Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 2/6

Labyrinth of Souls Designer’s Notebook

Designing the Labyrinth of Souls game

Game design is a wonderful interplay between logical and narrative elements. I really enjoy both aspects of design, and the chance to combine them is one of the reasons why I love making games. This post will cover my thoughts on game design in general and my design notes from Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls. It’s a bit long for a single blog post, so I’m just going share here the PDF Designer’s Notebook I made for the Labyrinth of Souls Kickstarter. Everything is contained within: the origins of Dungeon Solitaire, major influences, design philosophy, testing methods, original images, and thoughts on the various challenges, solutions, and variations that went into Dungeon Solitaire.

Click here or on the title page below to delve in. Download if you want … and enjoy. :)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 1/6

Enter the Dungeon

An early game of Dungeon Solitaire

Back in 2015 I sat down on a bed with deck of playing cards to design a game that involved dungeon delving, exploration, and monster slaying. I never could have imagined where this would lead. In so many ways, this game has exceeded every expectation I had for it, and in some ways, it has really changed the course of my life.

Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground

Later that year, I teamed up with artist Josephe Vandel to launch a Kickstarter for an expanded tarot version of Dungeon Solitaire. Now, five years later, there are three Dungeon Solitaire games, with a whole bunch of variations, that reach all over the world. With the exception of maybe Antarctica, Dungeon Solitaire has been played on every continent. Please correct me if anybody has delved into the dungeon from the south pole.

Christina Lay with ShadowSpinners Press

A series of Labyrinth of Souls stand-alone novels (nine so far) have been published by ShadowSpinners Press. They feature a host of veteran and award-winning authors, as well as talented newcomers. Everyone has been a delight to read. In all likelihood, this is the only independently designed and published game to have its own fiction series. In October, I’ll be at the World Fantasy convention for the third time to help promote the Labyrinth of Souls novels and all the Dungeon Solitaire games.

Looking ahead, the success of this game helped cement my publishing skills and encouraged me to pursue more game design. I am planning to release an Dungeon Solitaire omnibus edition rulebook and tarot-sized cards later this year. And in the months and years ahead, I expect you will see releases for games like Weird Roleplaying, Grimstone Fantasy, an expanded edition of Giant, and Warbound.

Chariot concept by ML

In addition to my ongoing game design work, the success of Dungeon Solitaire helped along — directly or indirectly — a number of other projects. My novel, The End of All Things, is in the Labyrinth of Souls series of stand-alone novels. My latest book, That Which is Before You, is a work of spiritual non-fiction that has its roots in something extraordinary that happened during the time that I was writing Labyrinth of Souls. And all this has laid the groundwork to publish further works, including a complete trilogy of fantasy novels that I wrote over a period of twelve years, a collection of my short stories, and at least three more spiritual non-fiction books.

So looking back — and ahead — Dungeon Solitaire has had a huge impact on my life and my writing/game design career. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to put out so far, and there’s a lot of great work yet to do.

Most of the year, I still have a day job, so I just move ahead with the time I have. As a one-man publishing operation, I really enjoy getting to do a bit of everything, from design, writing, and testing, to editing, layout, and proofing. It’s hectic sometimes, but I love having so much control over the vision and execution of each project. I have also been blessed to work with and get feedback from some incredibly talented people. I am so grateful for them and for all the people who have backed the Dungeon Solitaire Kickstarters. You’ve changed my life, and that’s quite wonderful. And I’ve been so happy to be able to share Dungeon Solitaire with gamers around the world.

If I can be shamelessly honest for a moment, I am still a huge fan of this game myself. I think it’s awesome! It is everything I wanted to create in a dungeon-delving card game, and so much more. And it’s just fantastic to see like-minded souls discover its magic.

Playing Devil’s Playground

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

March 18th Release: That Which is Before You

That Which is Before You will be released on March 18th — ten days from now. This book is a testimonial to a profound awakening, an invitation to the spiritual path, and a guidebook for inquiry and practice. Within you will find an account of my awakening, direct insights, fresh teachings, and detailed practices.

