Donjon: Introduction

Welcome to Donjon! Either you've played role-playing games before and have decided to check out this one, or by some chance, this is the first role-playing game you've ever come across. Either way, read on.

Donjon is a rip-roaring, make-it-up-as-you-go-along game of bashing down doors, exploring dark dungeons (or donjons, as we like to call them), killing monsters, finding loot, and saving the day. It's a fantasy role-playing game because you, the player, play the part of a fictional character in a fantastic world. (You get to play lots of characters if you're the GM.) The best analogy for this is given by Ron Edwards, a bad-ass of a game designer. He likens playing a role-playing game to being in a band: the members get together and decide what kind of music they want to play, one person (the GM) leads off, and the rest of the members add what they have to make something that is, hopefully, exactly what they wanted. Just like with playing music, one member of the band might find a cool riff that no one was expecting, and everyone else jumps on it. Donjon is like acid jam-rock. It's made to give players a lot of control: they can bust into guitar and drum solos whenever they wish. If something sounds groovy, then they can go with it. There's no band-leader here to bust your chops.

How this game came to be

Five people sat around a table on a Sunday afternoon, all with piles of dice in front of them. We'd gotten together for an afternoon of role-playing, and decided to play our favorite game from our childhood, a slim red-covered version of the original Dungeons and Dragons.

Zak (the Dungeon Master): You're in a small room, with walls made of grey stone and covered with slime. The floor's about a foot deep in water.

Clinton (as an Elf): I look for secret doors. (Rolls some dice.) Success.

Zak: Ok. You find a secret door. It's… um, I don't know… on the left wall.

Clinton: Really? Was that on the map, or did you make that up?

Zak: Made it up. You searched, and were successful, right?

Clinton: Kick-ass.

We suddenly realized we were having fun. We decided to drop the idea of common sense, and had every successful roll have something happen. Whenever I successfully searched for secret doors - there was one. Whenever I listened for noise successfully - there was noise.

It worked like a charm, and I went home with ideas fluttering in my head. A hundred e-mails, dozens of phone calls, and a few edits later, Donjon emerged.

What this game is about

This game is about, first and foremost, that sense of wonder you had the first time you played a fantasy role-playing game. (If this is your first game - which strikes me as funny, but great - it's about making sure you get that sense of wonder I did the first time.) I remember my first time well. I played original D&D, and my character was an elf. I had no idea what the rules were, but I knew I could swing a sword and cast some spells, and that was cool by me. The rules seemed easy enough, and what I remember enjoying the most was the ability to try anything. The rest of the players had been in the game for a while, and did what they were used to. As for me, I tried just about everything I could, and loved it.

I want to make it clear that this game is not a satire. It may produce funny situations, but it's a work of love - an homage to what dungeon crawling in your parents' basement was, and what dungeon crawling in your own basement can be. This game's about letting players come up with cool situations and actions. I also remember getting attacked by some huge mosquito-type things called stirges that first time I played, and getting frustrated when I couldn't try and drive them away with a huge acrid fire. Mosquitoes don't like smoke, I figured, so why not try the same tactic against these things?

Lastly, this game is about winning. Don't be fooled by the fact that you're all friends: the GM's job is to take whatever you say and twist it around and screw you with it. Think of the GM as a genie - an evil one. You make wishes, and he tries work them to his advantage. The players' job is to not let the GM do this: think of cool actions she can't thwart, build characters that are engines of fun destruction, and smite down all the enemies she can throw at you.

This game is different than what you're probably used to - if you're a hard-core dungeon crawling machine, you've probably not seen mechanics that allow players to drive the situation like these. If you're some sort of narrativist bleeding-edge pansy that's used to having players run everything,
you've probably not had the chance to wallow in the blood of your enemies like this.

Acknowledgements and thanks

Thanks to Jared Sorensen for reading over this text at an early stage and providing valuable input, and thanks to Ralph Mazza, Mike Holmes, Vincent Baker and all the members of The Forge (www.indie-rpgs.com) that helped out with the development of Donjon. The developers' knowledge of many other games went into this one. Direct influences were the aforementioned original Dungeons and Dragons, which we cut our teeth on; Sorcerer and Elfs by Ron Edwards, both of which managed to lay their eggs in our minds and infect us; and the wonderful 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which made us think, "This could be fun again."

Very special thanks goes to Ron Edwards for making the challenge and setting the bar. You are always the example of a mentor. Super-crazy thanks goes to Zak Arntson, who co-developed this game with me. His influence is all over the place, and if an idea strikes you as funny, you can be sure he had a hand in it.

Lastly, thanks to my playtesters: Zak Arntson, Christopher Chinn, James "Yasha" Cunningham, Matthew Moore, and Ralph Mazza.

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