So, with all of the chaos around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I thought I’d take a step back today and instead, share a little story. As you’ve probably seen from our last few emails, Dungeon Notes are now available (yay!). What you probably don’t know, is how they came into being. That, my friends, is this morning’s tale.
As is the case with most inventions, Dungeon Notes are the result of my own frustrations with the wide variety of journals I’ve tried over the years. Finally, I said “enough is enough” and went about listing all of the features I thought would make for the ultimate RPG tool. Long story short, I wasn’t totally right. Lucky enough though, I had a great community to help me fine-tune the concept and create something I’m really proud of.
I started off with your basic character sheet. I arranged it how I thought I’d want to play it, with all of my character’s abilities and weapons on one fold-out page—everything you need for at-a-glance adventuring. Beyond that, I knew that I wanted to include a ton of space for homebrew options (something I wasn’t finding elsewhere). Between world building, companions, personal backstory characters, and custom class options, Dungeons & Dragons has always been way more than a cookie-cutter game, and my journal needed to help the creative community, not hold it back.
Original cover design by a local artist.
With all of that scribbled out, I ordered a really weird stapler contraption off of Amazon that could probably double as a Medieval torture device. This allowed me to create my own prototype “zine” for blocking out all of this content. Once I had all of the squares sketched out, I shared it around to all of my gaming groups for feedback. I got a ton of great insights and was able to streamline things for classes across the board (not just my preferred spellcasters). For example, the fighters suggested that all of the spell data be put on one front-and-back sheet so it could easily be removed for non-magic users.
Once the in-game aspects were taken care of, I moved on to logistics. For me, a DnD journal is meant to be used. It has to be easily transportable and easy to replace when it’s inevitably ruined or full. I wanted players to be able to have a journal they loved for every character they play instead of having to prioritize a favorite for one of those big leather-bound books. Versatile affordability was the name of the game.
After that, it was time to say goodbye to my prototype and send it off to the actual designer types. I shared some of my favorite examples for each content block. We wanted Dungeon Notes to be artist-friendly, with spots for character art and plenty of maps. When we sent the original all-grid layout to some of our close cartographer friends, however, they pointed out that dotted grids were where it’s really at. Easy fix! Community feedback also helped us prepare for even the most niche occurrences—like that extra fourth-level spell for level 20 warlocks.
Once functionality was locked down and ready to go, it was time to add some flair. We were lucky to already have a great artist to work with who’s created all of the characters for our NPC cards and the monsters from our line minis. I sent them a ton of old-school Tolkien illustrations with the note that the final product should feel like an authentic adventurer’s journal—filled with sketches of things they might find along their journey. And the rest? Well, it’s history! (And a lot of boring production details)
I hope that you find Dungeon Notes to be as useful as I’ve tried to make them. When you’ve had a chance to give them a try, it’d be great to hear from you!
Until next time,