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Subject: The creative process of Dragon's Keep Reawakened rss

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Simon Lundström
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This is the long story of the creation of Dragon's Keep Reawakened, or Dungeonquest Revised if you wish. The revised edition with cards exists only in Swedish, but I'm writing this in English as I figure that the process might be of interest even for non-Swedes. In any case, it's only interesting as a creation process and the chain of thoughts and events for this remake. Don't challenge the wall of text without that interest.

It started out late December last year (2009). Me and my friend Erik have both been playing Dragon's Keep (Drakborgen) since release, and despite the fact that we've both come to love intricate Eurogames, we have unlike many other gamers never tired of the evil randomness of Dragon's Keep. We've played the first edition literally hundreds of times, to the point that we virtually know the card distribution by heart. We knew exactly which room tiles were from the expansion, and we could tell from the card backs which cards were, too. When the second edition was released (Dragon's Keep the Legend, never released outside Sweden), we were on it.

For those who don't know, Legend was created by one of the first edition's creators, Jakob Bonds, and his brother (?) Gustav Bonds. Legend was quite in the focus upon release, and we enjoyed the more complex ruleset, the smart combat rules and the different sense of adventure. Yet we missed the evilness, the merciless bashing and the sense of never-safety that the first edition conveyed. Many times, many times we said to each other that "we should sit down and sort of mix them – do the Dragon's Keep Ultimate version – just for us!". And in December last year, we did.

Starting point – changing the Catacombs
We didn't even need to say where to start – the Underworld, or Catacombs. We had been complaining for decades that they were pointless; 19 out of the 30 cards were "empty", another five were exits, and the rest was just boring and uninteresting. The Underworld, for us, was merely a way to get 5000 gm if you were lucky, and then nothing. Usually, you never got out, and the worst part, it was boring. "It's the frigging Underworld of Dragon's Keep! It should be dangerous as hell down there, and lots of treasure!" we agreed.

That was the starting point – completely changing the Underworld into something hideously dangerous yet exciting. We booked a weekend to polish things, but I wanted to have something ready – I cut out some makeshift cards from a sheet of paper and wrote by hand. I didn't want to add treasure to the game, so some cards were merely "Draw a Treasure room card" – an idea that came from Legenden. And dangerous stuff – one insta-kill card, and some that were really hard. In return, more treasure. The Catacombs should be deadly yet possibly rewarding.


Leftmost: A typical "empty" card from the original. Our finished Catacombs feature horrible and unique dangers around every corner. Leftmost card by original artist Jeppson, middle card by Berg, rest by me.

That done, I might aswell fix the broken Door Cards, I figured. Having counted the cards, we knew that the possibility of getting a door to open was equal to finding a secret passage (without the expansion) – and looking for a secret passage you could find treasure or amulets, but checking door could only get you hurt. We'd stopped opening doors ages ago. Also… the Room Search deck _could_ use more secret passages. It was silly that it the possibility was lowered so much with the expansion (from 5/15 to 6/27) (in the end, our deck didn't have a higher probability, but instead you could search longer).

Playtesting – enthusiasm goes over top
The weekend came and we started. We lined up what we thought was cool with Legend – the combat system, the monsters staying on the board, the giant spider's behaviour system… and the enhancing equipment that Legend had – elven boots, elven ring, dragon's armour, magic swords…

Now we were in for a problem – because, see, at this point we were still set on "drawing a couple of own cards and laminate them". Doing cards for the Catacombs and Door deck was one thing… redoing the 96 Room Cards was out of the question – we weren't used to print and play, and we had no plans to do that many, nor scan and reuse art. So… the special treasure couldn't be on the Room Cards. We quickly identified the obvious spot – the chests. They had been half-boring already, and there are only 6 chests out of 96 Room cards. They deserve to hold good stuff. So the chest deck was remade. Improving the chest deck transferred to the Corpse deck; we liked the idea of door keys from Legend, and… there were only 5 corpses in the whole deck – they might as well contain something good. Keys, ropes, and hey… why not a magic ring? Basically, we figured that "empty" wasn't any interesting on neither chest nor corpses. "Empty" was good on the room cards, because it meant you didn't die. Corpses and chests you opened in anticipation. Empty wasn't exciting there.

