Ever since I posted the free print-and-play download for the first Dungeon Solitaire game, the dungeon has been expanding. And it’s been wonderful to hear from fans all over the world. A few fans have even offered translations into other languages. I’m super excited to announce we now have a Korean language edition of Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of Four Kings. The translation by Dan looks fantastic and is ready for free download, print, and play.
I’m so grateful to Dan for putting in the hard work to make this Tomb of Four Kings translation. It looks fantastic and maintains all the original artwork and formatting. It’s a joy to share this game with others, and I’m so happy to be able to expand the audience with Korean speakers.
Tomb of Four Kings can be played with a regular deck of playing cards, and will always be a free download, no matter what language you speak. English, Spanish, and Korean editions are now available for download on the Games page. See you all in the dungeon! :)
I am releasing a free starter edition for Weird Roleplaying, a universal RPG system designed for for quick character creation, streamlined preparation and gameplay, and easy adaptability to any genre, setting, or source material.
As far back as 2013, I started looking to develop rules-light RPG rules that could be used with a wide array of adventure modules and setting material. I wanted to be able to run games in different genres, using anything I found interesting, without having to learn new systems or switch between systems.
Of course, I started by looking at the universal systems that were out there already. But they were either too minimal or too rules heavy, or they didn’t have the kind of straight-forward approach I wanted. So — as these things go — I wrote my own rules. Inspired by weird fiction throughout the ages, I called my game Weird Roleplaying.
I tested a couple core variants before I settled on the current system, and I’ve been running my games with it ever since. If you grew up playing old-school games like original D&D, Gamma World, and Call of Cthulu, like I did, the feel of these rules will be familiar. And yet, Weird Roleplaying is a thoroughly modern, streamlined ruleset that makes it easy to run games in any world you imagine.
The starter edition is a fifty page, black and white, print-ready rulebook that includes six quick-start settings. The bare-bones setting material is ready to use as is, and provides clear examples of how to tailor the core rules for different genres.
I am working on a complete rulebook that will have a color cover, illustrations throughout, additional content, expanded setting materials, and possibly even some adventures. Keep your eye out for future updates regarding a possible Kickstarter and launch date. Until then, I hope you enjoy the Weird Roleplaying starter edition as much as I have.
GIANT in now available as a free download, ready for hours of print-and-play giant robot battles and skirmishes. This is an updated revised version, with a few errors corrected. Here’s the back-cover copy:
“Future wars are waged with huge humanoid machines known as giants. Human pilots are encased in neuro-conductive capsules behind layers of armor plating, their senses and nerve impulses merged with the artificial systems of the giants they control.
“Giant is a wargame played with paper, pencils, and six-sided dice. Inside is a complete game, including rules, a visual reference, a record sheet, a master battle map, and eight ready to play maps with various terrain. It’s perfect for travel or when you want an action packed game with minimal preparation.
“Each player controls up to three giants, chosen from fifteen different types. Arm them with missiles, guns, and lasers. Then send them into the battle!”
I designed this game back in 2015. I wanted to make a giant robot wargame that was simple enough to be quickly learned and played with nothing more than pencils, paper, and dice. It had to have just the right amount of complexity to provide strategic and tactical challenges, narrative excitement, and the promise of endless possibilities. Finally, it had to generate interesting, vivid, action-packed battles! During a year of development, writing, and play testing, Giant stayed true to that vision. I drew a bunch of illustrations, wrote some flavor text, and did a traditional acrylic painting for the cover. The final 20 page rulebook includes everything you need except dice and a pencil.
When I first set out to create Dungeon Solitaire, I had in mind to create a kind of classic solitaire game — something that could withstand the test of time. I grew up playing a lot of games. Solitaire and Dungeons & Dragons were around throughout my childhood. In creating Dungeon Solitaire, I can see now I sort of combined what I loved about them both into a single game.
The first few games of Tomb of Four Kings I played were magical. I knew I was onto something, if only for my own enjoyment. Soon I was enjoying the game so much I wanted to share it with others. Since then, it has only gotten bigger and better, and more magical.
As I write this, there is a global pandemic going on. My school job is canceled for now and my martial arts teaching is on hiatus. I’ll be working from home until things get better. I just launched a book and I’ll be working on more writing projects. I’ll be working in my backyard, cooking dinners, and doing what I can to support E. as she works on the front lines of this crisis. Other than that, if I can contribute anything to help the world through this, I will. Maybe playing Dungeon Solitaire will help somebody somewhere pass the time or forget their worries. I hope so. Tomb of Four Kings will always be free and all you need is a deck of ordinary cards to get started.
