Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dungeonaday

Monte Cook, one of the designers behind Wizard of the Coast's Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, has just announced his latest project: Dungeonaday.com. The site doesn't go live till next week, so there's nothing to see there just yet. According to the announcement on his blog, Dungeonaday.com will be "a subscription-based website that will offer new game content every weekday," with a subscription costing $7 a month.

Now, normally, I wouldn't give much consideration to announcements like this, since I'm not really a fan of subscription-based gaming content. What I found interesting, though, is the further explanation Cook gives for the nature of the content on the site:
Basically, what I'll be doing is building an ongoing dungeon-based campaign of a decidedly old-school tradition, but utilizing all the newest presentation options. [italics mine]
He elaborates on this description further:
Dungeonaday.com describes Dragon's Delve, a mysterious (mega-)dungeon of vast size, fascinating secrets, and great danger. It includes such locales as the Font of Dreams, the Domain of the Venom Cult, the Prison of the Red Saint, the Aberrant Laboratory, the Sprawl of the Demon Leige, and the Secret City. It offers weird and wild encounters with the Bestial Host, the Insidious Kings, swarm-demon Czarzem the Wicked, and the Prince of Dragons. It holds treasures and secrets like the Twelve Secret Sigils, Sao's Bones, and the mystical wendways. But the adventure includes much more than just a dungeon. Dungeonaday.com also describes the surrounding area (filled with intriguing ruins), the nearby town of Brindenford (which is far more involved in the goings-on than it first appears), side trips to a mysterious island and an extradimensional tesseract, and forays into strange other planes. And that's just for starters. Seriously.
Notice the use of the M-word -- megadungeon. I can't deny that this does sound very intriguing, particularly since I'd actually been contemplating a vaguely similar concept for Grognardia, although without a subscription component. Though it's far too early to tell how accurate it all is -- and Monte Cook is a master of hyping his own products -- I do get an old school vibe from that description. The mention of multiple named locales, for example, reminds me of Castle Greyhawk and its Machine Level, Bottle City, Black Reservoir, and so on. As things stand now, Dungeonaday is being written with v.3.5 D&D in mind, but Cook intriguingly notes that it's extremely "rules-light" and could easily be used with any edition of the game.

The proof will be in the pudding, of course. Monte Cook is a very talented writer, but his credentials as an old school module designer are slim at best (he was, after all, the writer of the execrable Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil), so I am skeptical. Still, I think the fact that a big name "modern" RPG writer is going to try his hand at a megadungeon is a testament to just how far the old school community's ideas have spread. Likewise, Cook's emphasis on "rules-light" suggests two things. One, he's interested in attracting fans of editions other than v.3.5, including those of us who play pre-WotC editions. Second, I think it's an indication that D&D players are permanently split between partisans of many different editions.

Again, I remain skeptical of the whole enterprise, but I'll be keeping an eye on it when it launches next week. There's supposed to be lots of free preview content available then and I'll certainly be looking into it carefully. Still, there's a big part of me that wishes the old school community could organize itself into a similar kind of project but without a fee. I know we have the talent to do so.

43 comments:

  1. Interesting announcement. If the emphasis is on rules-light and original D&D sensibilities, this has potential. I'd prefer a finished product in print to an ongoing series of additions, but the idea behind the presentation is a novel one.

    there's a big part of me that wishes the old school community could organize itself into a similar kind of project but without a fee. I know we have the talent to do so.

    Agreed.

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  2. Hey, if you're up for it, I'm willing to provide the website, hosting, and web design.

    I'm too swamped with Silver Gryphon Games to offer too much in the way of content, but I can certainly provide the vehicle.

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  3. Does this mean that WoC is listening to the "Old School Community"?

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  4. Sounds potentially interesting. Unfortunately, I've disliked every Cook-penned module I've played, but he's a very good "idea man". This may be worth a closer look.

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  5. It really is interesting how some parties are making moves to try to cash in on the "old school renaissance". First the "4E Classic rules set", now this. I wouldn't be surprised if WOTC themselves try to productize something within the next year.

    The only thing that bothers me is this association that's being built with attempts to tie phrases such as "old school tradition" to anything pre-4E. How long before someone starts calling Pathfinder "old school"?

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  6. I liked a lot of what he did in Ptolus...I hated RttToEE though.

    It would be interesting to see what he does with this.

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  7. Why couldn't we organize ourselves into a similar kind of project?

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  8. Huh. An entire megadungeon released in sections on an ongoing schedule. Wish I had thought of that. ;-)

    No, scratch that. I wish I had thought of the subscription model!