This is the first book in a series of spiritual books. My aim in writing them is just to bear witness to awakening and to point directly toward the realization that great mystics and sages have described throughout the ages. In short: enlightenment is real … and the path is open. My only hope is that the words within will guide others toward illumination, true happiness, and an end to suffering.

Independently published by Empty Press, That Which is Before You will be available as a 6×9 paperback or an ebook. Whether you are already on a spiritual path or just curious, you will find this work of interest. And if you are skeptic — like I was — I encourage you to consider this account.


From the Introduction

This is a book about spiritual enlightenment. I never expected to be writing it. Such accounts and teachings have always been around, though. In every age, some people have realized the truth and spoken about it. But enlightenment is still a great secret known only to a few. Even those who know about it or believe it is possible, cannot really know until the secret is revealed, for it is a secret you keep from yourself.

The ideas in this book are not intended to challenge any particular spiritual path, nor any process or theory of science. But there is a reality that transcends everything, and that is the subject here. Various religions likely have their roots in a realization of this reality, but the realization has been subsequently interpreted, reinterpreted, misinterpreted, and mythologized. Certainly science is making observations, predictions, and conceptual models of phenomena that arise within this reality. However, to actually see this reality we must doubt everything and seek knowledge directly. Things may not be what they seem, but in the realm of what is, there are no obstructions.

I am not a religious expert, a philosopher, or a scientist. Although I’ve read a little in each of these fields, I claim no authority except direct realization, insight, and experience. And while I will attempt to make all this clear, I assert no beliefs, nor is there anything in particular I wish you to believe or do. If at times I speak dramatically or persuasively, it is not to support any belief whatsoever. It is rather an attempt to help you see for yourself what I’m talking about. Anything else falls short of the mark.

 

Bearing Witness to Awakening

Bridge at Greenwaters Park in Oakridge, Oregon

On April 11th in 2016, something extraordinary happened to me. A sudden, unexpected, and profound spiritual awakening completely transformed my life and perception of reality. After three years of this abiding realization, I’ve decided to talk openly about it. This is likely the work of a lifetime, and not of a single statement or book, but we have to start somewhere if we’re going to have a dialog.

In some traditions it is customary not to speak about enlightenment directly, and there is good reason for that. In the present circumstances, however, it seems helpful if those who have truly awakened bear witness to it. For the most basic teaching is that liberation is possible. Many have forgotten it, discounted it, disregarded it, downgraded it, reinterpreted it, or not heard about it — even in traditions that attest to the possibility of such an awakening. So the testimony and teachings of those who have realized could give people courage to look deeper into their spiritual path.

Until now, I have discussed these events only with my teachers and a few other people. But as a writer, I felt compelled to make an account of my awakening, to set down my insights, and to answer questions to the best of my ability. That work has resulted in two books so far on the topic of spirituality and awakening. The first book, That Which is Before You, will be coming out soon. Hence the need to make some kind of statement here.

Trust me, I really never expected to be writing or talking about this kind of thing. But after almost 30 years of searching, I find myself in the situation of trying to convey what has happened to me, as well as the insights and teachings inherent to awakening. I think an open, straight-forward dialog could be of great benefit to seekers and practitioners alike. So let us simply move ahead and do the work required of us, whatever it may be. And may these endeavors help to bring illumination, true happiness, and an end to suffering.

World Fantasy 2019

[Note: the website is currently undergoing an update and redesign. Thank you for your patience while the details are sorted out.]

At the mass book signing with Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels

I had a great time at the World Fantasy convention this past weekend with ShadowSpinners Press and some fellow authors in the Labyrinth of Souls fiction series. Can’t say I saw much of LA, since I did not leave the Airport Marriott for three days, but the weather was nice, the conference was great, and the company was outstanding. It is truly a wonderful experience to be in the midst of so many creative and inspiring writers and artists.