Going forward, I have plans to release an omnibus rulebook, tarot-sized cards, and some t-shirts in the coming year. I have been trying to get a Dungeon Solitaire phone app off the ground for a couple years now, but circumstances have led to various setbacks. I’ll continue to work at getting it done with the help of one or more partners, and hopefully we’ll see that happen at some point.
Special thanks to Josephe Vandel for suggesting we collaborate, and for creating the incredible art for Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground. Thanks to everyone who backed these games on Kickstarter for helping Dungeon Solitaire reach its full potential. Thanks again to Elizabeth Engstrom and Christina Lay for making the Labyrinth of Souls fiction project a reality. And thanks to everyone who has supported these games, posted reviews, and spread the word. It’s been wonderful journey, and I am more than happy to keep it going.
I can only hope that more people discover the magic of Dungeon Solitaire. I don’t know how popular it could become … and it’s not that important. What’s important to me is this: many people have found some joy in it, and in my own estimation — admittedly biased — I think the game succeeds as a classic for the ages. I can’t imagine ever really tiring of this game or not being entertained by picking up again, playing a few games, and delving into the depths of the dungeon.
No retrospective on Dungeon Solitaire would be complete without a discussion of the Labyrinth of Souls Fiction project. We are probably the only independently designed and published game to have its own fiction series, and the Labyrinth of Souls novels stand on their own as an amazing creative body of work.
The LoS Fiction project would not have been possible without my long-time mentor and friend, author Elizabeth Engstrom. When I was putting together the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook, she offered to help with editing. While she was going through the manuscript, she got interested in this idea of dungeon delving. It’s no surprise if you look at her body of work: a collection of horror and dark fantasy novels going back to the 1980s. When we spoke, she said, “You know, I could write a novel about this sort of thing.” She paused for a moment, and then said, “We could all write novels,” referring to our group of writer friends.
My first thought was, That’s nice to say, but nobody is going to want to do that. However, Liz kept bringing it up, and pushed on it until it seemed like a real possibility. She mentioned it to Christina Lay, a fellow writer and editor of ShadowSpinners Press. Eventually, we pitched the idea to bunch of writers in the back room of a brew-pub, and the Labyrinth of Souls Fiction project was born.
For me, the most important thing on my mind was how to pitch dungeon-delving novels to such a diverse group of writers. I didn’t want the books to be shared-world novels exactly. Nor did I want them to be conventional d&d-style fantasy. That wouldn’t do. And I didn’t want to restrict the creativity of the authors we were going to have in the room. What I really wanted was to give them the freedom to create the kind labyrinth story that only they could create. So here’s how we pitched it to them:
“The Labyrinth of Souls Novels will be 35-45,000 word fantasy novels containing a journey into a strange underworld as a central feature of the story. The Labyrinth of Souls is more than an ancient ruin filled with monsters, trapped treasure, and the lost tombs of bygone kings. It is a manifestation of a mythic underworld, existing at a crossroads between people and cultures, between time and space, between the physical world and the deepest reaches of the psyche. It is a dark mirror held up to human experience, in which you may find your dreams … or your doom. Entrances to this realm can appear in any time period, in any location. There are innumerable reasons why a person may enter, but it is a place antagonistic to those who do, a place where monsters dwell, with obstacles and illusions to waylay adventurers, and whose very walls can be a force of corruption. It is a haunted place, ever at the edge of sanity.
“All this is for your imagination to realize within the context of your story. “Fantasy” in this case can mean dark fantasy, high fantasy, historical fantasy, science fantasy, weird fantasy or supernatural horror, but all should be tinged with the darkness that envelopes the vast reaches of the labyrinth. It is suggested that you read the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls rulebook, look through the artwork, and even play the game for inspiration. But don’t limit your imagination to the scope of the rulebook or a game. Just as in the game, the player must imagine and interpret the various encounters and actions of their adventure, so too you must interpret how the labyrinth manifests itself within your story. Although Dungeon Solitaire is a narrative game, game narratives and fiction narratives differ. For a novel, of course, the usual rules of good fiction should apply.”
As you can see, the possibilities are broad, and it’s been an incredible journey to see what each writer has come up with. There are eight book out now and more on the way — and all are very different. There are stories set in modern worlds, medieval worlds, post-apocalyptic worlds, and even the afterlife itself. There is adventure, mystery, noir, comedy, horror, and even talking animals. Whatever you like, you’re sure to find something to enjoy. It’s an eclectic mix, and yet all the stories are united by the overarching theme of the Labyrinth of Souls.