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  9. "How long before someone starts calling Pathfinder "old school"?"

    Someday they will, because someday it will be...

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  10. The problem I have with the Mega Dungeon campaign is that it is bourne of limitations of the art form (you can consider RPG a collaborative narrative art a la glass bead game). As a form in which adventure encounters occur - contained as they are in rooms, rooms connected by corridors, it has its own attractiveness - the maze, the traps, the representation of the mind of the DM versus the imaginations of the layers exploring it. But, there are serious limitations. There is a reason why there has been a lot more written on the Dungeon Adventure design - the descriptive nuts and bolts and the mechanics of the labyrinth generation, then there has been on designing a wilderness, Not andling the wilderness travel and combat and not drawing a general map, but how to structure a wilderness adventure and keep it going. The reason for difficulty is the size and scale of the undertaking. Just how do you map, stock and narrate a ruined city with dozens if not hundreds of buldigs that can shelter encounter? Do you draw them? Do you conceptualize them as rooms? Or how do you draw a map of the forest, how do you "make a forest" the way you'd roll up a dungeon? In the beginning, a dungeon based campaign was cutting edge, but since then subsequent editions of D&D made attempts to break away from the dungeon based model - Creative Campaigning supplement, City Sites and Country Cites supplements. Both Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and Wilderness Survival guide tried to expand on the traditional model, and did not succeed. Dungeoneer expanded the underground setting, and contains excellent text on designign settings, and wilderness guide will tell you how to administer the game mechanics of living off the land and surviving the elements, but it will not be of much help to the DMs in desinging their own two diemnsional sandbox campaign. I thought about it and decided that the reason is the difficulty of the problem - modding a world to explore. DMs and videogames try to channel te game into a linear-sequential adventure of one encounter building upon another with gatekeepers and boss monsters, and and the WOTC has addressed the problem by selling pre-made settings and figues and channeling the game into tabletop miniature-based encounters. That's still not a solution. In this type of a situation, a megadungeon would be a step-back. With this in mind, I am going to dedicate my BLOG, notes from Midlands, to open-ended wilderness design and do for outdoors what original DMG did for Dungeon design and dungeon dressing.

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  11. There really is something dungeon-y in the water these days. All the cool kids are doing it.

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  12. I have trouble seeing why I would want to subscribe to this, when there are some terrific things coming out on blogs and websites for free, or in the more diverse (yet cheaper) new magazines.

    But, whatever.

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  13. There really is something dungeon-y in the water these days. All the cool kids are doing it.

    Oh crap! Does that mean I'm one of the cool kids now? Do they have shots for that?!? ;)

    Gotta agree with a lot of what's been said. Not a huge fan of RttToEE, but Mr. Cook's one of those guys who actually games and engages with the community. There was a lot of cool in Ptolus, and if anyone can pull of a subscription model, it's Mr. Cook.

    And I thought y'all were kinda doing something like this with "The Darkness Beneath".

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  14. Hey, if you're up for it, I'm willing to provide the website, hosting, and web design.

    That's a very intriguing offer ...

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  15. Does this mean that WoC is listening to the "Old School Community"?

    Monte Cook might be, since this isn't a WotC product. I'll need to see more of what he's offering before I can assess its connection to the old school community, if any.

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  16. The only thing that bothers me is this association that's being built with attempts to tie phrases such as "old school tradition" to anything pre-4E. How long before someone starts calling Pathfinder "old school"?

    Yeah, I agree. "Old school" seems to have been co-opted as a marketing term by a lot of people, with only the faintest of connections to the usual usage of the term. That's why I'm keen to see what Monte Cook means by it.

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  17. Why couldn't we organize ourselves into a similar kind of project?

    There's no reason we couldn't -- and I'm starting to think about doing so.

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  18. I have trouble seeing why I would want to subscribe to this, when there are some terrific things coming out on blogs and websites for free, or in the more diverse (yet cheaper) new magazines.

    That's the big thing for me too. It'd have to be really cool to make me want to spend money on it, when I could a) do it myself or b) swipe ideas for free from the many old schoolers already hard at work on their own megadungeons.

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  19. And I thought y'all were kinda doing something like this with "The Darkness Beneath".

    We are, but it's very slow going. It'll be many, many months before it's completed.

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  20. have a love/hate thing for M. Cook (I liked his contributions to Rolemaster specifically) and the idea seems very applicable to be DIY'ed.

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  21. We are, but it's very slow going. It'll be many, many months before it's completed.