We played. And we played. I counted to 36 sessions that weekend. The only thing that was intact at the end was the trap deck (no reason to adjust) and the room cards (too many to bother with – at least we thought then). At the end, we figured that the result was good and I guess I was at this point that I first thought the thought that we could scan the old cards, draw the new art we needed and then print it all out… and while I was at it, it just popped out "Hey… seriously, what could it cost to print this?"


The Jeppson art we wanted to keep. This is the art all Swedes played this game with, and having this specific art on the cards was the whole point. To the right, our meddling – we couldn't contain ourselves and added the "Spiderweb" from Legend and the over-the-top concept Portal Rune, using Jeppson art from "Empty" Room Search cards.

Go to print this stuff? – finding the artist
We both agreed that this was crossing the line. We knew that printing would mean we had to print at least 100 sets and sell for non-profit. We couldn't do that. We certainly could NOT do that without asking the artist. We just couldn't. Sure, the game was 25 years old, but sheer human pride… we liked this guy's illustrations. But… how the hell do we contact him? I managed to google up that someone with an identical name had done illustrations for some interior design and home carpentry books. I mailed the publisher and told them I was looking to contact him, to ask him if he was the illustrator of Dragon's Keep.

Imagine my surprise when I got a phone call the day afterwards from the artist himself, who laughingly wondered how I had managed to find him. I explained our silly project and wondered if it was OK with him that we printed some 100 sets of his illustrations, just for old fans of the game. He was completely OK with that. And not just that, he had worked on the second edition as an editor, and he gave me the name of the printer, in southern Sweden, said he'd like a copy of the cards himself, and wished us luck.

The project was a-go
It was at this point the project really started, I guess. I phoned the printer and realised we needed at least 100, hopefully 200 copies for each set to be remotely priceworthy (we ended up with 200). I had never owned a scanner, but Erik had a full-time job, and I didn't, so I borrowed Erik's scanner and… well, I sat there for two weeks, I think. Or more. In January 2009. It was a lot of learning about Photoshop, scanning, rotating, cropping, and clonestamping as I repaired damages in the pictures. I wont tire you will all the details, but the point at which I felt "this is going to be awesome" was when a fellow BGGer that I'd come in contact with during this project, managed to find the exact special font that was used on the 25 year old cards. I had planned to cut-and-paste letters. Suddenly I could just type them. This was going to be perfect.

For the new art, I was ready to do it all myself, though I knew my limits. My new-found BGG friend helped with some retouches, but an unexpected help from an old friend was the second "awesome" of this project. I hadn't seen him for a year, explained the idea and he said he'd love to draw some. I knew he had a style that was pretty far from the original artist's, but those worries were blown away when I saw his first cards – they were as similar as anyone could expect. My own art looked horrible in comparison.


We stuffed in all the cool enhancing treasures from Legend and let my pal Joakim Berg fix the art for them – to the leftmost, original art by Jeppson, the rest is Berg.

Scanning the Room cards it suddenly dawned on me that we now could change them… we could add the Spiderwebs from Legend onto the Room cards! Said and done. Both Erik and I had loved the teleportation trap from Legend, so we added that aswell. I toyed with the idea to add more Room cards, but in the end I refrained from doing so… something stopped me from messing with the probabilities there too much. We got a lot of amazingly fun ideas, but in the end I dropped them all but one that I fell in love with: the Portal Runes that causes a portal marker to be left in the room, and if there are 2 portal markers on the board, you can teleport in between them. I liked that too much. It HAD to be in there. Erik was cautious and worried: it could break the game totally. Moreover, it changed the game according to number of players. The probability of someone drawing a Portal Rune near an exit and another one drawing one near the Dragon's Chamber was discussed over and over again. We playtested and playtested with even 3 Portal Runes in the deck, but the worries were unfounded. It's still rare that a Portal Rune is useful, but it was so cool an idea I couldn't let it pass.