The authors who have contributed are an amazing group, incredible veterans with decades of experience and published works, award-winning writers, and talented first-time novelists. I can’t thank Elizabeth Engstrom and Christina Lay enough for making Labyrinth of Souls Fiction a reality. I could not be more proud to have helped inspire these books … and to have one in the lineup alongside so many writers that admire.
Whether it is in the form of heavenly gems and divine graces or in flavor text accompanying the illustrations, you may have noticed some spiritual themes in the Dungeon Solitaire games. Of course, this is in keeping with the symbology of the tarot. The arcana are a reflection of the spiritual journey, and I’ve tried to bring that flavor into the games. But there is more to it than that.
I don’t want to go into this too deeply here, but I will say that during the time I was writing the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook, something unexpected and extraordinary happened to me. I had what could only be described as a sudden spiritual awakening, which instantly and profoundly changed my perception of reality. I know this may sound crazy to some people, because I would have been one of those people until this happened. But suddenly I had direct insight into the spiritual journey — beginning, middle, and end — in a way that couldn’t be denied. And some of that insight definitely found its way into the Dungeon Solitaire games.
If you’re interested these matters, my just released book, That Which is Before You, provides a detailed account of what happened to me. The book also describes my insights and teachings in light of this awakening, and provides guidance on spiritual practice. It’s notable that the image of a labyrinth find its way into that book as well. In an early section called “Orientation” I describe the spiritual journey this way.
“We can imagine this journey as one in which consciousness itself collapses into a particular point of view, identifies with a mind and body, and loses itself in a kind of dream, in a world of things, and in life and death. Once lost, sensing some lack, it tries to find itself. It looks everywhere but cannot find itself among the world of things. Until one day it just stops looking and, having never been absent, recognizes itself once more.
“The journey is like an adventure into a labyrinth. Within we are confounded by mazes and locked doors, enticed by wondrous treasures, challenged by terrible monsters, and entranced by endless illusions. It can be great fun. But in the midst of the labyrinth, when things get bad, it can get very dark indeed. It can seem as if there is no way out. But when we have exhausted every possibility of escape, and all our efforts come to a grinding halt, it is possible to wake up as if in the midst of a dream, and realize the labyrinth itself — and everything in it — is not actually real in the way we had imagined.
“This is the good news, and although the spiritual journey does not necessarily end there, it is important to say at least that much. It is possible to realize the enlightenment people throughout the ages have attested to. Whatever your true nature is, it already is, and cannot be apart from you.”
My take these things is not tied to any specific religion or tradition. However: I was a practicing Christian at various points in my life; I have long had a deep interest in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions and practices; I once slept in the tomb of Muslim holy man; and I’ve always been fascinated by shamanism and the full range of religious traditions in general. So while such descriptions reflect my direct experience, they also reflect my background. And this is true in Dungeon Solitaire as well. Look closely and you will see elements and traces from a number of mystic traditions.
From my own experience, I would say we are all on a spiritual journey, whether we know it or not. Of course, if spirituality is not your thing, these elements are easy to ignore within the context of an adventure game. They are easily relegated to the background where they act only on thematic levels. I’m not out to convince anybody of anything. And in any case, true insight doesn’t come from being convinced or not-being convinced of any particular idea or concept.
Delve deep, my friends, and may you find illumination, true happiness, and an end to suffering.
It’s been two years since the I designed the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground game and expansion rules, as well as the rules for all the variations of Dungeon War included in the Devil’s Playground rulebook. Each game is its own design puzzle, as intricate and vast as the labyrinth itself. Many of the specifics concerning the design decisions are lost in memory, but in revisiting Devil’s Playground here, we will attempt to recover some of them.
Ever since the success of the Labyrinth of Souls game, I had in mind to make some kind of expansion or follow-up game. It took two years before Josephe Vandel and I teamed up again to make Devil’s Playground. With him in Germany and me in the US, our work process was carried out over the internet, in much the same way we did during Labyrinth of Souls development. And thinking back, the main issues we faced with Devil’s Playground — and how we dealt with them — are as follows:
Is it a stand-alone game or an expansion? Why not do both! That alone created a unique design challenge. However I designed the Devil’s Playground stand-alone game, it also had to work as an expansion for Labyrinth of Souls. This was pretty tricky, especially considering the numerous mechanics at play already, the balance of difficulty, and all the possible game variations. The key to this, as with all the Dungeon Solitaire variations, is thinking about the various game components as being modular. Then each step in the design is carefully considered and tested in the stand-alone game and as a modular expansion.