    Ok, maybe I'm misunderstanding something. From what I understand Mr. Cook plans to dribble this thing out to us, an encounter or so a day. Which means he'll be at least many months, if not years, giving us the entire megadungeon + surrounding countryside + island adventure + tesseract and other planes.

    But I have to admit, I'd love to see the online old school community build a cool, easy-to-navigate web page that includes hyperlinked documents to houserules, original critters, and new magic items and the like, and takes advantage of modern production design.

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  22. Trollsmythe's idea is a fascinating gone. On the one hand, I can appreciate the wide-open, "messy" character of the OSR, where you have several different internet forum and a ton of blogs. It kind of captures the feel of the early days.

    OTOH, a central hub-site, as it were, called "oldschoolrenaissance.net" or "garysentus.net" or whatever, that linked to all of the above and which could host all of the excellent documents produced...? Well, that would certainly be convenient.

    If it was a wiki, then different folks could add to it. So, you could do something like the Cook project, creating a mega-dungeon as you go. Except that several people could be doing there own. or collaborating.

    Hmn. Who else would be interested in that?

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  23. Ok, maybe I'm misunderstanding something. From what I understand Mr. Cook plans to dribble this thing out to us, an encounter or so a day. Which means he'll be at least many months, if not years, giving us the entire megadungeon + surrounding countryside + island adventure + tesseract and other planes.

    I expect that Monte Cook will wind up detailing his megadungeon faster than Fight On! will, since it's a quarterly publication and only has (at most) one level per issue.

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  24. Who else would be interested in that?

    It's a very intriguing idea to be sure ...

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  25. Put me down on the list of possible dungeon architects willing to take up a 10' pole if something ever comes of these ponderings.

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  26. If it's online . . . and it's a wiki . . . how crazy, logistically, would a shared living dungeon be? In addition to the obvious everyone-can-add-levels business, if you send your crew into it, you record the changes they made on the main shared website.

    At any rate, even if it's less crazy for it's own sake and more actually useful/usable, I'd be intrigued by such a project as well.

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  27. "Still, there's a big part of me that wishes the old school community could organize itself into a similar kind of project but without a fee."

    I'd definitely be on board for something like that. I don't know about the wiki idea, though - I've only ever had bad experiences as an end-user trying to get useful content from those things. And I think the idea of a "living dungeon" is neat, but if the original concept is to build a dungeon over time, that seems like it would have to be a second phase of the "project."

    In all, though, I'd love to see some of the amazing talent I've seen around these parts get together on a project like this, and would gladly offer my services in any capacity to get and keep such a project rolling.

    This idea has legs, as they say. ;)

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  28. Could I request that all you fine fellows who do your own blogs (such as Mike, Sham, and Trollsmythe), post something about this idea? Just to get maximum diffusion and see how many people are really interested.

    Re the shared dungeon: my thought was that anyone who is a contributer to the wiki could do his own dungeon, as fast or slow, as they liked. A truly group-composed dungeon (like the Darkness Beneath) could be nifty also, but I was thinking more like everyone could be there own Monte (if that makes sense).

    One of the things I like more and more about this idea is that it could help reinforce the idea that old-school emulators, clones, nostalgia games, and whatnot are all more alike than not. And thus rather than have one forum devoted to Swords & Wizardy, say, and another devoted to Labyrinth Lord, you have everything mashed up together, sort of like the way Fight On! does it.

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  29. Well, for the hell of it, I just set up http://oldschool.wikidot.com. It's free, but if this idea went somewhere, it should probably be upgraded to a pro account (which is still rather cheap).

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  30. Hmm. I thought "A new dungeon every day? Wow! Sounds great!" Then I read on and discover it's actually _one_ megadungeon in an integrated campaign setting. *sigh* - no thanks.

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  31. I can very easily see why the old-school community might see the "rules light" part as a nod to them, and it probably is, but it might also be Cook looking to get a piece of 4e without having to mess around with the GSL and so on. After all, if it's light enough on specifics to be run with Labyrinth Lord, it can also be used with 4e.

    I'm not sure it's significant, but I thought it worth mentioning. I don't recall Cook being a huge fan of the retro movement previously, so I'm reluctant to see this as a concession to it.

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  32. I'm not sure it's significant, but I thought it worth mentioning. I don't recall Cook being a huge fan of the retro movement previously, so I'm reluctant to see this as a concession to it.

    Oh, I agree. I don't think Monte Cook is a big fan of old school gaming nor do I think Dungeonaday.com represents a conversion to our way of thinking about gaming. However, I do think it's significant that "old school" is the buzzword du jour, even if the term is so mangled in meaning as to be empty. Everyone wants to claim they're old school these days, as if it's some badge of "authenticity." I have to laugh every time someone claims 4e is "old school," because I get the distinct impression most of the people who make this claim don't really have any sense of just what the term implies.