Once at the Treasure Cards my card-retouching project came to a halt. Unlike the other cards, the Treasure Cards in the Swedish version have the art over the whole card, and the black letters on top of the art. Of course, I could just leave the text there – it was the same font and everything – but I knew I wasn't going to be satisfied with that. I was in Perfection Mode and the slightly fuzzier typeset of the treasure cards would bug me forever if I didn't do this. I knew… oh I knew… that every single treasure card – all 40 of them – were unique. "Coins 100 gm", "Coins 110 gm", "Coins 120 gm" – they had ALL unique art. Because you see, in the original game, the cards came unpunched, printed on a large sheet of cardboard. The treasure card sheets had just one large piece of art over the whole sheet, like a picture of a mountain of gold that you sort of cut out parts from. Re-using the same art for all "coin" cards in this reprint wasn't even remotely an issue. This should be perfect or not done at all. It was with a heavy heart that I learned from the printer that letting the art fall out on the cards was simply physically impossible for their way to print – all cards were printed on a large sheet, and you couldn't have just a huge illustration spanning over the whole sheet. I had to give up on that one. It still smarts.


"Meaningless" variation on parade – each of the 23 "coin" cards have unique art – and I washed them all. To the leftmost, an original card with art all out in the margin.

Almost done (except some art), I printed out the cards on a normal printer, sat and cut for hours, and put in plastic sleeves. We planned to let it rest while we test played, and so we did – yet not so often as one should hope. I remember sitting with rewriting the rule book for three days – we were implementing the combat system and many of the concepts from Legend, so the rulebook was no easy matter (it ended up being 26 A5 pages).

This halt turned into a six months pause as life reminded itself of its existance, spring and summer came and I got busy with work, going to Japan to guide tourists. Late summer, FFG released their new DungeonQuest, but I knew that wouldn't matter for us. At a point in September I finally got fed up with having it hanging over me, I sat for three days and cleaned the frigging treasure cards, and retook contact with the printer. I realised there was one card left to do art for (The Skeleton Hands for the Catacombs), and my pal was quick on that. It was away to the printer at last, and despite being a bit late, we finally had the cards in our hands; more than ten months after we first started.

Looking back, it has been one hell of a work to get this done, and in the grand scheme of things, the amount of work and time and thought we put into a mere "revised reprinting of the cards for Dragon's Keep" is downright ridiculous. Laughable. But, with the risk of sounding too deep, sometimes I feel as if seemingly meaningless and time-wasting labor like this, which does nothing for neither world peace nor personal monetary profit, is the very essence of being.

Sitting down with these cards, I can say that we accomplished what we started with. At leeast as far as we are concerned, we did the definitive edition of Dragon's Keep. Which, hopefully, will last longer than the original edition's cards.

Thank you for reading.
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Mark W
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This is really great. Since my 7 player game (I posted about it) went so well I've been thinking about concocting a new catacombs deck myself. Maybe adding very undead-oriented cards - for example a "three crypt" card that says you may draw up to three crypt cards one at a time...Death knights, perhaps a ward against undead if you're lucky. I like the idea of spicing up the corpse and crypt decks too. An item for door opening is great - maybe a corpse has on its person a skeleton key that works like Rildo's (the thief)...

Does "Balrogen: Du är död" translate to "Balrog: You are dead"? If so, you're my new hero!

"But, with the risk of sounding too deep, sometimes I feel as if seemingly meaningless and time-wasting labor like this, which does nothing for neither world peace nor personal monetary profit, is the very essence of being."
It's really nice, successfully implementing your vision, no matter how minor it might be. For me when I played the 7 player game, even though I really didn't do that much (I didn't design the map - just updated the room tile key and added a new potion chart) it was so awesome seeing this silly game I've enjoyed since childhood kicked up a notch, and enjoying it with a large group of friends.

Anyway, great job. I just wish I understood Swedish.
 
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Simon Lundström
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NeonPeon wrote:
Maybe adding very undead-oriented cards - for example a "three crypt" card that says you may draw up to three crypt cards one at a time...Death knights, perhaps a ward against undead if you're lucky. I like the idea of spicing up the corpse and crypt decks too. An item for door opening is great - maybe a corpse has on its person a skeleton key that works like Rildo's (the thief)...

I like the idea. It's _very_ unlikely that we'll be able to make an expansion for Dragon's Keep Revised, but it would be cool.

The corpses do have a Skeleton Key that works like Durim's (Rildo in the Swedish version), but the normal keys only open on an even number die roll.

NeonPeon wrote:
Does "Balrogen: Du är död" translate to "Balrog: You are dead"?

It does indeed. Or, specifically "_The_ Balrog: You are dead". (The escape-from-catacombs ring card specifically states you can't use the ring after encountering this card. The original game claims some inspiration came from The Lord of the Rings, so I figured that of course there must be a Balrog in there.)

