Book Breakdown: DUNGEON H@CKS, Draft 1

Posted by David on October 8, 2014


[In book breakdowns, author David L. Craddock analyzes the contents, structure, process, and statistics involved in writing a complete draft of a book. The goal of a book breakdown is to follow the progress of a book from draft 1 to publication, observing how the content, structure, and statistics change along the way.]

Yesterday, I finished my last chapter of DUNGEON H@CKS. Before I send search-engine programmers around the world into a panic: no, I will not actually be including an "at" sign in the title. The proper title will be "DUNGEON HACKS," but I do plan to include an "@" in the title graphic as a wink-nod-nudge to fans of roguelike games.

I say "my last chapter" because I wrote the last few chapters out of order--which is something I rarely do. I wrote chapters 1 through 5, then jumped to chapter 7, and proceeded to chapter 8. Then I realized I needed to add a chapter in the middle, which meant increasing the number of each chapter from 5 on by one, so chapter 5 became 6, chapter 6 became 7, and so on.

Chaos! Pandemonium! Anarchy! Ahhh, I love the smell of first drafts in the morning.

On that note, please remember that everything on this page is subject to change and should be taken with a Mount Everest-sized pile of salt. With that out of the way, let's break this draft down.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The BAM-like: Descending Beneath Apple Manor

Chapter 2: Procedural Dungeons of Doom: Building Rogue, Part 1

Chapter 3: Rodney and the Free Market: Building Rogue, Part 2

Chapter 4: There and Back Again: Retrieving the Sword of Fargoal

Chapter 5: When the Inmates Run the Asylum: Hack-ing at Lincoln-Sudbury High School

Chapter 6: It Takes a Village: How the DevTeam Raised NetHack

Chapter 7: None Shall Pass: Braving the Mines of Moria

Chapter 8: Vanilla, Chocolate, and Swirl: The Many Flavors of Angband

Chapter 9: "Wish You Were Here!": Questing for Postcards in ADOM

Chapter 10: [Untitled] 7DRL 2013 [unwritten]

Chapter 10 hasn't been written yet because I don't know how I want to structure it. So, the statistics below such as page and word count do not include chapter 10.

Chaos! Pandemonium! Etc.

Overview of Content

Hardcore roguelike fans will notice a distinct absence of newer games like Tales of Maj'Eyal (TOME) as well as seminal classics such as (Dungeon) Crawl (Stone Soup). I did not forget about or ignore those games. Rather, I covered those games whose creators and maintainers I was able to contact. I intend to follow up on DUNGEON HACKS with a sequel that circles back to Crawl and its successors, as well as newer roguelikes. Or, should I make contact with the Crawl/Stone Soup folks, I may squeeze in another chapter.

My goal with this volume of DUNGEON HACKS was to trace the roguelike genre to its point of origin, Rogue, and then go back even further to learn more about roguelike games that existed before Rogue and the "roguelike" label. Those themes, in no particular order, are:

  • how roguelike authors such as Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, Don Worth, Jeff McCord, Robert Koeneke, and Mike Stephenson embraced the same cultural zeitgeist and created similar games even though most developers had zero contact with or awareness of other developers working on similar types of games;
  • how these developers engaged their curiosity and learned about technology by writing video games;
  • how the mechanics for which roguelikes games are famous and infamous--such as perma-death and procedurally generated ("random") levels--have influenced mainstream games like Diablo and FTL.


The truth of the matter is, I'm not the biggest roguelike gamer. I like them, but I suck at them. They're hard! Really, really hard, and esoteric. Examining the DNA of roguelikes reveals that they were created for a certain type of gamer who played and wrote games in a very specific environment.

Although I'm terrible at roguelike games, their composition fascinates me. The genre was born during a time when most consumers did not own desktop computers. They used and wrote software in university computer labs where administrators cracked down on gaming because there was Serious Work To Be Done.

More than design and technical stuff (although there's plenty of that, I assure you), DUNGEON HACKS is the story of the era during which the roguelike genre of role-playing games was created, and the people who made them. Those subjects fascinate me a great deal, and comprise the backbone of any video-game text I write. (See: STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN.)

In other words, if you have never guided your "@" avatar against a dreaded "D," don't fret. You'll still find plenty to enjoy in DUNGEON HACKS.


Each chapter of DUNGEON HACKS covers a specific game or time period. Rogue, being the namesake of the genre, spans two chapters; there was so much ground to cover between the game's creation and the authors' attempt to market it commercially that a breaking up those subjects into separate chapters made sense. Chapters are divided into sections, which I hope will allow readers to digest each chapter in bite-sized chunks if they find themselves unable to consume an entire chapter in one sitting.

I did something a little different in chapter 7, which details the making of Moria, one of the most iconic settings in J. R. R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Instead of conventional section headings, I used quotes from THE HOBBIT and FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING relevant to the content of Moria. The quotes build to the appearance of the Balrog, the winged demon that pursued the Fellowship through the Mines and answered Gandalf's challenge.

We'll see how it works. I loved the LORD OF THE RINGS books and films--they're still the best book-to-movie adaptations ever made, in this author's humble and correct opinion!--and thought it would be fun to play around with the book's structure a bit.

