I'm feeling both exhasuted and elated as I write this, so excuse me if we take the long way 'round.
The past several weeks have seen me hard at work at on my campaign sandbox. There has been a growing interest in the world outside the boundaries of the PCs’ home base of Blackpool and beyond the night-haunted halls of Stonehell Dungeon. This is a good thing, in my opinion, for there is a lot to be found just over the next hill or past the deep, dark forest. These are all very Interesting things that I want to explore along with the characters. As such, my focus has been on the world at large and away from the dungeon.
And then we had a session like yesterday’s, one that saw the party return to the depths of Stonehell in search of money ASAP. The raising of one of their number has left them very, very poor and they knew that beasties with treasure were just waiting to be slain in the ancient prison.
We had a tremendous amount of fun prowling the halls of Stonehell and accomplished so much in that session that I very much fell back in love with my megadungeon. Normally, when I get home after a Sunday session, my main goals are to eat dinner, decompress, and enjoy a nice cup of tea and a cookie in my jammies, for I tend to be mentally and physically wiped out after playing judge, jester, and sometimes executioner all afternoon. Not yesterday, no sir. Instead I cracked open my big tablet of graph paper and got back to work expanding, changing, and breathing more life into my dungeon.
Other projects have kept me away from Stonehell for the summer and I am forced to look at what I have accomplished with a realistic gaze. It is with a heavy heart that I must admit to both myself and to you patient souls that it is extremely unlikely that I’m going to meet my self-imposed deadline of year’s end for the Stonehell sequel. Not unless I suddenly hit the lottery and can devote all my time to single-mindedly writing the manuscript and creating the maps in Photoshop. That’s the bad news, and you have my sincere apologies. Hopefully, once the things I have been working on see daylight—if they see daylight—you’ll forgive me for my neglect because they are some pretty cool projects in my own humble opinion.
The good news is that my players’ adventures in the old prison serve as constant inspiration for new and unusual ideas. Their weekly dungeon crawls, both in and out of Stonehell provide me with more than just ideas—they also give me the energy I need to turn those vague concepts into actual words on paper. That’s energy that I simply didn’t have the first time ‘round on Stonehell and I am greatly indebted to Dave, Jack, Jud, Matt, Pete, Rob, and Tom (and possibly Joe too, but he’s just joining the fun so we’ll have to see) for putting up with my nonsense week after week with grins on their faces.
It’s after a session like yesterday’s that I sit back with my cup of tea, replay the game’s events, and realize that I’d be perfectly happy running a whole campaign set entirely within the confines of my megadungeon, no matter how much I want to explore other vistas within the game world. I must simply be a contradictory referee at heart. I can go off and paint every little corner of the campaign world in delicate details, but part of me—the beer & pretzels, “let's talk in funny voices,” and chuck some dice while moving little guys around the table part of me—is perfectly at home with the simple pleasures of the dungeon crawl. And if that’s wrong, I don’t care about being right.
When things go as they did yesterday and the vibe around the table is pitch perfect, I remember what drew me to this pastime in the first place. And, as I work away joyfully on my very own megadungeon, I imagine that I feel what Dave and Gary must have felt all those years ago as they created this pastime to give to us. That’s a magic that can't be scribed into a spellbook and memorized no matter how hard one tries.
That I have been lucky enough to not only create a giant dungeon playground of my own but to have other people take it up and make it their own continues to astound me. I dreamed, as I imagine most referees have at one point or another, that one day people outside my own players would be able to take part in my creations and gain some pleasure from doing so. I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve been able to do exactly that, and I am grateful to all of you for embracing my creation for yourselves or for simply expressing an interest in reading what I have written. When I finished Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls, I had what I believed was a realistic goal of selling fifty copies of the book in either hard copy or PDF. As of last night, almost 375 copies have been purchased. The book also played a very minor part in a seminar on megadungeons at this year’s North Texas RPG Convention—something I would have loved to have witnessed.
I’m a very happy referee right now and I owe that happiness to you folks, my players, my fellow creative members of this thing of ours, and my own long-avoided acceptance of the simple philosophy which had led me here: “Stop worrying and love the dungeon.”
Let’s roll for some wandering monsters…