by Linda "Brasse" Carlson

In a now familiar trend, the EQII Dev Team was simply unable to narrow the finalists down to just three top picks - I told them it would be hard! We are thrilled to announce that as a result of their deliberations, there are FOUR winning entries in this Dungeon Maker Challenge.

Each winner will receive the coveted Residence of Blades Deed of Ownership and the rare Sun-Blazoned Pegasus mount, both from the Legends of Norrath Priestess of the Anarchs loot set. Their dungeons will be immortalized as the first ever Dev Picks! All thirteen finalists will receive the in-game title, "The Dungeon Maker," a set of Heritage Armor of their choice, and 2,000 Station Cash!

FLASH! The Dev Team has arranged for these four winning dungeons to be copied to every EQII server, to celebrate the outstanding skill and effort that went into them!

Here are the winning entries, listed in random order:

Created by Pixiewrath on Freeport (See the video trailer!)

Dev Team comments:

  • A very nice layout and use of plants and mushrooms to spring a garden out of an originally very decorative citadel. The overgrown hallway was a surprise to all, many ooh's and aah's!
  • Scars of Love was just gorgeous to go through. Excellent use of different objects that worked with within the Poet's Palace. As the dungeon went on, you could see the lover's increasingly confused emotions reflected in the dungeon décor.
  • Beautifully decorated with great theming.
  • Good theme here, creatively placed objects

Designed by Severiss on Oasis

Dev Team comments:

  • Very enthralling! The continuous use of bones and death was really carried through 'till almost the end. A great use of objects!
  • The Lovely Bones made a great use of the skeletons, bones, and spider webs to create a creepy, undead atmosphere.
  • Loved the object use in here. There was excellent use of mobs.
  • Very clever use of objects and very strongly themed throughout.
  • Great cohesive theme throughout entire dungeon. Blocking off rooms to keep item count within limits was a great idea!

Constructed by Raferty on Unrest (See the video trailer!)

Dev Team comments:

  • Quite an original design and follow-through! The differing uses of items left many of us enthralled and dumbstruck (I for one want to go through it myself and figure out how you built many of the things you'd rigged). Seriously, we HAD to stop and figure out how you made the spilled coffee cup, of all things… Great work!
  • Very creative use of objects. Loved the theme. Very original and different.
  • Special mention for creativity and use of the space. We were very impressed with the details, like the spilled coffee and elevator, lamps framework.
  • Extremely well usage of area. Story was told visually without the usage of wordy books or just NPC naming. Theme was very unique and outside the box!
  • Area 51 did an amazing job of telling a story with just the creatures and objects in the dungeon. I was also really impressed at how Raferty combined objects to make things that didn't exist in the game (for example, a spilled cup of coffee).

Devised by Jamisia (and Luvil) on Butcherblock
Dev Team comments:

  • Great use of ambient effects in the hallways to give a dreamy effect when moving from one dream diorama to another. The decent into madness had a great flow! A wonderful use of books and other signage to direct adventurers.
  • Good story, well done themes.
  • One of the things that impressed me about Collection of Recollections was how the hallways had been completely retiled. Also, the different areas in the dungeon really gave the feel of memories gone missing and situations about to go awry.

Congratulations all, from the EverQuest II Dev Team, Volunteer Guide Program, and Community Team! What an amazing effort this was. You all make an old Dwarf proud!


We wanted to give you some idea of what went into making these dungeons, so after the winners were decided, we snuck out quietly through the underground tunnels to get responses to some of our burning questions over the weekend.

To spice up the text below, we are interspersing some of the other great entries that did not quite make it to the finals, but definitely deserve recognition!

Tell us a little about your primary play-style in EQII: Crafter? Adventurer? Hard-core raider? Other?

Jamisia: I have to pick one?!?! I love tradeskilling (I have more capped crafters then I care to admit to). I enjoy working my way through the low level content as I level up my toons, exploring the zones and enjoying them as I learn the ins and outs of each toon. I raid three times a week in a moderate to hard-core raid. I also love running the heroic instances with buddies. Oh, yes, and I decorate too, though I freely admit that I am nowhere NEAR the level of decorating of some of the amazing creations I see posted in the home show forums. And I uhm… have this harvesting problem... nodes are hard to pass up and if somebody says 'afk' I'm at the nearest node passing the time and hoping for rares.

