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The Story Behind Dungeon Discoveries

The gears have been turning here at the LoreSmyth factory, and we’re excited about the upcoming release of our newest innovation: Dungeon Discoveries – card decks designed to enhance the loot-finding experience in your next game session!

With just hours remaining in our Kickstarter, we turned to the Head Smyth, Chris van der Linden, and asked him just a few questions about how Dungeon Discoveries came to be.

Describe the core idea behind the cards – was the goal always to provide the DM with something to fill an otherwise empty room?

The Dungeon Discoveries decks are designed to provide GM’s a¬†super easy and fun way to come up with flavourful world-building details. Whether it’s during game prep, or during game session, simply by drawing a card or two, you quickly have something interesting to say.

Instead of going “Uhm… You find nothing,” or “the chest contains 1d4 gold pieces,”¬†you can let your players know¬†they’ve spotted “an oddly coloured stone in the wall,” or “the dwarf miner handed over a dust covered music box”.

I’m always brainstorming potential new product ideas¬†and this one came¬†from the classic Dungeons & Dragons saying “You find nothing.” I always wondered the craziness of that statement, because what do you mean you find nothing? We traveled all this way to¬†descend¬†the ancient tomb of the Dragon Queen and there’s… nothing? If it’s ancient, there must be dust, broken pottery, rat droppings, scratched stones, discarded old arrows.

I thought it would be great to do a random card deck that could fill that need, helping the DM come up with fun things for the players to find, when there was nothing important for the story there, but not having to resort to saying “there’s nothing.” When I got the first prototype done, which is now the¬†Fumbled Searches¬†set, I realised that much more themes/applications could be done.

Why a deck of cards? Why not, for instance, a book of d100 tables divided into themes or specifics (traps, magic items, etc.)?

Because random tables just don’t have the appeal of a card deck. It would accomplish the same thing, but not give you the same experience.¬†

Card decks offer a physical tactility that a random table could never achieve. Being designed to help you spark wonderful ideas during game prep, as well as during game play, a card deck is ideal because you can take it with you so easily.

Also, when¬†I was looking¬†at what ‚Äúrandom‚ÄĚ card¬†decks were already available, I couldn’t help but notice that most card decks offered very little replay value. Essentially once¬†you’d drawn all cards once, you had used up all of the content those decks have to offer. That got me thinking and I came up with the simple (read¬†elegant)¬†design of combining A + B to give you a result.

Now all of a sudden, in a 50-card deck, the options were in the thousands. It was a deliberate choice to msake the cards system neutral, so not using any rules, no +1 magic swords. Just inspirational world-building details.

The product description shows that DMs can use the cards in last-minute situations when the party is in-game and opening doors – can it also be useful for the DM who wants to plan in advance?

Absolutely. The power of these cards is coming up with minute interesting details on the fly, that may seam insignificant at first, but could prove a clue later in a new quest line.

This can be done on the spot during a game session, but equally so during game preparation, the GM using the cards to spark ideas for clues to crumble through the dungeon.¬†What story lies hidden in the pages of that¬†torn and faded maid’s journal ? Could there be more to those strange chalk markings on the floor?¬†When I said the card design was “simple” earlier,¬†one¬†could think this means¬†its limited in use.¬†But in fact, the open-endedness of it gives you a whole range of ways to use it, likely ways we have not even thought about yet. Cards can be combined, sets can be mixed.

When designing the cards we thought about things like failing (or succeeding) search checks, or an NPC handing out a special gift as a reward, but there are many more ways you can use the decks. And with more “themed” expansions in the works, the combinations and possibilities only become larger.

Who on the team was responsible for all these crazy, interesting combinations? Were they randomly compiled to be in the order we see them today?

Dungeon Discoveries are fun random card decks that help GM's create immersive details on the spot. The system neutral results are fun and easy to use with near limitless replayability. Draw a card and combine any one entry from the top and bottom half of the card. The results can be minute, surprising, cryptic, seemingly meaningful or even humorous. You will never be short of remarkable things to discover!Every deck is made up of 50 cards, with 8 “entries” on each card. This means 400 entries need to be written. I did this together with Daniel Silva and Elf Vesala, who helped come up with the massive amount of interesting card entries. We collaborated in Google Drive and started with freely brainstorming. Certain words formed pairs (weapons, armor, musical objects etc) but we didn’t want to overly structure it. The randomness is important, because we wanted to encourage strange combinations.

After a few editing passes the final cards came to shape. The Google Drive files were imported into InDesign, where the plain text files were automatically placed in their graphic card layout. It was a lot of fun coming up with this workflow.

How do you ensure that the cards don’t contain combinations that could be too powerful or detrimental for the player?

We don’t. One of the product design visions at LoreSmyth is that “fun always wins from correct”. This means we rather have something memorable and awesome, than worrying too much about balance, rules etc.

Ultimately we believe the GM knows best what fits in his world, and can judge accordingly. We are not here to make such calls, we are here to provide you with awesome world-building ideas. What’s powerful in one group’s campaign, might be mundane in another.

Are there more expansions planned?

Yes, there are. We have several in various stages of production. The challenge is to make each set have a clear identity without becoming “samey” and boring. I’ve had quite a few people comment online about the simplicity of these card decks, saying “Jeez, anyone can make a list of nouns and adjectives. Whats so special about this?”.¬†Well, that’s certainly true, anyone could. But we actually found it pretty difficult. Many of our theme ideas fell flat after the first 100 words or so, because we kinda ran out of gas, and the descriptions started to become uninteresting. So while the product is tailor-made for expansions, we do realise each set needs to be able to hold 50 quality cards.

We feel there’s a lot more possible with the Dungeon Discoveries product range, and are excited to see where it’s headed! Click here to get in on the Kickstarter while you still can and keep checking in with us as we forge more myths yet to come!

Chris van der Linden

Founder, Creative Director

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