By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 28 August 2019
Building a dungeon on the fly is a Dungeon Master’s dream, but having a coherent dungeon on short notice has always been one of my biggest headaches. I’ve been trying to find solutions to this problem for years, from pre-made dungeons to tweaks to various online generators, but the majority of them still fell short.
Last year, a friend introduced me to Atmar’s Cardography, and once the Kickstarter was announced, I knew where my money was going.
Atmar’s Cardography is a collection of decks that, when shuffled and dealt out, create a dungeon map. Each individual deck has a theme, such as ice cavern or a volcanic cavern, and includes an insert to download a PDF providing room details and even monsters (with stats for both Fate and D&D 5th Edition).
The Kickstarter launched five dungeon decks and a number of add-on decks to include traps, magical items, and more.
==What You Get==
For this review, I went for the dungeon decks. Each deck is 52 cards, with the cards being about the size of a standard playing card. Within the deck box, we are given a small “instruction” pamphlet with descriptions for designated numbered cards, as well as a link to the item’s product page in order to get the PDFs for the dungeon. Said PDF set acts a guide of sorts for the dungeon you have in your hands. Including descriptions, monsters, and a story.
The sheer concept of being able to build a dungeon across the table is a win in my book. Hands down. Considering the number of on-the-go games I’ve had to run over the years, having a deck (or five) on hand to randomly generate a dungeon would have been amazing in the past.
While not completed at the moment, each deck includes a pair of module for GMs looking at using D&D 5th Edition or Fate. This module includes monsters, a story, and a fully prepared adventure using either of these game mechanics.
I’m also going to say I simply love the versatility of a tool like this. It’s easy to throw into a bag and take along, and thanks to the card design and layout, I can quite literally build a dungeon on the fly as we play the game. The cards can be mixed (but are obviously different; i.e. color), and if you are not obsessed with a “perfect” map, you can turn cards as you see fit to get them to line up and create a dungeon.
From a quality standpoint, I have very little to complain about. The cards are durable and easy to shuffle, but they are a bit too glossy in some lights, and that could be a problem at some gaming tables.
I’m also going to say that I’m not entirely digging the modules just yet. The adventures are set in a custom world, so we have custom monsters (and for Fate, custom PCs) to go with it, but the story is odd to grasp since it’s just above a typical dungeon crawl but just below a preset module. Not having all of the adventures yet could be apart of it, but without knowing more about Revilo, the modules just aren’t really my thing.
This is doubly true for any novice DM: the first module doesn’t readily state it (but later ones do clearly show this, thankfully), but this is NOT a set of modules for pre-level 5 characters. As someone who has to worry about introducing new players or running games for events/libraries/etc, knowing that there’s no true “intro” deck is a bit disheartening. Personally, I would have been happier with a collection of smaller dungeons that were created using set cards, following by statting based on the level. Personal preference, of course, but I felt this resource could have really filled a niche of “New GM learning new skills at the get-go.”
After a bit of spelunking and building some dungeons, I have to give Atmar’s Cardography, as a whole, four buns.
For a deck of cards, there’s a lot going on here. Each card is a room, and with 52 of them, there’s plenty of versatility with a single deck. The cards themselves are made to last, and with pre-made modules (or a mechanic that makes building enemies on the fly a snap), the fun doesn’t really stop. You can also easily mix-and-match if that’s your thing and can handle the way it’ll look, meaning each deck just adds that much more versatility.
Sadly, the decks aren’t perfect, as the cards are a bit too glossy for my tastes, some of the rooms blur together after looking at so many of them, and the pre-made modules leave a bit to be desired. With the right support, I can see a number of mini-dungeons coming to life, similar to the pre-made scenarios in games like Descent, but until then, each deck is really going to be best for those who are used to acting on the fly or just simply as a tool to create a dungeon to prep in advance.
Atmar’s Cardography decks are created by Norse Foundry, and each of the five dungeon decks runs at $12.95. The decks can be purchased individually on the Norse Foundry site (but you will need to select each one under “Decks” at this time).