Luvil: I definitely lean towards more of a high-end raider, though I dabble in everything. I like seeing all the content EQ2 puts out, especially progression, but I enjoy tradeskilling, soloing through lower level dungeons, and the creative process of Dungeon Maker!

Pixiewrath: This is a hard question to answer. Mostly I do solo player questing or spend my time in older dungeons mentored. It's a blast to go through some of the old content as well despite some obvious flaws (The Qeynos Catacombs without a map, anyone?). But as you can see I also like decorating and creating a story to my creations. I did try raiding a few times, and while pretty fun in itself I do not have the patience to wait for an entire raid group to fill up. I suppose that is why I like soloing. I can leave and continue whenever I feel like it. And nothing beats the feeling of soloing an older 4x raid zone with a mercenary. It feels rewarding.

Severiss: I have a pretty busy schedule, so I can't dedicate myself to raiding. So I find solo play mostly enjoyable. I love creating and designing things, probably based on the fact that I'm both a painter and musician. Solo adventuring is my main play style. I do, however, spend quite a bit of time crafting, doing home decor and creating dungeons.

Raferty: Well, I am hardcore, but I'm not a raider, or even an adventurer. My highest level character is currently 65 after years of playing off and on between accounts. What I am is a decorator. A master of the decoratorfu, an ancient and powerful merchant art.

Palace of the Queen, an entry by Redsoniah of the Freeport server.

How many dungeons have you made to date? Tell us about other dungeons you've created!

Raferty: Honestly, I was just starting my first dungeon when the announcement for this contest went out. I'd planned on doing a dojo where each room had a different scene from a classic kungfu/samurai movie in it. But this will probably be off the tables for a while. I do decorate housing a lot though, and Raferty has done plenty of houses on Unrest and across servers, most notable is probably "Drunken Master" on Unrest, it was highlighted in PUG TV recently.

Pixiewrath: This was my sixth dungeon. I have made Delving into the Depths - Part I, Part II, and Part III using the Mistmoore layout. After the third part was done, I chose to take the story in a different direction with Quel' Stezch's domain. This one doesn't have a trailer yet, but it will come. All these are on the Freeport server. The dungeon I made for the competition is called Scars of Love, but could very well be called Delving into the Depths - Part V, since it is in the same series. It just felt tedious to name them all the same. The sixth and final dungeon I have on the same server is the black sheep of my dungeon series. It is not related to the other dungeons and I made it as an experiment to see if I could maximize token/minute gain. I ended up creating Ultima Token Run which can bring in around 800 tokens in roughly 80 minutes of play if using one of the stronger avatars or even faster while duoing! It was nice to see that my theoretical experiment worked, but at the same time I realized that a true dungeon would have to have a 3-400% token increase to match the best of the token grinds in efficiency. So my hope is that the Dev Picks will get token bonuses to let all the grinders also experience them without a penalty to pace. It would attract more people to them as well. We did make them to be seen and played after all!

Jamisia: This is my first published dungeon. I've got a Frostfell themed one I had mostly decorated, but I never finished it before the season was over, so it still languishes unfinished.

Luvil: This is only my second dungeon. The first one was made in the Crushbone layout and contains references to both famous and obscure fantasy figures. It was an incredibly steep learning curve on how to place and balance mobs, as my first testers discovered!

Severiss: Oh boy, I can't even tell you how many I've made. I have had won about nine awards for various dungeons. I have been guilty of a few "grind" dungeons, but that was just to help with the token income to buy boss spawners (which we need some more variety in PLEASE), random mob packs and effects objects. On the creativity side, I'll give you a list of a few. There's Rise of the Machines, which is obvious. It's a clockwork nightmare. I covered all the walls and floors with tinkered dividers and plating (which I painstakingly crafted myself over a long period of time) and then loaded it up with a large variety of clockwork mobs. Then there's I Dream of Genie... take a guess. You got it, Genies and plenty of them. I themed out the place with drapery, pillows, incense and so forth. I wanted it to have that Arabic feel. Then there's Dazed and Confused, which is a very "shroomy" place. I put a bunch of mist, tons of mushrooms and that sort of flora, along with making it cave-like. I filled it with every kind of fungoid creature that exists. Also, there's War of the Ancients, which starts off with some very angry Coldain, and gradually gets gloomier and rockier as you progress to the other side of the war, with the "ancients" the Coldain are fighting. I could go on and on, because I really do have a bunch of dungeons, but I'll spare you at this point.

