Saturday, April 4, 2009

Review: (Part 1)

Dungeon-a-Day, by designer Monte Cook, has been now live for about three weeks or so, and there has been quite of bit of discussion on it. A number of bloggers have posted their comments, and some of the more commonly known features have been discussed and debated at length. But none the less, I will give my assessment of what has been done so far, and provide some additional insights that have come from what we have seen over the past three weeks, that perhaps were not as well known earlier. This review will be split into two parts, the first one being the more objective overview, and the second part will include more subjective analysis as well as a bit of commentary on mega-dungeons in general

As a disclaimer, I am a fan of Monte’s work. That is not to say that I like everything he has done, but I do think he is a very talented writer, and has a good understanding of the mechanics of the game, that comes from designing games for TSR and for developing the 3rd edition version. His list of published works is impressive, both in terms of quantity and quality. I do not own everything that he has published, but I do own a number of them. In this review, I will try to maintain an objective eye at the whole thing. With that said, let’s get into the actual review


The overall concept is very straight forward, as it’s a web based subscription model that is based on providing content five days a week. The content comes in terms of a room and usually something else, which has included blog entries, pod casts, maps, handouts, bonus encounters, new monsters, and glossary updates. There are hyperlinks throughout the website that allow quick access to addition information. For visitors to the site that are not members, there are a number of areas that can be accessed to help one determine if this is something that they want to sign up for. Monte has a number of subscription plans available, and signing up for a year subscription is clearly the best dollar value, which equates to about $7/month, or a little more than a subscription to a magazine. I am estimating the current price of a year magazine subscription to be at about $5/month for a year, and this does depend on the magazine as some maybe a bit cheaper than this, but there are some that are more than $7/month. I bring this up, as I think this becomes a good bench mark in determining if this something that one wants to sign up for.

The Good

There are a number of features that I think are very solid:

1. Maps done by Ed Bourelle. Ed is the owner for SkeletonKey Games, which specializes in maps and tiles for gaming. Ed’s cartography is very solid work.

2. The main map now has the function in which one can click on a room and be taken directly to that room.

3. Pictures of the rooms created with Dwarvenforge to give a 3-D feel for what the room looks like, in addition to the standard map. I personally really like this.

4. Interesting room ideas. Monte has clearly put some thought in the room design, and there are plenty of good ideas that have been written into the dungeon.

5. The website is focused on the dungeon, and everything is built around this concept.

6. Monte has an expanding list of sponsors, and I suspect that this will grow over time. Paizo just signed up this past week, with Jason Bulmahn agreeing to write a monthly blog to support Monte. I actually think this is very cool, as Monte was acting as a consultant for Jason for the creation of the Pathfinder rules, and with this move, Jason is returning the favor. Very classy.

7. There is an active forum in which subscribers can provide feedback to Monte, and he has taken action on the suggestions that have been made.

8. An overall dungeon plot, with foreshadowing, hints and clues to what exists below.

The objections

These are some of the items that have thus far received the most criticism:

1. Cost. The cost is more than a magazine subscription.

2. Monte is using the 3rd ed rule set as the basis with which to write this, and some folks may no longer be using this rule set.

3. The content is being provided one room at a time, and there is no updates being made over the weekend.

4. At the moment, there is no compilation as the levels are finished. This may change, but right now there are no plans.

5. I personally do have a minor quibble about the site organization, specifically with regards to the key reference materials. I would like to see the navigation menu beefed up a bit more, but I do suspect that this will be improved. My general thought is that one should be able to get to a key reference page in one click, and it should be very intuitive as to where it is.

For tomorrow, I will post part two, which will include my final thoughts on Dungeon-a-Day.

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