Books we want: The perfect dungeon planner (plus three dungeon planners: A review)

Steve Jackson Games (SJG) recently dropped two nifty dungeon planner products, one for its (GURPS-derived) Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG) and one for its (GURPS-spawning) The Fantasy Trip (TFT) system. Around the same time, a Kickstarter campaign let me pick up a system-agnostic adventure planner from a different (but not unrelated) source: the Dungeon Crafter’s Sketch Book by Philip Reed, CEO of SJG and launcher of many personal RPG products on Kickstarter.

Dedicated planner books, for a task that graph paper and any old notebook have always handled just fine? Let’s see what these products bring to the table.

And after that, let’s indulge in unhinged thoughts on creating the bestest adventure/dungeon planner ever.

(More interested in character journals than dungeon planners? See this article.)

Dungeon Fantasy Dungeon Planner (for Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game)

The Dungeon Fantasy Dungeon Planner (we’ll call it DFDP) is a 48-page book available as a PDF from SJG for $2.95 or as a black-and-white softcover for a suggested retail price of $8.95. It’s marketed expressly for the all-in-one DFRPG, not for that game’s creative parent, the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (DF) series – though I don’t know how a product designed for the latter would differ at all. This planner should work fine with DF or any dungeon-oriented GURPS game.

(You’ll find an earlier review of the planner at the GURPS Mega Dungeon blog. Be sure to give that a read too!)

What’s in it


I ordered both the PDF work and the print-on-demand book from Amazon. Here’s what’s inside:

Introduction: An overview of the book (“It’s a journal that lets you record your fiendish ideas as they occur, and then organize all the rooms and passages, with all their notes, into a dungeon”) and of DFRPG itself. 

Dungeon: A sheet of hex paper to map the whole dungeon, with a space at top to write “Lost Lair of Lyle the Lich” or whatever. How much lair does this master map hold? I’ll leave a careful count of hexes to you, but I eyeball a rough 42 x 33 hexes.

Adventure Planning Form: The one-page form from Exploits p. 109, covering a lot of information on your dungeon plus the town & travel parts of the adventure.

Rooms: A master list of your dungeon’s rooms, with spaces for “Room Name/Number”, “Overview”, and “Connects to Rooms” (an interesting inclusion). Each of the 16 entries has a page number as well, turning the list into a Table of Contents for the “rooms” portion of your planner.

History: A single page with four equal-sized blocks that lay out the background of your dungeon: “Creator”, “Original purpose”, “Current Owner”, and “Important NPCs”. (Here, I assume “Creator” refers to “Iduag the Mad Architect” and not “Bob the GM”.)

Room: The meat of the book! This is essentially the “Room Record Sheet” from Exploits p. 112, helpfully expanded to two pages. The left-hand page is a hex map (15 x 12 hexes) for the room, with a box at top for the room name. The right-hand page offers a fair-sized space for “Appearance/Description”, and smaller spaces for “Encounter Type”, “Entrances/Exits”, “Inhabitants”, “Nasty Surprises”, “Obstacles”, “Special Features”, and “Treasure”. You get 16 of these two-page spreads, corresponding to the 16 entries on the above-noted “Rooms” page.

Wandering Monsters and Random Traps: Three pages of the form from Exploits p. 111, each with two fill-in-the-blanks tables.

Monster cards: Three unlabeled pages, each containing three of the index card-size monster forms from Monsters p. 64. So that’s space for nine monsters, whether new inventions or copied over from elsewhere for easy reference.

Trap cards: Two unlabeled pages, each containing three of the index card-size trap forms from Monsters p. 64. That’s space to spell out six nasty surprises to spring.

Notes: Three ruled pages for whatever else you like.

What’s good

The whole thing, to be simple about it. What’s not to like? As a single “just fill in the pages” planner, it’s a guide to creating your own dungeon (or “adventure” if you prefer, or even “module” if you must).