Angry Aviaks, an entry by Froggen of the Antonia Bayle server.

How much advance planning do you put into creating a dungeon?

Jamisia: My first attempt (the one mentioned above) was a very ambitious decorating project. I spent a lot of time gathering the materials (spawners and decoration) and then decorating. This one was a smaller dungeon which helped a lot. The dungeon for this contest... it was made from scratch just for the contest.

Luvil: The first one was just learning how to do it and having a ton with the creative process. This dungeon was created from the bottom up, idea and everything, about eight days before the end of the contest.

Severiss: I put a decent amount of time planning out a dungeon. I try not to rush things. If I get an idea for something, I look at the available maps and think of which would be best for that particular idea. After that, if I don't already have the spawners I need, I go out and hunt for them, which sometimes can take quite a bit of time. After that, I run through the dungeon map and empty the entire thing of all the pre-placed items and figure out the layout I would like, including the entrance and exit points. For example, when I first made Rise of the Machines, I spent at least two weeks on and off hunting the spawners and crafting the pieces I needed to make the dungeon.

Pixiewrath: I usually only get a vague picture of how I want to make my dungeon. For this one I had a vision that I wanted to mix the spores from the end of Quel'Stezch's domain with his feelings for his late wife. The only thing I wanted to show was the corruption spreading through his mind and heart and then I built on that. After this was done I started adding small details, like the fungi pushing the furniture aside. I had more visions I wanted to do for this, and I hope the tilting feature will be implemented in-game soon as it would boost my creativity a lot. But I always do have a story in mind which I build upon as I make the dungeon. Sometimes I need to go back to see what I wrote in the previous parts of my dungeon series to keep the story true to itself and not suddenly change.

Raferty: I'll take this to include housing. It really depends on the place. For this contest, I made a list of all the possible themes I could do, took a nap, and just picked one. From there, I just think about a key focal point in each area, and build it around that. If I come up with cool ideas later, I'll go back. The elevator where you zone into the dungeon for example was the last thing that was built. Originally it was an empty hallway.

Pale Pass Rock, an entry by Maharet of the Freeport server.

Where do you obtain your decor?

Severiss: I try to craft nearly everything I use, but some stuff can't be crafted and I either try and quest for them, or purchase them on the broker. I think I own nearly all the Tizmak Braziers on Oasis server at this point, lol.

Pixiewrath: Crafting, questing and the broker. For this competition in particular, I spent roughly 1200 plat on furniture for my dungeon. Obviously all that plat and time spend on decorating it was worth it in the end and I don't regret using so much for decorating. Decorating is fun to me so even if I don't get any stat increases from it, I enjoy it, and that is what matters in the end.

Raferty: I'm known in the decorator world for being a teensy bit obsessive about grinding tokens at the City Festivals and Moonlight Enchantments. Other stuff I tend to get from leftovers of decorating for other people. I'm mostly a decorator for hire, and people tend to just say, "take whatever is left in the moving crate" when I'm done. Also, I have a Lynarra. A kindly Lynarra that makes me everything I want.

Jamisia:Most of the items in the dungeon were crafted or from the mushroom rings. Most of the rest were quest rewards or from faction merchants. None of the tiles or dividers from those sources was dark enough for the top/final section, so I broke down and bought the black marble bits off the Marketplace (Woot for the free SC from recurring membership!).

Luvil: Jamisiaaaaaaaaaa!

Lyrical Lords and Ladies, an entry by Ginkgo of the Freeport server.

How do you go about testing your dungeons for flow?

