A Dungeon A Day Keeps the Duergar Away
Almost any GM can use a hand now and then. Some could use expert ideas as a springboard for the next adventure or campaign, while others (like myself) may be so busy and/or lazy and could use ready-made adventure or maybe a campaign. This March saw the birth of a new project intended to help DMs run a D&D 3rd Ed. campaign in the form of Dungeon-a-Day, by one Monte Cook. More on this multi-media, progressive, subscription based endeavor by an industry veteran in the interview below.
GG: Dungeon-a-day is a sprawling, growing mega-dungeon/super-adventure embracing web technology and using a subscription model. Is this an accurate description? What can you add?
MC: That's not a bad summary. It's a bit more than just an adventure, however, because it also incorporates a lot of "behind-the-scenes" information about how and why things were designed the way they are. There's also an active community of members that not only get to ask questions and trade advice on DMing, but provide feedback and help shape the adventure as it goes along.
The classic D&D setting is and always will be the big dungeon.
GG: Looking at the map of the first dungeon level, now available on the site, it really takes me back to the old days of D&D. was that a conscious design choice? If so, why? Hasn't RPG adventure design grown beyond he underground, level-based dungeon?
MC: It was a conscious design choice. The classic D&D setting is and always will be the big dungeon. It's where the game got its start. Sure, over the years we've developed rpg adventures that take place in all sorts of locations. I've designed a lot of those myself. But such innovations haven't invalidated the dungeon as a setting, they've only expanded the palette of options. Many, many people, new and old, still enjoy dungeon exploration as players and DMs.
GG: How is Dungeon-a-day different from other published adventures? What is unique to its content (other than its method of delivery)?
MC: Well, I guess I would start out by saying, don't overlook how different the method of delivery really is. Presenting a big, location-based adventure like this as a website allows for a whole new level of organization of material. Every major NPC, item, new monster, new spell, etc. is hyper-linked to the ever-growing glossary so that when area 13 refers to some NPCs that were initially introduced in area 5, that information is right at your fingertips.
But beyond that, one of the biggest differences between the adventure material in dungeonaday.com is the size and scope. Putting on my old man hat, I'd say that in the ooooold days, a DM created a big dungeon rather than a world. A mega-dungeon. Often, the adventure would take the PCs to far-flung locales outside of or beyond the dungeon (including other planes), but at the heart of it all, DMs referred to "my dungeon" as opposed to "my world" or "my campaign." Despite this fact, no published product, with the possible exception of Goodman Games' Castle Whiterock, has ever really presented this kind of game material, because it's just so big.
The dungeon of Dungeonaday.com (called Dragon's Delve) is similar to those classic home-brewed dungeons in that each level is sort of it's own distinct thing. Using more modern terms, we'd say that if the megadungeon is the campaign, each level is a story arc. They all come together, but they're also each standalone in their own way, with their own focus and theme.
The adventure is extremely modular.
I'd also say that another unique thing--and again, this is partially because of the presentation--is that because each area of the dungeon is put up individually once each day, the adventure is extremely modular. It's very, very easy to just take an encounter, or a set of encounters, and drop them into another adventure. While the idea is to create something that works as a cohesive whole, you don't have to use it that way. Members who check the site each day might not be interested in running a campaign based on dungeonaday.com, but instead are just looking for ideas to spice up their own campaign.
Or were you looking for more flavorful, story-oriented differences? If so, the overall story "hook" for Dragon's Delve--if it can be narrowed down to just one--is that incredible amounts of raw, unbridled magical power seems to be concentrated in one place. This magic causes all kinds of interesting effects (which explains many of the strange dungeon encounters offered) and draws all sorts of power-hungry people and creatures (which explains many of the interesting foes to face). Over the course of the campaign, brave and capable dungeon adventurers may find the source of this power for themselves, and may learn to harness it. Who knows what limits--if any--such power holds? The adventure will take the character not just through many ever-deeper, ever-stranger, ever-more-challenging dungeon levels, but to urban intrigues in the nearby town of Brindenford, to a remote mystical island, and even to other planes of existence.
