Dungeons and Dragons is seeing a steady rise in popularity over the last through years, as it is brought back into public consciousness through the likes of Stranger Things, The Adventure Zone, and Critical Role. Rather than being something worthy of ridicule, this fantasy RPG is now being recognised for its potential to create genuinely moving and important stories. However, with decades of rule-books and editions, it can be confusing for new players to know where to begin. Thankfully, a little indie publisher in Edinburgh may have the answer!
Dungeons on a Dime is an independent publisher of Dungeons and Dragons content that both new and experienced players can enjoy. Their campaign guides are full of unique and exciting stories, characters, and world-building, and are accompanied by enchanting artwork by local artists. Packed with information on everything from roleplaying tips to illustrated maps, this competent and clear guide is the perfect starting point to build your own epic hero’s journey.
Their latest publication, ‘Blood in the Water’, is the story of an art heist gone wrong in Breznick, a reclusive agricultural village which the party must investigate to uncover secrets and solve the mysteries there. There is a great deal to explore and side-quest to further build on the world of Breznick, and the foundations of this story are effectively established in a way that is never vague, but gratefully never didactic. Despite the wealth of detail provided by the guide, it is frequently made clear that the Dungeon Master and players can build their own interpretation, and that the text within this book can be followed as closely or distantly as per personal preference. It provides enough leading questions to indicate just how many paths the story could take, and this is fundamentally the essence of Dungeons and Dragons: improvisation, and creative construction to test imaginative limits.
The NPCs and ‘antagonists’ that have been created for this story are all interesting, multi-dimensional people with various facets and motivations which DMs can use to fully bring them to life, including acting tips and voice directions. The inclusion of gender neutral pronouns for some NPCs is also a welcome addition! The moral ambiguity of the ‘bad guys’ provides ample opportunity for touching, emotional narrative beats and the possibility for resolving conflict through discussion rather than violence. It is clear that DOAD is interested in challenging players, getting them to consider alternative means of storytelling and resolution rather than immediately barging in with a sword. This demonstrates once again the multifaceted nature of TTRPGs that should be embraced.
The artwork in this volume is wonderfully charming, and sourced from independent artists. The characters are distinct and the styles range from sweet to sinister, helping evoke the dramatic possibilities for the story and indicate character. They really help breathe further life into the guide’s story, and elevate the guide itself from being a simple rule-book; it is now a concept art piece that can be revisited again and again. The various maps and diagrams illustrated throughout the guide are clear and inviting, and are a great way of helping visualise the environment that the players will be exploring. As I have learned from experience, it can be tough to properly convey the shape or design of a room without some visual aid, and these drawings are the perfect remedy.
Altogether, the team of contributors to this edition of Dungeons on a Dime should be immensely proud of their work on ‘Blood in the Water’. I have unfortunately been unable to playtest the guide, as the summer break means my heroic party are dispersed abroad on holidays, and therefore am unable to comment on how the mechanics of the adventure work. However, based on the content and narrative design alone, I will be recommending it to friends and newcomers without a doubt, and keeping my eyes peeled for the next edition!
While compiling my notes on this work, I also spoke with Brian, the creator of Dungeons on a Dime, about the process of developing these campaign guides, cool art, and what the future holds for DOAD.
How did you start Dungeons on a Dime, and how long have you been publishing content?
DOAD was first a twinkle in my eye from around May of 2016, but I started developing it around August 2018. I started publishing issues in December of 2018. Ever since I started running roleplaying games when I was 14, I’ve had new players be the majority at my table. It’s always hard to turn people away who are keen to try the hobby because I can’t fit them into my ongoing campaigns, so I wanted to make something that that I could give them to help them get started on their own.
I wanted to start the magazine back in 2016 when I graduated my illustration degree, but working in retail management full time, applying for creative industry jobs and doing free internships sucked all my spare time to get it going; it was the same for my other artist friends. In the end, it took moving to Edinburgh last year to start the ball rolling.
How long does it usually take to create your DND content, and what can be challenging about it?
Part of starting up DOAD has been answering this question! With each issue I’ve taken on more work around the project, so while the actual pack might not take a long time to make, the social media, conventions, printing and other parts of running a magazine take up a lot of time during development. As a one man band, I have to multitask a lot! For the fourth issue of DOAD, I’ve budgeted about two and a half months, with some extra time for leeway here and there.
As for what’s challenging, I’d say it rocks between doing everything myself and having confidence in what I’m writing. I work out of my flat’s living room, which often means that whenever I wake up, I start working. Similarly when I go to bed is when I stop working. I’ll be writing emails to reviewers and other projects at 11 pm at night, and then agonising over plots and rules until 1 am. The last few months especially, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, and when you work for yourself you tend to slip into the bad habit of not giving yourself weekends. My big goals for Issue 4 are not overworking the draft so much, as I did with Blood In The Water, and making sure I take time off so I don’t burn out!
The art in the guide is wonderful! How do you contact artists to be involved in your publications, and what do you find are the benefits of featuring so many independent artists?
Thank you! A big part of the DOAD ethos was making the work I wanted to see in the world, so beyond my own artwork for DOAD, I made an effort to reach out to other illustrators who were starting out in their careers and finding it hard to get their first freelance jobs. The fantastic illustrators who have already worked with DOAD I’ve met through the community around Edinburgh- the university, festival and mass of art conventions like Bookmarks and ECAF make it easier to find other people like myself!
I’m always looking to meet new illustrators and find ways to support them, so if you see me in the wild, feel free to drop me a card and chat D&D with me!
What is your favourite thing about DND?
For me, it’s the interaction between my players and the story I’ve written. It’s always so exciting seeing what they think is going on, compared to what is actually unfurling behind the scenes. I think the most gratifying part of that is when the players fully commit to being in character; they roleplay with each other and try to empathise with the motivations of the NPCs- especially if that means they risk themselves to help someone else! Sometimes their ideas are cooler than mine, and I’ve 100% stolen them and worked them into the game. D&D is a collaborative game, so I guess it’s when we all put into the story that I have the most fun.
What are your hopes for the future of Dungeons on a Dime?
D&D has been a real core purpose throughout my life, and it’s hard to not to pin all my hopes and dreams in one place! Right now I’m looking for a larger audience. The more people buying the magazine, the larger a print run I can afford, which brings the cost down, and makes it more accessible. With more sales, I can pay artists more, and really increase the quality of the magazine beyond what it is now.
Roleplaying was also a super useful tool for me when i was younger- it taught me social skills, and how to be a team player, I just love it. So I want to get DOAD out to more schools, libraries and social enterprises to make the hobby easier to get into!
Find Dungeons on a Dime online here:
Patreon: Dungeons On A Dime
‘Blood in the Water’ Artists:
Brian Tyrrell: @tyrrell.illustration
Fraser Robertson: @_lostastronaut
Ida Jensen: @idajensen_illustration
Harry English: @hazza.space