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  33. I'm not sure it's significant, but I thought it worth mentioning. I don't recall Cook being a huge fan of the retro movement previously, so I'm reluctant to see this as a concession to it.

    The cynic in me thinks Cook is trying to get a toehold on what he thinks might be the next 'flavor of the month' with all the buzz about retro games (which I think picked up some steam with the passing of Gygax a year ago).

    These days I think the best megadungeons are the ones that grow like a fungus --- the dm is drawing up level 6 between sessions while the players are hacking their way from 4 to 5. No one I know of has the patience for that kind of game anymore (other than, well, me -- I'd love it), so maybe my grumbling is just sour grapes... but as someone who posted extensively on Megadungeons as a campaign a few years ago (and offered up a PDF of notes and maps of one of my own), I feel a certain 'possessiveness' towards the concept. Being that I'm not a big Monte Cook fan, I'll confess that I'm a little miffed that he's gonna turn a buck on something near and dear to my heart (and something I was giving away for free) but c'est la vie I suppose.

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  34. as someone who posted extensively on Megadungeons as a campaign a few years ago ... I feel a certain 'possessiveness' towards the concept. Being that I'm not a big Monte Cook fan, I'll confess that I'm a little miffed that he's gonna turn a buck on something near and dear to my heart (and something I was giving away for free) but c'est la vie I suppose.

    That pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter as well. A lot of us spent several years talking up and hashing out this concept in at least implicit opposition to the style of gaming Monte Cook was promulgating at that same time, only to, once the meme gained critical mass, have Monte come sweeping in and co-opt (and monetize) it.

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  35. Amityville Mike said...

    Huh. An entire megadungeon released in sections on an ongoing schedule. Wish I had thought of that. ;-)

    No, scratch that. I wish I had thought of the subscription model!


    You read my mind, Mike...

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  36. There goes my McFly button. Thanks.

    I'm willing to contribute the following:

    A few bucks to hold a domain name if we need one.

    Some programming time if needed, for database/backend stuff.

    Contribution of levels and basic artwork, if needed.

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  37. And I'd be willing to do some design work, plus offer anything on my blog that would be useful.

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  38. a couple of comments on this:

    1) Monte is definitely an idea guy, but I would not call Monte old school by any stretch. His work on Ptolus is good stuff, and I have to give him props on that. The layout is amazing.

    2) The Dungeon a day idea is interesting, and I know I will be checking it out to see what he has in mind.

    3) I like the ideas that the folks are coming up with, and I would be willing to do some writing, and I would support the idea on my blog. I will probably post some commentary next week.

    4) Its been a good week for announcements, and I think that is a good thing, even if it does not appeal to everyone. Anything that creates buzz for the hobby is generally good, and we need more of it.

    Cheers!

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  39. I run Campaign Wiki and use it for all my campaigns. I really like the idea of Gary Sent Us. :)

    As for an idea on how to get started: What I did for Dungeon Maps was take maps from Paratime Design Cartography (the work by Tim Hartin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License) and write up a key for them.

    Once we have several of these smaller one or two page dungeons (hah!) we can start interlinking them, renaming them, reorganizing them, commenting on them, and so on.

    I also know how to extract the text or HTML pages from one of the campaign wikis, so if you ever decide to move to another platform, we won't be locked in at all.

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  40. On Dungeonaday: I'm just curious about it. I wouldn't subscribe blindly to it, since I'd have no use for its content. I ran Cook's Banewarrens adventure and my players really liked it.

    On a possible old-school project: I believe it is a great idea with lots of potential. At the same time, it needs a lot of organization to work. Such a project would need a common "kernel" for all parts to work together and feel like a whole.

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  41. Just to be clear, my point about 4e was not that it is an old-school system (because it most certainly isn't), but that it could accommodate a "rules light" dungeon module just as easily as LBB D&D, Runequest, etc.

    By making it rules light, Cook can potentially grab a bit of the audience of each edition, whether it be 4e or 1e, or Red Box, or Labyrinth Lord. I don't see his mention of "old school" as a nod to that movement specifically, just an attempt to maximise interest across the board.

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  42. Juampa said:
    On a possible old-school project: I believe it is a great idea with lots of potential. At the same time, it needs a lot of organization to work. Such a project would need a common "kernel" for all parts to work together and feel like a whole.

    That's definitely true. You would need a small core of Admins exercising some editorial control.

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