GG: Why use D&D 3E? Wouldn't the "return to classics" feel of DaD fit better with the mechanics of 4th Edition D&D?
The OGL is still friendlier than even the revised GSL.
MC: I don't see why. When I co-wrote 3E, I spearheaded the "return to the dungeon" philosophy that inspired many great adventures produced for the game and I made sure that the DMG contained a meaty section on dungeon exploration.
Plus, the OGL (which offers 3E mechanics) is still friendlier than even the revised GSL (which offers 4E mechanics).
And it's my personal game of choice, for reasons which I am sure are obvious.
GG: The DaD site promises of daily updates, weekly features, blog, podcast and so on. Is DaD going to take all of your time (perhaps preventing you from working on other stuff)? Do you fear burnout?
MC: Well, for good or ill, I'm very prolific. Even with all of the material that Dungeonaday.com offers, it's not a full-time job for me. I have a nonfiction book about conspiracy theories coming out in October and a number of other fun projects in the works, a few game related but most non-game related. So with that kind of variety of work before me, I don't really fear burnout. If I can write a book the size of Ptolus and not get burned out on that, I can pretty much handle a project of any size, I think.
GG: How many subscribers to DaD would make you consider the project a success?
MC: I'm not entirely comfortable discussing those kinds of specifics in a public way, just because it leads people to do math and figure that I make too little or too much or whatever. Plus, they don't always understand the expenses involved. So what I would feel comfortable in saying is that my business plan states that by the sixth month point of Dungeonaday.com, I needed to have a certain number of subscribers in order to make it worth my while, and after a week and a half, I'm almost there. So I guess I consider the project a success already.
GG: You seem bent on incorporating user feedback into DaD. Have you tried this before? Do you think it would prove to be a challenge? Have you considered inviting other designers to contribute?
I've always kind of prided myself in listening to what people have to say.
MC: I've always kind of prided myself in listening to what people have to say. Whole books that I've released, like the Book of Experimental Might, were the result of people asking for that kind of material. But I've never had the opportunity to get direct and immediate feedback that I could then immediately incorporate into what I was working on. Literally, if a lot of people told me they wanted to see another encounter with a minotaur (to use a simplistic example), but Friday I could deliver it to them.
It's not so much a challenge as an opportunity. It would be a challenge, I suppose, if I made some kind of public agreement that I would do whatever the members wanted, no matter what. Then, someone could demand a dungeon room with giant squirrels and I'd have to do that. But that's not the way it works. I listen to the membership as a whole and take inspiration and motivation from that.
The idea of having a special guest star design an encounter from time to time is certainly on the table. It's something I might try down the line. But it would be the exception not the rule.
GG: What sample (free) content can future subscribers expect to see on the DaD site?
MC: If you go to Dungeonaday.com right now, you'll find that the first six encounters, the first three blog entries, the first podcast, and a number of the basic articles are all available to non-members. While every great once in a while I might add more free content, that will be the bulk of it, because it gives people a good feel for the rest of the material.
GG: Is DaD going to be affected or will affect your home campaign (assuming you're running one)? If so, how much?
MC: I'm currently running two D&D games, and playing in another, all 3E (and all using rules variants from the Book of Experimental Might). These games have had a direct impact on Dungeonaday.com, and will continue to. In addition, I'm starting up another game to be strictly a playtest of certain sections. I value playtesting very, very highly.
GG: Welcome to podcasting! How's your first attempt been?
MC: Thanks. The podcast that I did for the site was the single biggest challenge in the entire creation of the site, I suppose because it was so far afield from things I had done in the past. And I'm sure it shows. But I'm looking forward to doing more.
So there you have it, straight from the horses' mouth. Do you think it's useful? Do you disdain such help? Add your comments below.
*Note: This interview was originally conducted for the Hebrew language gaming site/podcast Hamis`hakia.*