Raferty: Ahhhh... I had a couple of guildies and hardcore raiders go through, tell me I'm mean, but they weren't frustrated enough to quit, so I went with it. I wanted something that played like a real dungeon. You have to pull to a safe area, and things aren't so packed in there that you just hack, hack, hack, slash your way through to seeing the walls.

Pixiewrath: First of all, I always test them with the Duhjalm Sentinel. I feel this is one of the more powerful avatars so to make the dungeon challenging and not too easy I have to choose this one. I could tailor the dungeons for the Drolvarg or others, but then it would be too easy with the better ones and the challenge is lost. Another good thing is that people who are new to the game will have a reason to get better and/or find better avatars. For that very same reason, my dungeons usually have the scattered books written in different in-game languages, so that if you return after you have learnt a language, you can learn new aspects of the story. In the competition dungeon I wrote all books in common to allow the Devs to read what I wrote, but I plan on editing the languages in them to Undeath and Erudite later on. I usually run my own dungeons around 5-10 times to make sure the balance is right and to get all rooms with decent challenge, to require tactic in pulling and so on.

Severiss: After I finish all the decor and placements of the mobs and feel everything is just about right, I publish and run the dungeon right away. If something doesn't flow and scale correctly, I go in and fix the problem and run it again,,, and again if needed. Once I'm happy with the results, I try and just let it do its thing and hopefully give other people something fun to do.

Jamisia: Play testing, play testing and more play testing. As the decorator, I believe that more is less when decorating a combat area. I want to give the desired impression/feel without causing lag or having the decorations get in the way of combat. Our first play testers had little to no information about the dungeon before they ran it the first time. We found a number of minor issues with decoration placement and mob difficulty. We also found a few major issues... like learning that ALL of the djinn mobs have a knockback. This last bit required some fairly major changes to the mob placements in the final room. Then, even when we were sure the last change fixed all the bugs, we ran it again... until there were no more issues.

Luvil: Creating a lot of IOU's with friends and family to play-test and feedback on every mob placement, the flow of the dungeon, challenge of each encounter, etc! I also personally play tested through it at least twenty times, tweaking it a bit after each run to make it smoother. Definitely gives me a huge appreciation for the EQ2 instance creators!

On Holiday, an entry by Shiverwind of the Freeport server.

What's the best player-made dungeon (other than yours of course) that you've played through?

Severiss: I enjoyed Temple of Lost Hope by Clarry, and Fire's Puzzle Game by Fireknight. Ye Olde Haunted House by Corvina was excellent. Green Eggs and Ham by Gendark, and I Hate Twilight by Xikrili. All those are quality dungeons, among others not listed, all of which are on Oasis. I can't honestly tell you whether I envied or was inspired by them. I did recognize the thought, work and time put into these dungeons, and I respect that.

Pixiewrath: I don't remember it exactly, but a dungeon (Freeport Server) I really like was Tel's Love Lost Masquerade or something similar. It had nice decorating, and a story. A bit on the harder side though. Another truly great one is the EverQuest 1999 dungeon that made me feel nostalgic, even though I never even tried EverQuest 1. It just had a very elaborate and well designed theme. Also it was well-balanced. I never died if I didn't make a mistake on my own side.

Jamisia: Unfortunately I don't play the player-made dungeons very often. Game-play-wise, playing my own toon in overland areas and questing is much more interesting for me. The avatars with their 4 buttons, 1 of which is usually not very useful, is just a little too dull for me; add the fact that creators can't do anything interesting with mobs, scripting or puzzles.. I'm afraid I've only run them to get dungeon marks to get bit to decorate with. (Editor's Note: We hope you enjoy playing as your own character soon!)

Raferty:I'm just going to refrain from mentioning fellow entries, because there were a LOT that I liked, and a lot more I came and did walkthroughs for. So excluding that, I'd have to say my absolute favorite dungeon I've played through has been the Museum of Mob Art by Ffanci on Unrest. The entire place has the immersion of a real Norrathian dungeon and absolutely everything in there works, and fits. The naming scheme of the mobs was clever and at times hilarious, and the use of housing pets as decor was brilliant. The best part is it's not so challenging that you have to have a group for it, and not so lacking in reward that it's not worth playing through. It's perfect.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, an entry by Pechtree of the Permafrost server.

