Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 6/6

Dungeon Solitaire for the Ages

An early game of Labyrinth of Souls

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.

Concept art by ML

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.

Dungeon Solitaire phone app design notes

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.

Labyrinth of Souls rulebook layout concepts

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.

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls & Devil’s Playground

Labyrinth of Souls novels

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

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 5/6

The Labyrinth of Souls Fiction Project

Dare to enter …

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.

Myself, Stephen T. Vessels, and Elizabeth Engstrom at the World Fantasy Convention mass book signing.

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:

Many of LoS Fiction authors were also part of the ShadowSpinners Anthology, A Collection of Dark Tales (2015).

“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.”

Christina Lay, author and Chief Editor of ShadowSpinners Press in the World Fantasy Convention book room.

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.

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

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 4/6

The Spiritual Themes of the Game

The safety of the wall is only an illusion.

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.

Lose yourself and you will find the way.

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 wheel offers pleasure and pain, but nothing without suffering.

“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.”

In you is hidden the treasure of treasures.

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.

The final realization cannot be explained.

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.

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

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

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)

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.

Devil’s Playground Progress

The Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter was a big success. Thanks to 314 backers we topped out at $13,605 in funding, and added eight substantial stretch goals to the project and some Kickstarter exclusives. I’m very excited to share this game with all our backers, and still anticipate shipping on time in June.

I’ve been very busy this last week doing final play-testing for the stand-alone game, putting together a rough draft of the entire rulebook with all stretch goals included, getting a start on creating the interior diagrams and tables, and coordinating with artist Josphe Vandel on the remaining artwork and card formatting. All the elements are starting falling into place, and everything is looking pretty awesome so far.

There’s still a ton work to be done though, including further play-testing on stretch goal games and variants, editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing the rulebook. Finishing final tables and diagrams and doing the interior layout. Then book and box covers, Then card proofs, book proofs, backer surveys, shipping logistics and finally orders! It’s a lot to do, and I will be on a tight schedule the next two months.

dp-playtesting

Devil’s Playground play-testing in progress.

Stay tuned here and on the Kickstarter page for further updates as the project moves forward. They probably wont be as frequent as I would like because I’ll be focused on the game itself, but don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. In the meantime, check out all the amazing Dungeon Solitaire games and Labyrinth of Souls fiction that is already available.

Three Days Left for Devil’s Playground Kickstarter

It’s been an exciting month, and an amazing success so far thanks to all the enthusiastic backers and supporters of the Dungeon Solitaire games. The Devil’s Playground Kickstarter smashed its initial funding goal in under 24 hours, and has gone one to hit seven stretch goals. We are on the cusp of another stretch goal with three days left to get in on the Kickstarter.

Time to get into the dungeon, and get in on the great rewards! There are high quality red-back cards for both the Devil’s Playground and the Labyrinth of Souls games, both featuring incredible, original artwork by artist Josephe Vandel. Included in the rulebook are a stand-alone dungeon delving game, Labyrinth of Souls expansion games, an all new card-based territorial wargame with multiple variations. And by getting in now, you will get two Kickstarter exclusive cards with special rules for incorporating them into your games.

In these last three days, please help spread the news by sharing this post or the Kickstarter page with your friends and gaming groups, on your blogs and especially on social media. This kind of word of mouth really makes a difference.

There is nothing more I can say, except to thank you deeply for all your support, enthusiasm, and encouragement. These games can only reach their full potential with the support of backers like you. And so I leave you with a few words from the introductory material for the Devil’s Playground rulebook, words taken from Malhak the Great’s Tome of Demonology:

At last, thoughts fall like shooting stars in the gravity of awareness. Some burn with the light of blinding suns, others with the light of a dim candle. But all catch fire and burn out. Nothing ever remains. Yet until that time, the soul is a house divided. It is a devil’s playground, at war with itself and everything it encounters.

I have seen the pox-ridden skies Illeanth, and the vermilion seas of Yoon. I have conversed with voices in realms of unending darkness. I have nosed perfumes so exalted that a single whiff bore a thousand years of bliss. I have walked with the first ragged tribes of humanity, and I have tasted ashes in the fallen ruins of their great civilizations. I have seen the arcs of eons and heard the silence that reigns in the depths of space.

And yet, all of these experiences have been but dreams within dreams within dreams. For in the emptiness between thoughts, there is no good or evil, no up or down, no light or darkness, no backward or forward, no past or future. There is no sight, no sound, no taste, no smell, no feeling. There is only that which cannot be uttered.

Until the sun rises beyond the distant mountains, until the spring comes, until we wake again, we remain lost in a dungeon of our own making. Until the illusion of the mind itself is destroyed, we wander in its depths. And though we ourselves designed the patterns its winding halls, we do not know the way out.”

The Art of Josephe Vandel

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground have both been the fruit of a wonderful collaboration between myself and artist Josephe Vandel. The rich world of dark fantasy he has created in the cards has been the perfect representation of the adventures, ideas, and themes I have been endeavoring to evoke in the rulebooks. And yet he has surprised me again and again with the scope and the imaginative originality and detail of the artwork.

Josephe’s skill as an artist were evident from his prior work, but the Dungeon Solitaire art has exceeded my expectation at every turn. So many pieces arrived on my screen to wide eyes and an agape jaw. The unexpected, the beautiful, the horrific, the weird, and the wonderful are all on display. He has delved deep into dark realms of the psyche, and researched rich architectural details. Time and again he has delivered pieces that are highly original and highly evocative.

We were absolutely thrilled by the funding success and reception of the Labyrinth of Souls, and are super-excited that so many backers have already made the Devil’s Playground Kickstarter such a success. We’ve had a lot of fun working together to create something incredible and unique for the gaming community. We talked quite a bit about what the Labyrinth of Souls and the Devil’s Playground are about thematically, and while Josephe has always been incredibly receptive to feedback and any direction I wanted to give, it has rarely been needed. I have been more than happy to give him plenty of latitude to express his vision, and the incredible results speak for themselves.

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Josephe and for his contributions to Dungeon Solitaire. He has created something extraordinary in the Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground decks. At once, his illustrations are evocative, dark, and filled with symbolic depth. And ultimately, the cards have the same classic and timeless quality I hoped to achieve with the rules. Taken as a whole, the decks present a unified vision and a grand space for the imagination to play in.

This is just some of the incredible art featured in Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls and Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground.

Check out the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter now!