As I wrote the chapter on Angband, named after another famous setting in Tolkien lore, I decided against incorporating the Moria chapter's quote-based headings for several reasons. There's not as much information on Angband out there; I don't have time to read THE SILMARILLION to glean details about the place; and the flow of the story didn't accommodate that particular style of section breaks.

Nothing should ever supersede or compromise the flow of your story.

Besides the main chapters, DUNGEON H@CKS will include bonus chapters, as do all of my books chronicling video-game history. Expect lots of anecdotes, peeks behind the scenes, and interviews, most of which have not been written. I save bonus chapters until after I've finalized content in the book proper.


Numbers! Numbers everywhere! I share data in this section so that I (and you) can refer back to it when I break down future drafts of DUNGEON HACKS, allowing us to see how chapters evolved over many (many) revisions. Very rarely do chapters grow. The point of a rewrite is to cut needless words, like weeding a garden so the good plants have more space to grow.

  • Relevant Dates
    • Writing commenced on June 20, 2014
    • Draft finished on October 7, 2014

Chapter 1

    • Pages: 10
    • Words: 2637

Chapter 2

    • Pages: 15
    • Words: 4113

Chapter 3

    • Pages: 17
    • Words: 5245

Chapter 4

    • Pages: 14
    • Words: 4302

Chapter 5

    • Pages: 12
    • Words: 3656

Chapter 6

    • Pages: 17
    • Words: 5038

Chapter 7

    • Pages: 19
    • Words: 6174

Chapter 8

    • Pages: 22
    • Words: 6875

Chapter 9

    • Pages: 20
    • Words: 6134

Chapter 10: UNWRITTEN

Grand Total

    • Pages: 146
    • Words: 44,174

I don't know what your stance is on chapter lengths, but I prefer to go no longer than 12 pages, 15 at the most. Over the last two years, during which I published two well-received books, I received praise from critics and readers concerning my pacing. I humbly agreed. When I write chapters, my goal is to cover a very specific set of events, and then end the chapter in a way that brings those events to a close while tempting you to turn the page and see what happens next.

Even with chapters demarcated into sections, inviting readers to put the book down and grab a drink or go to something else, I don't want them to quit reading. I feel a frisson of pride when readers rant about reading my work compulsively, so I'm going to play to that. Expect future drafts of DUNGEON HACKS to draw the line at 15 pages.

Research and Writing Process

I got the idea to write a history of early roguelike games during my research for STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN. David Brevik got the idea for Diablo during high school, but that was just a name. When he enrolled in college, he discovered roguelikes in the computer lab--the same way most roguelike authors discovered them. He intended to write Diablo as a roguelike with modern trimmings: still turn-based, still sporting levels randomly constructed from algorithms, but with graphics.

Diablo didn't end up resembling a roguelike, but hearing Dave talk so passionately about the genre got me interested in learning more about them. My first instinct was to squeeze a short section on roguelikes into SAAL, maybe including quotes from the authors of more popular games like Rogue (obviously) and NetHack. That idea blew up into 146 pages and 44,174 words!

To contact the authors of roguelikes, I relied on Facebook, LinkedIn, and wikis that listed the people who wrote the games and where they wrote the games. Most of the folks who wrote these games didn't go on to work in the video-game industry. They wrote games for fun during college and then pursued other interests. If I could find out where they went to college, I could find them on LinkedIn by plugging in their names and alma maters. Some developers, such as Glenn Wichman and Michael Toy, were much easier to find. They use social media almost daily, so it didn't take long to find them on Facebook.

Most of my interviews took place over the phone or Skype. When time allows, I prefer to talk because a back-and-forth conversation inspires trains of thought I wouldn't get to ride if my "subject" and I were exchanging emails. I always give people the option of filling interviews out over email, though, because some people don't have the time or inclination to gab over a phone or phone-like service, and because time zones are merciless beasts. I'd rather not stay up until 2am to talk to someone bright and early at 9am their time unless absolutely necessary!

The process of writing DUNGEON HACKS (or DH@ as I refer to it) was... frustrating. Not because of the material or my interest in it, but because life has thrown some curveballs personally and professionally. I wasn't able to hit every curveball, which resulted in a stop-and-go, herky-jerky writing process for this draft. To me, four months spent on any draft--even the first, which is by far the most difficult--is too long.

In an ideal world, I would wake up at 7 every morning, exercise, shower, eat, and then sit down at the computer and write until my fingers went numb. I would add words to a manuscript every single day until I produced a finished product, which would earn me a couple of weeks off from that particular project, during which time I would write something else and then dust off the first draft of DH@ and begin revisions.

This is not an ideal world. This is reality, and in reality, I do the best I can, just like everybody else.

But, hey! Cheer up! The point of any first draft is to get words down on paper. That's what happened here, so MISSION: SUCCESSFUL.

What happens next? I take a breather, refill my water glass, and then begin revisions. Actually, revisions have already begun. Draft two of chapters 1 and 2 are in the bag, more or less, leaving seven chapters to revise and one chapter to pull from the aether. Check back later for a book breakdown of DH@: draft 2.

Leave Feedback!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the construction of a draft of a book. This is something I want to do more often, and I would appreciate your feedback on the process. Did you like the areas I covered? Did I miss something you want to know? Send me an email:

Until next time,




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