How do we thematically expand Dungeon Solitaire and the Labyrinth of Souls? The dungeon in Labyrinth of Souls is already vast, what new challenges could we add to it, and how would they come together as a stand-alone game? I imagined the Devil’s Playground to represent both the deepest and darkest reaches of the labyrinth and a kind of mystical conflict that permeates not only the entire dungeon but also the souls of adventurers. This sets the stage for the demons, sins, and graces in the primary arcana, as well as the thematic tone of the game. I had only to work out the mechanics, which in this case, took a fair amount of testing and retesting at table.
What should the new suits be in the secondary arcana? I knew I wanted to add two new suits and I kicked around a number of ideas. Eventually, to come up with the idea of a divided house of shields, united by a single ace, a number of factors came into play. Part of that decision was thematic, as it mirrored the overall theme of internal conflict. Part of it was guided by limitations in the numbers of cards in the deck. The color scheme played a role, and even the simple aesthetic of the French suits used in the Labyrinth of Souls deck.
What unique cards can we incorporate into the game? There were a few magic/cursed item and event card ideas I had left over from Labyrinth of Souls development. So I resolved to include cards for Mog’s Sword, Rizar’s Pole, The Dark Star, Portal, and Dungeon Plague. I needed one more for seven sub arcana cards. I was working on a short story about a time-travelling wizard named Malhak, who tries to change the past in order live a life with his first love. I liked the story and I liked this character Malhak, who lived in a tower, on a rocky precipice, at the edge of the Plains of Ektheon, ten-thousand years in the future. Hence was born the idea for Malhak’s Tome and the tone of the “Words of Malhak” that are found at the beginning of the Devil’s Playground rulebook.
How can we explicitly tie the new deck into the LoS deck? When we made the LoS minor arcana, Josephe went ahead and made elevens for all the suits. They weren’t part of the official deck, but they were kind of fun, like a boss card for each suit. So these were a natural fit for DP. I just had to come up with the titles and mechanics. As usual, Josephe did the rest with his incredible artwork. Once all the elements were in place, the remainder of the cards were made into dedicated hit point cards that could be used with DP and LoS.
Regarding the artwork, Josephe and I worked much as we did on LoS. We decided to do full color this time around for something new and to set the expansion cards off from the LoS cards. For most of the cards I just sent Josephe a title and game mechanic. On few card he asked for ideas and on a couple I had specific things in mind. For Goblin Market, I sent him photos of wall street stock traders, gesticulating wildly with contorted faces. From that, he made the post-apocalyptic bank facade artwork. For Oblivion, I sent him a 19th century photo of a woman in an opium den. The Wheel of Chaos was from a sketch I drew during LoS development, and The Watcher was from a terrifying dream I had many years ago. The end results were pure Josephe Vandel, and exceeded my every expectation. All the credit is his for the fantastical mind-blowing art in Devil’s Playground.
Regarding Dungeon War, I have to say this game was so much fun to make. I grew up playing games like chess, checkers, and Stratego. And for a while in the late 90s, I played games like Magic and Legend of the Five Rings. The idea of making a card-based wargame that used the Dungeon Solitaire cards was too tempting to pass up. I initially was aiming at something like the Legend of Five Rings gameplay, but this soon proved unworkable for various reasons. Like Dungeon Solitaire, I wanted the game to be playable with just an ordinary deck of cards at the most basic level. That meant the core game needed pretty simple rules. I took my inspiration from chess, really, and incorporated aspects of the classic card game War for combat resolution. I was and still am as excited about this extra game as I was with the actually game. Honestly, it could have been its own book, so making it a stretch goal added massive value to the Devil’s Playground rulebook.
When I consider the number of Dungeon Solitaire variants possible between the LoS and DP rules, I’m still excited by the unexpected possibilities that turn up in play. The modular nature of these games and the complexity of being able to throw all the cards into the same game or an extended campaign is pretty awesome. I feel like I could play these games my whole life and still be entertained and surprised by them.
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. :)
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.
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.
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 more Dungeon Solitaire materials in the future. 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.
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.
[Note: the website is currently undergoing an update and redesign. Thank you for your patience while the details are sorted out.]
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 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.
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!