Much of the content repeats forms from Exploits and Monsters, but collecting a useful quantity of these forms under a single cover is of course the point of the book. (The forms brought over from Exploits maintain their page number references, a helpful touch.)

I’ll give a thumbs-up here to SJG for not padding DFDP with unneeded components. Of the forms at the end of Exploits, “GM Control Sheet” gets left out of DFDP – but that’s a component that demands its own loose-leaf sheet (copied/printed from Exploits or just scribbled on paper); it’d be hard to use bound into a book. Elsewhere, SJG could have easily added pages to DFDP by repeating useful info tables, but DFRPG books already do a fine job of making such tables handy. In short, the book is free of fat.

Meanwhile, DFDP adds new, useful pages not found in DFRPG books, namely the big dungeon overview map, the “Rooms” list, and the “History” page. If nothing else, consider buying the PDF to fill out your collection of handy GM forms.

What could be better

My quibbles about production quality and content are few:

Bound for trouble: My hard copy from Amazon is in the official DFRPG book size, so it fits right in with the rest of the books. It’s perfect-bound, and looks fine.

But for comfortable dungeon creation and ease of use in play, this book needs to lie flat and open on the table. It doesn’t want to.

Hefty dinosaurs and a chunk of Himalayan rock salt help keep my pages flat. Our parasaurolophus notes that some writing spaces are trickily close to the binding. The rock salt later suggests smushing the binding to a more accommodating flatness, which works well enough. (Meanwhile, the triceratops points out a bit of ink ghosting – not a problem at all, but he’s persnickety.)

At 48 pages, DFDP falls between the staple-bound Dungeon (24 pages) and Monsters (64 pages) in size, so it certainly could be stapled. But perhaps binding choice is out of SJG’s hands with Amazon print-on-demand.

It’s no big deal; some hands-on “persuasion” to bend the covers back makes the book lie flat well enough, at least when opened to a more middle section. That said, if staple binding isn’t an option, I’d suggest leaving more blank margin at the binding. In particular, some of the “index card” pages place the cards up close to the bound side of the page while placing the big art pieces on the accessible side of the page. I’d reverse those placements for ease of writing.

Check out the GURPS Mega Dungeon review for more info on the book’s physical features.

Easy on the ink: Another, smaller beef (call it a veal): The lines for writing stuff, and the hex lines, are too black and bold for my taste. There’s nothing unusable about the presentation, but the lines on the hex maps and the “Notes” pages in particular threaten to overwhelm spidery pencil marks. As hexes and lines are nothing more than drawing/writing guides to keep things neat, how about changing them to an unobtrusive light gray?

(There’s also a bit of ink ghosting in print, with the reverse side of pages slightly visible. It’s to be expected from print-on-demand, and isn’t distracting. More use of gray might lessen it, though.)

Fill-er-up: Is the PDF form-fillable, with fields ready to accept your typing? Sorry, it’s not. As the GURPS Mega Dungeon review notes, you’ll have to do that on your own (if you’re familiar with how to do so), or use the PDF as it’s intended: print it out and sharpen up that pencil.

Room scale: 15 x 12-hex rooms? That’s sizable enough for many dungeon spaces, but not the big halls and caverns. DFDP‘s room map is only 3 or so hexes taller than the map on Exploits‘ “Room Record Sheet”, despite the map getting its own full page; that’s not big enough to hold the first room that PCs encounter in I Smell A Rat. I’d personally like the map to use a considerably smaller hex size – at least on some of its pages – to accommodate bigger rooms, more tunnels and halls around rooms, etc.

Dungeon scale: Same point as above, writ larger: At 42 x 33 hexes, the master dungeon map isn’t ready to take on big structures. How to map out a sprawling dungeon, with long tunnels or halls between areas? Or multiple levels? The planner can never have enough map capacity to please everyone, of course, but as it is, a full 16-room dungeon is going to need small, close-set rooms for that master map to work.

Color me happy: Color is always nice in a work, of course, but that’s probably not practical for this printed book (no one wants glossy paper permanently enchanted with Repel Pencil). No complaint here with the austere B&W.