Tell us what you enjoy most about Dungeon Maker.

Raferty: I like having a purpose to my decorating. Not only can I make it pretty, but you can get xp there too!

Jamisia: I love to create... that's why the contest was so great. It gave me a chance to be creative with a dungeon that I knew (at least for a short time) wouldn't just sit there.

Pixiewrath: Showing people my creations and letting them take part of my own storytelling. Fame is of course always a nice bonus! ;)

Severiss: I like the ability to create things. Exposing the geek in me, from my former life playing D&D, I always liked being the Dungeon Master because I liked coming up with the adventure and story. I feel that Dungeon Maker lets me do that in a small way. It's fun to make things for other people to enjoy, and it's nice when I get complimentary emails from those that tried them and recognize the work involved in making a well thought-out dungeon.

If you could change or add one thing about the Dungeon Maker feature, what would it be?

Jamisia: Some basic scripting... something that would allow the builders to make a dungeon that was more than just, "go in, kill the mobs, get the tokens." Example: you have to kill mob A before you can progress past doorway X. I've created persistent worlds in Neverwinter Nights previously; it's a lot of fun to create puzzles, quests, and other systems to torment... err entertain players with. Something that should be easier to implement but would be helpful to people playing the dungeon... allow the creators to put in a short description of the dungeon, sort of like we had to do for the contest entry. That would allow players to pick a dungeon to suit what they're looking for.

Luvil: I would love to be able to control scripting a little better, such as the ability to deny players from entering a room until a certain mob has died!

Severiss: I'd like more control over the environment. Basically, have no map at all and do everything from scratch. I'd like a much larger variety of maps as it currently stands, especially very large outdoors maps, for the ability to make anything my mind comes up with.

Pixiewrath: Well, there are a few things I would like to change. The first thing is to make the flavor texts always trigger (at least once per battle). They are needed for the atmosphere and storytelling. Another thing I would like to do is rid it of the crate system and allow us to assign each mob effects objects individually instead via menus. It would be very handy and allow us more control and to add more bosses, weak add mobs, encounters etc. From an interface standpoint I also have two things I wish could be added. To be able to hide all Dungeon Maker unique items (like effect crates) while having F10 activated to allow for better screenshots and movie captures. And finally, the Dungeon Maker interface where we choose dungeon could use a boost too. I'd love to see an option to add favorite dungeons or dungeon creators, and an ability to provide three screenshots, a short description of the dungeon, and possibly an integrated video (YouTube) trailer in the dungeon selector. That was a lot of things, but all of them would make the feature vastly improved. Oh, and chest drops when we play as our own avatars of course. (Editor's Note: That's a lot more than one thing)

Raferty: Honestly, and I hate to be so pessimistic, but the dungeon maker rewards lack of creativity in design. The "best" ranked dungeons have piles of mobs that are stacked on top of each other a healthy space away. I'd like something where you could make simple A-B reactions, like bring this object to this NPC. Get the key for this door. Get the key for this lift. It would make it more interesting. I also wish you could get credit for the dungeon even if you don't finish and have to /exit.

Once Upon a Time II, an entry by Jenaleee of the Freeport server.

Describe how you came up with the concept for your Poet's Palace Entry.

Severiss: Actually, when I saw the announcement for the contest, I had just watched the movie that the dungeon is named after, The Lovely Bones. I thought that it might be cool to take an obviously bright and cheery environment that the Poet's Palace is supposed to be and turn it on its head, creating a dismal and somber place full of darkness and evil...a place nobody wants to be.

Pixiewrath: The Delving into the Depths - Part IV dungeon ended in a way so that we needed to be taken to a plane of love. The Poet's Palace dungeon suited that theme, so it was good timing for this competition to arrive at the time it did. I had it in the back of my head and when the competition started and I saw the chance to let people see all the effort I put into my dungeons.

