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

The Importance of Inspiration

From the 2014 archives at ShadowSpinners, here are some of my thoughts on inspiration:

tesla

Thomas Edison famously said “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” While the spirit of this quote is most certainly true — it takes a lot of hard work to excel in any endeavor worthwhile — this saying has been used far too often in a manner that downplays the vital importance of inspiration.

Depending on how well Edison did his calculations, he may have exaggerated his point by quite a bit. After all, Nikola Tesla, Edison’s chief rival, not so famously said, “a little theory and calculations would have saved him [Edison] ninety percent of his labor.” You do the math.

In a practical sense, inspiration is not a magical feeling that randomly overwhelms you, or a fairy who whispers in your ear. These things are more usefully cast as motivation, which can be disciplined, and skill, which can be learned. Inspiration, on the other hand, is a thought that gives rise to form. It is the very reason a work comes into being the way it does.

As a writer, it’s important to figure out what your story is really about. What idea, or feeling, or effect do you want to convey to the reader? If you haven’t figured out what you’re trying to do with a story, your chances of succeeding are pretty random. Hence the need to understand your inspiration.

Whether you’re a person who likes to write first and figure out the story while rewriting, or the type who likes to figure out a few things before starting, a conscious examination of what inspired you to conceive of such a story will go a long way toward shaping what you’re trying to write. Inspiration gives focus and vision to the creative process.

A story might be inspired by any number of thoughts, ideas, images, or characters, but the more clearly you understand your inspiration, the greater your chance to realize its full potential. Edgar Allan Poe thought a short tale ought to be inspired by a singular desired effect, preconceived by the author, and that every sentence should work toward building that idea.

Inspiration can be found anywhere, if you look for it. I found the inspiration for this piece in an interview with Horacio Pagani, a designer of hand crafted super high performance cars. His parents were bakers in Argentina, and while he certainly worked hard to create his dream, what struck me most was the specificity with which he described his inspirations, and his passion for turning them into amazing cars.

Many great artists can clearly articulate their inspirations, and this is probably not a coincidence. So yes, there will be perspiration, and I dare say there will be blood, tears, and sacrifices along the way too, but don’t underestimate the importance of inspiration, especially if you aim to create something extraordinary.

*First Published on ShadowSpinners, February 2014.