What could be added

A book like this immediately invites thoughts of “hm, what else should have been in there?” Nothing else needs to be included in DFDP. But in the spirit of armchair quarterbacking, I hurl these half-tossed ideas for your consideration. (Keep in mind that adding all of these suggestions would be overkill, and that the existing “Notes” pages can handle many of them just fine.)

Space on the cover for dungeon name: I’ve mentioned this here and there; it’s the only thing that strikes me as an actual oversight (small as it is). A book demands a title on the cover! For now, I guess we can take a thick black pen and scrawl over that dragon-vexed warrior in the center. (As if he isn’t having trouble enough.)

Space for adventure and campaign name: A dungeon isn’t always just a dungeon; unless it’s a one-shot, it’ll be part of a named campaign, and possibly part of a multi-dungeon, named adventure within that campaign. Some GMs would appreciate fields for “Campaign” and “Adventure”.

Actually, each planner could use even a bit more labeling space. Mega-dungeons, or even modest-sized multi-level dungeons, may require multiple planners. I can see each planner offering spaces to write in “Campaign”, “Adventure”, “Dungeon”, and, for those dungeons that span multiple planners, “Level/Area”.

PC list: Surely the GM will want to keep a record of what stalwarts made it through the dungeon (or almost did). A roster of players and PCs would be nice.

Hm, this might as well be the “GM Control Sheet” that I noted above as unnecessary. Sure, the GM will probably use a separate, loose-leaf GM Control Sheet in play, but relegating that same info to the planner, to fondly revisit when flipping through the pages years later, could be fun. (“Ah, yes, I remember ol’ Thogg the Unconquerable. ST 21, HP 24… Couldn’t believe he managed to die so messily.”)

PC events: A page for tracking individual PCs’ accomplishments (rooms explored, monsters slain, experience earned, etc.), fates (traps triggered, nasty demise, etc.), etc. See the “Explored By” page in The Fantasy Trip Labyrinth Planner (below) for the general idea.

Area maps: Would a hex map for sketching the surrounding area be helpful? Perhaps even two: a big-scale map (with 1 hex = whatever the GM decides) for the wide-area surrounding region, and another map for the immediate dungeon environs (for noting hidden entrances, the bandit ambush behind the wagons, etc.). DFRPG doesn’t delve into wilderness hex crawls, so these maps aren’t a must, but plenty of GMs would be happy to have them. Better yet: Make this a couple extra pages of small-hex maps that the GM can use for outdoor maps or for more whole-dungeon mapping.

Map legend: This would be really nice to have (even in Exploits)! Planner creators can use whatever symbols or art they want to denote stairs, secret doors, traps, etc., but a suggested set of symbols would be great to have, and would promote shared mapping conventions across DFRPG releases.

Blank pages: Not the ruled “Notes” pages, but truly blank pages. (Some sort of very light grid or lines on the pages would be fine.) Planner creators could use these for artwork; free-scale area maps; treasure maps scrawled by old men in taverns; a side view of the dungeon to show its levels; timelines and flowcharts if that’s a thing; whatever.

Key NPCs: A page or few for more detailed key NPCs than the “History” page provides for, perhaps using some mini (half-page?) character sheet form. It sounds good in theory, but some dungeons will have zero need for NPC forms while others will find a dozen not enough. Tough call.

Disease/Poison cards: If DFDP is going to pick up only two of the three card-sized forms offered in Monsters, I agree that the Disease/Poison card is the one to leave out. Still, I’d welcome a single DFDP page holding three of these forms.

Rewards overview: As seen in I Smell A Rat and Against The Rat-Men. This is hardly a needed section, as each room’s info details its treasure, while the “Adventure Planning Form” has short spaces to jot down payment, character point rewards, etc. But some GMs would like a page or two to really detail these matters, in the style of DFRPG‘s published adventures.

PDF or print?