The crowds gather in LA Airport Marriott

The ShadowSpinners table had a lively showing in the book room, and I had a great time answers questions about Dungeon Solitaire and the Labyrinth of Souls. I signed a few books, did a reading with fellow authors Christina Lay and Stephen T. Vessels, and managed to get to a few talks and panels. I was particularly interested to learn a bit more about audiobook production and particularly taken with the beautiful art of Reiko Murakami.

The ShadowSpinners table and chief editor Christina Lay

With another successful appearance, we are planning to make an even bigger showing next year in Salt Lake. We’ll have more books, more authors, and more games. Hope to see you there!

Art print by Reiko Murakami (available on her website)

Writer’s Stuck

From the 2014 archives at ShadowSpinners, here are some of my thoughts on writer’s block:

The idea of writer’s block gets a lot of attention. I’ve always interpreted it as some kind of psychological block to writing, and while I can imagine such a condition, I can’t imagine it would be too common among writers. Much more common, I believe, and perhaps sometimes mistaken for a psychological block, is the experience of being stuck on a difficult problem.

I’m right in the middle of a summer long campaign to finish the 3rd book in a fantasy trilogy. It’s a project I’ve been working on for around twelve years all together, if you include a few years when nothing got done. And in that time, believe me, there have been times when I felt stuck. I struggled to figure out a particular plot line, or how to turn some necessary action into an exciting scene, or how to develop a specific character or theme over the course of a 300,000 word trilogy.

The first couple times I got stuck like this, it felt like a catastrophe. This thing can’t happen because of that other thing, and that character can’t be in this place at this time because how would he have gotten there, and so on. You’ve written yourself into a corner, and how the hell are you going to get out?

Over the years I’ve learned not to panic or despair. It never helps anyways. There’s always a solution; the trick is finding it. Sometimes it requires a day of hardcore thinking, the kind that makes your brain hurt and your sleep fitful. Sometimes it requires a long walk, a hot bath, or a few hours of looking at birds out my back window. Sometimes I just need a day off. In any case, it’s important to acknowledge that we need time to process problems when they arise, consciously and subconsciously.

Sometimes the answer comes to me in a flash, but if not I move on to the next step. When all the thinking and loafing around starts to feel indulgent, I pick up a pen and start writing ideas down. I brainstorm solutions and variations. I draw diagrams, make notes, and outline possible scenes. Finally, if I’m still not sure I understand the solution I pick the best idea I have and just start writing it. I don’t commit to using it yet. I treat it like an experiment. But more often than not, if I’ve gotten this far, the problem dissolves in the process of writing.

So while I don’t put much stock in the proverbial writer’s block, there are definitely real problems big enough to get stuck on. Luckily, getting unstuck is pretty straight forward: think/rest, brainstorm, and write. Repeat as needed.

*First Published on ShadowSpinners, August 2014.

Mountain of Ashes

A new Labyrinth of Souls novel is out, Mountain of Ashes by John Reed. It’s a wild ride into a strange underworld where Matt Thanos tries to save his life and love from death and doom. This book really has everything: a Harley Davidson, mythic references, cowboys, an exploding trans-dimensional cactus, barfights, chrome lizards, warring gods, and an icebridge! It’s like a psychedelic western of epic proportions. It’s a great adventure, great fun — parts of it are laugh out-loud funny — and I highly recommend it.

John Reed is the author of seven novels and numerous shorter non-fiction works. He has conducted writing workshops, classes and seminars around the country for the past 20 years; his sensitive and insightful critiques have inspired hundreds of writers. His classes on the novel, short stories, essays and magazine writing have given many students a stepping stone to publication. Currently, John is editing a book-length collection of essays by Northwest writers. You can read an author interview here with the release announcement for Mountain of Ashes.