NeonPeon wrote:
Anyway, great job. I just wish I understood Swedish.

You never know, perhaps there'll be paste-ups for it!

……yeah right. 312 cards.
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Børge N
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Awesome project! I nominate this for a separate game entry.

Any hope for a Norwegian to get hold on this?
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T E
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This is an interesting read about how it all came together.
Thank you for sharing all your hard work with us.
 
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Luke Keppler
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This is great! And since the text is typed, you can essentially print in any language :)

I've done my own scanning / photoshopping of the DungeonQuest 1st Edition board and cards, so I know what that's like.

I've had this dream for years to turn it into a computer game (with fixes) as a personal hobby, so I set out to scanning in all the art and programming it. Unfortunately, I got full-time employed and I don't have as much free time as I used to, so my project went on hold. I looked forward to 3rd Edition rules, but abstraction of pets and arrows is too much for me. So for now, it's still on hold indefinitely.
 
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Simon Lundström
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Gamelore wrote:
I looked forward to 3rd Edition rules, but abstraction of pets and arrows is too much for me. So for now, it's still on hold indefinitely.

Was pets and stuff abstracted in 3e? I think it was much too more complicated in 2e (and our edition, which imitate the 2e rules quite a bit).
 
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Mark W
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Pets?? Do tell more, please!
 
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Simon Lundström
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In 2e you could have "followers" (pets). Dzala Narýn had her lizard, the Oracaz, who could warn her from dangers. In 2e pets can fight for you, and you can fight with them, actually having 3 players in one single combat (the combat discs allow readily for that, one of the things I really like with them). Also, there was an amulet that let you control skeletons and so on. We used that concept in "Reawakened", treating the Oracaz as a pet, keeping that amulet and also having the Helm that let you control one monster as a pet.

However, they complicated the rules like hell – pets being creatures, they rolled separately for all traps, and sometimes could help with draw gates, and questions erupted "what happens if a guy with a pet comes into a room with X and Y happens…", very like Robo Rally.

It was a cool system though, which was why we kept it.
 
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Luke Keppler
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Wow, 2e sounds amazing. I was merely referring to Serellia and pet Bright Flame from the US first-edition expansion. I absolutely loved controlling two characters for combat and keeping track of arrows. Ironically, the pet and the associated side-cases were enough to stall my last programming attempt.

In 3e, FFG got rid of pets and arrows altogether to make the character sheets more modular. Challara and pet Brightblaze are controlled as one character with virtually no indication that they are separate; they share a HP pool and stats! Arrows are removed, the ranged character always receiving a small initial advantage in combat.

Somewhat related, from first-edition, I also loved how every deck was a different shape, such as corpses, treasure, coffins, traps, etc. An item such as rope could be found from different decks, and these various shapes all went into the same inventory -- it really added a sense of immersion. In 3e, uninspired art adorns the cards which are ALL the same size.

For Reawakened, the printer may be limited to standard card sizes, but the art is evocative and stunning.
 
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Simon Lundström
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Gamelore wrote:
Wow, 2e sounds amazing. I was merely referring to Serellia and pet Bright Flame from the US first-edition expansion. I absolutely loved controlling two characters for combat and keeping track of arrows.

What? You controlled two characters for combat in DungeonQuest: Catacombs? That was a new one; Games Workshop must have added a rule. In the original (that GW was the english edition of), Bright Flame (the Oracaz) simply rolled a die (d12, d10 or d6) and compared to the monster's roll. Serellia (Dzala) never fought.

In 2e, however (that was never released in English), there were rules for fighting together with your pet in a 4-way rock-papers-scissors

What Bright Flame/Oracaz messed up was that the room tiles were drawn by an opponent, and that he/she secretly rolled a d10. The Oracaz warned for trap rooms and pits, but did the wrong thing if the d10 showed a 1. That was a hazzle.

Keeping track of arrows; you mean that El-Adoran (and the ninja and thief from expansion) had arrows?

Gamelore wrote:
Somewhat related, from first-edition, I also loved how every deck was a different shape, such as corpses, treasure, coffins, traps, etc.

That was cool. However, it was only for the GW edition. The original had just normal square cards. A lot of different illustrations, though. Ridiculously many.
 
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Mark W
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The different shapes give the cards so much more character, and make it easier to deal with so many decks!
 
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