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  • Writer's pictureMac Boyle

The College of Grotesque Arts -- Introduction

Updated: Dec 18, 2022

Hey, everyone. You may have seen this hashtag making the Internet rounds...

So, I’m going to tackle this Dungeon23 idea. (This is Mac speaking, incidentally — I talked over the project with Zoe, but the analog element makes it a bit hard to collaborate from a distance, and she has other projects to focus on, so this one’s just me.) The idea, if you didn’t feel like clicking on that link, is to create a TTRPG “megadungeon” by doing one dungeon room per day, one level of the dungeon each month, so that you have a 12-level, 365-room dungeon at the end of the year.

I’m going to start off by saying that this is something I’m mostly doing for fun, so it’s going to be much less polished than something I might do as an Actual Project. (I say this because we do have some Actual Projects bubbling along in the background, and I don’t want anyone to assume they’ll be as slapdash as this is likely to be.) You’re looking at a first draft with minimal planning, which I think is appropriately in the spirit of things.

(If you're wondering about the title, that's what I'm calling the dungeon; to be explained in the next post.)

Of course, I don’t want to go in completely blind, so I’m going to establish some kind of foundation here.

One of the things we really enjoy here at the Maniculum is medieval marginalia; of course, a podcast is an audio medium, and we’re not art historians so we can’t do a properly-informed discussion of it, so that doesn’t come up much on the show itself. So what I’m going to do is use the marginalia of the Luttrell Psalter for inspiration. Each day, I’ll look at a different page of the manuscript (in order, from the beginning), and try to base the contents of that day’s dungeon room around what I see. We’ll have to skip some pages, because they don’t always have anything besides geometric & floral decorations, but I just looked through it, and I’m pretty sure there’s enough pages left to get through the whole year.

(You can find the digitized manuscript here, by the way)

I’ll also be using Appendix A of the AD&D Dungeon Masters[sic] Guide to get a starting point for each room, though I won’t consider myself strictly beholden to the results.

I considered doing a hexcrawl instead, since a lot of this marginalia doesn’t really fit with a subterranean dungeon, but it’s been years since I’ve done a proper dungeon, and I’m excited to give it another go. So we’ll just have to try and make it work.

Between now and the end of December, I’ll try and come up with a basic concept for the dungeon — I’ll post that when it’s ready. Come January, I’ll do a new blog post on the website once a week with my progress. (I may or may not post smaller amounts on our social media in between those weekly posts; we’ll see how I’m feeling.) It’s going to be once a week instead of daily because (1) I don’t want to clutter things up on the website and (2) I’m probably not going to stick to doing exactly one room each day. My work habits are disorganized, unpredictable, and possibly a function of undiagnosed ADHD — I expect, based on what I know of my own tendencies, that I’ll regularly pull ahead or fall behind on the project, and it’ll be easier to compensate for that if I’m doing weekly releases.

Now, the material-culture angle of this project: the notebook.

I could not justify buying a special notebook for this project, because I have too many blank notebooks sitting around already. My preferred brand is Field Notes, and I have a ton of those because I was a subscriber for a couple of years before I decided I couldn’t justify the expense, considering that the notebooks were coming in way more quickly than I was filling them. However, unfortunately, my box of empty Field Notes books cannot help me here: they’re pocket-sized and 48 pages long. There’s simply no way to fit this project into one of them. Even if I somehow managed to cram a week’s worth of rooms and descriptions on each page — not possible if I want it to be legible to anyone but me — it would still overflow. I’d spend the whole time stressing about space.

So, reluctantly, I turned to my other miscellaneous blank notebooks. I have a bunch — I’ve gotten a number as gifts over the years that I haven’t used, but unfortunately the reason I never used them also makes them ineligible for this project: inexplicably, most notebooks use ruled paper or blank paper. (Graph paper can be used for any purpose you can use ruled paper before, plus purposes you can’t use ruled paper for. Why would anyone ever use ruled paper when it’s obviously the less useful option?) And, of course, this project requires graph paper.

Turns out I have exactly one notebook that can be used for this project: a battered Moleskine Cahier that must have been in my Empty Notebooks Pile through at least four moves. No idea why I even have this one — I haven’t bought Moleskine in about a decade. Also I think these things come in packs of three and I have no memory of using the other two. Regardless, though, I have very professionally scrawled a title on it in Sharpie. It’s official now — I am doing this project.

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