So there’s this One Page Dungeon contest, which is a fantastic idea. I wanted to enter last year but was over-committed. This year as soon as it was announced I jumped on it.
There’s a certain freedom in the tightly constrained format. One page – not too much detail, not too much situation, not too broad an area, not too complex an idea. Everything needs to be just right. So I started thinking, and it went something like this:
Dungeon – chaos – confined space – density – urban landscapes – insular community
And the first thing that hit me was a discrete ethnic enclave. I love Herbert Asbury’s take on the Bloody Sixth Ward in Gangs of New York, so that could only mean an American Chinatown. I started looking for maps of the area from the early twentieth century. Columbia University has gorgeous Sanborn fire insurance maps, but you need to be affiliated to access them. They also have some pretty good general maps as well, including a non-Sanborn fire insurance map that simply omits Chinatown entirely. Eventually I found one from 1913 of the block contained by Bayard, Mott, Pell and Bowery – the stronghold of the Hip Sing tong at the time.
I enjoy the research, but I kept thinking “I could just make this up”. But you know what? When you see the actual, organic sprawl of actual buildings, that’s not something you can really reproduce with any fidelity. The actual alleys and shotgun tenements tell a story for which my creative input is just an overlay.
The end result is a sort of pulpy, yellow-peril-Asbury-inflected “dungeon” rooted in real history. I hope you like it.