Dungeon23 - Starting the Dungeon - Early! (Week 1)

Yea, I know... it's not 2023 yet, Michael,  what the hell is your problem?

Well, I did the starting point and well... one thing led to another and jeez, you know how it goes when inspiration hits! Anyway...

Day 1

Gotta start somewhere right? The start of the dungeon sets the tone, sets the expectations, sets what the players are going to see and experience and also helps to kickstart the DM into how they're going to design the thing. 

It's the difference of: "You come down the stairs and enter a room that has 3 doors. There are three creatures in the center of the room."


"You descend the broken stairs to a yawning darkness. Your torches barely pierce the mist that seems to rise from the floor, while drops of a foul smelling liquid drip from the ceiling. The walls are broken stone, and in the flickering light, you make out what look like three dark areas in the walls that could be exits of some sort. The smell is of mold and rot. Ahead in the mist, in the middle of the room, something or somethings move..."

OK, sure I embellished the second, but that's because the starting point needs to make the statement RIGHT NOW that the dungeon is alive and it wants to swallow your soul and consume your flesh, slowly and painfully. 

Picture from Dungeons & Dragons old school rulebook - showing a fighter exploring a dungeon tunnel with torch in hand. The dark shadows of dozens of monsters with gleaming eyes is behind the adventurer!

So... day 1 of Dungeon23 was the starting point. I rolled a d6 to determine starting room and looked at both the Dungeon Master's Guide (Appendix A) and OSRIC (Chapter 4) to see what inspiration I had. OK, got it, sketched it out on the Hobonichi for Jan 1 and then realized a couple of cool things.

The way this little book is laid out and how the grid is overlaid the calendar, I can have a very interesting-to-map dungeon - corridors and areas where the rooms are side by side. I like it!

Secondly, I may use corridors as rooms, especially if it's a neat type or intersection or something interesting like that. 

Then I wanted to see what was there. 

An interesting feature of OD&D/AD&D dungeons is empty space. Not that the rooms have to be empty period, but that not every room is a monster, monster/treasure, trap, special. No, these areas can be empty, or are they? Do the players want to spend time poking in corners for hidden treasure and secret doors? There's always the wandering monsters, of course...

Cover of the 1977 printing of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One.

Anyway, out of those 5 rooms, I got one monster. Hmm... what should I put there? Sticking with my theme of dice telling the story, I grabbed my OD&D/1977 version of Monster/Treasure Assortment - Levels 1-3 and rolled a d100. 

I can't give anything away, players might be reading, but YOWZA! The result just *clicked* and before I knew it, in the starting area, I had 5 keyed areas that all tied together both for the map and the story that the dice just told.

I'd say that's a helluva successful start!

At this rate, I may be able to run level 1 in January, if I keep going like this...

Day 2

Cover for the Judge's Guild Dungeons & Dragons module "Tegel Manor". It has a picture of the ruined manor and the dungeon map on the cover!Someone on Mastodon mentioned about corridors and making rooms in a vacuum, and my pushback on that is two-fold. 

First, is that at least how I'm doing it on the Techo planner is that each day gives me a 7x6 grid. That's more than enough to plan a room (or several if you have side-by-side rooms (think Tegel Manor's map, see  left), that's not a problem either. As well, diagonal passages can be your friend!

Secondly, there's nothing saying I can't go back and edit, adjust, change or even leave blank for awhile until inspiration hits me. Fortunately, the random rolls are giving me a lot of fun things to work with.

For day 2, I came up with an interesting feature with one way doors, secret doors, and interconnected rooms that will give the players an interesting time. The M&TA roll gave me a result that will probably result in a different encounter than the players might expect!

Day 3

The "special" feature results from the OSRIC Chapter 4 table will be fun to play out. This was a hard one to come up with - "dancing" and "force fields". I'm combining that with something I picked up from delving Ultima dungeons... so we'll see how it goes. 

Day 4

An image of the 1977 version of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. It shows several monsters above and below ground.
The Monster/Treasure Assortment module talks only about "Dungeons & Dragons", which in 1977, would be code for OD&D. BUT... there are monsters listed in the M/TA that appear only in the AD&D Monster Manual. To be fair, the MM is perfectly compatible with OD&D and Holmes, aside from the hit dice being a d6 versus a d8. 

This dungeon is shaping up to be nasty and mean. I like the story that's being told - of an underworld that changes, warps and bedevils those who come within.

I'm up to 14 rooms/areas that exist. Not all have something in them, but I'm giving flavor to a good number of the empty rooms. 

Day 5 

Finished rooms/areas 15 - 17 and connecting corridors. I get on a roll of seeing what else is there and before I know it, I have a lot done!

The use of other adventuring groups in a megadungeon is a popular one and for good reason. They can set a tone - telling the story of the dungeon itself, or the story of a rival to the players. Nothing gives he players motivation than another group delving the same depths looking for the same treasures! 

Reaction rolls can really work their magic here, instead of auto-aggro. They can give a story of possible treachery, or just distrustful of your PCs! If you've never used reaction rolls, look them up and give them a try!

An image of "Random Actions by Monsters" table from the 1974 Dungeons & Dragons rules.

Day 6

Christmas shopping and late season deer hunting prep took my day away from me. This is why I do multiple rooms in a day!

Day 7

Rooms/areas 18-20 finished. My dice are broke. If I let the rolls stand, almost every room would have something in it, which doesn't play to how I like to play a dungeon! I'm getting a feel for what is going on in Level 1 though, definitely a mood-setter and prologue of what lies beneath. It's like walking into a dark corridor and hearing screams off in the distance; you know bad things are afoot!

I took some cues from Courtney Campbells book "Tricks, Empty Rooms, & Basic Trap Design", which I've always found to be a fun though provoker. It's enabled me to come up with a clever design on the environment being a possible trap itself... if the players' curiosity provokes them! It will definitely add to the overall tone. 

Kinda taking vibes from Fellowship of the Ring, when the fellowship is about the delve into Moria. Gandalf says "We must face the long dark of Moria. Be on your guard. There are older and fouler things than Orcs, in the deep places of the world."

And with that, we're up to a week! I'm 20 rooms in, but I'm going to go until I fill all 31 spots of my January 2023 planner! I think, though, I may start running this with what I have after Jan 1 - that's at least my intent. I think a party of 4 to 6 delvers will be about right. 

On to week 2 of Dungeon23!


  1. Seems like this is something you've been wanting to do for a long time now, you just didn't know it.

    1. It definitely might be the spark that reignites the creativity... it's been blocked for so long after COVID.

  2. I only wish there was someway to share what your maps look like and evolve into over time without spoiling the surprise!

    1. I hear you on that! The good news is that if the players are smart and on it, maybe you can get the reveals sooner! :)

  3. I love to read about how you each day find some new thing that inspire you. When the idea of the dungeon23 surfaced I thought about it for a moment, and didn't feel the fire. Clearly the kindling has really caught it for you! Fun!

    1. I think so, we'll see if I can keep this up for 360odd days :)


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