It’s up to you. The print planner has the cool factor, of course, of turning your dungeon into a proper book to show off. On the downside, there’s the non-stapled binding, and the restriction that your planner will have what pages the book supplies, in the numbers it provides, and that’s it.

The great thing about PDF: you can print as many or as few of each page as you like, creating a planner that fits your dungeon, not the other way around. Downside: “planner” here means a sheaf of loose printed pages, not a nifty book; where you go from there is up to you.

The verdict

With this review, the above-linked review, and the DFDP product page at your disposal, I think you’ve got enough info to decide whether to buy. Don’t overthink it. The PDF is less than $3. If you play DFRPG at all and have a printer, you can’t go wrong with that.

The Fantasy Trip Labyrinth Planner (for The Fantasy Trip)

The Fantasy Trip Labyrinth Planner (TFTLP it is, then) has the same page count as DFDP, the same PDF price and print suggested retail price, and much of the same B&W interior. Its biggest difference from DFDP may be the swapping of “dungeon” for “labyrinth”, as TFT is wont to do.

What’s in it


Introduction: An overview of the book and TFT. A space for writing the labyrinth name, found on the cover and on the following “Labyrinth” page, appears here too. I approve!

Labyrinth: This is the same as the DFDP‘s “Dungeon” page, with clip art swapped.

Rooms: The same “Rooms” list of dungeon rooms found in DFDP.

History: The same as DFDP‘s page, with its spaces for “Creator”, “Original purpose”, “Current Owner”, and “Important NPCs” – plus a space for “Notes” at the bottom instead of clip art.

Campaign Notes: Instead of DFDP‘s multiple-field “Adventure Planning Form”, TFTLP gets a single ruled page for jotting whatever campaign notes you think go here.

Room: The same deal as DFDP: a two-page spread with a 15 x 12 hex map on the left, and a room info page on the right. The TFTLP room info page is simpler, though: just three equal-sized blocks for “Appearance/Description”, “Creatures/Traps”, and “Treasures/Rewards”. As in DFDP, there are 16 of these two-page spreads, corresponding to the 16 entries on the above-noted “Rooms” page.

GM Character Record: I suggest above that DFDP would do well to add a PC roster. TFTLP does that and much more with (reasonably) full character forms, two per page! But are these forms for PCs or NPCs? Either/or, I suppose! With a generous eight pages of forms, there’s room for 16 characters.

Notes: Three ruled pages for writing whatever else you like.

Explored By: There are 10 entries on this page, each asking you to write “Name”, “Rooms Explored”, “Traps Triggered”, and “Monsters Slain”, and to check off boxes for “Maimed?”, “Disappeared?”, “Slain?”, “Survived?”, and “Remains in Room:_____”. Apparently, the purpose is to keep track of each PC’s accomplishments (and possible unfortunate end).

Bottom part of room info page + top part of following room map page

What’s good

Like DFDP, the planner concept itself is what’s good. And TFTLP even has that nice big space on the cover for writing the labyrinth name!

Bonus: The cover features a fierce ogre brandishing his club at delvers in the doorway of Castle Octopus. (Understandable enough; they are on his lawn.)

What could be better

I have no comments on the print version, as I only have the PDF.

As with DFDP, I’ll note that a) the PDF isn’t form-fillable; b) the hex grids and the lines for written entries would look better in less obtrusive gray; and c) the room maps and labyrinth map don’t allow for very big structures.

Speaking of hexes, here’s a TFT-specific oddity: the hex maps don’t indicate mega-hexes, a rather key feature for dealing with attack ranges! Perhaps future revisions could change this.

What could be added

TFTLP doesn’t need to have every feature found in DFDP, and vice versa. But for those wondering, TFTLP doesn’t include a detailed “Adventure Planning Form”, wandering monster/trap tables, or monster/trap forms. (Naturally, you can use the “Notes” pages pages for these things.)

I’d be open to seeing a few more features in this planner – perhaps blank pages, area maps, and map legends most of all.