Raferty: Well, I added Area 51 to this list because I had just finished watching Resident Evil, I think the mild homage to that movie can be seen in places, though not as much as I would have liked, given more time and space. The glass circle with the aliens inside was because I wanted to learn how to use the circle tool on Jesdyr's Editor, and that was a little experiment, pun intended. The ship was just a happy accident. I had one of the balls in my inventory and I set it down... and realized how cool the architecture was on it, so I used my newfangled circle tool contraption and played around with it. I think that bridge that was there was perfect for supporting a ship. Everything else I did just as I do everything else, I find stuff that generally fits the theme, fill my bags with it, and drop it on the ground until something looks right.

Jamisia: Luvil came up with the story first. Then we went through each room of the layout, talking about what we could do in each room to progress the story (also taking into consideration what spawners we had available). After that it was my job to figure out how to get the 'feel' of each room across via the decorating without it getting in the way. I always kept in mind that there would be combat in the rooms and didn't want the decor to be a hindrance. Luvil was the primary brain behind the story itself, but we worked together to fine-tune it and lead and tease the players along without slapping them in the face with the story. We put a fair amount of work into the flavor text, even though it ended up not getting fixed before the contest was finished. Knowing of the bug, we made sure that the flavor text complimented the story, but wasn't required to carry it.

Luvil: I wanted a story that would keep the players and judges thinking even after they left the dungeon and I wanted something that would make the players think about what they wanted out of the game, and maybe even in life. The final twist was inspired by one of my favorite movies, Inception!

The Fate of the U.S.S. Proxima, an entry by Sidharrah of the Freeport server.

What advice would you offer to players who may be interested in creating their very first dungeon?

Jamisia: First off, start small. Don't pick the biggest layout you can find. My first dungeon never got finished because I was too ambitious. Also plan a bit, have an idea in mind before you start. The most important thing to making a dungeon that is fun to play is to playtest, playtest, playtest. It gets a bit tedious, but it pays off in the final product. And lastly... have fun. If you get frustrated, take a break. If you enjoyed building it and playing it, chances are other people will too.

Luvil: Have fun with it! You have to believe in what you're doing in order to follow through and make something people love!

Pixiewrath: Don't feel rejected when you hear about the external editing tool. I never used it for any of my layouts in houses or dungeons and I have made some really nice things anyway. Another thing is to be patient. I usually spend around 80-100 hours when creating a dungeon. Think things through, experiment with effect objects and avatars until you find a good balance in difficulty. Try them over and over to ensure it works how you intended. Don't be afraid to change rooms that don't work as they should. People don't want to play dungeons "that intended to be good", they want them good. Self critique is the biggest asset when making things, and don't take shortcuts. If you really want to make a room in a specific way, take the time to acquire the house items needed to create them and spend time to put in small details all over. If you don't it will just look like another one of those you already played and lack personality. Be creative and find a style that suits you. While it it's fun to see mobs talking about bananas entirely unrelated, it gets old fast. Try to make something serious with lots of thoughts into it. Now, where did I put that ledger...

Raferty: Well... The best piece of advice for any decorating project, dungeon or otherwise, is to decorate within your means: time, money, ability. Do what you know, then pick a single thing that's going to challenge you, but don't make it integral to the project, so if it fails horribly, it's not the end of the world. Like the glass casing to the aliens, it wouldn't have made or broken the design, but it was really cool that it worked, even if it took 3 hours to get it right!

Severiss: I'd say take it slow. Don't rush things just to get it published. I made that mistake in the beginning. Come up with a plan and work on that plan. After you are pleased with the way things look, publish and run your dungeon to see if it flows the way you intended and scales appropriately. If not, unpublish it and fix the things that are wrong and run the dungeon again to make sure. Although "grind" dungeons do have their purpose, try and come up with something creative and fun for those that don't like "grind" dungeons. Make something you'd enjoy playing. I take the exact same approach to painting and music. If you make the things that you enjoy, chances are, there are others out there that will enjoy it too.

Elemental Crossroads, an entry by Trimia of the Everfrost server (see the video here).

I wish we had room to include more images of the 82 wonderful entries we received!

Whew! Thank you, Master Dungeon Makers, for sharing all of your thoughts with us.
I am now doubly inspired to finish my own second dungeon – another 80 hours to go on that yet, not to mention leveling up my craftsman more to avoid going broke with the broker!
I hope you'll all give Dungeon Maker a try, and find your own unique path to fun through creativity in EverQuest II!