Dungeon Alchemist – A Review

Last year, I was one of several bajillion participants in the Dungeon Alchemist Kickstarter. This project, from developer Briganti, promises to allow gamers to create articulate, procedurally-generated dungeons with, in the immortal words of Scott Aukerman, but the click of a mouse my dear boy. Dungeon Alchemist went live on Steam on March 31 of 2022, and I’ve been puttering around with it for the last week.

So how is it? In a word: fun!

In a lot more words, I’ll try to explain what’s good about it and why I think (spoiler) it’s worth the $40-ish purchase price.

A city block – old-school gold box game style.

So early on we were treated to demos / mock-ups of seamless, sensible dungeons generated by a quick click-and-drag of various room “types,” e.g. select “dungeon” and then click-and-drag a 4×4 grid, and behold: a 4×4 dungeon room. Do that a few more times, substituting perhaps “hallway” or “entryway” for variety, and you wind up with a dungeon fit for exploration…simply add your own monsters, drop in your Player Characters, and boom: you’re off!

In reality, well, it actually does perform a lot like the demo. I’ve spent hours this last week clicking and dragging to make maps of various sizes and using various map types: village, castle, alchemist’s lair, mansion, and tavern (these are the five core terrain sets, plus “festive,” which allows the user to build gingerbread houses…)

Literally the first I built and probably the last…

When you start DA, you’ll be treated to a short tutorial that explains how to move your camera, add rooms, and change room types. This is in fact enough to get you started with rudimentary dungeon building, and it is a LOT of fun. It’s delightful watching fully furnished rooms pop up via playful animations, and the AI is usually smart enough to provide a door or archway between rooms, so the structure is at least functional (if not always perfectly sane).

Users of other map building utilities will at first rejoice at the simplicity of use. If I wished to make a thirteen-room dungeon in, say, Inkarnate, I’m going to spend hours picking out walls, hunting for furniture, adding shadows, and so on. In DA? I can build a thirteen-room dungeon in about 5 minutes provided I’m not too picky on things like where tables & chairs go, or why, in my dungeon, a huge St. Andrew’s Cross or Iron Maiden appears in every third room.

Seriously, this took *seconds* to build and it is 100% playable.

One of the coolest features of Dungeon Alchemist is the 3D render of *everything* – once you’ve built your dungeon, you can zoom in to specific rooms, explore, add, subtract, change…you can fully customize the room with hundreds of available 3D objects, and you can do so at ground level – yeah, that map above, great for planning, but the whole dungeon is built in 3D meaning you can zoom in and look at individual rooms from what amounts to a player’s-eye perspective.

Zoomed in – looking down into hell

For me, one of the best uses for this tool is creating handouts. While I like DA, I haven’t yet used its maps for gaming (I have created god knows how many maps in Inkarnate for that purpose), but I HAVE augmented existing maps with DA handouts, and the WOW factor is 100% worth it. Even if this weren’t a map-making tool, the ability to mock up three-dimensional rooms with openable / closeable doors, animated fire and water, realistic lighting effects, and four daylight options, would make this tool worth the price. Add on outdoor environments and AI-driven map making, and you get more than what you pay for.

Do I have complaints? Maybe a few.

The AI can make some pretty strange choices. It’s clear that, no, a human did NOT design this room. Why is there a lamp in the middle of the floor? Shrug…it’s an object, and objects are objects. Why is this door here? Dunno – AI said it needs a door. I have mixed feelings on the variety of walls, windows, doors, and floors within a single structure (flagstone here, pavers there, bricks elsewhere). Making a dungeon it doesn’t matter…making a mansion? Nobody would pay for this much chaos.

It’s worth noting, again, that the user can go in and modify just about everything, so this complaint is only for using the AI mode, and it’s honestly not much of a complaint – AI can be turned off, and you can assume complete control of the room builds from floor to furniture. If you’re impatient, selecting a room and hitting the check mark will completely redraw that room in about half a second, which may completely fix any placement or design issues you encounter.

The quaintness of this village muffled the screams of my CPU

On my admittedly modest PC, Dungeon Alchemist begins to protest at maps larger than 45×45 squares (or 225×225 feet in gaming terms). That’s not necessarily a problem, but it is a limitation to consider as you set about writing your adventures.

And as with any dungeon builder, you may scratch your head with what is and isn’t included. I make light of the “Holiday” mode, but perhaps more seriously, I’d love to see more goodies and objects to play around with. Inkarnate lets me put a corpse in my dungeon…not so for DA (yet), just a few bits of bone. As with anything of this nature this early into its release, expect to see the same statues, tables, etc. over and over again. Object variety will likely expand and improve going forward (this was 100% the case with Inkarnate early on, and that tool’s object library is now in the thousands – this will, no doubt get much better with DA as well).

If these complaints sound half-hearted, well, they are. I’m a week in and I am absolutely loving Dungeon Alchemist and can’t wait to see what sort of expanded content the developers have in store. I’ve made a few dozen maps and handouts and can safely say that Dungeon Alchemist will be a much-used gaming tool for me for the foreseeable future.

Final verdict: Worth the money – it’s practically a game unto itself. Makes map-making fun (if not always totally sensible) and is a better handout generator than I would dare to ask for.

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