The verdict

Should you buy it? If you’re making a labyrinth, sure! Whether you go for PDF or print, the cost is low enough to give this planner a shot without much dithering.

Dungeon Crafter’s Sketch Book (for any game system)

Dungeon Crafter’s Sketch Book (DCSB) is the product of a Kickstarter campaign by creator Philip Reed. I picked up my DCSB via a later Kickstarter campaign for The Book of Dungeon Encounters, nabbing both PDFs for the crazy generous price of $3.

To check out DCSB and other Philip Reed Games titles (there’s lots of ’em!), hit the catalog on DriveThruRPG.

What’s in it


DCSB is for any game system; there are no system-specific fields, forms, mapping conventions, etc. A much simpler product than the above planners, the book consists of just two things:

Maps: Lots of ’em! Some 56 pages for map grids that run top to bottom, edge to edge. The book comes in a Hex Edition and a Square Edition ($2 each, PDF) to meet your preferred mapping style.

On Hex Edition pages, I count about 21 x 23 hexes, considerably more generous than maps in the planners above (thanks to filling the whole page with hexes). TFT players will appreciate that the grid adds heavier outlines to create mega-hexes (roughly 7 x 9 mega-hexes, depending on how you count).

On Square Edition pages, I count 8 x 11 big squares, each subdivided into 5 x 5 smaller squares. I presume you’ll typically use the small squares for feet, and the big squares for D&D‘s 5-foot map squares.

Doin’ it D&D style…
… or would you like hexes with that?

Random tables: The second feature of DCSB is a bunch of tables of random things to place inside your dungeon: room types, monsters, hazards, miscellaneous junk, more. Sure, books and blogs with tables like these are a dime a dozen, but it’s nifty to have tables right there inside a dungeon planner.

Here’s a list of tables and page numbers, taken from the Kickstarter info:

  • More Dungeon Denizens, Inside Front Cover
  • Dungeon Denizens, 6-7
  • Dungeon History, 8-9
  • Surface World, 12-13
  • Dungeon Doors, 14-15
  • Dungeon Sounds, 18-19
  • Dungeon Rooms, 20-21
  • Dungeon Light, 24-25
  • Random Dungeon Dressing, 26-27
  • Dungeon Traps, 30-31
  • Dungeon Hazards, 32-33
  • Boss Monsters, 36-37
  • More Random Dungeon Dressing, Inside back cover

What’s good

There are only two features, and they’re both just fine. On the map side, I like the use of both large and small squares, and the grouping of hexes into mega-hexes. I really like that the map lines are all in grey, not black!

The tables include blurbs with advice (e.g., smart use of traps and boss monsters), which is a nice touch. The tables don’t try to generate everything plus the dungeon sink; the final “More Random Dungeon Dressing” table offers a big selection of stuff with a 4d20 roll, but the “Dungeon Traps” table, for example, has just eight simple trap ideas. That’s fine; DCSB makes clear that its tables are there to spur ideas, not generate a dungeon for you. And by staying small, the tables don’t eat up much map space.

Another thumbs-up: Only the covers and first page have artwork, but it’s color and it looks good.

What could be better

DCSB‘s random tables aren’t collected into a section; they’re scattered throughout the book, which means they do eat up (a little) map space on some pages. Moreover, to actually use the tables, you’ll need to flip around the book.

Maybe some users would prefer the tables collected into a section, but I find myself not minding DCSB as it is. The way these fun little tables pop up randomly among the map pages, in no particular order, is itself metaphoric of the whole dungeon exploration thing.

What could be added

While DCSB is “planner” enough to include in this review, it’s not a planner of the same sort as the above books. With no dedicated pages for dungeon notes, character rosters, etc., it’s really more of a… well, sketchbook. Just as the label says.

Can’t argue with that! Still, if the work were to include a few blank and/or ruled pages, it could easily please those creators who’d like to use it as a planner.

