances and machines as you vulgar carpenters insist? Do they not partake of the wonders of life, carrying the Sky Singers through the Azure Sea like a pod of Leviathans, at once living city and enclosing womb. Are not each of these storied galleons unique? Do each not have a personality and a deep history that is intwined with the very history of we Sky Singers? What do carpenters with their saws and awls know of the slaughter of such great beasts? Who better than we butchers to flense and carve the flagships at their joints? Have we not prepared with subtle arts the flesh that has sustained us on our perambulations? Have we not cut with exacting precision the sacrifices we have offered as boons on behalf of our fleet, in keeping with our customs?" 
    All could see the wisdom of their arguments, and so they prevailed over the carpenters. From the hecatombs of the six great flagships of the Sky Singers were thus born the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Butcher Priests. They were sanctified and elevated in the eyes of all by this holy labor. Lavished in gratitude with rich gifts from the people, they received honor and wealth merited by this great task. With these proceeds they established the first sacrificial temples, and built their own sacred catacombs in emulation of the Catacombs of the North Wind. So was born from this founding act of butchery our Fleischguild, without whose labors the pleasing odors of charred meat and sizzling fat would never reach the thrones of the Archons. All praise to Malprion! 

Rumors and Hooks (from Some Familiar Faces)

Cephaea, Prophetess of the Muddled Waters: "The sterile Catacombs of the North Wind imprison many lonely ruined beauties that would be more at home with our collection of sewer treasures. Greatest of the broken lovelies in those whistling caverns is the Song Blade. Forged with the highest art of the Sky Singers, the music of the heavens embodied in steel. It was broken into three pieces. For these fragments we would pay a king's ransom in prophecies and wishes."

Captain Dwerdosma: "We Volish Hillers have never forgotten that we were once Sky Singers, least of all The Sons and Daughters of the Vigilant Watcher. For us the Catacombs of the North Wind hold a special meaning. Oh, what I wouldn't give to lay my eyes upon those splendid galleons on which our ancestors sailed the Endless Azure Sea! The rare gleaming woods decorated with frisson opal and father of pearl; the glorious figureheads, works of master carpentry none can match in this age; the terrible weapons of nautical warfare; and the subtle sails of shimmering gold. But alas, none are permitted to traduce those sacred grounds."

Free Hand Hesock: "I'm no scholar, but I'd recognize a pirate anywhere. The Sky Singers were the greatest pirates of all time! Like any good pirate, they buried their booty, stolen from across all of Wishery. If no ones dug it up, it's still in the Catacombs. There's a shanty about it that I often sing while I'm separating my enemies from their hands. Do you want to hear? Vigo, bring some lavender whisky, be quick."

Manuk-Cush: "Among the scriveners, it is believed that the original of the Treaty of the Farthest Shore is housed in the Catacombs of the North Wind. This legal document established the monarchy. It is the basis of the law of the crown. It is also said to govern diplomatic relations with the spirits of the air. According to the scriveners, it was not written by human hands, but was instead crafted by the squamous jurists according to exquisite arts of the spirits of the air. They say it is no ordinary document." 

The Cranemay: "Do not torment me by stirring cherished memories of that place. How many ages has it been since I played with my cousins at the Beach of Pink Sands? What mischief we used to make amongst the swirling currents of those caves, when the island was wild, before the Zyanese came. The beach there is strewn with the most amazing shells I have ever seen. As a memento, bring me the scintillating shell of an ether conch, through which I can hear the roar of the sea once again. I will render the service of all my beloved cranes to you."  


Wednesday, December 7, 2022


 So Sean McCoy posted this on Twitter. 

He wrote about it more on his substack here. Sean is calling the challenge #Dungeon23. The challenge is to write one room a day, one level a month, for a total of 365 rooms spread over 12 levels. I'm going to be doing a version of it (more on what I'll be mapping in a minute). A lot of other people on Twitter also said they were in. If enough of us do it, this could be the first REALLY big collective event in the OSR since the heady days of Google plus. I mean sure, there have been lovely game jams and a lot of collective projects around particular game communities (Mothership, Mörk Borg, Mausritter, etc). But this hobbyist, let's-do-a-thing-together project sure would be a lot of fun. 

Now I know there's a certain sort of person (OK, it's me) who is perhaps inappropriately motivated to begin a project by the thought of getting a fancy journal. Luckily Sean has us covered because he is rocking a Hobonichi Techo Weeks 2023. As he explains, they're nice because they have graph paper and a facing space for a key broken down by each day of the week. I think one minor challenge will be that the map for each level will be spread across a bunch of 7-room page spreads, but I think we can figure it out. The monthly spread looks like a good place to do a big d30 encounter table for the entire level. 

You can get the Hobonichi Techo Weeks on Amazon and on Jet Pens for about $25. I got the one in light purple because it is well known among all opium dreaming wizards that lavender is the true color of dreams. Sean's yellow looks real nice too, a sort of rich ochre. Or just do it on your tablet or a Mead notebook or whatever will be convenient and easy.

What will this amount to? Well, I think if enough people do it, we can share our scribbles around in whatever form we feel comfortable. Scans, photos, little PDFs, word docs, whatever it is. Sure, you could post them in Twitter threads or on Mastodon, or (heaven help you) on Reddit. But I would humbly suggest that you consider posting them on a blog. Don't have a blog? This is a golden opportunity to start one! Make it about going through this process. Write one post every week just sharing the results of your journalling. If you blog about this, reach out to me on Twitter or by email (throughultansdoor AT gmail DOT com) and I will put your blog in my RSS feed and do megadungeon roundups on my blog or social media accounts.  

What might come of this in the broader sense? Imagine if we got to a place where you could mix and match from a whole host of little bit sized megadungeon bits that people were passing around. For one thing, it might get a whole bunch of people actually playing megadungeon campaigns, and so thinking and talking about them. I think there's a lot of innovation to be had in the wild space of the megadungeon. It has that fun double quality of being a strange old form that was left behind early in the hobby, and also a space of innovation in a certain phase of OSR design. It would be fun to bring it back to life now and see what new places we could collectively go with it.

In my journalling, I will mainly be focusing on The Catacombs of the North Wind. It's one of three large dungeons in Zyan. I'll write about it more soon. But here's the gist. The Sky Singers were the settlers of Zyan. For centuries they were explorer merchants, princely conquerors, nomads of the Endless Azure Sea, famous for sailing aboard a fleet of flying galleons. The Sky Singers received from the spirts of the air a title over Zyan and a new-founded glittering monarchy. In exchange, they agreed to ground forevermore their ships. The six of the great flagships of the fleet served as butchered hecatombs to this treaty, their remains interred with mystical rites of remembrance in the whistling catacombs that riddle the cliff face of the rock of Zyan. The lower levels of these catacombs are open to the Endless Azure Sea and were once a sacred playground of the spirits of the air. Here lie the Chambers of Audience, the long slumbering meeting grounds for the ambassadors of Zyan and the Court of the North Wind. When I run out of steam on the Catacombs of the North Wind, as I surely will, I will likely to something more straightforward, perhaps a classic sword and sorcery megadungeon. 

 My Hobonichi Techo Weeks is on its way even as we speak. It starts in January, so I'll be beginning Sean's challenge on New Year's Day. I hope you join us!