This is the eighth Labyrinth of Souls novel published by ShadowSpinners Press and inspired by the Labyrinth of Souls tarot card game. Every book is a unique adventure into some kind of underground or underworld realm. They’re all great stories by a group of incredibly talented and award-winning authors. It’s so exciting to be a part of this project and see these books coming out.

All the Labyrinth of Souls stand-alone novels are available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers and ebook providers such as Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords. Start anywhere and keep delving until you’ve read them all, including:

And keep eye out for Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson coming soon!

Meditation through Stillness and Motion

I will be teaching a Winter Workshop in Eugene, OR on Sunday, February 3rd from 1-5pm. The title for the workshop is Transparent Mind – Transparent Body. The topic will be developing meditation practice through stillness and motion. This is an all new workshop put on through Eugene Systema and Best Martial Arts Institute.

We will be focusing on meditation through both sitting and movement-based practice. Complementary skills will be taught in multiple modalities, facilitating a deeper understanding of meditation, movement, and action. The workshop is open to all. No prior experience is necessary. The contents are intended to help anybody understand themselves better, see more clearly, resolve inner conflicts, and experience the dropping away of mind and body. This work is for anyone who wants to develop a meditation practice or deepen an existing practice, whatever their art or focus may be.

See the flier here with detailed information, and please share it with anybody who might be interested in attending.

Labyrinth of Souls Fiction Keeps Delving Deeper

Immortal's Penance promo picture1

Halloween marks the launch of a new Labyrinth of Souls novel. Check out Immortal’s Penance by L.A. Alber for a journey in the mythic underworld of the ancient Celts. Perfect Halloween reading as the story opens with a Samhain festival, a great time to be digging up a mysterious giant bog body! Taking place in the post WWII era 1950s, in a remote Irish village, this book has a wonderful feel of place, history, and larger-than-life legend.

This is the seventh Labyrinth of Souls novel, and there is more to come. Every book is a unique and stand-alone adventure. I am so proud that I’m a part of this project and that Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls had a part in inspiring these awesome books.

tss-cover-md

With all the work and excitement of the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter and launch the first half of the year, I haven’t had a chance to mention the sixth book, which is also available now. The Snake’s Song by Mary E. Lowd follows the adventures of a squirrel in search of the lost Celestial Fragments of the All-Being. It features a cast of animals, but there are plenty of dangers in the underworld, like sorcerer crabs and an army of ghost moles.

All the Labyrinth of Souls novels are available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online book retailers and ebook providers such as Kobo, Scribd, and Smashwords. Start anywhere and keep delving until you’ve read them all, including:

And keep eye out for Mountain of Ashes by John Reed and Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson coming soon!

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Release

The general release is here for the new Dungeon Solitaire game, Devil’s Playground! The new game book includes a stand-alone game, a two-player version, expansion rules for the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls tarot game, four variants of a new original cardgame called Dungeon War, and guidelines for fortune telling using the Devil’s Playground custom card deck.

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground is a fantasy adventure card game. Fight monstrous diabolisms, overcome obstacles, and endure misfortunes as you delve into the darkest dungeon in a quest to defeat three powerful demons. Along the way you will collect treasure and unique magic items, encounter strange locales, and acquire three divine graces. But beware, the dungeon is deep and even if you survive all immediate dangers, a fate worse than death awaits those who linger too long. You may face starvation and insanity, terrible curses and demonic possession, forever haunted, in the darkness of the pit.

Most of the games require the Devil’s Playground cards, available separately. Expansion rules also require the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook and cards. Dungeon Solitaire print rulebooks, PDF rulebooks, and custom card decks are available through the following outlets:

Print Rulebook: Amazon

PDF Rulebook: DriveThru RPG

Deluxe Cards: DriveThru RPG

Standard Cards: Gamecrafter

Learn more about the complete line of Dungeon Solitaire games and stand-alone novels here on the Labyrinth of Souls page. Gameplay videos can be found on my YouTube channel.