Also, how about a space on the cover for a title? DCSB doesn’t need this; more than the two books above, it might be used as a collection of rooms intended for different dungeons or for no particular dungeon at all. But for creators who do use the book to map out a singular adventure locale, that title space would be nice.

The verdict

DCSB is a big book of mapping paper, with dungeon-stocking tables to kickstart creativity. If you’re all about the map-making, whether to build a specific dungeon or to record bits and pieces of different dungeons, you can’t go wrong with this. (If you’re sketching a TFT labyrinth, this book’s addition of mega-hexes gives it one big advantage over the official TFT planner above!)

On the other hand, if you want a book that organizes more stuff than just maps, you might prefer a dedicated planner. (But hey. Look at the price. Just go ahead and put a DCSB in your collection.)

A side note: The above-mentioned Kickstarter campaign for The Book of Dungeon Encounters featured the DCSB Square Edition as a bonus. To those of us who asked about receiving the Hex Edition instead, Philip suggested we contact him after the campaign to make arrangements. But when the campaign closed, both DCSB editions quickly showed up in my mailbox, without any action on my part. Kudos to Philip for the attentive service!

Planning the perfect dungeon planner

So, while we’re here: what would make for the perfect planner?

Let’s consider one for DFRPG – not because there’s anything wrong with the published one, but because our imaginary perfect planner can have anything we want, with cost and sense as no object. (See also: Homer Simpson designs car.)

Easy questions to get out of the way

First question: Is this an adventure planner or a dungeon planner? Let’s not overthink it. In any RPG, “adventure” can be pretty broad and vague; it could even mean something requiring no maps at all. But DFRPG is pretty focused on map-based dungeons, so we’ll go with dungeon planner – with an appropriate dash of broader adventure planner amenities.

And are we sure about planner, not journal? I take “planner” to mean tools for readying the adventure/dungeon for play, and “journal” to mean tools for recording what happens in play. Again, no need to overthink: let’s stick with planner, but add whatever journal features sound fun.

Physical features of the perfect planner

Some basics on the form of our perfect planner:

Dimensions: As a DFRPG product, our planner will of course have to conform to the product line’s standard dimensions and look.

Front cover: Probably a good idea to have one of these! We want nice color art and a space to write in the dungeon name or adventure title.

Back cover: This’ll have to be filled with the usual marketing copy, ISBN number, etc., I assume. But if possible, let’s have a box with a few blank lines for filling in our own marketing blurb, like you’d find on a commercial product. “Generations of adventurers have sought the legendary Caves of Luminance, but none have found them – or returned to tell the tale. Now, your team has discovered…” etc., etc.

Binding: Staples, if possible, to lie flat.

Paper: Whatever takes pen and pencil well. A little ghosting is no big deal, but…

Ink: … we’ll want lines, map grids, etc. to use gray, not black, to highlight the creator’s work, and to lessen ghosting.

PDF: Form-fillable PDF, if possible!

Pages in the perfect planner

Now. What to put in the perfect planner?

Introduction/Table of Contents: As the first page in the book, this page would be a great location to place fields for “Campaign,” “Adventure,” “Dungeon,” and “Level/Area”.

Big-area maps: This is the big-scale “Dungeon” map from DFDP, with small hexes for lots of real estate – except I’d prefer (a) multiple pages (say, four?) and (b) no “Dungeon” label. Pages that leave the title totally blank let you decide how to use them: “Dungeon” (or “Tomb of the Arch-Mage Claudius” if you want to get descriptive), or “Level 1” and “Level 2”, or “The Dark Forest”, or “The Beach Around the Dungeon”, or whatever.

Having a couple of two-page spreads of these maps also gives the option of going really big, sketching a dungeon or mountain pass that sprawls across two pages. (That’s especially welcome for a dungeon with lots of long tunnels between rooms.)

Map legends: Indoor and outdoor map legends, with symbols for door, trap, village, swamp, etc. (We’ll even leave a few blank spots in the legend, so creators can add their own symbols.)

Adventure Planning Form: Like the DFDP form – though if it’d be fun to stretch it out to a two-page spread, I’m all for that!

Locations: The existing “Rooms” list, but as more generic “Locations”. Locations will probably be dungeon rooms, but could be outdoor ambush points, key town locations, etc.

Background: The “History” page, with a name that I like better. The DFDP page is generally fine, through I could see replacing the small “Important NPCs” block with, say, “Key Events”, and adding a whole new page for…

Important NPCs: A whole page! GURPS/DFRPG being what it is, forms aren’t going to fit here, unless for NPCs so simple an index card will work (in which case a “Monster” form can be used). A full page that creators can use as they like is probably best.

Roster: The list of players and their PCs. Rather than “GM Control Sheet”, let’s go with a page listing player, PC, maybe very basic info for each PC (namely profession), and space for notes on what happens to each PC – accomplishments, bad things, notable treasures, experience gained, etc. This makes “Roster” a key “journal” page, together with…

Sessions: … space to jot down the date of each play session, and a brief synopsis of what happens. This is a key feature for letting the planner serve as a journal, too. (Tough to say how much space to allot, though. Some dungeons will run one session, some will run half a dozen.)

Location: The meat of the planner. Like the current “Room” two-page spreads, though as a more generic “Location”: map on one page, location info on the other. Not much change is needed from the existing DFDP forms; the fields look pretty usable even for outdoor or town locations.

The main change we’ll make is smaller hexes to provide more real estate. And let’s give a couple of the “Location” pages really small hexes, for those special, big rooms or marketplaces or whatever.

Rewards: A summary of the rewards to be had from the dungeon as a whole, a la I Smell A Rat. Some fields could probably be moved here from the “Adventure Planning Form”.

Random tables: The suggestion of Wandering Monsters and Random Traps tables is fine, but let’s make these more generic, and encourage creators to fill in these tables with any sort of useful table of stuff: wandering monsters, random traps, random encounters, weather events, rumors, random treasures, etc. Three or four pages of tables, two tables per page, will do fine.

Monster/NPC cards: Yep, “Monster/NPC” – they’re good for NPCs, too. Three or so pages, please.

Trap cards: A couple pages will do.

Disease/Poison cards: As seen in Monsters. One page, please!

Blank ruled pages: DFDP‘s “Notes” pages, but with a space for filling in your own title. Use and label as you like. Several pages.

Blank unruled pages: Yep, all blank (well, other than maybe some decorative dungeon-y border). For sketching a side view of the dungeon, or a kewl monster, or that amulet the PCs probably shouldn’t have touched. Or for doodling and idea-hashing on the fly.

Filled-in random tables: Not the fill-in-the-blanks random tables above, but ready-to-use ones for miscellaneous dungeon, scents, sounds, junk, minor happenings… just as DCSB does. Let’s place a bunch of tables, 1 or 2 pages, at the end of our planner, to spur creators’ imaginations. (Creators with their own nifty ideas for a Dungeon Gunk table or whatever can use the above-suggested page of blank random tables.)

Bonus shaky ideas for the perfect planner

Campaign Planner: I’ve left out the “Campaign Planner” page found in TFTLP, as I’m not sure what’s supposed to go there. A real Campaign Planner would be a whole other book and ballgame. A single page… well, we could toss it in, with the suggestion that it be used for any notes about how the adventure/dungeon fits into the greater campaign world, or what transpires Out There while the PCs are Down Below beating up subterranean householders. But for now, we’ll direct interested creators to use a blank ruled page for this.

Going more freeform: Above, I suggest that the identity of map pages be left to the creator, rather than pre-labeled “Dungeon” and “Room”. This idea could be extended to other themed pages: Instead of pre-titled pages like “Important NPCs”, “Sessions”, and “Rewards”, add more untitled pages, and include a master list of suggested uses for such do-it-yourself pages: “Campaign Notes”, “Important NPCs”, “Sessions”, “Rewards”, “Key House Rules”, “Recommended Equipment”, “Continuing the Adventure”, “Rumors Roundup”…

That’d offer creators the ultimate flexibility: give them a helpful list of topics they’ll probably want to include in the dungeon planner, and let them allocate as many or few pages as needed for each of the topics. (That said, we wouldn’t want to go totally freeform. We’d still want ready-made forms for topics that involve lots of specific fields, e.g., “Adventure Planning Form” and “Monster/NPC cards”.)

Taking one for the other team: While our perfect DFRPG planner naturally uses hex grid maps, we could throw in a couple pages of D&D-style square grid pages. Why? Because even if not used for maps, a (very light gray!) square grid is useful; creative creators will surely find it handy for sketching structures, laying out timelines, anything. (Likewise, if our perfect planner were all based on square grid maps, it’d still be nice to include a couple pages of hex grid paper. Some games use square grids for combat, but hex grids for large-scale mapping and wilderness travel.)

What has it got in its pocketses?: It’s got… Handouts! The GM Control Sheet! Printed-out battlemaps! Secret notes from players! All entombed for eternity inside the dungeon planner with which they were used.

Pockets inside the front and back covers would be awesome. And they’d also blow up any reasonable price targets. But imagining goofy stuff costs nothing, so there it is.

Product idea that probably makes no business sense: Filled-in planners

Sticking with DFRPG for the moment to toss out one more planner-related idea:

Now that we have a planner (DFDP in reality, the “perfect planner” in imagination), how about using it in ready-to-play dungeon products? Planner-based dungeons, professionally pre-cooked and ready to go. Maybe even run a contest to solicit planner-based dungeons from the public, a la The Fantasy Trip 2019 Postcard Contest. Or start a program to let creators publish their planner-based DFRPG dungeons. (Okay, that’s not going to happen. I know.)

Why do this instead of just creating and publishing dungeons the usual way? I don’t know; I just think it’d be fun to see a series of dungeons based on the planner. Adventures published “the usual way” aren’t exactly gushing down the pipeline; “fill in the blanks” planner-based dungeons sound to me like a recipe for more adventures, faster. And published examples of filled-in planners would surely show creators how it’s done, and spur them to buy planners of their own.

All of which sounds good in my head, maybe less so in the real world. Pre-cooked dungeons served in a planner are perhaps a half-baked idea. (Ah well. What better place for such nuttery than some backwater blog?)

For reference: A D&D game master journal

I’m a past buyer of pocket-sized blank journals from the notebook specialists at Field Notes. Some time ago, the company sent me a message informing me of their foray into gaming territory: a medium-format (4-3/4″ × 7-1/2″ (121mm × 191mm); 64 pages) Game Master Journal and Character Journal for D&D 5E.

I’m not in a 5E game and haven’t sprung for these, so check the product page for yourself. As a bit of reference for all the above discussion, though, I’ll pass along Field Notes’ intro and list of contents for the Game Master Journal:

This Game Master Journal is the perfect companion for the big-picture world-building that so many GMs strive for. Whether using official sourcebooks or homebrewing your own lands for your party to explore, the Game Master Journal is a book no GM should be without. 

Inside each Game Master Journal you’ll find empty charts, tables, hex grids, and spaces for logging the following campaign information:

Yeah, that’s the stuff. Again, we already have such planners for DFRPG, TFT, or other fantasy games with the products I review above, but Field Notes’ extensive list of topics may give you ideas on more things to do with your chosen journal’s blank pages.

The wrap

There it is: a look at three planner products, and an exercise in dreaming up the perfect planner. That’s a bunch of products, and a whole lot of words, for tackling something that any old notebook and a pencil readily handle. But organization is a vital thing in GMing, and I find planners a pleasant way to organize.

How about you? Got any thoughts/review notes of your own on dungeon planner products, or wishes for the perfect planner? Corrections to any claim made above? Fill in that ready-made comment form!

“Then we’ll add a ‘New Spells’ page, and magic item index cards, and a master Monster Index, and… “

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